Each week within this column we strive to pair the latest in theatrical releases to the worthwhile titles currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.
It’s a thrilling week in movies! Hordes of Potterheads will mob theaters at midnight to see the much-anticipated Battle of Hogwarts, while a silly old bear tumbles back with a new tale from the Hundred Acre Wood, and a master documentarian brings a twisted true tale to light. To take the excitement home, screen this selection of streaming features from the comfort of your couch.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
In the final film of the world-thrilling film series, The Boy Who Lived (Daniel Radcliffe) prepares for the final showdown with He Who Must Not Be Named (Ralph Fiennes). But come on, you knew that! Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Alan Rickman co-star.
For more tales of magic and mayhem, try this tricky trio:
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) Jay Baruchel stars in this Nic Cage-produced adventure, inspired by the titular Mickey Mouse sequence from Disney’s Fantasia. The nebbish leading man plays a gawky would-be wizard, trained in a crucial moment by Cage – in full-on kook mode. While the plot is a bit absurd (and ridden with holes), the action sequences, which are full of practical effects and oft shot on location in New York City, are undeniable fun. Alfred Molina co-stars as a delightfully demented evil wizard.
Alice in Wonderland (2010) Mia Wasikowska stars in Tim Burton’s strange re-imagination of Lewis Carroll’s beloved tale of a girl who tumbles into a magical world of potions, monsters and maniacs, chief among them: the ginger-haired Mad Hatter (played with a fierce commitment by Johnny Depp). Harry Potter alum Helena Bonham Carter co-stars as the murderous, giant-headed Red Queen.
Labyrinth (1986) For a taste of something weird and wonderful, rediscover Jim Henson’s winding tale of a young girl (Jennifer Connelly) who must enter a deeply strange and treacherous maze to recover her baby brother that has been kidnapped by wild-haired David Bowie, playing a fiercely sensual fop/wizard known as Jareth the Goblin King.
Winnie the Pooh
The silly old bear is back! And this time around Pooh and his lovable crew set out to rescue Christopher Robin, who the easily befuddled bear believes has been captured by a creature called the Backson! Voice actor extraordinaire Jim Cummings, who has played Pooh since the late ’80s, stars alongside John Cleese, Tom Kenny and Craig Ferguson.
The Princess and the Frog (2009) While there is a bevy of Pooh pictures, none are currently streaming. However, Disney does have their return to 2D animation available online! Set in New Orleans during the Jazz Age, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is an ambitious African-American chef who dreams of a elegant restaurant of her own. But her dreams are put on hold when a cursed kiss from a frog prince turns her amphibian and sends the pugilistic pair on a wild adventure complete with Voodoo witch doctors, trumpet-playing gators, and a Creole lightning bug whose besotted with a far off star. Terrence Howard, John Goodman, and Pooh’s Jim Cummings lend their voices.
The Secret Life of Toys (1994) In this tale of living toys, the heroes aren’t animated – but rather are Muppets! Jim Henson studios created this colorful crew, who over the course of 13 episodes go on a string of wild adventures! And like Pooh, they too have an excitable tiger in their ranks!
A Bear Named Winnie (2004) This live-action family-friendly adventure is based on the true story of an orphaned bear cub taken in by a kind-hearted Canadian soldier, who once sent into the fray of World War I, donated the charming bear to the London Zoo, where she inspired A.A. Milne to craft a story for his son. It’s a winsome tale that stars a real bear cub alongside a pre-sex symbol Michael Fassbender as the animal-loving lead. Gil Bellows and Stephen Fry co-star.
Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris leaps from the hard-hitting reality of Abu Ghraib (Standard Operating Procedure) to a cheeky biopic about controversial tabloid icon Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming who drew world-wide notice when she was accused of abducting her Mormon ex-boyfriend and raping him repeatedly. This hopeless (and possibly demented) romantic insists that’s just gossip, and the real story is one of love, sex and Mormon brainwashing And that’s just the beginning…
Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr. (1999) This is the expertly crafted tale of a strange little man who went from being a happily married designer of more efficient implements of death (gallows, gas chambers, etc.) to being a key witness in a controversial Canadian court case concerning a holocaust denier and his inflammatory claims. This is the first of Morris’ films I’d ever seen, and I count it as the doc that first drew me to the genre.
For the Bible Tells Me So (2007) Tabloid (among other things) is a story of the battle of sex and religion, and in that theme, I recommend this striking and poignant Sundance doc. Documentarian Daniel G. Karslake visits with a number of Christian families, who count a gay member in their number. With numerous religious leaders declaring the bible denounces those who “practice” homosexuality, these gay Christians often face a crippling fear of being ostracized from their family, faith and community should they come out of the closet. Thankfully, while some tales are tragic, others are wonderfully hopeful – including the inspiring story of Reverend Gene Robinson, who since the film’s release has become the first openly gay Episcopalian to be ordained a bishop. Former U.S. Representative Dick Gephardt also appears, in loving support of his daughter Chrissy.
Air Guitar Nation (2006) For something a bit lighter but still full of flare and misunderstood maniacs, try this wild concert doc about the rise of American competitive air guitar. Behold David ‘C-Diddy’ Jung who emerges from the throngs of would-be rock stars to grab the American title, and head to Finland for the World Championship – along with dark horse Dan ‘Bjorn Turoque’ Crane. While you might start off laughing at these eager air guitar aficionados, by the film’s thrilling climax you’ll be head-banging along!
Wild Card Pick
Last Action Hero (1993) Long-time action star Arnold Schwarzenegger has been hitting the headlines hard lately, and maybe it was news of the Governator returning to the movies that led me to rediscover this kitschy kid flick from 1993. I first saw Last Action Hero at a drive-in, and I remembered it as a mindless action movie. So my expectations were low when I hit play. I was stunned to discover that this tale of a cinema-obsessed latchkey kid being pulled into the world of his favorite film character – top cop Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger) – actually contains a lot of heart and a chicly smart sense of humor.Helmed by Die Hard director John McTiernan and penned in part by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), Last is packed with over-the-top action sequences that are not only giddy fun but also a commentary on the action genre itself! Yep, it’s a meta-action feature, a movie for movie lovers full of allusion and in-jokes that never takes itself too seriously. Ultimately, it’s a blast. And keep an eye out for Ian McKellan as the embodiment of Death via Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal!
Can you think of a connection/suggestion we missed? Share them in comments.