January comes but once a year, nobody's got any money and everything's dear. Good news, then, that you can stay at home, watch Netflix, and chill out, for a very reasonable monthly fee. But what to watch? As on all streaming services, new movies drop on to The ‘Flix, as absolutely nobody calls it, all the time. Some of them are completely new, in the form of Netflix Originals, and some are classic – which is to say, old – films that are 'new' to Netflix. The channel has gone big on documentaries to start 2023, with the likes of The Hatchet Wielding Hitchhiker – that sounds like fun, doesn't it? – and a series on Bernie 'The Monster of Wall Street' Madoff. Today, however, I'm strictly looking at fictional entertainments.
Despite its little faults, Netflix is still the world's favourite streaming service. It provides more original series than any other, and keeps up a fairly impressive roster of high-quality movies and TV shows from third-party studios, as well as a whole load of not-so-high-quality, but nonetheless entertaining trash. Just the sort of thing you need to cheer yourself up in January, in other words.
To start this roundup, however, I've picked one of the most high-tone dramas ever seen on a streaming platform, at least in terms of the cast. Like most of the best new films to watch on Disney+ in January, it is rather dour, mind you…
The Pale Blue Eye
It is the olde days, and ace detective Augustus Landor (Christian Bale) is called in to solve a gory murder case at a military academy. Hampered on all sides by unhelpful cadets, gloomy lighting, bad weather and some seriously moody music by Howard Shore, Landor turns to help from, erm, aspiring horror author Edgar Allen Poe – well you would, wouldn't you? Poe is played by Harry Potter alumni Harry Melling, so if you have ever wanted to see a movie in which Batman and Dudley Dursley team up to fight crime, this is the one for you.
The Pale Blue Eye builds a suitably foreboding atmosphere, and the cast is absolutely packed with talent. Christian Bale is an actor whose presence in a film adds such prestige to it that he was once in a film that was quite literally called The Prestige. In this one, he’s aided by a high-class ensemble including not only Dudley Dursley but also the multiple-award-winning likes of Gillian Anderson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Timothy Spall and Robert Duvall, as well as Harry Lawley from Industry and high-brow English theatre thesp Simon McBurney.
Nobody other than Gillian Anderson seems to be having much fun, but then that's understandable in a film that features a villainous murderer who cuts his or her victims' hearts out. With its plot twists and turns, you could think of it as Glass Onion, but set in the past, and with absolutely no sense of humour whatsoever, and the detective isn't married to Hugh Grant.
This is a classic example of a Netflix original where a sufficiently huge amount of money has been spewed at the screen to guarantee you a good watch, even if it never quite goes anywhere and ultimately starts to collapse under the weight of its own self-seriousness. The constantly gloomy mood makes it perfect for this dark and chilly month. Linger on, Pale Blue Eye.
Blue Monday – the date which PR people have calculated is the most depressing of the year – arrives on January 16. If you need cheering up due to that – or because you watched The Pale Blue Eye – you could do a lot worse than to stream this absolutely outrageous, R-rated, 2006 movie from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
This is the kind of extremely high-concept fare that could easily be a Netflix Original nowadays, except Netflix would make it far less sexy, un-PC and mad. This is the plot: top hitman Chev Chelios (Jason 'The Stath' Statham) has been injected with a drug that is gradually stopping his heart. To stay alive, he must keep his adrenaline levels high by doing all manner of ridiculous shit, while trying to find an antidote.
Cue: fast driving, fighting, increasingly violent electric shocks, public sex… all the standard things you'd do to keep your adrenaline flowing in this totally believable scenario. What kind of a name is Chev Chelios anyway?
Statham brings his usual blend of hangdog charm, chiselled physique and advanced fighting skills to bear, while Neveldine and Taylor deliver wholeheartedly on the story's adrenalised premise. This film is so jam-packed with non-stop action, humour and sleaze that it is really quite exhausting to watch. I need a nap after just writing about it for a few paragraphs.
If you find you enjoy Crank, you'll be pleased to know that some more bad boys are joining The Stath on the heaving shelves of the Netflix video store's action movie section this month. For the dads, there's the similarly preposterous Bad Boys 2 and for the connoisseurs there's the underrated B-movie sequel Tremors 2: Aftershocks. I think Crank 2 is on Netflix as well, come to think of it. That brings more of the same, but more so.
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Do I make you horny baby yeah? I would absolutely love to know what young people watching this 1996 comedy for the first time would make of it. I suspect they may struggle to believe that everyone was quoting lines from it at the time, and hailing Mike Myers as a comedy genius. Luckily, since it arrives on Netflix on January 25, I'll be able to find out. If I go around with a clipboard, and ask some young people. It'll also be one more to add to the rather short list of the best comedies on Netflix.
A parody/satire/ribald piss-take of the swinging 60s, spy films and British people in general, the first – and easily the least bad – Austin Powers movie sees Mike Myers overacting and mugging for all he's worth in the dual roles of snaggle-toothed super-spy and sex symbol Austin Powers and also his arch nemesis Dr Evil. Myers is supported by a sterling support crew including Seth Green, Mindy Sterling and Will Ferrell, plus 90s sex symbol Liz Hurley, 80s sex symbol Rob Lowe and 70s sex symbol Michael York.
The fact that the latter's character is called 'Basil Exposition' hints that the movie is at least slightly smarter than it at first appears, but largely this is a non-stop cavalcade of silly faces, silly accents, fart jokes, falling-over jokes and sex jokes. It is so unbelievably childish, purile and stupid, it makes Crank look like The Pale Blue Eye – but in boring old January, that's just what we need. Yeah, baby, yeah!