The Boys are back in town or, at least they’re on Amazon Prime starting June 3. But what about movies for the streamer? For June, Amazon Prime has a nice collection of female-driven films as well as some so-bad-they’re-kind-of-great ’80s and ’90s films.
2 / 17
Greta Gerwig shed her indie film street cred and jumped to the top of the directing game with her 2017 gem Lady Bird. Taking place in a city not known for cinema, Sacramento, California, Lady Bird follows the teenage tumult faced by 17-year-old Lady Bird McPherson, who’s trying to find her way in the world as high school graduation looms. The film is funny and poignant and the cast is beyond solid, including Saoirse Ronan in the tile role, Tracey Letts as her supportive dad, and a truly outstanding performance by Laurie Metcalf as her maxed-out mom. Lady Bird is in many ways an instant classic with memorable scenes and one-liners. It’s also a very female-forward film but in a genuine, not token, way. In his 2017 review for A.V. Club, A.A. Dowd agreed, saying “Lady Bird is something truly special: a coming-of-age comedy so funny, perceptive, and truthful that it makes most other films about adolescence look like little more than lessons in cliché.” Timothée Chalamet, Lucas Hedges, and Beanie Feldman round out the cast.
3 / 17
Following the stunning breakout success of 1994’s Pulp Fiction, movie studios were throwing all sorts of cash at unproven indie filmmakers who they thought might emulate Tarantino’s style (and success). These films rarely made a lot of money and lived large on the home video rental market while many others were to be forever known as memorable knockoffs (I’m looking at you, Boondock Saints). But writer-director John Herzfeld’s 1996 film 2 Days in the Valley is pretty darn good, even if it is a thinly veiled Pulp Fiction wannabe. The film tells several interconnected stories, mostly tying in various crime-based vignettes. Stars of the time like Teri Hatcher, Jeff Daniels, Peter Horton, Eric Stoltz, and Marsha Mason populate the film as does one Charlize Theron in what effectively was her screen debut. Yet it’s the scenes involving underrated American filmmaker Paul Mazursky as a sad, dog-loving, suicidal has-been that really stand the test of time. The A.V. Club’s John Krewson was not a fan, and in 2002, he wrote of the film, “The evergreen formula—taking apparently unrelated characters and slowly weaving their lives together while eventually causing them to emulate each other—comes off as contrived and coincidental.”
4 / 17
The 1976 slow-burn horror film Burnt Offerings is a low-key classic. Based on a novel of the same name (which is even more chilling than the film) by Robert Marasco, it features ’70s icon Karen Black and Oliver Reed as a couple who rent a large mansion in the countryside for a summer getaway with their son. Often in movies like these, all is not as it seems at said mansion, and here things are funky from the get-go. The homeowners (played by Burgess Meredith and Eileen Heckart) are charging a rent that’s way too low for such a place and their stipulations are equally odd; the family has to caretake the property themselves and the owners’ aged mother gets to stay in the house while they’re there. Don’t worry, she stays upstairs and keeps to herself, you just need to feed her once in a while. Trust me when I say, this set-up works better onscreen than when you read it. As you may have guessed by now, things do not go well and Burnt Offerings becomes a sort of possession tale mixed with a creature feature but…with no real creature. Or, is there? In a 1976 review, New York Times critic Lawrence Van Gelder calls the film “an outstanding terror movie,” and he is correct.
5 / 17
With a title like Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, it’s honestly a bit shocking to learn his film was made in 1991 and not 1971, back when men were “macho.” Starring Don Johnson as Robert Lee “Marlboro Man” Edison and Mickey Rourke as Harley Davidson (no, not kidding), the film is a crime caper about two pals who rob an armored car in order to save their old hangout, the “Rock and Roll Bar and Grill.” If you think this film’s half-assed title and plot outline is ridiculous, try sharing it with a straight face. Will Harley and Marlboro succeed? Probably. But the real winners here are the corporations involved when the lazy screenwriter used a Mad-Libs to create the film title and bar name. In her one-star review of the film for the Austin Chronicle Marjorie Bumgarten succinctly said, “So much testosterone, so little plot.”
6 / 17
There are few things as cinematically satisfying as a well done heist or escape movie, and 1979’s Clint Eastwood starrer Escape from Alcatraz definitely fits the bill for the latter. Based on a true story of three inmates who, as you may have guessed, attempt to escape from Alcatraz, it’s a taut and entertaining film from ’70s master filmmaker Don Siegel. As it opens, we meet the warden, played by Patrick McGoohan, who delivers all of the plot exposition we need about how it’s “impossible” to escape from Alcatraz. From there it’s all Clint as incarcerated bank robber Frank Morris, who begins gathering intel, instruments, tools and partners in crime to break out of the Rock. The film has a pretty high rating with fans and critics alike. Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars, saying it’s “a masterful piece of storytelling, in which the characters say little and the camera explains the action.”
