August, oh August, oh August. You’re the hottest month of the year. You bring back to us Americans the most profitable sport in all the land, football. And, to those still young enough to not know any better, you also bring back school, the single most trying time for a young person with no wardrobe or neat backpack. Actually, you also sort of signify the last breaths of a season, the month during which people look back at the last six weeks, saying to themselves, “Wait. I didn’t do a thing I planned on doing this summer.” But … so it goes.
If there was ever a time to crank that air conditioning unit to 11, it would also be now, and as it just so happens, most rooms with air conditioning units tend to have televisions somewhere hidden within their bellies, too. Thus, the equation goes like this: Air conditioned rooms + TVs with Netflix = happiness. And who am I really if I can’t help you achieve that ever-elusive feeling of happiness?
My thoughts exactly.
Anyways, this month is one of the stronger set of picks we’ve had in recent memory. There’s one of the great Mark Ruffalo movies. There’s a flick that went so far above and beyond my expectations that I nearly fainted. There’s a documentary as impressive as it is inspiring. And there’s without question the second best film Jack Black has ever showed up in (the first being the brilliant “Tropic Thunder,” of course). There’s nary a weak film in this month’s bunch, so we should all be thankful that there are 31 days to get through before another one of these picks are posted, right? Right.
In any case, behold five suggestions for the streaming catalog from Netflix (which, in case you haven’t heard, garnered some Emmy nominations recently). Because the pool can’t be open 24 hours a day and you’ll need a few ideas to get away from the family during the inevitably uncomfortable vacation you are about to take. Who loves you? I do. That’s who.
Onward and upward …
1. “Zodiac” — David Fincher does dark well, and you can’t deny the brooding that runs an undercurrent through this retelling of the Zodiac killer’s story. It’s been rumored that “All The President’s Men” was the template for how this thing came together, and it makes sense: A somewhat exaggerated journalistic edge creeps through as the backdrop for a story as complex and just plain interesting as any criminal tale could be. In short, it’s sophisticated in its plaintiveness. Plus, you get an excellent effort from Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery, the police reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle that simply wouldn’t let go of the story. It’s a good thing, too, because the deeper it goes, the more fascinating it becomes. Say all you want about Jake Gyllenhaal, but his name is on the IMDB page of a lot of impressive films, this possibly being the best of the bunch. A friend once told me it’s one of those rare instances that a longer-than-normal movie deserves the time it gets, if only for how well the whole thing moves and how addicting the plot truly is. He wasn’t wrong. And considering how easy it is to stop now and pick up where you left off later while watching stuff on Netflix … well, hey. Doesn’t it just sound like the perfect pick for those who lack a solid attention span? Of course it does.
2. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – Here was my Fourth of July: I worked here. I went home. I ate dinner. I had a beer. And I sat down with this for the first time. At only 75 minutes, you couldn’t have found a single better way to celebrate this country’s independence, even if you happen to be a fireworks distributor somewhere on the Interstate in Ohio. This doc serves as one of the most inspiring pieces of film dedicated to, well, dedication I’ve ever seen. Don’t believe me? Be mesmerized while watching this trailer, and don’t wait until next year’s Fourth to carve out some time to watch it …
3. “Safety Not Guaranteed” – I didn’t want to like this movie. Like, not even a little bit. Aubrey Plaza annoys me. I was under the impression that the premise would be entirely unbelievable (which can make or break something for me). I don’t even really know who Jake Johnson is (yeah “New Girl” this, “New Girl” that). And while Mark Duplass can churn out some pretty solid films, I think I’m one of about six men in America who just don’t think “The League” is funny. But … Wow (with a capital W). Against all odds, it won me over, almost instantly, as all the nonsense that came with it was immediately brushed aside because of … wait for it … the thing’s heart. In fact, by the time it gets around to being unbelievable (maybe the final five minutes or so) I simply didn’t care — all that had gone down before its climax made me buy into the story a thousand and one percent. Even better was Plaza’s surprising versatility as she became the de facto sole of what was going on. Johnson was funny enough, even when he flirted with becoming obnoxious. And, most importantly of all, Duplass took a role that could have been completely absurd and gave it credibility. Seriously, friends: I wanted so badly to despise this stuff with all my heart and these guys essentially told me to go get lost, forget my preconceptions and stop holding prejudices against people for no real good reason. If you got an hour-and-a-half and you dig cute indie dramedies, you can’t find anything better from the last year or so within Big Red’s streaming catalog.
4. “Compliance” – This is a weird one. Going into it, I had no idea about what it might be, and that, for what it’s worth, might be the best way to approach it. So, yeah. Spoiler alert. Anyway, the film takes a look at the true story of a guy who would call into fast-food restaurants, pretending to be a police officer, and then essentially … well, you’ll see. The minute I finished watching it, I shot a text to fellow blogger Michael Hunley saying something to the effect of the following: “It reminded me of ‘Repulsion’ a bit with the way that dark undertone played through all that was going on. Like, building and building.” (“Repulsion,” of course, being the 1965 Roman Polanski horror flick that sort of helped launch him into being ROMAN POLANSKI). To which he said, “That’s very true. I can see that.” So, there. Boom. Take that, movie world! In any case, while not as good as that Polanski classic, “Compliance” does a pretty good job at making you constantly wonder where the story is going, and, even more so, making you feel squeamishly uncomfortable (and for my money, any piece of art — be it music, movies, words or whatever — that can make you feel uncomfortable is a piece of art worth going to bat for). Ann Dowd is terrific with a capital “T.” So much so, that she actually won the National Board of Review prize for best supporting actress in 2012 for her performance as a confused but flawed restaurant worker. Turn out the lights. Throw this thing on. And be ready to be creeped out.
5. “Bernie” – I liked it. No, really. I did. I know I might be in the minority, but I actually really liked it. Blurring the line between faux-doc and non-fiction drama, you won’t find a better straight performance from Jack Black in the history of forever. Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey round out the marquee names and both do an excellent job at portraying the types of characters they are asked to portray. On some level, it can serve as an indictment on small-town thinking, and because I come from a small town, well, yeah, it resonated with me. Hey – it’s the only time you’ll never see Jack Black being Jack Black, and that’s worth your time alone. Have a look at the trailer …