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In our ongoing effort to help you make sense of Netflix Instant's overwhelming catalog of streaming titles, we offer this bi-weekly column in which we search for worthwhile watching so you don't have to. Whether you don't want to brave the summer heat to venture out to your local theater, or just want more movies you can enjoy from the comfort of your couch, we've got you covered with a selection of features that are fitting companion pieces to the latest batch of theatrical releases.
Inspired by Brave, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World and Magic Mike, this week we offer some family-friendly adventures, tales from the end of the world, and some cinema with smoldering sex appeal.
Kelly Macdonald lends her voice to Disney's latest princess, Merida, a strong-willed young woman whose defiance of the kingdom's customs leads her down a path of adventure and headlong into a beastly curse. Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson co-star.
To celebrate Pixar's first female-fronted feature, we offer a trio of children's movies that also center on plucky girls who break with convention to achieve their dreams.
Matilda (1996) Like Merida, Matilda is a girl whose wishes don't align with her parents' expectations. In this case her folks are a pair of crooked, crass cretins, while she has a strong sense of right and wrong, a deep desire to learn…and the power of telekinesis. It's this last attribute that enables her to stand up for herself, protect others from bullying adults, and helps her forge the family she's long dreamed of. Mara Wilson, Embeth Davidtz and Rhea Perlman co-star; Danny DeVito directs.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) Deep in the rainforest near Mount Warning, Australia, lives Crysta, a fairy with a curious nature. After she sees smoke rising above the treeline, she discovers humans—a species long absent from the forest and much dreaded. But despite her tribe's prejudices, Crysta rescues then befriends a cocky young human named Zak. Once she also accidentally shrinks him down to her size, Zak's inadvertently given a unique perspective on the glories of the rainforest, just in time to defend FernGully against the onslaught of his lumberjack pals and a greasy villain. Tim Curry and Robin Williams lend their voices.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005) Though this heralded Nickelodeon series is named for a young boy with some major responsibilities—like uniting war-torn nations and saving the world—it's a brave teen girl named Katara (voiced by Mae Whitman) who has the most in common with Brave's Merida. Though not a princess, she has the power to bend water to her will, a power she dreams of using to fight the evil forces of the fire nation that has committed genocide and enslaved the peoples of the Earth, Wind and Water tribes. So when avatar Aang (Zach Tyler)—who is tasked to restore balance to the broken world—shows up in an iceberg, Katara and her wannabe warrior brother Sokka (Jack De Sena) change their fates, leaving behind the isolated arctic to accompany Aang and become heroes in their own right. If all you know of this property is its horrendous live-action movie, do yourself a favor and relish in this lush animation, captivating characters and brilliant storytelling. All three seasons are now streaming.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Lorene Scafaria, who co-wrote the rom-com Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, makes her directorial debut with this surprisingly sweet romantic comedy set at the end of the world. As an asteroid hurtles to Earth bringing inevitable destruction, an insurance salesman whose wife has recently abandoned him (Steve Carell) sets out on a quest to reconnect with his first love, bringing a scraggly dog and his record-loving optimistic neighbor (Keira Knightley) along for the ride. Melanie Lynskey, Adam Brody, and Patton Oswalt co-star.
The end of the world as we know it is a topic tackled by countless filmmakers. And while Scarfia found humor at Earth's obliteration, others have found the perfect setting for decadent and bizarre compositions, moody drama, harrowing horror and hysterical farce.
Melancholia (2011) One of the most talked about art house films of last year, Lars von Trier's drama about sisterhood, depression, and the world's destruction awed many with its luscious mis-en-scene, powerful performances and inescapable atmosphere of dread. Kirsten Dunst stars as a blushing bride who can't help but sink into an abyss of sadness, but finds solace knowing Earth will soon be shattered by a death-bringing planet. Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgard, and Kiefer Sutherland co-star.
The Walking Dead (2010) Based on the popular comic books, this ambitious television series is set in an not-so-distant future where zombies have overtaken the world, forcing sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes and a scrappy batch of survivors to soldier through ruined landscapes to seek supplies and safety from the ever-ravenous, flesh-eating ghouls. Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, and Laurie Holden co-star.
The Signal (2006) Split into three acts, each helmed by a different director, this compelling thriller dabbles in elements of infected-persons horror, romance, and comedic farce. Anessa Ramsey stars as a woman trapped in a loveless marriage, who discovers her cuckolded husband—along with hoards of their neighbors—has been driven into a murderous rage by a mysterious, mind-bending signal. As death is dealt and society crumbles all around her, she goes in search of her lover, who is destined for a fateful showdown with her murderous spouse. AJ Bowen and Chad McKnight co-star.
Inspired by star Channing Tatum's stripper past, director Steven Soderbergh spins a story of clothes-shedding and male bonding. Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, and Joe Manganiello co-star.
Sex work is something that's long been glamorized in Hollywood, though rarely with such gleeful exuberance as Magic Mike. But whether you want something dark, sweet or sassy, we've got a pick for your preference.
Midnight Cowboy (1969) Long before Channing Tatum was shaking his G-string, it was the strapping Jon Voight that fascinated audiences as Joe Buck, a country boy making his way in New York City as an escort with the help of his weaselly best friend Ratso Rizzo, played memorably by Dustin Hoffman. This classic that unfolds a gritty, bittersweet tale of sex work and friendship not only scored Voigt and Hoffman dueling Oscar nods, but also won John Schlesinger Best Director, and took home the Academy Awards for Best Picture. Additionally, it riled the MPAA who briefly gave it an X-rating, and is ranked among AFI's Top 100 Movies. Check it out, and see what all the fuss is about.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) Inspired by Truman Capote's memorable novel, this classic romance stars Audrey Hepburn as the iconic Holly Golightly, a glamorous girl making her way in New York City as a sort of American geisha. A lady with plenty of style, enthusiasm and big dreams, Golightly's a fashionable figure who has long inspired the "when I grow up" fantasies of many girls who never noticed her unsavory occupation. But don't cry for Holly. Finding love with inspiring writer Paul Varjak (George Peppard), Miss Golightly will find her happy ending yet!
Live Nude Comedy (2009) Bring the thrill and fun of burlesque home with this titillating blend of blue stand-up and red-hot stripping. American Pie's Shannon Elizabeth plays MC to cast of comedians that includes Whitney Cummings, Tig Notaro, Mike Young and Andy Dick, as well as a troupe of pasties-packing dancers that revel in the naughty joy of burlesque.