7 / 17
When Shutter Island, Martin Scorsese’s first genuine trip into the horror genre, hit screens in 2009, it left many audiences freaked out if not a bit perplexed. Now, as time has gone on, allowing for rewatches and reconsiderations, the film finds itself in higher regard. If you were amongst the aforementioned confused audience members, your chance for a revisit comes late in June. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, who is sent to investigate a missing patient at a mental hospital on the eponymous Shutter Island. We soon discover Daniels’ motives are also personal, and the film quickly becomes an engrossing psycho-thriller, even though we aren’t entirely sure what’s going on. The solid cast features Max von Sydow, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, and Ben Kingsley. In a 2010 review of the film for The A.V. Club, Scott Tobias gave the film an A-, saying “Scorsese’s talent for aligning the audience with a single character’s obsession pays off brilliantly.”
8 / 17
Very loosely based on a Stephen King…err…Richard Bachman novella, the Arnold Schwarzenegger satiric actioner The Running Man is a pretty iconic film. Coming fairly early in Arnie’s career and just after two Conans, one Terminator, a Commando, and a Predator, the film offered a new look for the buffed out superstar. Rather than playing a larger-than-life dude, Schwarzenegger plays Ben Simmons, a man found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit and is thus forced to participate in one of many government-sanctioned game shows where, if you lose, you die. Sprinkled with fun and outrageous competitors played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Jim Brown, Yaphet Kotto, and others, the film is a prototype for later films with similar constructs like Battle Royale, The Maze Runner, and The Hunger Games. While the film hasn’t especially aged well, rumors that Edgar Wright might be pursuing a remake are cause for celebration. In a 1987 L.A. Times review, critic Michael Wilmington called the film “outlandish” and “overheated.”
9 / 17
In case you were wondering if there’s any type of film Martin Scorsese can’t pull off the short answer is: No. After a series of controversial (Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ), male-oriented (The Color of Money, Raging Bull), and dark comedies (After Hours, The King of Comedy), Scorsese slowed things down a bit with the period-piece romance The Age of Innocence. Imagine getting your engines revved up over the aforementioned Scorsese output—and that just scratches the surface—and then you get a melodramatic adaptation of a classic Edith Wharton novel. At least Marty had the decency to cast Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder at the corners of the story’s love triangle. In a great 2013 article on Scorsese’s pivot, The A.V. Club’s Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said, “The Age Of Innocence’s mixture of formal exaggeration and actorly understatement is striking—and intoxicating.”
10 / 17
The 1995 Eddie Murphy-starring horror-comedy Vampire in Brooklyn is a crazy clash of very different storytellers. Directed by Wes Craven just before Scream gave his amazing career another bump, the film was written by a few people, including Murphy’s brother Charlie. Seeing as how Charlie’s career never really took off until he appeared on The Dave Chappelle Show in 2003, you can guess how well his screenwriting career went. (Note: his last screenplay was for Norbit in 2007 which is likely where Eddie said he was good on screenplays from his brother). The setup for the film is “Big City Vampire 101” in which a boat carrying mysterious cargo docs in Brooklyn and the crew has all been massacred. From there, more murders start happening and the culprit is Murphy’s vampire Maximillian, the only survivor of a group of Caribbean vampires. Maximillian quickly snags himself a Renfield in Kadeem Hardison and forces him to help find Brooklyn resident and half-vampire Rita, played by Angela Bassett. In 2015 coverage of the film for The A.V. Club, Alex McLevy wrote (in an article with the headline, “Eddie Murphy’s Vampire in Brooklyn was a Total Mess”) that the film was “not particularly funny, nor dramatic, nor thrilling, it befuddled audiences and critics alike, and is remembered (if at all) as a misfire in the actor’s canon.” So, why list it in this slideshow? Because bad movies are fun to watch—especially when you don’t have to pay for them.
11 / 17
Following the massive success of Napoleon Dynamite in 2004, many wondered what the husband-wife team of Jared and Jerusha Hess would do to follow it up. The answer was: Nacho Libre, the type of film that gives credence to the notion of a filmmaker’s “Sophomore Slump” wherein their second film fails to meet the success of their first one. On paper, Nacho Libre seems solid. Jack Black stars as a cook in a Mexican monastery who one day decides to pursue his dream as a Luchadore wrestler. The reasons for this dream revolve around the arrival of a love interest played by Ana de la Reguera, whose heart Nacho must win. Aside from just being an “ok” movie, Nacho Libre ultimately suffers from crossing the line of silly into dumb, a line which Napoleon Dynamite tightroped by being silly into hysterical. There’s also the problematic issue of Black donning a very bad Mexican accent to portray Nacho Libre. Still, the film is a fairly family-friendly trifle, and The A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin said, “not even Black’s outsized charisma can keep Nacho Libre’s one-joke premise from running out of gas early on.”
