New on Netflix Instant: 'Hellboy' to the Rescue
Plus 'Let the Bullets Fly' from China, 'Battle Royale' from Japan, and 'Woody Allen' from 'American Masters'
"Hellboy" (2004), Guillermo del Toro’s pitch-perfect adaptation of Mike Mignola’s cult comic book, stars Ron Perlman as giant red demon called forth from Hell (more of a Lovecraftian vision of the underworld than a Christian one) by Hitler’s mystics in WWII but rescued and raised by a British paranormal scientist (John Hurt) to fight on the side of the angels. Ron Perlman, performing under a massive ember-red suit with a thick log of a head sprouting a pair of filed down horns and a right arm like a slab of granite, is perfect as the cigar-puffing, wisecracking, kitten-loving demon who covertly battles supernatural monsters. Del Toro’s adaptation expands the characters and giving life to their unspoken bonds of friendship and understanding -- a squad of “freaks” hidden from the society they serve -- and finds a visual style to match Mignola’s vivid woodcut illustration drawings and midnight world of supernatural evil.
"Let the Bullets Fly" (2010), the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time, is a slyly comic satire that plays like a spaghetti western in twenties-era China, with Chow Yun-Fat as a wily crime boss and Jiang Wen as a desert bandit who takes him on. Director/star Wen has crafted a modern take on the wild Hong Kong action films of the eighties heyday, with all the energy, dotty humor, broad performances, and mad plot twists, and sustains it with star power, crazed plotting, and wily schemes.
"Battle Royale" (2000), the gleefully gruesome splatter satire of teenage nihilism, adult paranoia, and social sadism from Japan, is a 21st century version of a fifties youth gang drama, rooted in the adult panic at the sudden rise of youth violence in Japanese society, but was too close to the real-life events of Columbine High School for American tastes a decade ago. Now the high-school-kids-fight-to-the-death thriller makes a companion piece to "The Hunger Games," though with a far more wicked sense of satire. It arrives with the sequel "Battle Royale 2" (2003), from the original director's son.
And from Germany comes the much less nihilistic "Young Goethe in Love" (2010), a romantic drama starring Alexander Fehling as aspiring poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 18th century Bavaria. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert calls it: "A delight on its own terms, even if it has little to do with the real Goethe; here is a randy young man not a million miles apart from Tom Jones."
"Woody Allen: A Documentary" (2011), originally made for "American Masters," is the first portrait of the director made with the full cooperation of the notoriously press shy Allen. In addition to new and archival interviews and other clips with Allen (including his early stand-up act and talk show appearances), there are interviews with former collaborators (Marshall Brickman, Gordon Willis, Doug McGrath) and stars past (Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Martin Landau, Sean Penn) and present. At over three hours long, it's as complete and intimate a portrait as we're likely to ever get for an artist with such a rich career.
"Louie: Season 2" (2011) continues the FX original series from Louis C.K., hailed by many critics as one of the smartest and most daring shows on TV. Playing essentially a version of himself, he's a working comedian, a devoted (if sometimes overwhelmed and confused) divorced dad and a fumbling forty two-year-old single man in a dating scene he doesn't feel comfortable in. The show is funny, daring, and consistently surprising.
"Hot in Cleveland: Season 1" (2010), the TV Land original show starring Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendie Malick as single L.A. women who find themselves a hot commodity in Cleveland, is an almost perfect evocation of the seventies/eighties sitcom style ("Filmed before a live audience") with contemporary sexual innuendo.