The unfortunate circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic have left many of us at home with an increased amount of free time. This has led subscription-based streaming services to become more popular than ever, and the major brands are responding with the addition of amazing titles to their catalogs, including films recently released to home video and even those that were still in theatres. With this in mind, I thought I’d offer one movie recommendation for each of the five most popular streaming subscriptions.
Netflix – BLADE RUNNER (1982)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young
For fans of: Any piece of modern Sci-Fi
Simply put, Blade Runner is the most influential work of science fiction in the past five decades. It popularized several theories about the future and artificial intelligence that would eventually become standard tropes and inspired a large number of films from The Matrix to Ghost In the Shell, and TV shows like HBO’s Westworld. Set in a futuristic (but in the year 2019, ironically) and perpetually raining Los Angeles, Harrison Ford plays a Blade Runner: a special police operative whose duty is to take down rogue androids that have escaped from off-world colonies looking to increase their lifespans. What starts out as a neo-noir P.I. story becomes a touching allegory for the true meaning of existence and what it means to be human. The synth-heavy music combines with the percussion of raindrops to create a strange, dreamy experience. Blade Runner expires on Netflix at the end of April, so make sure to put it at the top of your My List.
Standout Performance: Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty – If you watch only one scene from this movie, make sure it’s the “Tears in the Rain” speech.
HBOGo – UPGRADE (2018)
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson
For fans of: Indie superheroes and talking technology
Independent horror and sci-fi movies are in something of a renaissance, while superhero movies have become the most popular theatre attractions of the past twenty years. One of Blumhouse’s best-kept secrets, Upgrade finds a way to combine all three genres while delivering a wildly original story. After a mechanic named Grey is left paralyzed in a tragic attack, he is given an implant by a tech innovator client that allows him to walk again; but this alone can not heal him from what has happened to him. The implant, known as STEM, begins speaking to Grey in his mind and offers to aid him in seeking revenge against those who left him for dead. Upgrade is something like The Punisher meets Ex Machina, with a little dash of Cronenberg sprinkled in. It also expires on April 30, so be sure to catch it while it’s available.
Standout Performance: Simon Maiden as STEM – Only a voice role, but with shades of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Disney+ – ONWARD (2020)
Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Voice Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
For fans of: Fantasy worlds and that nostalgic Disney charm
Disney and Pixar’s streak of animated adventures that touch the soul continues with this year’s Onward, which had its theatrical release cut short due to coronavirus but has since been made available on Disney+. Dabbling in the fantasy genre that has become ever-so-popular thanks to Game of Thrones, the movie is set in a world inhabited by magical creatures such as elves, cyclops, and centaurs that have abandoned using magic in favor of technological advancements that mirror the modern world. In a world that has forgotten much of its history, two elf brothers embark on a quest to find a magic gem that will allow them to spend one day with their dad, who passed away when they were young. Onward’s interesting take on fantasy tropes and patented mix of family humor and heartfelt moments make it another triumph in Pixar’s catalog, showing that the studio has no plans of slowing down in the new decade.
Standout Performance: Chris Pratt as Barley – based on the enthusiasm that can be heard in all of Barley’s lines, you can tell that Chris Pratt had a lot of fun with this role.
Hulu – PARASITE (2019)
Directed by: Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Song Kang-ho, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam
For fans of: Dark comedies and insight into Asian culture
Having solidified its case for best film of 2019, South Korea’s Parasite became the first foreign-language movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, along with a slew of other hardware. It tells the story of a poor family that connives their way into working for a wealthy but oblivious businessman, his wife, and children at their extravagant home. The story spirals into thrilling chaos as the workers begin to in turn work their employers. It can be tough to truly explain what makes acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho’s latest outing so great; it mixes screwball comedy with hair-raising tension while examining the social class system of Korean society, and tells a story that everyone can relate to even when spoken in another language.
Standout Performance: Song Kang-ho as Kim Ki-taek – Kang-ho’s performance as the titular family patriarch offers a glimpse into the eyes of a man tortured by the opportunities and luxuries unavailable to him.
Amazon Prime – THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
For fans of: Psychological horror and salty sea tales
My personal favorite from last year, Robert Eggers’ follow-up to The Witch is the latest of A24’s stellar horror movies to be included with Amazon Prime (as of April 16). The Lighthouse is set on a singular piece of grueling, rocky islet and stars just two actors: Willem Dafoe as a cooky sea captain stereotype and Robert Pattinson as a mysterious drifter who dreams(?) about mermaids. Shot in black and white, the film enthralls you in a world shrouded by the dark clouds of an ocean storm, where nothing you see seems to be real. Rather than get you with jump-scares or gore, The Lighthouse focuses on the horrors that manifest in one’s mind when dealing with extreme isolation. And while hopefully, no one’s situation is that drastic, it’s something that everyone might be going through a little bit right now.
Standout Performance: Robert Pattinson as Ephraim Winslow – not taking anything away from Joaquin Phoenix, but I personally thought Mr. Former Teen Vampire Heartthrob should’ve won the Oscar for this performance.