Sundance goes online in July, with a trio of buzzy, well-reviewed indie pictures from the festival surfacing on streaming sites. Meanwhile, Netflix drops a star-studded dramedy, a cult video-game series adaptation awash in blood and Jason Bateman breaking bad; Amazon presents both an original F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation; and Shudder offers a tour of the unhinged, psychotronic mind of Flying Lotus. You need a guide to July’s streaming highlights? Boom. We’ve got your back.
Altered States (Hulu, July 1st)
During the Sixties, scientist John C. Lilly was a pioneer on the frontier of consciousness, testing the capabilities of the human mind by ingesting LSD and other psychedelics while submerged in a sensory-deprivation tank. His hallucinatory experiences formed the basis of a novel – which in turn spawned this singular Eighties head trip from connoisseur of the weird Ken Russell. In his breakthrough role, William Hurt is a reckless researcher on a mission to regress to his subhuman primate state by any drugs necessary. It’s mindblowing, in more ways than one.
Bull Durham (Amazon, July 1st)
A veteran minor-league catcher (Dennis Quaid) gets sent down to a single-A team to step in as mentor for their talented but undisciplined rookie pitcher (Tim Robbins). Naturally, an alluring baseball superfan (Susan Sarandon) draws both of their affections and amplifies the competition between the two men. In its smooth marriage of inspirational sports drama and comfort-food rom-com, the film charmed audiences, gave Kevin Costner what’s arguably his definitive role (that “I believe” monologue alone) and rightfully earned writer-director Ron Shelton a Best Screenplay Oscar nomination. Simply basking in the charismatic glow of this film’s lead trifecta makes it worth the re-watch.
Castlevania (Netflix, July 7th)
Video-game adaptations are, as a rule, pretty bad. But when the source material is as rich as Konami’s megasuccessful vampire-murdering franchise – and you’ve got a creator describing his animated series as “super violent” – you’re allowed to get your hopes up. In the four-episode engagement, the scion of a dying clan of vampire slayers sets out to rid Eastern Europe once and for all of the evil Count Alucard. (Spell backwards for a hidden message!) The art style calls to mind the anime of Castlevania‘s home nation of Japan rather than Western animation, promising a take on the material several notches edgier than the usual Saturday morning cartoon.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Amazon, July 4th)
With the help of some facial prosthetics and a little CGI magic, Brad Pitt portrayed a man aging in reverse, born wizened and growing into his infancy. David Fincher’s adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novella tracks the title character’s long and eventful life, from a New Orleans childhood to a stint in World War II to a decades-spanning courtship with his childhood crush (played as an adult by Cate Blanchett). It’s a bit of an outlier in Fincher’s career, though the scene in which the couple’s ages meet in the middle may be the most emotionally powerful thing the director has done to date.
Friends From College (Netflix, July 14th)
How’s this for a pedigree: a new series from the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, featuring a cast that includes Cobie Smulders, Keegan-Michael Key, and Fred Savage? And with guest spots from Seth Rogen, Kate McKinnon, and Billy Eichner? They’re all tied up in a low-key comedy of manners, in which a married couple (Smulders and Key) decide to move back to New York and start couch surfing with chums from their Harvard days. The fact that the husband has been regularly philandering with one of their temporary hosts stirs up some long-simmering tensions, and aired resentments puncture the laughs in short order. At last, definitive proof that “really just hanging out with Keegan-Michael Key” is a workable sitcom premise.
The Incredible Jessica James (Netflix, July 28th)
Brooklynite playwright Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is at a romantic impasse: She split up with her boyfriend (Lakeith Stanfield) and can’t stomach the idea of another shitty Tinder date, but being single doesn’t suit her. Enter the scruffy and sensitive Boone (Chris O’Dowd), and what may be the beginning of a beautiful romantic friendship. The former Daily Show correspondent has already earned early raves for her performance as the vivacious lonelyheart, demonstrating a wide range and irresistible joie de vivre. We’ll happily cosign on a vertical career move so long as it doesn’t mess with the 2 Dope Queens recording schedule.
Kuso (Shudder, July 21st)
He planted his flag in the EDM world under the Flying Lotus moniker, got busy in the rap game as Captain Murphy – now polymath Steven Ellison (working under the mononym Steve) has turned his sights on the good ol’ moving pictures. His debut feature strings together a series of vignettes set in an earthquake-ravaged Los Angeles, and reports of disgusted walkouts at its Sundance premiere paint a picture of a film that must be seen to be believed. Vomiting aliens, bloody stabbed erections, reverse-births into mutated orifices – fun for the whole family!
The Last Tycoon (Amazon, July 28th)
F. Scott Fitzgerald drew on his experiences in Hollywood for his luminous final novel, a drama of upper-class intrigue starring The Normal Heart‘s Matt Bomer as movie producer Monroe Stahr. As the Nazis rise to power across the Atlantic, the young Tinseltown player and an unctuous studio head (Kelsey Grammer) lock horns on the vision and moral underpinnings of their slate of releases. Complicating matters further is the mogul’s daughter (a beguiling Lily Collins), a star-in-the-making who becomes a love interest for Monroe, because of course. There’s no business like show business.
Ozark (Netflix, July 21st)
Pop quiz: in your selfish pursuit of personal wealth through less-than-legal means, you’ve endangered the lives of your wife and children. Do you a) turn yourself into the authorities and ensure their safety, or b) load up the family van and relocate to an Ozark lakeside retirement community in a sort of DIY witness protection program? There’s no TV show in that first option, so you can guess where this is going. Jason Bateman (who also directed the first season’s 10 episodes) is the morally troubled man on the run; Laura Linney plays his wife. What might sound in theory like a fish-out-of-water comedy is actually a much darker look at the American Dream. Personally, we’re crossing our fingers that we will finally get to see the former Michael Bluth playing a banjo.
To the Bone (Netflix, July 14th)
In her first go as a director, Marti Noxon – a seasoned TV writer with credits on everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Mad Men under her belt – follows the long path that an anorexic young woman named Ellen (Lily Collins) travels to recovery. Yes, it’s intense, though folks on the festival circuit have singled out Noxon’s ability to inject levity into the more-sarcastic-than-thou character’s story without trivializing her sickness. Trigger warning: anorexia, bulimia, withering one-liners.