The Best Stuff on Netflix in July 2020
The sheer number of new offerings this month was just one of the reasons this preview has not come out sooner. Length problems make it necessary to also break the preview into two parts.
In this first part, the picks share the common theme of revisitation. There are new takes on popular stories (“The Baby-Sitters Club,” “JU-ON: Origins”), original films that inspired popular spinoffs (“The Karate Kid,” “Paranormal Activity”), and even worthy titles that didn’t get their proper due the first time around (“Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm,” “Kingdom: Seasons 1-3”).
It also won’t hurt for Broke-Ass readers to try something off the beaten Netflix path. If you’ve never heard of astrologer Walter Mercado or haven’t seen the very first collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, this month offers a chance to correct that shortcoming.
Airplane!–Several polls have named writer/directors David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams’ fast-paced parody of airplane disaster movies one of the funniest movies ever made. Here’s your chance to see why. In the setup (aka the least important part of the film), a passenger-filled airplane is in big trouble after its flight crew gets taken out by food poisoning. The only man who might be able to land the plane is traumatized ex-fighter pilot Ted Striker. But Striker’s trauma is so severe that strangers commit suicide after hearing some of the details. The plane landing on the ground isn’t what makes the film a comedy classic. It’s what happens before the plane lands that does the job. The “calming the hysterical female passenger” scene and a running gag involving a stressed out air traffic controller rediscovering his recreational drug habits are just two of the memorable comic moments here.
The Baby-Sitters Club Season 1–This new adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s beloved YA series updates the tale to the present day. Tomboyish Kristy gets the idea for a new business that will allow her and the quiet Mary-Anne to once again hang out with their very popular friend Claudia. They’ll create a club that will help book babysitters for local parents. But in working to make their club a viable concern, the girls (along with Claudia’s new friend Stacey) have experiences that will help them grow as people.
Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm–One of the greatest Batman movies ever made wasn’t a live action feature. It’s a film that came out of “Batman: The Animated Series.” When a couple of prominent mobsters wind up murdered, Batman’s wrongly blamed as the culprit. While the hero evades police pursuit and tries to search for the truth, the hero’s alter ego Bruce Wayne must deal with a crisis of his own. Former lover Andrea Beaumont has re-entered his life, and the attraction between them is still quite strong. Will the threads that tie these two stories together also tie down the future of the Caped Crusader?
Clash Of The Titans (1981)–Greek mythology and stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen have long been the PB&J of fantasy films. In the original version of this film, Perseus (Harry Hamlin) must rescue Andromeda from forced marriage to the monstrous Calibos. Completing the quest requires the hero to fight a ferocious two-headed wolf-dog and face the fury of the unleashed Kraken.
David Foster: Off The Record–If you’re a fan of pop music at some point over the past five decades, you’ve probably heard songs bearing the touch of music producer David Foster. The Tubes’ “She’s A Beauty”: Foster co-wrote it. John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)”: Foster produced it. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”: Foster had the idea to use Houston, but fought the idea of having Houston’s version begin a capella. Equally likely, if you’re a fan of “The Real Wives Of Beverly Hills,” you’ve seen Foster as one of the wives’ husbands. This warts and all portrait of Foster is filled with the producer’s stories about (frequently less than pleasant) encounters with such musical stars as Chuck Berry, Chicago, Neil Young, and Celine Dion.
Donnie Brasco–To the underworld, Donnie Brasco is a jewel broker. But Brasco is actually the cover identity for undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone (Johnny Depp, so YMMV). That cover allows Pistone to enter the mob family run by aging hit man Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino). Trouble utterly erupts when Pistone gets in so deep that his personal and professional lives collide. Based on a true story.
Fiddler On The Roof–One of the most beloved Broadway musicals received a superb film adaptation courtesy of director Norman Jewison. Tevye (Topol) is a poor Jewish milkman barely surviving in a 19th century Russian shtetl known as Anatevka. Making good marriages for his three daughters might improve his family’s fortunes. But the three young women have their own ideas about who they’ll love and marry. In these battles between a father’s love for his children and the weight of tradition, which will come out on top? If you’ve ever heard the songs “Matchmaker Matchmaker” or “If I Were A Rich Man,” this is the musical they sprang out of.
