October 2021’s Best Streaming Titles: Gladiator, Mad Max, Fight Club, Dune

Ridley Scott’s gladiators, Max Rockatansky, Project Mayhem, and Denis Villeneuve’s space opera.
Dune - Denis Villeneuve
Timothée Chalamet stars as the young Paul Atreides in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

As Netflix et al. add more content, it’s difficult to know what to look for amidst all of the newly added titles. So at the start of every month, I publish a list of particularly noteworthy and interesting movies and TV shows to add to your streaming queues.

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Netflix

The Guilty (Oct 1)

Adapted from the 2018 Danish thriller, The Guilty stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a 911 dispatcher who receives a panicked phone call from a woman who has apparently been kidnapped — but as he tries to save her life, he begins to realize that nothing’s as it seems. Directed by Antoine Fuqua, The Guilty also features the voices of Ethan Hawke, Riley Keough, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard, and Bill Burr. Yes, voices. The bulk of the film takes place entirely within the call center, and focuses solely on Gyllenhaal’s character.

Desperado (Oct 1)

In this spiritual sequel to El Mariachi, Antonio Banderas plays a lonesome mariachi with a deadly secret — and a guitar case full of guns. Completely ludicrous and over-the-top, Desperado is filled with countless action sequences that are held together entirely by Banderas’ charisma.

Eagle Eye (Sep 1)

Jerry Shaw is a college dropout who just wants to get by. But his humdrum life is upended when he comes home to find his apartment filled with illegal weapons and he’s arrested by the FBI. Helped only by a mysterious voice on the phone, he must piece together the conspiracy that has captured his life, and threatens the lives of countless innocents. Eagle Eye received a critical drubbing back in 2008, but I still think it’s a fun, if totally ludicrous, thriller that’s a decent way to spend a Friday night.

Gladiator (Oct 1)

Ridley Scott’s Gladiator was one of 2000’s biggest and most successful films, thanks to an epic plot, incredibly special effects, and thrilling action sequences. Russell Crowe stars as Maximus Decimus Meridius, a disgraced Roman general who is enslaved and forced to compete in Rome’s brutal gladiatorial exhibitions. Gladiator also stars Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed (in his final film appearance), Djimon Hounsou, Richard Harris, and Joaquin Phoenix as the corrupt Roman emperor.

Jet Li’s Fearless (Oct 1)

Fearless was billed as Jet Li’s final “traditional” martial arts film, and it’s a doozy. The film is a fictionalized account of Huo Yuanjia, a real-life Chinese martial artist and folk hero who challenged Western fighters in the earlier 1900s in a bid to restore China’s pride. As expected from a Jet Li film, Fearless features incredible martial arts choreography as well as a moving storyline about one man’s attempts to master his own violent tendencies (read my review). Fearless was a worldwide success, but Huo Yuanjia’s descendants actually sued Li and the film’s producers, claiming it dishonored their ancestor.

Léon: The Professional (Oct 1)

In Luc Besson’s The Professional, Léon is a hitman of almost preternatural ability. But when he befriends the young Mathilda (Natalie Portman, in her first film role), whose family is executed by corrupt DEA agents, he finds himself matching wits with DEA agent Norman Stansfield (played with wild abandon by Gary Oldman). The Professional drips with style and verve (read my review), its many action sequences bolstered by Besson’s assured direction, Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography, Éric Serra’s evocative soundtrack, and above all else, Jean Reno’s incredible performance as the deadly, yet lonely Léon.

Here’s everything arriving on Netflix in October 2021.


Hulu

Code 46 (Oct 1)

Michael Winterbottom’s Code 46 posits a dystopic future where the world’s population is divided between those who live in massive cities and those who live in the ruined wastelands beyond them. Tim Robbins plays an insurance fraud investigator tasked with tracking down those who forge documents allowing access to the cities. During his latest case, however, he finds himself falling in love with his target — which has potentially disastrous ramifications. Code 46 is a perfect example of a thinking person’s sci-fi film; it trades action spectacle for thought-provoking explorations of genetic engineering, authoritarianism, climate change, and the ethical ramifications of technology.

