Phil’s Big Streaming Pile: August Edition

This month offers a well-rounded diet of Criterions, classics and crap. 

It's almost old-fashioned to keep talking about what great movies there are available on Netflix, partly because instant access to everything is the new normal, and partly because there are so many other streaming avenues for this stuff that at this point I sound like a grandpa talking about "The Netflix." Guilty! Though I've veered into Amazon's Instant library, the options are increasing (Warner's instant service looks to be shaping up nicely), and I'm a little behind the times. But hey, I'm never going to get around to everything, and I gotta start somewhere. So do you.

BUG - How fun it was to see Killer Joe last year and be reminded that William Friedkin is still out there, pushing buttons and taking risks. And how great to see Killer Joe and be reminded that Friedkin had already reminded us of this in 2006, with Bug. Based, as is Killer Joe, on a play by Tracy Letts, this one feels possibly even more theatrical, with the action relegated to one room and cleanly carved up into three distinct acts. I never thought I'd be recommending a movie that starred Ashley Judd and Harry Connick Jr., but here we are. Perhaps most importantly, the film is Ground Zero of crazy Michael Shannon performances, as the intense actor (who originated this role on the London stage) displays his entire spectrum of insanity, portraying a man whose paranoid beliefs spread like a virus from his own mind to that of his lover's.

CREATURE - The late '70s/early '80s "blue-collaring" of sci-fi production design, popularized with Alien, was a godsend to low-budget exploitation producers. Space travelers no longer needed to populate antiseptic, utopian environments; it was okay for everything to look lived-in, dimly lit and low-rent. All good news for the makers of Creature, a 1985 Alien ripoff with a killer poster and a 4x3 transfer right out of the golden age of VHS. It's pure '80s video store cheese, but where else can you see Klaus Kinski acting opposite Ferris Bueller's dad in a film directed by the guy who sculpted the Captain Kirk mask they used to make The Shape in Halloween? Nowhere, that's where.

HOPSCOTCH - It's always fun to find Criterion titles sitting on Netflix Instant; it wasn't that long ago that the Hulu Plus deal threatened to take them all away from Netflix users. So now there are at least two streaming services on which you can enjoy this 1980 spy comedy, a comedic spin on the Jason Bourne "spy gone rogue" trope, with Walter Matthau in the Matt Damon slot. Yes, it's as wonderful as that sounds. A film that will make you nostalgic for grown-up comedy.

YOUNG MR. LINCOLN - Another Criterion entry sitting on Netflix! Someone will have to tell me in the comments if there's a director besides John Ford who has two Criterion titles which share the same release year. From 1939, Ford has Stagecoach and this film, an entertaining but small-scale bit of myth-building, centered around a murder case in which Lincoln (Henry Fonda) must defend two innocents. It's breezy but heartfelt, and Fonda need slay no vampires to be the most badass Abe Lincoln ever portrayed onscreen.

SOLOMON KANE - Based on a Robert E. Howard character, this import has been languishing without a US release for four years, during which time it became a staple of the bootleg DVD tables at horror cons. And then one day, before I could even notice it came out on Blu last month, here it is on Netflix. Not gonna lie; I haven't watched this yet. Though 2013 has been a good year for long-shelved films finally seeing release (All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, You're Next), word of mouth has been tepid on this one. But for me the whole streaming revolution has been about access, about getting to see films that were denied us, sometimes for decades. Crap word of mouth or no, I've been waiting four years to see this and damn it, I'm gonna.