New on Netflix Instant: Tom Cruise on another 'Mission: Impossible'
Plus 'Nowhere Boy,' 'Butter,' 'October Sky,' TV mini-series 'World Without End,' and much more
"Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol" (2011), the fourth in the big screen series with Tom Cruise as agent Ethan Hunt and the first live-action film from animation auteur Brad Bird, is brisk, spirited, clever, and more fun than it ought to be. MSN film critic Glenn Kenny writes that Bird "paces the story with substantial resourcefulness and stages multiple action scenes that are not only very suspenseful and thrilling, but also kind of newfangled, if not actually innovative." Videodrone's review is here.
"Blue Valentine" (2010) - Michelle Williams finally got her deserving nomination for Best Actress for her emotionally naked performance opposite an equally intense and committed Ryan Gosling as young marrieds in an unraveling relationship. Videodrone's review is here.
"Nowhere Boy" (2009) stars Aaron Johnson as the young John Lennon in a lovely drama about his troubled youth, his life with his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), his reconnection with his estranged mother (Anne-Marie Duff) and the first shows of his proto-Beatles band, the Quarrymen. Director Sam Taylor-Wood doesn't mythologize the formative life of a star, he offers the emotional life of a creative boy dealing trying to find his identity.
"The Company Men" (2010) are Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones, white collar workers downsized from the companies they dedicated themselves to, in the drama of life in the recession from TV veteran John Wells. More at Videodrone here.
More New Releases:
"Butter" (2012), a red-state political satire set in the world of a butter carving competition and the dirty tricks played to assure a win, stars Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Olivia Wilde, Rob Cordry, Ashley Green, Alicia Silverstone, and Hugh Jackman. Reviewed at Videodrone here.
Horror anthology "V/H/S" (2012) pays tribute to the horrors of the videotape age with a collection of five short "found footage" films. Designed to look aggressively scruffy and scrappy, the shorts are sometimes creepy, sometimes clever, often just shrill and annoying. More at Videodrone here.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in "October Sky" (1999) as a coal miner's son in a small West Virginian mining town in the 1980s who experiments with building rockets. The drama, co-starring Laura Dern and Chris Cooper, is based on the true story of Homer Hickam, who went on to build rockets for NASA.
"Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993) is fictional but no less inspiring, the story of a young boy with a natural talent for chess and the father (Joe Mantegna) who encourages his son's potential while trying to give him a normal childhood. They make a solid pair of intelligent dramas of smart kids who continue to challenge themselves and the adults who make a difference in their lives.
And speaking of smart kids, "WarGames" (1983) stars Matthew Broderick as a high school computer hacker who inadvertently kicks off a countdown on a Pentagon computer that controls the entire nuclear arsenal.
Plus: John Wayne stars in "Hondo" (1953), a lean western based on the Louis L'Amour novel, and the laconic "El Dorado" (1966), directed by Howard Hawks and co-starring Robert Mitchum and James Caan. "The Odd Couple" (1968) offers bachelor comedy with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Franco Zeffirelli directs "Romeo and Juliet" (1968) with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey as the star-crossed lovers, and Roman Polanski's "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) is one of the most celebrated and insidious American horror films of all time (it's reviewed on Videodrone here).
And for the kids, there's the oddball musical fantasy "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968) with Dick Van Dyke, Benny Hill, and a flying car, and the claymation feature "The Adventures of Mark Twain" (1985)
2012 cable mini-series "World Without End," a sort-of sequel to Ken Follet's "The Pillars of the Earth," takes place in the same town 100 years later to find a similar play of power and corruption in the time of the Black Death. There's plenty going on here, from corruption and hypocrisy and power-mongering in the priory to a near-revolution by peasants standing up for their rights, and it's a handsome production with some impressive set pieces shot in Hungary, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, where you can still find remnants of the medieval world. Videodrone's review is here.
"Invasion: Earth" (1998), an ambitious BBC/Sci-Fi Channel co-production, combines “X-Files” eeriness with a slow but continually startling apocalyptic alien invasion story. An example of intelligence over spectacle, this production overcomes budgetary limitations by creating a palpable sense of fear of the unknown and punctuating the story with sparse but startling effects. Ignore the jerky pacing and the half-baked romance and embrace the mix of terror and paranoia in a plot that keeps twisting out of reach – right down to its jaw-dropping conclusion. Vincent Regan, Phyllis Logan, and Fred Ward star.
The complete run of "Fawlty Towers," which numbers a mere 12 episodes, stars John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, the rudest, most boorish, most hilariously obnoxious man to run a hotel. Cleese puts his contortionist comic ability to fine use, punctuating Basil’s outrageous faux pas with absurd gymnastics and slapstick ballets, while his scripts manage to find humor in the most outrageous, insulting behavior.
"Saxondale" is another distinctive creation by actor/writer Steve Coogan, who plays retired rock band roadie and one-time counter-culture creature Tommy Saxondale as he negotiates life after divorce, with his new soulmate Magz (Ruth Jones) and his adventures in pest control with his protégé (Rasmus Hardiker). This one is more low key and quietly satirical.
And a few more highlights from British comedy TV: "A Bit of Fry and Laurie" (with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie), "Little Britain" (with Matt Lucas and David Walliams), "The League of Gentlemen," and the first nine seasons of "Red Dwarf" (just in time to catch up for Series Ten, which arrives on disc this week).
"All Creatures Great and Small: Series 1-7" is the complete run of the beloved British series based on the memoirs of country veterinarian James Herriot, played on the small screen by Christopher Timothy.