Plenty of films of interest are coming to Netflix on September 1, starting with a pair of Robin Williams movies. The first, Barry Levinson’s “Good Morning, Vietnam,” garnered Williams his first Oscar nomination and made him a bonafide movie star. It’s also the first film to make good use of his manic persona, as most of his earlier triumphs (“Popeye,” “The World According to Garp,” “Moscow on the Hudson”) saw him disappearing into his characters. Those who can’t get enough of Williams might also check out his family film “Flubber,” though there are enough of Williams’ good films on Netflix (“The Fisher King,” “The Birdcage,” “World’s Greatest Dad”) to recommend looking elsewhere first.
Williams isn’t the only comic actor with a major hit coming to Netflix. Jack Black never found a better vehicle for his anarchic persona than “School of Rock,” Richard Linklater’s film actually plays a bit like a half-parody of the Williams hit “Dead Poets Society.” Black’s character might be subverting a stuffy system and following the inspirational teacher formula, but he’s doing it to more chaotic ends while finding a measure of growth and self-discovery in his own right. Plus, it’s immensely quotable, whether Black’s singing the virtues of sticking it to the man (“I like the delivery because I felt your anger!”) or telling the class that they have to “use your head, and your brain, and your mind, too.”
Other highlights include, “Lords of Dogtown,” which features an excellent performance from Heath Ledger that was slightly overshadowed by his career-best turn in “Brokeback Mountain” the same year; “‘Crocodile’ Dundee,” which briefly made Paul Hogan a star and kicked off a permanent debate on what does and does not constitute a knife; “Girlfight,” which gave Michelle Rodriguez her breakthrough; and perennial cable favorite “Cool Runnings.”
Those looking for schlock, on the other hand, can check out the notorious (but popular) dud “The Blue Lagoon,” which earned Roger Ebert’s hearty recommendation “‘The Blue Lagoon’ is the dumbest movie of the year.” Anyone curious about what “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” would be like with Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac in the Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy roles (answer: not much worse than the toothless original) can stream “Guess Who.” Oscar-winning director John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy”) has a little-loved movie on the way as well, the Martin Sheen-starring voodoo horror movie “The Believers.”
Finally, August 31 marks the arrival of last year’s cheapie teen sci-fi adventure movie “Space Warriors,” starring Dermot Mulroney and Mira Sorvino in a pairing that will delight the year 1997, as well as Thomas Horn in his first film since “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” It might be a barely-known sci-fi film, but it’s automatically Horn’s best film now.
Let’s face it. Going into this film knowing what we’ve heard about it, we’re anticipating the scenes in which the two kids discover the joys of sex. This is a prurient motive on our part, and we’re maybe a little ashamed of it, but our shame turns to impatience as Kleiser intercuts countless shots of the birds and the bees (every third shot in this movie seems to be showing a parrot’s reaction to something). And there is no way to quite describe my feelings about the scene that takes place the morning after the young couple have finally made love. They go swimming, see two gigantic turtles copulating, and smile sweetly at each other. Based on the available evidence in the movie, they know more at this point about the sex lives of turtles than about their own.
It’s also a breakthrough for Mr. Williams, who, for the first time in movies, gets a chance to exercise his restless, full-frontal comic intelligence. Since making his film debut in Robert Altman’s ”Popeye” seven years ago, Mr. Williams has appeared in five movies, including George Roy Hill’s ”World According to Garp” and Paul Mazursky’s ”Moscow on the Hudson.” Each film has had its endearing moments, but there was always the feeling that an oddball natural resource was being inefficiently used, as if Arnold Schwarzenegger had been asked to host ”Masterpiece Theater.” Just how much of the fresh, cheeky Williams brilliance was going up the chimney can now be seen in ”Good Morning, Vietnam.”
If you’ve heard Jack Black being interviewed, you know that despite his outrageous onscreen persona he isn’t a blowhard; in real life, he’s painfully tentative. And part of what’s so touching about “School of Rock” is that it’s clearly from the work of shy people: It’s a rock-‘n’-roll anthem for the timid. It’s about kids — and grown-ups — who need to rev themselves up to transcend their own self-doubt. Rock — or dreaming about rock — is how they get out of themselves and connect with the cosmic oneness.