Since the start of the pandemic, summers have been especially hard for me as a moviegoer. First it was the lack of theaters that was getting me down (after all, who in their right mind was going to risk their life to see something in the multiplex when you could simply stay home and watch the blockbuster hits of yesteryear instead). But now that Covid’s finally caught up to Hollywood’s production cycle and seemingly less movies than ever before are even making it to theaters, the sad fact of the matter is that there simply aren’t enough new movies to see before you start having to circle back around on Thor: Love & Thunder or Top Gun: Maverick yet again.
The solution, as it turns out, is the same now as it was back then: streaming. After all, you can’t do anything about not being able to see Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 (2023) yet, but you can scroll through the apps on your TV until you come across Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Jurassic Park (1993) or Anchorman (2004) to fill the programming hole that Hollywood has left in your vacation.
Unsurprisingly for a middle-aged movie-obsessive whose job predominantly has him hammering away at a keyboard at all hours of the night, I’m not exactly what you would call an “outdoorsy” person. I can’t stand the hit, loath the humidity and never found much interest in all the wide green Earth has to offer when you’re out of range of the wifi. Oh, and this Best Picture-nominated survival horror movie from genre journeyman John Boorman certainly didn’t help things either. Repackaging the rape-revenge subgenre by way of mid-century, man-of-action nature fiction, Boorman deftly explores the natures of masculinity, trauma and friendship outside of the normalizing confines of modern-day “civilization.” Like Jaws (1975) after it, it’s the kind of sun-dappled thriller than even non-horror fans find easy to pick up and impossible to look away from (no matter how intense the proceedings eventually become).
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Although it seems practically blasphemous in this day and age of digitally shot, computer-corrected, carefully brand-managed, second unit-forward summer action movies, I’ve never especially cared for the Mission: Impossible franchise: one of the last, great vanguards of old-school, analogue, stunt-heavy and star-driven summer action movies. Understand me when I say that I enjoy them all just fine; the stunts are incredibly impressive, the technical craft is par excellence, the magnetic personalities bouncing off of each other are just as absorbing to watch as any of the actual action scenes and, by and large, the franchise has outdone itself with each and every new installment. I’ve just always found them a little disposable is all: in one ear and out the other, without much else to hook me into the film than whatever set-piece is currently on-screen. Even with that as my chief hang-up, however, I really can’t not recommend these as the perfect summertime escapism that Hollywood has to offer, especially with a new installment just over the horizon and a surprising dearth of worthwhile movies to check out at the local multiplexes. And even in its most primitively designed, nascent outing, this franchise was doing frenetic action of its type as good as it’s ever been done before. Besides, after the first movie you’ll still have the other five movies to get through (two of which are conveniently also on Netflix) before Dead Reckoning Pars 1 and 2 hit theaters in 2023 and 2024 respectively.
I Am Legend (2007)
There was a stretch there after Independence Day (1996) – the movie named for, set during and released on THE iconic American holiday, which cemented a post-Bad Boys (1995) Will Smith as the country’s more preeminent movie star – that Will Smith could do absolutely no wrong at the box office. The man so thoroughly owned the holiday weekend that he was crowned “Mr. Fourth of July” by the press, and continued to wrack of hit after hit like Men in Black (1997) and Bad Boys II (2003) for the next decade straight. And while Netflix sadly doesn’t have that quintessential 1996 Will Smith hitmaker, it does have the film that I still maintain represents his hands-down best stretch of acting to date. The 2007 action-horror hybrid I Am Legend – an adaptation of the 1954 Richard Matheson novel that had twice previously been adapted to film (The Last Man on Earth in 1964 starring Vincent Price and The Omega Man in 1971 starring Charlton Heston) – gets a lot of well-deserved guff for flubbing what is one of the horror genre’s most memorably effective denouements, but is fully owned, from start to finish, by Smith’s immensely absorbing screen presence. He carries the entire movie on his shoulders: he has to, in fact, since most of the movie is just Will Smith surviving, alone, in a long-since abandoned city, with only his dog and some department store mannequins for company. His performance really is something to see: shifting from vulnerable to hardened in the blink of an eye – and really goes a long way to explaining just how the Fresh Prince managed to dominate an entire holiday for so long at the turn of the century.
Leave No Trace (2018)
Previously the exclusive domain of rival streaming service Hulu, Leave No Trace finally makes it to other, more widely peopled streaming services after years of not getting the kind of popular traction in deserves to have. I mean, I love Hulu as much as the next guy, but it really doesn’t have the same kind of cultural presence as Netflix, and big brother Disney+ really does get the lion’s share of what their parent company has to give out. Coming from the sharp-eyed mind of Debra Granick, the director of the Ozark-set, Jennifer Lawrence film Winter’s Bone (2010), Leave No Trace is a quietly affecting drama that follows a Iraq War veteran father with PTSD and his 13-year-old daughter as they survive in the forests near Portland. It is an incredible film, with the kind of keenly realized performances that Granick is known to be able to bring forth from her casts. Now that it’s settled in the ranks of the streaming world’s omnipresent juggernaut, it will hopefully start to garner a much greater following than it was allowed to acquire elsewhere.
Did you hear the news? Chris Hemsworth has a new movie out in theaters now. No, not Interceptor (2022), the other one. No, not Spiderhead (2022), either. For as much attention as being the front-liner of the Thor movies has garnered him over the years, Mr. Hemsworth really has proven himself to be an infinitely capable, deeply charismatic and eminently photogenic leading man at the movies. And outside of Marvel’s familiar wheelhouse, nowhere has this been more evident than in Sam Hargrave’s nail-biting action-thriller Extraction. Released on Netflix near the start of the Pandemic, the film follows Hemsworth as a mercenary leader hired to find and extract a captured Indian drug lord’s son from his father’s bloodthirsty rival. And then… he… does so. The movie’s as straight forward as they come, but it gives Hemsworth and his costars ample opportunity to show off their chops as men and women of action. It also just so happens to have one of the most jaw-dropping, one-shot action sequences that will doubtless be standard viewing for any prospective filmmaker for generations to come.