There’s no denying that Netflix has its issue. Its overall library of content has dramatically shrunk over the years since its founding. Its horror offerings have somehow shrunk even faster than that. And just in time for Halloween 2018, the streaming service managed to shed some of its best remaining horror offerings, not least of which is Jennifer Kent’s terrifying and transfixing The Babadook (2014).
But for all its streaming woes, there’s at least a silver lining. Just as great movies are constantly ousted from the streaming service, so too are great movies constantly being brought in through the corporate pipeline. And while these can hardly account for all of Netflix’s content idiosyncrasies, they at least can keep us going through the end of the month.
Blade II (2002) – It’s easy today to write off the three Blade movies, none of which really seemed to have stuck around in the popular consciousness other than the pitch-perfect casting of Wesley Snipes as Blade and the general desire to bring him back as an older, wiser, deconstructed version of the character in a Marvel Netflix series (not unlike Rocky in Creed or, to a lesser extent, Wolverine in Logan). After all, the first movie really wasn’t all that great to begin with (augmented with terrible 90s CG and a forgettable villain) and the last one was pretty justly reviled. And yet, there’s something about Blade II that keeps me coming back well past this turn-of-the-century superhero franchise has outstayed its welcome.
Despite the general mediocrity of the greater franchise, Blade II is a legitimate superhero masterwork. Directed by none other than the now-legendary Guillermo del Toro, a greater emphasis was placed on practical effects and lived-in world-building. Everything great about the first movie (ie, its unerringly excellent cast) is back with aplomb here and, taking a page from the Alien and Terminator Franchises, the film leans in more heavily on the action (letting the horror elements fall by the wayside as ornamental window dressing). In fact, Blade II fascinatingly plays out like an update to the tried-and-true Aliens (1986), complete with a motley crew of hired guns teaming up with the film’s title character to take down a Nosferatu-like super-monster that is a clear upgrade to the prior movie’s bad guys.
Castlevania Season 2 (2018) – The Netflix original animated series’ debut was perhaps the height of the streaming service’s original programming lineup in the last year. And when that same lineup includes Bill Nye Saves the World, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return, Stranger Things Season 2 and The Defenders, that’s saying something. Rescued from a shelved Castlevania movie script, the series laid the foundations for an epic confrontation between the last Belmont, the nomadic witch, the outcast half-Vampire and Dracula himself: a conflict to be played out in this new season.
The first season of this series was nothing short of perfect: a series of iconic introductions that played the animated medium for all its worth: leaning heavily into animation’s power to distort the world of the narrative and augment the horrific elements on the root of this story. And at a time when so much of Netflix’s horror content is being left by the wayside – in the lead-up to Halloween, no less – a series about a trio of vampire killers trying to save the world from the legions of Hell has never been more welcome.
Daredevil Season 3 (2018) – For all the amazing work that Netflix and Marvel have done together on the small screen, it’s no controversy to say that the results have been decidedly more mixed than they have been on the silver screen. Daredevil Season 1 was an astonishing achievement in small scale action. Daredevil Season 2 was something more of a mixed bag, however, with a first-half that stands with the best of the MCU, but a meandering second half that few people could bring themselves to care about. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were both masterpieces, but Iron Fist was a lot less well-received. And even when everybody came together in The Defenders, the whole affair seemed to be so much less than the sum of its parts.
In the wake of The Defenders, however, Marvel and Netflix have seemingly gone back to the basics that made their approach to street-level superheroism so refreshing in the first place. And if their other Defender follow-ups are any indication, Daredevil Season 3 might just be this solo-franchise’s best outing yet. Now free from the melodramatic baggage that Elektra and Stick brought to the series, the series can return to the various characters that gave its narrative heft and weight in the first place. That, and I cannot wait to see what they do with Wilson Fisk the third time around.
Mystic River (2003) – Clint Eastwood is one of the greatest filmmakers to ever live. Full stop. End of discussion. That’s all, Folks.
Although there have been some speedbumps along the way – such as Jersey Boys (2014), American Sniper (2014) and Sully (2016) – his output in the last twenty years easily ranks among some of the best stories ever committed to screen. His lean, no-nonsense style flies in the face of conventional Hollywood spectacle and connects more directly with the emotional core of the stories he tells. And while I would argue that Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008) are the best of his recent work, Mystic River (2003) – the leanest and least-nonsense of the lot of them – feels like the most quintessentially Clint Eastwood thing outside of Unforgiven (1992).
The Shining (1980) – Netflix might have carved a jagged path through their October-friendly horror offerings, but that’s not to say that they haven’t done due diligence in adding to it in the eleventh hour. The Babadook may be a wash, sure, but we are getting Blade II, Castlevania Season 2 and even The Shining, one of the most celebrated movies of its genre, to replace it. And if I had to give credit where it’s begrudgingly due, I’d probably call that exchange a net gain for the streaming service.
That’s not to say that I’m the biggest fan of Stanley Kubrick’s Steven King adaptation, mind you, just that I recognize its place in the pantheon of terror. Tersely, though sometimes bizarrely, directed by one of the preeminent figures of 20th century cinema, I could never quite connect to it the way that other horror fans have over the nearly four decades since its premiere. Still, there’s no beating Jack Nicholson’s off-kilter performance, nor the way that Kubrick creates an unnerving, impossible space for his characters to inhabit. Those are clearly the work of masters.