It’s July. It’s hot outside. So stay inside, crank up the AC, and watch movies instead! July 2017 has a lot of great movies coming to the “Big Three” streaming services, so instead of endlessly scrolling the screen trying to find something to watch, here’s a list of recommendations of worthwhile films that are new to streaming services this month.
Delicatessen: From the directors of the dark cult classic City of Lost Children, Delicatessen brings the same macabre vibe to a run down apartment building. Set in a post-apocalyptic France, a landlord/butcher keeps his tenants fed by posting fake job advertisements in the local paper, murdering the applicants, and then turning them into fresh meat for consumption. All goes well until an unemployed clown turns up for the advertised job. When the clown falls in love with the butcher’s daughter, proves himself a talented apprentice, and befriends a number of the tenants, the butcher hesitates in murdering him. But when the tenants begin to worry about their source of food, and when the daughter–knowing of her father’s plans–contacts the rebel underground for assistance, the entire building turns into a battlezone. Surprisingly much more whimsical than this description suggests, this film is a strange mix of the weird, romantic, and comedic. Foreign cult film fans will enjoy the stylish and macabre tone of the film and utter strange world this movie builds.
Jackass: Number Two: Is it stupid? It is, and sometimes stupid things can be wonderfully entertaining. Such is the case with Jackass: both the TV series and subsequent movies are a collection of wonderfully stupid and overall insane stunts done by a group of non-professionals. Originating in the Camp Kill Yourself videos of the 1990s when most of this crew were but young punk skateboarders out for adventure and danger, Bam Margera & Co. made legitimate careers from their stupid suburban stunts. The best part about watching these movies is that you don’t need to think while watching them–the people you’re watching certainly aren’t.
Punch-Drunk Love: On the short list for my series of articles on Perfect Movies, P.T. Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love is one of his most experimental and certainly his most romantic film to date. Starring Adam Sandler in a surprisingly affecting dramatic role as a lonely, sheltered man who’s been bullied (and terribly traumatized) by his 7 sisters his entire life, one chance meeting with a woman sends him off on a whirlwind, dream-like discovery of what being in love is like. But he also has to contend with an aggressive mattress salesman who’s trying to blackmail him (it’s a long story). Sandler plays the protagonist in this film with sincerity, fury, and ultimately strength when he finds a chance for his lifetime of loneliness to finally end. The results are magical.
Altered States:Ken Russell was one of the most radical filmmakers of the 20th century. Having directed the bonkers musical classic The Who’s Tommy, the subversive The Devils, and a number of completely batshit films, Altered States was his psychedelic sci-fi vision and maybe his best (and certainly most coherent) movie. With a brilliant acting debut from William Hurt and a screenplay by Paddy Cheyefsky, an abnormal psychiatrist in a troubled marriage takes a guided Ayahuasca trip and is inspired by it to use the substance to push his research further. How does he do this? By tripping while inside an isolation tank, which he feels will give him a further understanding of the primitive mind of man. Which it does, in a horrifying fashion. If you haven’t seen this film before, treat yourself one strange night to one of the stranger, heady, and more visually and psychologically trippy sci-fi films ever made.
The Blob (1988): You know how the original Blob movie from the 1950’s is kind of hokey and a sly allegory about the encroachment of Communism? The 1988 version isn’t that. In fact, it’s literally one of the most horrifying movies ever made. There are so many graphic, awful deaths depicted in this film that it ranks with Pet Semetary as one of the most horrifying and demented horror films ever made. If any of what was just described appeals to you, then you will not be disappointed by 1988’s The Blob.
Dark City:While this film has found a cult audience, it’s surprising it hasn’t found a wider audience in the 19 years since it came out. I mean, it came out a full year before The Matrix and is a noirish sci-fi film about aliens that control people in their sleep. It’s (pardon the language) fucking awesome and incredibly well-made. If you’re a sci-fi or noir fan and haven’t seen this film, watch it.
Besides this, director Alex Proyas made some quality films in his own right, from The Crow to I, Robot to…well, that’s kind of it. But he made a hell of a good movie with Dark City. And it’s really something any film fan should watch. Heck, Roger Ebert liked this movie so much he did a commentary track for it! So watch it, yeah? Yeah. You like-a the Dark City.
Kingpin: Goofball comedies aren’t anything to scoff at. I mean, they are–at least when they’re done right. And Kingpin is the kind of stupid comedy that passes a few hours pretty well when looking for something to watch that’s fun and ultimately satisfying. Starring Woody Harrelson as a tarnished one-handed bowling champion looking for a way out of his slump while an Amish bowler (Randy Quaid) may be his ticket out of his low-rent life. They learn lessons and blah blah blah along the way but who cares? It’s a funny, weird comedy flick that also includes Bill Murray and Elizabeth Hurley and it’s a Farrelly Brothers film from the 90’s that delivers on its premise. Don’t overlook it because of its pedigree: it’s actually a really solid comedy.
The Mask: Do I honestly have to tell you about The Mask? We all know that The Mask is a comedy classic from the 90’s and it’s a crazy Jim Carrey comedy with great CGI effects. Hey, if you haven’t seen The Mask in a while, watch The Mask in July 2017. It’s still The Mask and you’ll probably still like it–or maybe your kids will like it.