JU-ON: Origins–Takashi Shimizu’s Japanese horror franchise about a cursed house and its ghostly inhabitants (known in the US as “The Grudge”) gets a new reboot for American audiences. Set in the years before 1998 (the year of the franchise’s start), the series follows multiple characters across multiple timelines as their fates are intertwined with that of the cursed house. The violence gets pretty intense in this series, as it includes the savage beating of a child and a pivotal rape. But if you can handle the onscreen violence, what the series’ events lead to is something that won’t get answered quickly.
The Karate Kid–When teenager Daniel (Ralph Macchio) starts dating the ex-girlfriend of the senior class’ toughest kid, said tough kid starts giving Daniel daily cans of whup-ass. Fighting back appears futile as the tough kid happens to have a black belt in karate. Enter the supposedly harmless janitor Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). He turns out to be a martial arts master who eventually agrees to make Daniel his student. Then again, is shining cars and scrubbing pool bottoms supposed to be martial arts training? The current TV series “Cobra Kai” is a spinoff from this film and its sequels.
Kingdom Seasons 1-3–Family drama and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) action? Could they even work together in a TV series? Series creator Byron Balasco shows with this series that the answer is a loud yes. The drama centers around Venice Beach, CA’s Navy Street MMA Gym. Frank Grillo plays Alvey Kulina, a retired MMA fighter who runs the gym. His two sons are also MMA fighters. While the Kulinas have their personal dramas outside the MMA cage, once the cage door closes the only thing that matters is fighting and winning. Adding to the series’ realism is technical advice from such MMA figures as Joe “Daddy” Stevenson and appearances by dozens of actual MMA fighters.
Mean Streets–Martin Scorsese’s legendary cinematic collaborations with Robert De Niro began with this classic tale of two low-level hoods living in New York City’s Little Italy. Observant Catholic Charlie (Harvey Keitel) works as a not-terribly-successful collector for his uncle’s protection racket. Best friend Johnny Boy (De Niro) is a really loose cannon whose buying into the romance of Mafia life translates into constantly getting into trouble. Can Charlie find redemption for himself or even save Johnny Boy from his worst impulses?
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend Of Walter Mercado–For literal decades, Walter Mercado charmed the Latinx world with his daily televised horoscopes. This gender non-conforming Puerto Rican astrologer and psychic presented his predictions in fabulous sequined capes, magnificent jewelry, and daily messages of love and hope. Yet he mysteriously and quietly disappeared from the public eye. Cristina Constantini and Kareem Tabsch’s entertaining documentary portrait of Mercado focuses on the last two years of the astrologer’s career.
The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad!–If you loved the slapstick humor of “Airplane!” you might go for this movie re-invention of a cult TV series by the makers of “Airplane!” Not terribly bright police Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) discovers that criminal Victor Ludwig (Ricardo Montalban) has hatched a plan to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to a Los Angeles Dodgers home game. But as in the airplane disaster spoof, the plot matters far less than the film’s deliriously absurd gags. These sights include Drebin punching out the leaders of America’s enemies or the Queen passing along a hot dog. Are Broke-Ass readers triggered by the sight of O.J. Simpson, though?
Paranormal Activity–Low budget does not preclude producing viewer chills, as this classic found-footage horror film demonstrates. Micah and Katie are living together in a very nice apartment. Micah’s new guy toy is a professional digital movie camera. Katie suspects that paranormal activity is occurring in the house, and Micah hopes to film proof of such activity. Yet what begins as a lark soon turns into both the unraveling of the couple’s relationship and the awakening of something that the couple definitely aren’t equipped to handle.
Poltergeist–One of the blockbusters that defined 1980s pop film was this horror tale directed by Tobe Hooper (and Steven Spielberg, say some). The average California life of the Freeling family radically turns upside down after ghosts start communicating with them through their TV set. (Cultural note: this story takes place at a time when commercial 24-hour TV broadcasting didn’t exist.) What initially seems fun and entertaining becomes far less so when the ghosts may be responsible for the youngest Freeling child suddenly going missing.