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The Best Stuff on Netflix in August 2020

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If you’ve never been exposed to the weirdness of a Charlie Kaufman scripted film, Netflix this month offers the opportunity to see two of his classics. But that’s not the only interesting thing coming out on Netflix in the next couple of weeks. There’s an acclaimed recounting of a dubious relationship between a 16-year-old teen girl and a far older man. There’s a nature documentary series that promises a few cuteness overload moments. And there’s the must-see of the month, a docuseries about ICE immigration enforcement practices that ICE officials really didn’t want the public to see.   

August 1 

An Education–Nick Hornby scripts and Lone Scherfig directs this highly praised adaptation of  Lynn Barber’s 1960s-set memoir of how she was seduced by a much older man when she was 16.  While walking home from orchestra rehearsal, Jenny (the Barber character played by then-newcomer Carey Mulligan) is offered a lift home by the super-smooth David (Peter Sarsgaard).  A relationship soon develops between them, with any sketchiness papered over by David’s charm.  But when Jenny eventually discovers David is not what he appears to be, will she give up her dreams of going to Oxford to be with him?  Unsurprisingly, Mulligan’s performance earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination.    

Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich–Self-respecting fans of cinematic weird comedies owe it to themselves to check out this entertainingly demented film if they haven’t already.  Charlie Kaufman’s script asks “What if you could liven up your dull life by spending 15 minutes inside the head of actor John Malkovich?  Would the experience be worth it even if you get unceremoniously dumped by the side of the Jersey Turnpike after your time was up?”  Meet three people particularly affected by this discovery.  They are realist puppeteer Craig Schwartz (John Cusack), Craig’s animal loving wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz in very frumpy mode), and the opportunistic Maxine Lund (Catherine Keener).  What happens to these three eventually involves everything from an office building’s 7 ½ floor to seeing what happens when a human consciousness semi-figuratively eats its own tail.

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind–Charlie Kaufman’s script for this bizarre romantic comedy earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  Shy Joel (Jim Carrey) and very free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet) meet on a train to Montauk.  Why do these two very different people feel what might be a romantic connection with each other?  Well, because once upon a time the two of them were in a relationship.  But an acrimonious split led to Clementine’s going to Lacuna Inc. to erase every memory of her relationship with Joel.  After discovering what Clementine has done, Joel also decides to use Lacuna’s memory-erasing services.  However, trouble comes when he soon realizes he wants to keep some memory of happier times with Clementine secreted away from Lacuna’s efficient memory scrubbers.  

Hardcore Henry–This berserk action movie might be called a real live action video game.  The title character is a robotically-enhanced amnesiac, and the film is mainly told from his perspective as if this was a FPS.  Henry runs around Moscow in search of allies and supplies to accomplish his mission of rescuing his wife Estelle from the mercenaries who kidnapped her.  Along the way expect lots of guns to be fired, lots of blood to be shed, and lots of property to be damaged.  Then again, if none of these things happened, where would the fun be?    

Mad Max–George Miller’s 1979 low-budget film launched one of the great cinematic action franchises.  The film’s success also launched lead actor Mel Gibson to stardom, so YMMV. The tale’s set in a dystopic future Australia which has descended into chaos thanks to oil becoming incredibly scarce.  Trying to keep a semblance of order are the lawmen of the Main Force Patrol.   But the motorcycle gang known as the Acolytes seem to commit crimes with impunity.   Max Rockatansky (Gibson) is the Patrol’s best driver.  Violent escalating clashes between the Patrol and the Acolytes eventually lead to Max’s quitting the force.  However, the Acolytes have very long memories about such things as Max being responsible for the fiery death of the Acolyte known as Nightrider…    

Toradora!

Toradora!–High school student Ryuji Takasu probably wishes more people paid attention to the old saying about not judging by appearances.  Other people may see him as a delinquent with an intimidating face.  But he’s actually a kind person with a love for housework.  Then again, fellow student Taiga Aisaka has the same problem.  She may look cute and fragile, but she’s quite feisty and quite skilled with the wooden katana she wields.  When Ryuji and Taiga discover they each have a crush on the other person’s best friend, the duo form a very unlikely alliance in hopes of cementing their respective romances.  

What Keeps You Alive–Jules and Jackie are celebrating their one-year anniversary at Jackie’s family’s old lakeside home.  However, the happy celebration soon turns tense as Jackie grows increasingly uncommunicative.   A confrontation results in Jackie pushing her wife off a cliff edge in an attempt to kill her.  Jules survives, and slowly learns the horrifying truth about the woman she married.  The feminine Jackie regularly marries her victims before she kills them for sport later.  Can Jules’ determination and wits help her survive against a stone cold killer with hunting experience?   

August 3

Immigration Nation

Immigration Nation–Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials wanted to have certain scenes from this docuseries removed.  Alternately, they wanted the broadcast delayed until after the Orange Skull was safely re-elected.  If you’re wondering why, make time for this program!  ICE allowed documentary filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz unprecedented behind the scenes access to their daily operations.  What the filmmakers recorded over three years was how ICE implemented the Orange Skull’s desire to crack down on illegal immigration.  The short version of what the filmmakers found is reconfirmation of the truth that All Cops Are Bastards.  We’re talking tricking people into letting ICE agents into their homes, publicly lying about how many of the people ICE arrests are actually criminals, and the organization’s lack of empathy for the people they police.  Add to this ICE officials’ complaints about Clusiau and Schwarz allegedly being too sympathetic to ICE detainees, and you’ve got must-watch TV.