The Witches: On kind of the opposite end of that previous movie’s spectrum, when was the last time you watched The Witches? The classic adaptation from Raold Dahl’s dark children’s novel involves a young boy who comes across a witch’s coven and only he and his grandmother can stop their awful plot to take over England and eventually the world. It’s maybe not a movie for the 10-and-under set to watch, but then again if you’re of a certain age and saw this movie when you were under 10, maybe you make your own decisions on whether or not it’s appropriate for your kids to watch. Either way, it’s not only worth a revisit but still remains a fantastic movie back when fantasies could be a little more than scary.
Melancholia (July 12): Listen: Lars von Trier is a pretty dark filmmaker. He doesn’t make films for the standard audience, as his previous brilliant masterpieces Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark, and Antichrist will attest. But he’s a crystal-clear director whose visionary work cuts through so many layers of our own modern protective artifices of ego and denial that he’s a modern Bergman with an awful, cruel, but ultimately honest point to make. Maybe you’re not the typical art filmgoer, but Melancholia still elucidates something primal and important about human instinct that’s rarely depicted in film–especially in such stark and honest terms.
If you’ve never seen a Lars von Trier movie before but have heard about him, this may be the best entry point into his oeuvre. Also: it’s best if you know as little of the movie as possible before going into it because it has its greatest impact without foreknowledge of what’s about to occur.
Elephant: Gus Van Sant is an indie filmmaker’s filmmaker: having made some of the most meditative and dream-like films of the last 30 years with his signature style of drifting long takes, Van Sant created a “Trilogy of Isolation”–starting with Gerry, which focused on physical isolation, and ending with Last Days, centered on mental isolation. In the middle is perhaps his most impactful film, Elephant, which detailed social isolation. It was also a disturbing telling of the Columbine school shootings, which Van Sant controversially took his inspiration from. Eerie and hypnotic, Elephant is an emotionally disturbing (but surprisingly not graphic) look at school shootings and how social isolation can have tragic consequences.
Manhattan: Listen: Woody Allen is an unforgivable pervert, as I realized once I became an adult and truly understood how awful my once-favorite director really is (which is literally what’s been keeping me from including him on my Perfect Directors series of articles).
Having said that, Manhattan is a masterpiece. And yes, it does have the “Woody Allen” character that’s 40 but unabashedly dating a high school girl (ew), but it’s still a remarkably mature and often gorgeous film about the lives of a few people living in Manhattan. It’s perhaps his best film, and even though the man may be a monster, he’s still a gifted director.
Pi: The first feature film from acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky, Pi is a rather intense, paranoia-fueled black and white film that follows a mathematician–the film’s unreliable narrator–who is trying to crack the secrets of the mathematical figure of Pi. Plunging into complex themes of finance, theology, and mathematics, and with the central character Max Cohen quickly losing his mind (and this being reflected in the increasingly surreal and frantic cinematography), Pi is a low-budget masterpiece that launched the director’s career.
Pootie Tang: Everyone loves Louis C.K. these days, but at one point he was just a comedy writer that worked on some of the most acclaimed comedy shows on television, including Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Chris Rock Show. From Chris Rock’s late night comedy show came the character Pootie Tang–a nonsense-talking rapper–who was enough of a hit with audiences that he was given a feature film. And the writer and director of this film? Louis C.K.
And the film is….very silly. Almost unbelievably silly. But there’s something charming in how silly it is: Pooty Tang’s a ridiculous character who is seemingly divine in nature and whose nonsense way of talking is nonetheless understood by everyone on-screen. It’s silly and weird and very funny. It was also a disaster at the box office and received scathing reviews upon its release. Although it’s become old shame for its director, it’s unfortunate because it’s a sneaky satire of commercialism, rap, and comedy films in general. Check it out: you’d be surprised how much you end up liking it. Also available on Hulu in July.
Rosemary’s Baby: Speaking of pervert directors whose work I’m still recommending this month, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby is now a classic horror film. Centering around a young woman (Mia Farrow) who unknowingly becomes pregnant with the devil’s baby, Rosemary’s Baby is a haunting, atmospheric horror film and one of Polanski’s best. Too bad he’s such a pervert. Also on Hulu in July.
The Star Trek Franchise: Oh, what great bounty is this that all 10 Star Trek feature films are going to be available in July? The first six feature the classic crew from the original series while the last three focus on the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew, with one film in the middle (Star Trek: Generations) featuring a mixture of both crews. If you’re a Star Trek fan this is fantastic news; if you’re not, well….sorry. Also available on Hulu in July. Live long and prosper!
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (July 4): On Independence Day, the three-hour David Fincher magical realist masterpiece The Curious Case of Benjamin Button begins streaming on Amazon Prime, and if you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself a viewing. This beautifully shot film details the life of a man who is born an old person and ages backwards, ending his life when he becomes a baby. Meanwhile, he traverses the 20th century, occasionally re-meeting with the same woman, whom he falls in love with, and for a while has a relationship with her for the time their ages match up. Although this film doesn’t have a traditionally “happy” ending, it’s such a fascinating perspective and way to tell a story that it works spectacularly. Fincher hasn’t made a more human film yet, and too few people have watched this modern masterpiece.