The time has come once again for that most hallowed and accessible of online streaming services known as Netflix to cut a few titles from its voluminous selection of films and television shows while adding many more guaranteed to please its subscriber base.
Below you’ll find my picks for the best of Netflix’s new additions for the month of September. As usual, most of the titles are available for viewing right now, but there are a few more set to premiere later in the month that those of us unable to get out to the movie theater much will find to be of great interest.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
What we call Hell, he calls home. The first three movies in the violent cinematic legacy of John Rambo are first up on my list of this month’s Netflix recommendations. Obviously my choice for the best of the lot is 1982’s First Blood, the feature that started it all and had a legendary reputation as the project that no respected filmmaker and star could get a green light for in Hollywood until Sylvester Stallone stepped in to play the troubled anti-hero of David Morrell‘s 1972 debut novel under the direction of Ted Kotcheff (Wake in Fright) with young Carolco Pictures putting up the budget. The result is one of the decade’s strongest and darkest classics of action cinema, centered around a Stallone performance that ranks as one of the much-maligned icon’s best to this day.
First Blood was also a surprising box office success that led to a sequel three years later, the even-bigger Rambo: First Blood Part II. Stallone returned, a bigger star than ever before, in a fast-paced vehicle that leaned heavily on mindless action, unabashed patriotism, and the type of cartoonish adversaries you might find in on an episode of G.I. Joe. It’s comically dated, but still a ton of explosive fun. 1988’s Rambo III doubles down on the previous movie’s embarrassing flaws and refuses to tread different territory, making it the only entry in the series that you can skip without really missing anything.
Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean‘s masterful, sumptuous masterpiece of historical adventure featuring the late Peter O’Toole in one of the all-time great star-making performances is truly one of cinema’s most magnificent achievements in terms of storytelling and technical accomplishment. Restored to its intended running time and streaming in glorious widescreen, Lawrence of Arabia is epic filmmaking at a level we will likely never see again. Watching it on a computer or television monitor is nowhere near the experience of seeing it on the largest and widest of theater screens, but at least you can view Lawrence in the format and length its trail-blazing director originally desired. Good enough for me.
Masters of the Universe
Hyped to the max as the “Star Wars of the 1980s,” Cannon Films’ attempt to kick a blockbuster franchise based on Mattel’s mega-popular He-Man toy line turned out to be one of the decade’s most notorious box office failures. Thanks to countless cable airings and strong home video rentals and tales, the years have been a little kinder to Gary Goddard‘s pretty cool fantasy-adventure. Despite star Dolph Lundgren‘s struggles with an accent that doesn’t make his every other line of dialogue sound like it came out of a broken speaker at a fast food joint’s drive-thru lane, the dude has the presence and the looks to summon the power of Grayskull. Frank Langella has gone on record stating that he loved playing Skeletor, and damn if the famed stage and screen actor doesn’t just chew the scenery like a death row convict enjoying his last meal of steak and home fries. Masters of the Universe is unapologetic comic book cinema and a clear influence on the Thor movies.
The Monster Squad
Between this and his directorial debut Night of the Creeps, Fred Dekker was kind of a god in the late ’80s. It’s just a shame that he didn’t receive the recognition he so richly deserved until more than a decade too late when his double feature of genre-bending classics started to be appreciated by legions of appreciative new fans. The Monster Squad was Dekker’s love letter to the legendary Universal horror films that entertained audiences throughout the Great Depression, World War II, and the early years of the Cold War, and that geeky adoration for the grand old days when all it took to scare someone was some cool creature make-up and the right balance of atmosphere and nuance permeates every frame of his sophomore feature. It’s shockingly violent for a movie made to appeal to younger audiences of the time (it definitely earned that PG-13 rating), but also thrilling, funny, and sweet. Tom Noonan‘s sensitive performance as the Frankenstein monster is by far the finest interpretation of the character since Boris Karloff last donned the stitched dome and neck bolts.
There was a time when the majority of the moviegoing public didn’t shrug their collective shoulders, slap their collective foreheads, and let out a universe-shattering “Meh” at the news of another collaboration between filmmaker Tim Burton and his frequent male muse and star Johnny Depp. That once-special relationship seem to have hit its peak with 1999’s Sleepy Hollow, a gory Gothic horror take on Washington Irving’s famous short story imbued with cheeky wit by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) – with an uncredited assist from playwright Tom Stoppard – and gorgeously eerie production design that recalls the classic monster movies of Hammer Studios. Burton and Depp reenvisioned Irving’s shaky-kneed hero Ichabod Crane as an inquisitive detective tasked with solving a series of decapitation murders, and the Headless Horseman as the head-lopping killer whose identity and motive I dare not spoil. The supporting cast includes Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, and a few Burton regulars (including the late Michael Gough and Christopher Lee).
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I (Available September 16)
The second half of the conclusion to the dystopian adventure saga that unleashed some spectacular thrills and intimate drama cloaking a plethora of provocative ideas about where we are and where we could be going won’t hit theaters until November 20. In the meantime, prepare yourself for the glorious last stand of reluctant hero and leader Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her legions of repressed citizens ready for battle with the penultimate installment of the Hunger Games franchise. The events of Mockingjay Part I take its main characters to the very brink of tragedy and madness and cast serious doubt over whether or not they will emerge from the final battle victorious and alive. Though hardly light on set-up and exposition, Mockingjay Part I still manages to nail character moments both minor and major and has enough action sequences in its reserve to keep fans pinned to their seats and definitely down for the big finale.
Netflix also has the second Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, available for streaming.
Moonrise Kingdom (Available September 16)
To date this remains my personal favorite film made by the gifted visionary Wes Anderson, a heartfelt and honest tale of star-crossed young lovers (Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward) who run away together from their respective living arrangements on a lonely little island off the coast of New England and must stay one step ahead from a search party that includes her parents (Frances McDormand, Bill Murray), his scout troop (led by Edward Norton), the local police chief (Bruce Willis), and Social Services (Tilda Swinton). Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet little comic treasure that rewards every viewing by drawing us ever more into the lives of its richly eccentric characters and the world they have made for themselves.
Thor: The Dark World (Available September 24)
I pity this movie. It doesn’t deserve its reputation as the least of Marvel Studios’ Phase 2 line-up, and yet in a company that includes Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World sort of won that title by default (I think Age of Ultron deserves it more, but I might be in the minority there). Seasoned television director Alan Taylor brought his years of experience investing classic shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones with plenty of cinematic scale to match their ambitions to the latest solo adventure of Marvel’s God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) as he must once again defend both his home of Asgard and his adopted base of operations Earth from a threat that could possibly destroy the universe as we know it. Simple enough for a god and his trusty hammer Mjolnir. Tom Hiddleston is also back as Thor’s devious brother Loki, willing to offer his services in exchange for a little redemption, but still a question mark in terms of trustworthiness. The Dark World is a rip-roaring adventure into the unknown that isn’t afraid to go too weird or cosmic when the occasion demands such extremes.
Update – We removed the listing for Avengers: Age of Ultron, as it was discovered that it will not be available this month.
That wraps up my choices for the best movies to watch this month on Netflix. Having a subscription is one of the best investments that someone who is rarely away from their laptop for long like myself can make. I highly recommend getting one. Come back next time for more recommendations.