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Even More of the Best Stuff on Netflix This Month

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John Was Trying To Contact Aliens

In TV terms, August is a great month for catching up on series you’ve heard about but haven’t seen yet.  The second half of Netflix’s August offers a chance to catch well-regarded sequels to “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and the original “The Karate Kid.”  Or for those who wonder how Daniel Craig revitalized James Bond, see his first turn as the famed spy.  But the easiest bit of catch-up is with a workplace comedy anime whose previous seasons have episodes running only 15 minutes each.

The new stuff appearing this time offers some new takes on familiar things.  There’s a behind the scenes series about the golden age of classic video game creation.  A foul-mouthed take on the “turning losers into winners” sports story has some well known talent behind it.  And there’s even a charming short film about a guy who broadcasts good rock music to extraterrestrials.

Hopefully, there’s something here to chase away the shelter-in-place blues. 

August 14

The Legend Of Korra

The Legend Of Korra (complete)–This sequel to the popular animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” is set in a universe where certain people have the power to bend (control) the elements of water, fire, earth, or air.  Only an avatar can bend all four elements and keep the world in peace and balance.  The new series is set 70 years after the events of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and follows the adventures of the new avatar Korra.  Element bending in Korra’s world has lost its spiritual significance and has now  been banalized for everything from competitive sports to criminal activity.  As Korra learns to grow in skill and responsibility, she faces everything from an anti-bending movement to the Red Lotus insurrection.  But as Korrasami shippers will tell you, industrialist’s daughter and non-bender Asami Sato will eventually play a tremendous part in Korra’s life.

August 15

Rita: Season 5–The incredibly popular Danish comedy/drama returns for another season.  Rita may be a hyper-crude single mother and very unconventional teacher.  Yes, she also has a bad tendency for being sexually interested in all the wrong people and for frequently embarrassing her kids.  But when it comes to standing up for her students, she’s a great advocate.  The new season comes with some unexpected baggage.  Season 4 ended in a good place for Rita, and it wasn’t clear if the series could go any further.  Will the new season take the character in a new or interesting direction, or will the show’s quality suffer for the sake of a cash grab?

August 19

High Score

High Score–Are you a fan of old NES or SNES video games?  Do you wonder how such video games as PacMan, Mortal Kombat, and Sonic The Hedgehog came to be in the first place?  Then check out this documentary series about the golden age of video game creation.  It was a time when such legendary video games as Final Fantasy and Doom were first brought to life.  The computer pioneers and imaginative artists behind these games had wide-open creative territory to play around in, and this series shows how they made good use of that freedom.  

August 20

Biohackers–In this German science fiction thriller series, new medical student Mia gets drawn into the world of home biohacking and synthetic biology.  Thanks to a friend of a friend, the new student lands a job at the brilliant Professor Lorenz’ biotech company.  The Professor is a big booster of the potential of synthetic biology.  But when Mia starts asking a lot of questions about the research Lorenz’ group is doing, there’s more than simple curiosity at work here.  And there are hints that ethical corners are being cut by Lorenz’ team… 

Great Pretender–One of the must-see anime series of the month is this contemporary con-artist comedy adventure from the studio that brought you “Attack On Titan.”  Character designs are by legendary “Neon Genesis Evangelion” designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto.  Lead character Makoto Edamura claims to be Japan’s #1 con artist, but that’s only in his own mind.  It takes the spectacular backfiring of an attempt to con French tourist Laurent Thierry before Edamura gets a reality check.  Thierry is in reality a true world-class con artist, and he tricks “Edamame” (his nickname for Makoto) into becoming his partner.  The Japanese small time crook soon finds himself part of an international team of con artists who target rich, power-abusing creeps. If you were ever a fan of the series “Leverage” or “Hustle,” this might be your new favorite anime series.     

John Was Trying To Contact Aliens–Rural electronics wizard John Shepherd spent 30 years attempting to contact extraterrestrials.  His communication medium of choice: great rock and roll beamed millions of miles into space.  Shepherd’s Space Rock project may never have gotten a reply from outer space.  But that doesn’t mean the man’s incapable of making any sort of personal connection whatsoever.  Winner of a Sundance Film Festival Non-fiction Short Film Jury Award.

August 21

Hoops

Hoops–This adult animated series comes from the creative writing team of Ben Hoffman (Archer) along with Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie).  Its protagonist is a foul mouthed short-tempered high school basketball coach (Jake Johnson, “New Girl”) who feels he has a sure-fire way to hit the basketball big leagues.  His plan: turn around the fortunes of the school basketball team he’s been coaching.  But he doesn’t seem to realize just how terrible his players are…or that he might be part of the team’s problems too.

Rust Valley Restorers Season 3–This car restoration reality show moves over from the History Channel to Netflix for its third season.  Its setting is a Rocky Mountains-based car community called Rust Valley.  The Valley’s a junkyard of acres and acres of old and abandoned classic cars.  However, thanks to the area’s unique weather conditions, these abandoned cars might be restored to working order with the right bit of TLC.  Meet Mike Hall.  He runs a classic car rehabilitation shop with his sidekick Avery.  However, can the shop be a profitable business venture as well as a labor of love?  If you like classic car porn mixed with an underdog story, this might be worth checking out.

