New on Netflix Instant: 'Memento,' 'Ronin,' 'Far From Heaven'
Plus 'Donnie Brasco,' Warren Beatty's 'Reds,' and a collection of cult and TV releases
"Memento" (2000) is the film that put Christopher Nolan on the map. This ingenious thriller stars Guy Pearce as Leonard, a detective who has no short term memory and relies on notes he tattoos on his body to find his wife’s killer. In this method, of course, lies madness, but it’s a mind-bending ride to the end… or rather, to the beginning. The film starts at the end of the story and works back in stair-step scenes, throwing us into every scene blind and trying to figure where we are, just like Leonard. The ground shifts beneath this post-modern film noir in every jump, but more affecting is the sense of loss, loneliness, and disconnection behind Leonard’s makeshift realities.
John Frankenheimer directs "Ronin" (1998), a lean, tough thriller of an international team of mercenaries hired to steal a mysterious but well-guarded brief case in Paris. Robert De Niro stars as the veteran leader and Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard and Skipp Sudduth co-star, but the action is the real star. Frankenheimer brings old-school skill to the thrilling car chases through the narrow streets of Nice and the messy traffic of Paris and executes the heists and feints and double-crosses with sharp precision.
"Far From Heaven" (2002) stars Julianne Moore is the woman in the rayon bubble: a 1950s housewife whose idea of perfection is defined solely in surfaces until the hypocrisy she has looked past becomes to great to ignore. Director Todd Haynes embraces the exaggerated Douglas Sirk style of magazine perfect sets and Hollywood movie costume design (and these are costumes, not clothes) done up with perfect compositions and decorator Techni-colors, and Moore plays the ideal homemaker with poise, delicacy, and eager oblivion to her compromises, padding herself in gossamer and taffeta to avoid any real, raw emotional contact with the outside world. It's a smart and knowing tribute to the glossy melodramas of the 1950s.
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" (2007) is the final film directed by Sidney Lumet and he went out with a winner. The modest "perfect crime gone wrong" thriller, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers who plot to rob their parents (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) shifts backward and forward from the deed, following the trajectories of the brothers and the father and the bystanders churned up by their drama, but at the heart of this crime-gone-wrong thriller is the lacerating drama of a family eating itself raw.
"Donnie Brasco" (1997) is ostensibly the (true) story of an FBI undercover agent in the mob who gets in so deep that he starts to confuse he allegiances, but Al Pacino’s heartbreaking performance of a big-shot wannabe not only anchors the unusual tale, it defines it. Under his bravado and wise-guy posturing lies a sad, insecure little man who watches the deals pass him by. Johnny Depp is superb as the agent, but Pacino is brilliant.
"Reds" (1981), Warren Beatty's epic drama of the turbulent lives of John Reed (Beatty), reporter, author of "10 Days That Shook the World," and radical sympathizer, and Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), the former housewife turned bohemian spirit, was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won Oscars for Best Director (for Beatty), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Maureen Stapleton), and Best Cinematography (for the magnificent images of Vittorio Storaro).
"CQ" (2002), the debut feature from Roman Coppola (Francis Ford's other film directing offspring), is filled with a love of 1960s movie lore. Jeremy Davies is the American in Paris filmmaker who works as an editor on a pop-art sci-fi spy adventure while obsessively filming his own life in cinematic journal entries. If the film is slight, the details are right, from the opulent and outrageous sets to the meticulously retro special effects (a salute to the beauty and grace of the effects he created for his father’s "Dracula") to the groovy music by Mellow.
"Don't Look Now" (1973), Nicolas Roeg’s mosaic of a thriller, remains a mystery to the end. Set largely in Venice, where the labyrinth of canals and tunnels creates a claustrophobic maze, it’s less about the elliptical story (adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s short tale) than the texture of loss, obsession, and emotional remove, Roeg’s weave of flashbacks, flashforwards, and visions, and his eye for offbeat imagery, creates an unforgettably unsettling tale.
"Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell" (1974) is the final Frankenstein movie from the Hammer films veterans (director Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing) who launched the horror movie rebirth. The budgetary constraints show through too often (you can see the seams in the costume) but the claustrophobic set and buzzing, bubbling laboratory make for effective atmosphere and the stormy graveyard scene, where the misshapen ogre digs up his “other” body, is a highlight of the series.
"Pretty Little Liars: Season 2" (2011) continues the ABC Family Channel series about four beautiful and popular high school girls, a murder, and a secret in a small town.
"Masterpiece Classic: Upstairs, Downstairs – Series 2-5" (1972-1975) offers the original version of the iconic British historical drama/soap opera set in a household of wealthy Edwardian Londoners and servants (the "downstairs" of this social microcosm) all living under one roof.
"Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 2-6" (1990-1995) offers more episodes of the popular British mystery series starring David Suchet as the brilliant Belgian sleuth whose little gray cells go to work whenever presented with a mystery.
Also for fans of British mysteries: "Touching Evil: Series 2-3" (1999), modern urban noir starring Robson Green as the haunted, tightly wrapped lead investigator in London's Organized and Serial Crime Unit, and "The Last Detective: Series 3 & 4" (2005-2006), with Peter Davison as a quiet, honorable guy who is the scorn of his precinct. And from Canada comes "Murdoch Mysteries: Seasons 2-3" (2009-2010), a period CSI-styled show set in the Toronto Police Department in the 1890s.