August 4

Sam Jay: 3 In The Morning–Jay, for those who don’t know her, has earned an Emmy for her “Saturday Night Live” writing.   This standup comedy special was filmed at Atlanta’s The Masquerade before the coronavirus lockdowns hit.  In it, Jay brings her trademark authenticity in describing her comic mishaps in discovering she’s a lesbian as well as in navigating the problems of life with a girlfriend.

August 5

Anelka: Misunderstood–Fan of France’s national soccer team?  Then you’ve probably heard of controversial player Nicolas Anelka.  This film takes a deep dive into Anelka’s life and career, and how his skill at the sport was matched by his skill at being a headline-grabber.

World’s Most Wanted–True crime fans will want to check out this docuseries looking at five deadly criminals who have so far escaped imprisonment.  One of them has been running free for over twenty years.  The subjects include a drug kingpin responsible for the murders of 50 people, a bomber connected to the al Shabaab terrorist group, and the businessman who bankrolled the Rwandan genocide.

August 6

The Rain

The Rain Season 3–It may be the final season of this Danish dystopian thriller, but the shortness of each season makes it easy to binge and catch up before the new season drops.  It’s several years after a virus transmitted via rainfall has wiped out most of Scandinavia.  Simone and her brother Rasmus have survived by hiding out in a bunker.  When they emerge, they find that other survivors are fighting over food and shelter.  Simone takes the lead in fighting for the duo’s survival as she’s been entrusted with protecting Rasmus for a particular reason.  However, as Season 3 begins, Simone’s feelings of responsibility for Rasmus’ welfare has undergone a dramatic shift which sets the siblings at odds with each other.

August 7

High Seas: Season 3–Fan of mystery series set in a classy location?  For such old school whodunnit fans, this Spanish series might fit the bill.  The setting is the luxury liner Barbara de Braganza, which is making a transatlantic trip from Spain to Rio de Janeiro in the late 1940s.  Sisters Eva and Carolina Villanueva are traveling aboard the ship following the death of their father.  Eva may be an author facing writer’s block.  But that doesn’t stop her from getting embroiled in investigating the mysterious deaths that are occurring aboard the ship.  Amazingly, as Season 3 begins, the Barbara de Braganza still hasn’t reached Rio de Janeiro, but it’s getting closer.  People are still getting killed, though.

Nailed It! Mexico Season 2–For those unfamiliar with Netflix’s cooking competition franchise, amateur bakers try hard to recreate elegant desserts with hilariously terrible results.  This version of the series mixes both Mexican cultural specificity with the universal appeal of the franchise premise.  So there are nods to telenovelas, quinceaneras, and luchadors.

Tiny Creatures

Tiny Creatures–This new nature series follows the adventures of some of the smaller members of the animal kingdom.  In close and clear footage directed by “Planet Earth II” cinematographer Jonathan Jones, viewers can see everything from a duckling taking a bubble bath to a flying squirrel doing its aeronautical thing.  “Luke Cage” star Mike Colter provides narration.  Be ready for occasional moments of cuteness overload.

August 8

The Promise–While Turkey’s Ottoman Empire breathed its last gasps during World War One, the Turks slaughtered over 1.5 million Armenians.  Yet to this day, Turkey has never been held to account for the genocide and in fact denies it even happened.   Also shamefully, up until director Terry George made this film, Hollywood has never done a drama using this subject matter.  The microcosmic center of the film is a love triangle that develops among three people.  Mikael (Oscar Isaac) is an Armenian medical student whose studies in Constantinople are marred by anti-Armenian discrimination.  Chris Myers (Christian Bale) is an American AP reporter who discovers the Turks have potentially nasty plans in store for the country’s Armenian population.  Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) is an Armenian dance teacher who may be Chris’ girlfriend, yet she finds herself drawn to Mikael.  The events of what will eventually be known as the Armenian genocide will soon overshadow these characters’ fates.

August 10

Nightcrawler–In one of his best performances, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou, a man willing to do whatever it takes to grab the millions he feels he deserves from the American dream.  Opportunity comes when he discovers the world of freelance cameramen who specialize in capturing moments of human misery.  Lou soon demonstrates his own knack for taking photos of nasty accidents or the aftermath of violent crimes and then selling his shots to local TV news stations.  But the question becomes just how much Lou is willing to manipulate actual human tragedy for his own personal gain.

August 13

Safety Not Guaranteed–When magazine writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) discovers an ad seeking a volunteer for a possible dangerous time travel experiment, he sets out to track down who placed the ad and why.  In tow are interns Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni).  It’s quickly discovered that grocery store clerk Kenneth (Jay Duplass) placed the ad and that he’s entirely serious.  However, while Jeff blows off the assignment, Darius eventually reveals her own reasons for hoping Kenneth’s time travel experiment is the real deal.

An Easy Girl

An Easy Girl–High schooler Naima’s summer gets seriously rocked when older Parisian cousin Sofia comes to visit.  Sophisticated Sofia (Zahia Dehar, who gained real-life notoriety for her underage involvement in a 2009 scandal involving the French national soccer team) demonstrates an incredible capacity for provocation and pleasure.  Yet she also charms Naima with her big sisterly affection.  However, is the freedom Sofia apparently embodies really something Naima should aspire to?

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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