What to Watch on the Small Screen: July 2018

(Note: this article originally appeared here.)

July has finally arrived—and with it an increased likelihood that we’ll all become the unwilling victims of gruesome, debilitating heat waves. If you need something to do while hiding out in your air-conditioned interior space of choice, here are some good films you can stream:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Image courtesy of Paramount.

What would you do if you woke up one day and found that everyone you knew was suddenly acting like an emotionless zombie? In Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, that’s the problem that besets Miles (Kevin McCarthy), a doctor who lives in an affluent suburban community named Santa Mira. After some investigation, alas, he discovers that his erstwhile neighbors and friends have all been replaced by soulless alien replicas—invasive lookalikes, in other words, who sprouted from large pods that fell from outer space.

As a 21st-century viewer, you’ll probably find Invasion to be rather melodramatic, thanks in large part to Carmen Dragon’s overdone soundtrack and Ellsworth Fredericks’ extremely stark cinematography. But this hardly means that the film has lost its overall value. Aside from being quite creepy, the story’s “pod people” premise has influenced countless other works, including Todd Haynes’ Poison and Jordan Peele’s Get Out. And although the film was originally seen as an allegorical critique of McCarthyism, its storyline continues to serve as a stirring, universally resonant defense of individuality and independent thinking.

Where to Watch: YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play

Pather Panchali (1955)

Image courtesy of Janus Films.

Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali takes us into the world of the Roys, an Indian family whose members run the full gamut of personality types. The patriarch (Kanu Banerjee), a vagrant named Harihar, is a clueless optimist who dreams of becoming a playwright. His spouse (Karuna Banerjee) is a stern housewife named Sarbajaya who always fusses over money. Their children are a wide-eyed, introverted boy named Apu (Subir Banerjee) and a troublemaker named Durga (Runki Banerjee). And then there’s Aunt Indir (Chunibala Devi), a toothless hunchback who happily free rides off what little food and shelter Sarbajaya can provide.

If it doesn’t sound like Pather has much of a plot, that’s because Ray didn’t want there to be one. Throughout the movie, he’s always a lot more interested in capturing an atmosphere—the rhythm of daily life, the random nature of tragedy—than in telling a full-fledged story. Contrary to what you might expect, the overall film proves both mesmerizing and touching—and while it’s sometimes been criticized for “romanticizing” poverty, it never actually shies away from depicting the suffering that economic hardship entails. Akira Kurosawa was only slightly exaggerating when he claimed that “not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.”

Where to Watch: Kanopy, FilmStruck, YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu

Jules and Jim (1962)

Image courtesy of Janus Films.

As you could probably guess from the title, the protagonists of Francois Truffaut’s Jules and Jim are two guys named Jules (Oskar Werner) and Jim (Henri Serre). One of them is a shy Austrian, while the other is an outgoing Frenchman. But both display a passionate interest in women, writing, and Bohemianism. And as it happens, both of them end up falling in love with the same person: a freewheeling, impulsive young woman named Catherine (Jeanne Moreau).

Like so many ‘60s films, your ability to enjoy Jules and Jim on a narrative level is contingent on what you think of its protagonists’ fast-and-loose lifestyle. But even if your tastes generally lean conservative, you’ll still find much to appreciate here. Truffaut exquisitely captures the emotional discombobulation that overtook both soldiers and civilians after World War I, the war that spelled the death knell for traditional European mores. And throughout the film, Truffaut portrays this discombobulation with techniques—ironic, fairy-tale-esque narration; changing aspect ratios; gleefully undisciplined camera movements—that serve as a ready testament to his inventive genius. All told, when it comes to depictions of commitment issues (and ménages à trois), Jules remains about as vibrant and affecting as they come.  

Where to Watch: Amazon, iTunes

Girlhood (2014)

Image courtesy of Strand Releasing.

At the start of Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, Vic (Karidja Touré) is a French teenager whose life seems hopelessly bleak. She resides in a poor neighborhood that’s ridden with drugs and crime. Her family—an abusive brother (Cyril Mendy), a detached mother (Binta Diop), a conspicuously absent father—is a mess. And as a result of her subpar academic performance, she won’t be able to go to the high school she’s always planned on attending.

This might sound like the perfect setup for a patronizing “social problem” film. Instead, Girlhood turns out to be a poignant, deeply empathetic portrait of an adolescent’s emotional psychology. In an approach that recalls Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Sciamma uses a particular social setting, the neglected banlieues of Paris, to discuss themes (misogyny, the objectification of women’s bodies, our instinctive need for belonging, the challenges of puberty) that are very much universal. And thanks to her sensitive direction, particularly her use of music and editing, the end result always proves remarkably perceptive.

Where to Watch: Netflix, Kanopy, YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu

In This Corner of the World (2016)

Image courtesy of Shout! Factory.

Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World follows the story of Suzu (Rena Nōnen), a young, absent-minded Japanese woman who lives in the vicinity of Hiroshima during World War II. For a while, Suzu’s life seems to be the very definition of ordinary: after she’s married off to a man (Yoshimasa Hosoya) at the start of the film, she completely devotes her time to housework, daydreaming, and drawing. But her idyllic existence gradually falls apart as American forces come closer and closer to the Japanese mainland.

On one level, Corner provides a look at the physical and spiritual damage that the atom bomb inflicted on Hiroshima. At the same time, however, the film also offers a broader meditation on wartime helplessness, a searching portrait of how military conflict can wreck the lives of even the most innocent civilians. Throughout it all, Katabuchi (like Ray in Pather Panchali) proves a master at representing the unspectacular flow of everyday life. And his depiction of the changing role of drawing in Suzu’s life—it goes from being an amusing distraction to a necessary escape valve—will leave you nothing short of heartbroken.

Where to Watch: Netflix, YouTube, Google Play, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu