Look, there is a lot of content out there available to stream these days. So instead of endlessly, aimlessly scrolling through the pages scanning titles that seem vaguely familiar but you don’t know if they’re any good–or else of movies and TV shows you’ve heard are good but haven’t gotten around to watching, why not take a look-see at some of these recommendations?
Unlike the recent article I put up that recommends new-to-streaming movies, this list picks out TV shows and films that have been on these services for a while and of which you may have passed a thousand times while scrolling, that (I think) you should check out. Besides, It’s hot outside this time of year, and sitting comfortably in air conditioning watching movies and TV shows is a lot nicer than being outside under that ball of fire in the sky that mercilessly chases us from day to day. WHAT DOES IT WANT FROM US??
Anyway, here are some great movies that are currently available on the “Big Three” that you may not have seen, missed when they first came out, or else just need a gentle reminder as to why you should watch them again. Enjoy!
Party Down: Following the escapades and miscalculations of a group of caterers in Hollywood composed of frustrated actors and screenwriters, Party Down was a comedy that ran on Starz for 2 seasons before being shuttered. Critically acclaimed with zippy performances from Adam Scott, Lizzy Caplan, Martin Starr, Ken Marino, Jane Lynch and Megan Mullally, Party Down is a breezy light comedy that’s easy and fun to watch.
Drunk History: This Comedy Central hit sounds stupid–and it is, but hear me out: it’s also incredibly funny. Mixing very intoxicated comedians as they attempt to tell a historical story with semi-serious reenactments of said stories whose historical figures (played by familiar faces) lip-synch the monologist’s increasingly slurred, anachronistic narration is a lot funnier than it sounds. Crack open a few beers one night (or day, I don’t judge) and watch a few episodes.
Spaced: Before Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Simon Pegg was Tim, a frustrated comic book store clerk in need of a flatmate after his girlfriend breaks up with him. By chance, Daisy (played perfectly by Jessica Stevenson) also needs a new place to live. They meet at a coffee shop by chance and strike up a friendship. After weeks of being unable to find an affordable place to live, they come across a flat for rent–but it’s for couples only. So they pretend to be a couple. After moving in, Tim’s militaristic friend Mike (Nick Frost), Daisy’s shallow friend Twist, and their new artist neighbor Brian are thrown into the mix and start living the surreal, somewhat pointless existence that many 20-somethings find themselves similarly doing.
There’s really a lot more to the show than this, though, thanks to the brilliant direction of long-time Pegg collaborator director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) as the show hops from episode to episode with a hyperkinetic, almost cartoonish take on this goofy group of young adults frittering away the days playing video games and paintball, attending art shows and raves, and trying to pull themselves out of their collective malaise. It’s fantastic comedy and an early peek at the great team of Pegg-Frost-Wright.
Frisky Dingo: Think Archer mixed with Sealab 2021 and you have Frisky Dingo. Ostensibly starring an alien supervillain named Killface who’s trying to take over the world and his nemesis Awesome X, AKA billionaire playboy Xander Cruise, as they (sort of) tangle with each other but mostly try to get good publicity. No wonder it seems like a mix of Archer and Sealab 2021: it was the show the same creative team made between those two. Only lasting two easy-to-watch seasons, 20 episodes in all, Frisky Dingo makes for a fun evening or two’s binge-watch of what is essentially the prototype for Archer.
So I Married An Axe Murderer: Hey, remember when Mike Myers used to be funny? If you don’t, here’s his first movie, released in the halcyon days of 1993. Starring Myers as a beat poet who’s commitment-shy, he finally settles down with what he thinks is the woman of his dreams–that is, until he begins to suspect she’s an axe murderer(!). This witty, understated comedy features a good performance from Myers, a stellar cameo from Phil Hartman, and Myers playing his Scottish father, who suspiciously sounds a lot like Shrek.
City of God: In the city of God, life is cheap and often brutal. This is the often shocking takeaway from City of God, which centers on the escalating organized crime in the impoverished suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Aspiring young photographer Rocket is our narrator and protagonist who watches as his friends and world are absorbed into the violent criminal activities that seem to be one of the few avenues of survival for someone from the favela. Gripping, energetically shot, and with stellar performances, City of God is gripping drama at its best.
11.22.63: Imagine you could go back in time. What would you do? In the case of one man, it’s stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. At least, this is the task handed down to Jake Epping, whose old friend reveals to him that there’s a time portal in the back room of his cafe that leads to 1960. Having been planning on stopping JFK’s assassination for years since discovering the portal but becoming too old to accomplish this, Jake takes up the mission.