12 / 17
Jeez, there were a lot of pot-boiler style thrillers throughout the ’90s—so many that it can often be hard to remember which one is which. The best way to keep them straight is by trying to remember the cast, and in the case of 1999’s Double Jeopardy, it includes Tommy Lee Jones, Ashley Judd, Bruce Greenwood, and Annabeth Gish. A bit of a murder mystery by way of legal procedural, Libby (Judd) is wrongfully accused of killing her husband Nick (Greenwood). After being found guilty and spending six years in prison, Libby gets out yet suspects her husband isn’t dead at all, thus giving her the idea that, since she was already convicted of killing him once, if she finds him and murders him, she can’t be tried due to, you guessed it, the double jeopardy law. In a 2.5-star review from 1999, Roger Ebert said, “This movie was made primarily in the hopes that it would gross millions and millions of dollars, which probably explains most of the things that are wrong with it.” Please note: the film made $177 million at the box office so, mission accomplished.
13 / 17
Baseball season is in full swing (no pun intended) and a great way to celebrate America’s pastime is by watching 1984’s lovely Robert Redford starrer The Natural. Directed by Barry Levinson from a Robert Towne screenplay and shot in gorgeously lit sepia tones by Caleb Deschanel, the film is a baseball fairy tale about a man named Roy Hobbs who becomes a rookie sensation at age 35. Where did this guy come from? What makes him so good? Is he magic? The film plays out as we see Hobbs winning hearts and crushing homers for the fictional New York Knights. But there’s some unsavory business going on behind the scenes and the team’s owner (a dastardly, cigar chomping Robert Prosky) doesn’t approve of Hobbs making his team competitive. Some say The Natural is overly sentimental. To that I say it’s a modern mythology, a love story, a reflection on youth, and an all-time classic. In a 1984 review of the film, Time Magazine critic Richard Schickel said, “Redford has never been better.”
14 / 17
In a strange “art reflecting life” moment, the 2021 Space Jam reboot starring LeBron James was nowhere near as good as the original Michael Jordan Space Jam from 1996. If you recently saw that tepid attempt to recapture a live-action/animation classic and were then bored and annoyed to the point of trying to forget the original, Amazon invites you to do no such thing as the OG Space Jam hits the streamer on June 1. After retiring from the NBA for a career in baseball, the Looney Toons cartoon characters suddenly need the Greatest Basketball Player of All-Time Michael Jordan to help them form a basketball team that can beat an intergalactic team of giant space aliens. Calm down, it’s a kids movie. Space Jam also stars Bill Murray, Wayne Knight, and Danny DeVito as well as a cadre of NBA stars like Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing. Perhaps even more entertaining are the lesser NBA players in the film who were good at the time but never amounted to much, like Shawn Bradley, Larry Johnson, and Vlade Divac. As Jana Monjl says in a recent review for The Age of Geek, “You had to be there to understand the excitement.”
15 / 17
As the weather heats up, Amazon invites you to hunker down indoors and enjoy all six original Leprechaun films as well as the 2014 reboot Leprechaun: Origins, wherein it is assumed we will discover what turned once adorable leprechaun Lubdan (Warwick Davis) so damned mean. I mean, isn’t it a leprechaun’s lot in life to give up its gold upon capture? Nothing to hold a murderous grudge about, jeez. Still, watching a small, murderous Irish troll on a mischievous and bloody rampage is good old fashioned fun and while the seven (yes, seven) Leprechaun films are, shall we say, inconsistent, the character has become a lower-tier horror icon. In fact, there was a planned crossover between Candyman and Leprechaun planned until the Candyman himself, Tony Todd said “no way.” The Leprechaun movies don’t need to be watched in order but Variety recently ranked them in case you want someone else’s opinion on where you should start.
16 / 17
There’s no shortage of films set in idyllic locations in which a group of people think one of their neighbors is up to something evil. Rear Window, Fright Night, and Arlington Road are just a few quality examples. But what sets Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs ahead of the pack (obviously sans Rear Window) is that it manages to be a fun yet creepy movie that becomes better upon each viewing. Much of this is due to the stellar cast featuring Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern (still young), Corey Feldman, Carrie Fisher, Henry Gibson, and a scene-stealing performance by Rick Ducommun. Just thinking about The ‘Burbs makes you want to watch it straight away and Amazon is opening that door for you June 1. The film remains a bit underrated as does director Joe Dante who sat for a great interview with The A.V. Club’s Alex McLevy back in 2015.
17 / 17