Monday, August 4, 2014

New August Titles: Cult of Personality

Downey does Chaplin
Like scanning virtual tea leaves, sometimes it's fun to look for meaning in a particular batch of new Netflix titles. The month of August might easily be called Biography Month given how many titles focus on the life of a singular personage. From documentaries like Hawking (2013), Chasing Shackleton (2014), and Pumping Iron (1977) to fictionalized accounts like Chaplin (1992), Evita (1996), and Prefontaine (1997)--or even movies named after their main characters, such as Sabrina (1954), Rocky (1976), Mad Max (1979), and Richard Linklater's The Newton Boys (1998)--it's tough not to ponder the existence of a guiding hand in the form of some mischievous Netflix programmer or puckish artificial intelligence. (The more conspiracy-minded among you can imagine the Biography Channel staging a behind-the-scenes coup, or at least greasing back-room palms for a bit of devious cross-marketing.)

Shelley Long and Ringo Starr
But I'm getting off topic. What's worth checking out among this month's new titles? As always, it depends on your mood (and how many hours you spent in front of your TV growing up). But there are a fair number of choices even if your tastes don't run toward docs, biopics, or Sylvester Stallone whaling on dudes in all those returning Rocky flicks. Why not take a look at a few movies named after...occupations? There's the dark Jim Carrey comedy, The Cable Guy (1996), the light Ringo Starr-er, Caveman (1981), and the overlooked sci-fi adventure, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004). (Yes, in some universes sky captain is an occupation.)

Granted, none of those are especially substantial choices, but they're entertainingand are downright Oscar-worthy next to a batch of titles I'll categorize as "hard cheese." Those include representatives of silly from three different decades: Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), which features the unlikely combo of Barbara Eden and Peter Lorre; Orca: The Killer Whale (1977), with a foaming-at-the-mouth Richard Harris and a young Bo Derek as whale bait; both of the Golan-Globus Indiana Jones ripoffs, King Solomon's Mines (1985) and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987)in which a young Sharon Stone learns how to act on-camera, eyes shamelessly bugging out at every opportunity; and perhaps the guiltiest of pre-millenial pleasures, Spice World (1997), whose humorous self-awareness makes up for a lot of crappy music and bad hair. Plus where else are you going to see Roger Moore, Alan Cumming, Elvis Costello, and George Wendt in the same movie?

Lohan, Curtis
Climbing the rungs of comic sophistication are, in ascending order: the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday, in which a nimble Jamie Lee Curtis and a still-sober Lindsay Lohan swap bodies (and guitar licks); Mike Nichols' springy, nonmusical remake of La Cage aux Folles, retitled The Birdcage (1996) and featuring the fruitful (sorry) pairing of Robin Williams and Nathan Lane, co-starring Gene Hackman and a pre-Ally McBeal Calista Flockhart; and The Barbarian Invasions (2003), Denys Arcand's deft, bittersweet sequel to 1986's The Decline of the American Empire.

A couple of classics also make their way to Instant, including the aforementioned Sabrina, a Billy Wilder treat marking its return exactly a year after expiring (originally reviewed here), and the all-star WWII epic, The Longest Day (1962), with John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Sean Conneryamong scores of othersgearing up for D-Day. It's black-and-white and, by today's standards, a bit slow, but it's essential for war-movie buffs and fans of old-school testosterone.

Two other notable returnees include 1986's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (time travel! whales!), and Face/Off (1997), the deliriously overheated John Woo thriller, reviewed here back in January. Among interesting newcomers there's Spark: A Burning Man Story (2013), and last year's excellent reimagining of Carl Sagan's Cosmos series, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, which debuts on August 7. Also going live that day is Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2013), the latest outrage from the pesky and often brilliant director of Melancholia, Lars von Trier (no small personage himself). Prepare yourself for lots of nudity, graphic sex, body doubles, and general weirdnessin other words, what some people might call a typical Saturday night.

Coming Soon

August 1

Bad Boys (1983)
The Barbarian Invasions (2003)
The Birdcage (1996)
Blown Away (1992)
The Cable Guy (1996)
Caveman (1981)
Chaplin (1992)
Chasing Shackleton (2014)
The Conqueror Worm (1968)
Day Watch (2006)
The Dogs of War (1980)
Ella Enchanted (2004)
Evita (1996)
Foyle's War (2003-2010)
Freaky Friday (2003)
The Five Heartbeats (1991)
Hawking (2013)
He Said, She Said (1991)
King Solomon's Mines (1985) / Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987)
Kinky Boots (2005)
The Longest Day (1962)
Mad Max (1979)
The Newton Boys (1998)
Not Waving But Drowning (2014)
Orca: The Killer Whale (1977)
Prefontaine (1997)
Pumping Iron (1977)
Red Dawn (1984)
Rounders (1998)
Saints and Soldiers (2003)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
Spark: A Burning Man Story (2013)
Spice World (1998)
Trees Lounge (1996)
Turner and Hooch (1989)
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961)


Face/Off (1997) - Review
Playing by Heart (1998)
Rocky (1976) + sequels
Sabrina (1954) - Review
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

August 7

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014)
Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2013)

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