Stepping back into 1960, Jake has to establish a life and plan meticulously to stop the assassination–but he also falls in love, which complicates things more than he could have realized. This original Hulu miniseries is an excellent adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, and James Franco delivers one of his most solid performances as time-hopping Jake Epping. Cut into eight easily digestible episodes, 11.22.63 is great speculative fiction–and a great story.
Little Shop of Horrors: Seymour, Seymour, Seymour. Feed me, Seymour! This 1986 adaptation of the Broadway musical features excellent musical numbers (from the dynamite opener “Skid Row” to the show-stopping “Suddenly Seymour”), great art direction, and stylish directing from Frank Oz, if it’s been awhile since you’ve watched this, maybe it’s time to revisit it and get the songs stuck in your head all over again.
In The Mouth of Madness: The work of H.P. Lovecraft–pretty much the inventor of modern horror–is notorious for how difficult it is to adapt to screen. So modern master of horror John Carpenter said nuts to that: I’ll just write my own Lovecraftian story! And so he did to incredible effect with In the Mouth of Madness. A detective hired by famous horror writer Sutter Cane’s publishing house is tasked with tracking down the writer, who has seemingly disappeared. But the more involved he gets in the investigation, the less real everything seems to be. To say any more would be to spoil the impact of this horror film, easily one of the best horror movies ever made. Twisted, psychologically manipulative, and overall stunning, In the Mouth of Madness will make you start questioning your own reality. Do you read Sutter Cane?
Real Genius: Being a genius is hard. Wait, what? Well, maybe not hard, but it can be frustrating. Fortunately, whiz kid Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) never lets that get in the way of having a good time, as this mid-80’s cult comedy classic demonstrates. While focusing on a group of young geniuses who are trying to work on a breakthrough in laser technology, Knight also shakes things up at the stuffy Cal Tech college he attends while also scheming for revenge on their corrupt teacher. For a movie about a bunch of brilliant people, it’s pretty stupid. But then again, you don’t need to think all the time, especially when movies like this exist to let your brain take a break every now and then.
Fawlty Towers: For anyone that’s been curious about British humor but doesn’t know a good entry point, here it is: Fawlty Towers. This 12-episode series follows the hilarious misadventures of Basil Fawlty, hotelier and all-around ass. While attempting to appear noble and sophisticated, more often than not this cantankerous man is made the fool by episode’s end, but not after being insulted while insulting guests and employees alike or else having his hotel betray him at every turn. Fast-paced and written like an intricate piece of clockwork, Fawtly Towers is both charming and uproarious British humor at its best.
Parks & Recreation: Looking for a show to binge that will make you laugh and lift your spirits? Look no further than Parks & Recreation. I’ve recently written a lengthy article extolling the many virtues of this show, but to put it simply: it features Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Aubrey Plaza, and Nick Offerman working together in a parks department in a small town. Hilarity ensues. Check it out (but skip the first season; you literally don’t need to watch it).
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: David Cross plays Todd Margaret….and Todd Margaret…and Todd Margaret. Over the three seasons of the show, Cross plays hapless salesman Todd Margaret, who’s sent to England to push a new energy drink called Thunder Muscle. But in each season, the version of Todd we see changes just a little, from idiotic people-pleaser to average, relatively competent salesman to alpha male jerkass. But each season ends up the same, with Todd somehow causing the end of the world. Intricately plotted, this Cross-created and written show has been the best showcase of his talents since Arrested Development, and like that show his fans will find its matryoshka doll-like plot similarly pleasing.
Waking Life: Like Parks & Rec, I’ve recently written an article about just how great Waking Life is, but if you like animation, philosophy, and dreams, you’ll love Waking Life.
Mulholland Drive: David Lynch is one of the most groundbreaking directors of all time. Making seemingly familiar settings sites of dark conflict and demented fantasy, his work has unnerved generations of filmgoers. One of his best, Mulholland Drive, is on Netflix, and if you haven’t seen his work before, this is a good one to start with. Somewhat incomprehensible on the first (or second) viewing, its mystery about a woman in trouble will either draw you back in for more or scare you off his work. It’s a risk worth taking, though, isn’t it?