Goldeneye (Oct 1)

A slew of James Bond films are arriving on Hulu in October, including Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Licence to Kill, but I have a special fondness for 1995’s Goldeneye, which was Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007. Brosnan’s 007 is the perfect blend of charm, élan, menace, and edge, all of which are put to good use as Bond tries to stop a deadly Russian satellite from falling into the wrong hands. Goldeneye has everything you could want in a Bond film: gadgets, femme fatales, thrilling action sequences (like the tank chase through downtown St. Petersburg), and a couple of twists and betrayals. (The fact that Goldeneye also inspired one of the greatest video games of all time doesn’t hurt, either.)

Mad Max (Oct 1)

In the near future, Australia is a wasteland filled with roving motorcycle gangs. Law and order is maintained by the highway patrol, but just barely. Max Rockatansky is the patrol’s top officer, but when his family’s threatened by one of the gangs, he tosses aside the law for a rampage of revenge. Filmed in 1979 for a few hundred thousand dollars, Mad Max held the Guinness record for the world’s most profitable film — and helped reinvigorate Australia’s film industry. More importantly, though, it launched one of the most action-packed film franchises of all time.

Rushmore (Oct 1)

Rushmore tells the story of one Max Fischer, a student at the titular private school. Despite being involved in countless extracurricular clubs, most notably the drama club, he’s a terrible student. Rushmore was one of Wes Anderson’s earliest films, but his aesthetic was fully realized even then. Rushmore is also one of his funniest films (read my review) from Fischer’s rivalry with Bill Murray’s character for the affections of a new teacher to the Vietnam War-inspired high school production that ends the film.

Snatch (Oct 1)

Following the smash success of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, writer/director Guy Ritchie’s sophomore film found him returning with a similarly convoluted criminal comedy with an ensemble cast that emphasizes style way over substance. Snatch begins with a diamond heist that eventually turns into a comedy of errors, but through twists and turns, involves ex-KGB agents, bare-knuckle boxing matches, and Brad Pitt sporting a very distinctive accent.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Oct 1)

Several Star Trek movies are coming to Hulu in October, and of them all, The Voyage Home is probably my favorite. When an alien probe threatens Earth, James T. Kirk and the Enterprise crew travel back in time to find the one thing that might save humanity: humpback whales. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, The Voyage Home is arguably the funnest Star Trek movie, as the Enterprise crew find themselves confronting the alien environment that is 20th-century San Francisco.

Castle: The Complete Series (Oct 6)

I’m somewhat hesitant to include Castle in my list of recommended streaming titles because the series’ premise — a writer of tawdry mystery novels teams up with a determined detective to solve mysteries, with sparks a‑plenty flying — had played out long before the series finale. However, I can’t deny that Castle’s first three or four seasons, while entirely formulaic, are also a lot of fun to watch, due in large part to Nathan Fillion’s charisma and a cast of colorful supporting characters.

Here’s everything arriving on Hulu in October 2021.


Amazon Prime Video

Die Hard (Oct 1)

One of the greatest action movies of all time, period. Bruce Willis stars as John McClane, a sardonic detective from New York who’s visiting his estranged wife in Los Angeles for a Christmas party at her office. And then, wouldn’t you know it, a bunch of terrorists break up the party and hold everyone hostage. It’s up to McClane to take on the terrorists — who are led by Alan Rickman at his most suave — armed with little more than some one-liners. Suffice to say, the terrorists don’t stand a chance.

Fight Club (Oct 1)

When it was released in 1999, Fight Club generated no small amount of controversy due to its dark, seemingly nihilistic plot about a couple of guys (Edward Norton, Brad Pitt) who start an underground fight club that eventually grows into an anarchist cell. But all of the hullabaloo over the film’s darkness and violence overlooked the fact that it also made some valid points about the hollowness of consumerism and materialism (read my review). Since then, Fight Club’s reputation has grown, with some critics calling it a defining movie of the late 20th century.

Raising Arizona (Oct 1)

In this madcap adventure from the Coen Brothers, a small-time thief and police officer get married and set out to start a family. But when their efforts prove unfruitful, they opt for the next best thing: stealing a baby from a wealthy family. What follows is a zany comedy of errors involving hapless bank robbers and a bounty hunter from hell. But beneath the hijinks — which include one of the best car chase scenes in cinema history — lies a heartfelt and surprisingly moving film about love and family.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (Oct 1)

Wes Anderson reunited with Bill Murray for this 2004 comedy about a famed ocean explorer (Murray) who becomes obsessed with tracking down the shark that ate his best friend, and along the way, meets a man claiming to be his long-lost son (played by Owen Wilson). In other words, pretty standard fare for Anderson. The Life Aquatic also stars Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum.