August 23

1 BR–Costume design student Sarah runs away from her overbearing father and moves into a Los Angeles gated apartment community.  But what seems to be a nice friendly place where the neighbors get together for barbecue parties isn’t.  Why are there way too many security cameras around the apartment complex?  And why do Sarah’s neighbors seem far too intrusive for people supposedly concerned with their neighbors’ welfare?  Sarah soon discovers her new living situation might be far worse than what she left behind.  Warning: Definitely not recommended for those who can’t stand watching terrible things happening to cats in movies.

August 25

Emily’s Wonder Lab

Emily’s Wonder Lab–Know a younger kid daunted by the subject of science?  This new live action kid’s show might be the answer.  Host Emily Calandrelli (who hails from San Francisco, so City By The Bay Pride Represent) will walk kids through mind-blowing demonstrations and activities that will show STEAM can be fun.  Don’t worry about the possibility of the show’s presentation being dry or pedantic.  Calandrelli’s day job is being a science explainer. 

August 26

Do Do Sol Sol La La Sol–Pianist Goo Ra Ra lives a simple and mischievous life without fear thanks to her family’s privileged economic situation.  But when her family’s bankruptcy kicks her out of her comfort zone, the pianist hits rock bottom.  She manages to reach the small village that’s home to the piano academy known as La La Land.  There, she meets the free-spirited yet mysterious Sun Woo Joon.  Even though Sun has no real goals in life, he works part-time jobs to make ends meet.  Will Goo and Sun’s friendship eventually become something more?

La Venganza de Analia (Analia’s Vengeance)–In this Colombian drama series, Analia Guerrero is the country’s best political advisor.  Presidential candidate Guillermo Leon Mejia has noticed Analia’s talent and makes her his right-hand woman and campaign strategist.  But Analia’s plan to make Mejia first in the polls involves more than professional reasons.  Mejia murdered her mother and the angry daughter wants to exact vengeance by publicly destroying the candidate.  However, there are personal complications to Analia’s plan.   (Hint: how do you render in Spanish Darth Vader’s famous confession from “The Empire Strikes Back?”)   

Rising Phoenix–Did you know the Paralympics Games are the world’s third biggest sporting event?  Or that it’s been around for literal decades?  This documentary on the history of the Paralympic Movement comes from BAFTA-nominated directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui.  Originally planned for a release to coincide with the Tokyo 2020 games, the film will be part of the run-up to next year’s Paralympics.  Featured in the film are such accomplished Paralympics athletes as seven time wheelchair racing champion Tatyana McFadden and Chinese powerlifter Cui Zhe.  

August 27

Aggretsuko

Aggrestuko Season 3–Stuck in a crappy job?  Personally humiliated by a manager at work?  This gem of an anime series feels your pain.  Retsuko is an unassuming young fox who just wants to be a productive member of society.  However, her corporate work life is filled with tyrannical bosses, backstabbing employees, and other daily humiliations.  But rather than going postal, Retsuko blows off steam via her post-work bellowing of death metal karaoke.  The new season might make you think things are looking up for Retsuko now that she’s married a co-worker.  However, between still working her crappy job and raising a family, the little fox will still have lots of material for her death metal karaoke.

August 28

Cobra Kai Seasons 1 & 2–For those who aren’t YouTube Red subscribers, here’s a chance to finally catch up on this unlikely sequel series.  It may be 34 years after the events of “The Karate Kid,” yet Johnny Lawrence still mourns the loss of his high school glory.  When he steps in to save new neighbor Miguel from bullying, the incident inspires him to revive the Cobra Kai dojo to help kids like Miguel.  But former high school rival Daniel LaRusso is not exactly thrilled by the news.  True, he may own a successful car dealership and have an ideal family.  Yet that old rivalry with Johnny left Daniel with PTSD.  Add to the mix Johnny’s resentment that Daniel “cheated” his way to victory in “The Karate Kid” finale, and an old rivalry is so on again. The series comes from the creative teams behind the “Harold & Kumar” films and “Hot Tub Time Machine.”       

August 31

Casino Royale–This film featuring Daniel Craig’s first turn as James Bond could be nicknamed “Bond Begins.”  The source material happens to be the first James Bond novel, but the film’s also notable for showing the origins of several Bond trademarks (e.g. the reason Bond prefers his drinks “shaken not stirred”).  The plot concerns Bond’s taking part in a very high-stakes card game at the titular casino.  The international criminal Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), a participant in the game, hopes to win enough at cards to erase some serious money problems.  Bond’s job is to use his own card-playing skills to bankrupt Le Chiffre at the table.  It’s hoped that a spectacular financial loss will make Le Chiffre willing to rat on other bigger criminals.  If Bond fails, the British government has just helped finance terrorism.  Duplicity and treachery from sometimes unexpected sources complicate Bond’s job.  And the British agent should hope his luck extends beyond the gambling table if he expects to survive a very nasty form of low-tech torture. 

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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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