Daughters of the Dust: Set in 1902, Daughters of the Dust is the story of a family of Gullah islanders who live on St. Simons Island off the coast of South Carolina. The story of the Peazant family is told by an unborn narrator, a future child of the family–particularly focusing on the women–who provides an impressionistic story of the family’s past and present, in the latter of which the clan is facing a move from their ancestral home to the mainland. This knockout debut from director Julie Dash remains underseen but is well worth any cinephile’s time.
We Need To Talk About Kevin: The brutal, horrifying event of a school massacre shakes everyone involved to their core. But the victims that are often forgotten about are the perpetrator’s family. But We Need To Talk About Kevin dives head-first into the unrelenting grief and shattered emotions of a woman whose son (the titular Kevin) kills a number of students at his school one day in a shocking, premeditated killing spree. With a raw performance from Tilda Swinton, who seems as if she’s barely hanging on throughout the film, and masterful direction, We Need To Talk About Kevin is a mesmerizing and heart rending tragedy.
Batman: The Movie: In memory and praise of Adam West, whom we lost this month, go back and watch the original Batman movie–Batman: The Movie. This wonderfully campy pop takeoff of the caped crusader stars West as Batman/Bruce Wayne and features the familiar rogue’s gallery from the original TV series. It’s fun and surprisingly artful, in that late 60’s overblown aesthetic that the TV show was done in. It’s a lot of fun, and it looked like everyone was having fun making it, too.
Fortitude: In one of the most isolated towns in the world, the Arctic Norwegian town of Fortitude, something dark has been unleashed on its populace. Or has this town always had darkness to it? This unnerving series is like a TV series of John Carpenter’s The Thing, only much more gruesome. Haunting, original, and yet surprisingly beautiful, Fortitude is a great sci-fi/drama series that seems to have flown under the radar.
Thundercats (Season 1): Thunder, Thunder, THUNDERCATS! If you grew up in the 1980s, you probably watched this cartoon. If you didn’t, but enjoy the artistry of retro cartoons, then you’ll dig this show. Either way, I’m raising the flag to let fellow Gen Yers (I’m not a Millenial; please refine generational labels and adjust accordingly) know that the first 33 episodes of this great cartoon is on Amazon Prime now.
Deadwood: Soon to be the subject of an upcoming Great TV article, Deadwood centers on the titular town in the 19th century as outlaws, businessmen, and those looking for a new life in the Wild West congregate and slowly begin to piece together civilization. Running for only 3 seasons, all of the episodes of this rough slice of realism is available on Amazon Prime. It’s not pretty, but then again the growth of America was never a clean business.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Cue the tuba! Everyone’s favorite righteous asshole, Larry David, wanders through his existence picking petty fights and getting angry at the world at large. All gripes great and small are addressed, with Larry usually ending up grabbing the short end of the stick. Improvised comedy at its finest, all 8 seasons are now on Amazon Prime, and that’s prittay, prittay, prittay, prittay good.
What We Do In The Shadows: While the myth of Dracula is a concept that’s seemingly long been drained of originality, out of the shadows comes What We Do In The Shadows. A mockumentary documenting a group of vampires trying to live in the 21st century, and having a hard time adjusting to the modern age, this original, funny film actually found a new angle on a centuries-old folk tale.
Green Room: If you’re looking for an intense movie, few modern films get more intense than Green Room. Centered on a touring punk band who picks up a gig in what they quickly realize is a neo-Nazi bar, their situation goes from bad to worse when they accidentally witness a murder and the neo-Nazis (including bar owner and leader Patrick Stewart, in a disturbing performance) corner them in the titular green room of the club. What follows is a violent fight for survival for a band that had found themselves in a very wrong place at the wrong time. Searing and brutal, Green Room starts off at a high pitch and that kettle keeps whistling on the stove until the end.
Love & Mercy: Brian Wilson, you poor fellow. A musical genius behind The Beach Boys and the masterpiece Pet Sounds, Wilson suffered a major mental breakdown in the late 1960’s and never really recovered. Love & Mercy is a sympathetic portrayal of the artist, featuring both a young Wilson as he creates Pet Sounds and begins to lose the plot (played by Paul Dano) and nearly 30 years later (played by John Cusack) as he’s under the thumb of a controlling psychiatrist, whom he breaks free from thanks to a new love in his life. An intense and often sad look at a brilliant mind that couldn’t hold it together but still managed to produce imperishable music, it’s a worthwhile film for any fan of Wilson’s gorgeous music.