Here’s everything arriving on Amazon Prime Video in October 2021.


Disney+

Among the Stars (Oct 6)

This six-part docuseries takes viewers along for the ride as astronaut Chris Cassidy prepares for a mission on the International Space Station. From the synopsis: “With cameras stationed on both Earth and the International Space Station, using intimate footage, personal video diaries and livestream footage, viewers are embedded with Cassidy and the team of engineers, flight controllers and specialists who take on missions risking life, limb and reputation for the greater good of humankind. Join them as their missions unfold.”

Black Widow (Oct 6)

The MCU’s greatest spy finally got her due with a solo film, one that explores her past and finds her reuniting with a long-lost family to battle a shadowy menace. It does feel like too little, too late — especially in light of Natasha Romanoff’s fate in Avengers: Endgame — but Black Widow’s not without its charms. David Harbour gives a fun performance as Red Guardian, the Russian version of Captain America, and it could be argued that the movie’s real star is Florence Pugh, who plays Natasha’s younger sister with dry wit.

Here’s everything arriving on Disney+ in October 2021.


HBO Max

Blazing Saddles (Oct 1)

Mel Brook’s satire of the Western film is a comedy classic — though its treatment of racism (and flatulence) may be jarring for modern audiences. When a new sheriff rides into the small town of Rock Ridge, its citizens are shocked to learn that he’s black. However, he may just be their best hope when a greedy lawyer wants to destroy their town to make way for a new railroad.

Clash of Titans (Oct 1)

Based on the Greek myth of Perseus, who fought the hideous Medusa and saved the beautiful Andromeda from a vicious sea monster, Clash of Titans is perhaps most noteworthy as the final film in Ray Harryhausen’s career. Harryhausen’s classic stop motion animation brings the movie’s various monsters to life, including the snake-headed Medusa, the giant Kraken, and the winged horse Pegasus. Indeed, it’s worth watching Clash of Titans just to see Harryhausen’s inimitable brand of movie magic.

Moonrise Kingdom (Oct 1)

Released in 2012, Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet coming-of-age drama about two young children who fall in love and decide to run away together. And because it’s a Wes Anderson film, it’s hyper-stylized with a skewed ’60s-inspired look — which only adds to the film’s dreaminess. Oh, and because it’s a Wes Anderson film, it’s also hilarious, with his inimitably dry, deadpan dialog delivered by a star-studded cast (e.g., Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray).

Shaft (Oct 1)

The black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks arrives on HBO Max this month. As the titular private detective, Richard Roundtree just oozes cool and swagger as he takes on Italian mobsters who’ve kidnapped a rival’s daughter. Undoubtedly the most famous blaxploitation film of all time, Shaft had a huge cultural influence, especially among Black audiences. And of course, one can’t talk about Shaft without mentioning Isaac Hayes’ Grammy-winning soundtrack, which includes “Theme from Shaft,” one of the most iconic movie themes of all time. I can dig it. Can you?

Super 8 (Oct 1)

I know I seemed a bit harsh on J. J. Abrams in my review of The Rise of Skywalker, but if you want an example of where his nostalgia-driven approach to filmmaking does work, then check out Super 8. An obvious love letter to classic Spielberg films — it was even produced by Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment — Super 8 is nevertheless a fun sci-fi action romp as a group of teenage filmmakers find themselves caught between an alien life form and the military trying to capture it.

Dune (Oct 22)

Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel is my most anticipated movie of 2021, and it’s finally here. In the far-distant future, the noble Atreides family is ordered to take over the planet Arrakis, the only source in the galaxy of spice, the drug that makes interstellar travel possible. But when his family’s betrayed, the Atreides’ heir must join forces with Arrakis’ local freedom fighters to stand against those who destroyed his family and seek to rule Arrakis with an iron fist. Dune had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation and numerous critical accolades.

Here’s everything arriving on HBO Max in October 2021.


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