New on Netflix Instant: 'Starship Troopers' and 'Lonesome Dove'
Plus Matt Damon in 'Rounders,' Al Pacino in 'Sea of Love,' and a star-filled cast in 'Nine Lives'
"Starship Troopers" (1997), Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s landmark sci-fi war novel, is a strange mix of patriotic fervor, fascist ideology, and media satire. Verhoeven plays it with such laser-blasting, bug-splattering, space Marine whooping militaristic glee that you can’t always tell when he’s spoofing and when he’s serious. It also contains some knock-out action sequences and the best use of digital technology up to that time: the swarming armies of silvery, savage bugs (looking every inch like some arachnophobic nightmare of demon insects) are eye-popping and the carnage is gooey and gory. Stars Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards are dazzlingly pretty and utterly wooden, but Michael Ironside is perfect as the glass chewing, tough as steel platoon sergeant and Neil Patrick Harris is a treat as the meek student turned brutal scientist.
"Rounders" (1998) stars Matt Damon as a former poker hustler who gets sucked back in the gambling world he left behind when his sleazy, scamming buddy (Edward Norton) leaves prison and heads right back to the card tables. Director John Dahl makes the most of the masks, moves, and double dealing by the characters, and the performances and direction are much better than the contrived script. Damon's character comes alive when he’s at the tables and he's a sharp enough actor to keep his poker mask on while communicating his strategy to the audience.
"Sea of Love" (1989) features Al Pacino as an overworked police detective on the edge of a mid-life crisis who falls madly into bed with beautiful suspect Ellen Barkin. Harold Becker directs this appropriately lurid and overheated cop thriller by way of erotic drama.
"Nine Lives" (2005) – Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia (son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) takes the audience on an introspective journey through the lives of nine women (Robin Wright Penn, Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Glenn Close, Elpidia Carrillo, Amanda Seyfried, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Amy Brenneman, and Kathy Baker) in brief character sketches, each from a defining moments in their lives. Garcia is fascinated by the inner lives of women and his compassion and empathy bring them alive in these vignettes, which are beautifully written and directed with grace and compassion, each episode shot in a single, graceful long take.
Lynn Ramsay's "Morvern Caller" (2002) stars Samantha Morton as a young Scottish woman who tosses aside all restraint after her boyfriend’s suicide and flees to Spain on vacation (funded by his credit cards) with her best friend and pub-buddy (Kathleen McDermott). Less a story than a mood piece guided by music and place and emotions that characters can hardly understand let alone describe, this is a vivid, powerful film that finds poetry in the rough, bold images, the coarse colors you can almost feel through the film, and the instinctual odyssey undertaken by Morvern.
Freddie Highmore is Nigel Slater in "Toast" (2010), based on the memoir of the famous chef and author, and Helena Bonham Carter is the housekeeper who (inadvertently) inspired his journey into the culinary arts.
"Lonesome Dove" (1989) – The American western, once a vibrant film genre but long out of favor on the big screen, found a new home on TV in the late 1970s. This magnificent mini-series, adapted from a sprawling novel by James McMurtry, is arguably the greatest TV western ever made. Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones saddle up as aging cowboys and former Texas Rangers Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call with easy authority for one last big cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Australian director Simon Wincer gives it a grandly epic feel and visual sweep while capturing an engrossing intimacy with leathery authenticity. The western’s finest hour (or rather, eight hours) on television, this cattle drive epic won seven Emmy Awards and spawned sequels, prequels, a TV series, and a veritable cottage industry of McMurtry TV westerns.
In fact, the 1993 sequel "Return to Lonesome Dove," with Jon Voight in the Jones role, and the 2008 prequel "Comanche Moon," with Steve Zahn and Karl Urban as the young Gus and Woodrow (respectively), are also available on Netflix.
"Jim Henson's The Storyteller" (1987) and "Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths" (1991) are two of the more inventive of Jim Henson’s personal productions. The stories in "The Storyteller" are practically archeological explorations of the unfamiliar sources of familiar fairy tale and medieval legends. John Hurt stars as the storyteller, whose narration also punctuates the stories (acted out by a mix of actors and Muppets), and the literate scripts are written by (then future) Oscar winner Anthony Minghella. Michael Gambon takes over storytelling duties in "Greek Myths." They all celebrate the art of stories and storytelling with grace and imagination.
Also new: "Highlander: Seasons 1-6" (1992-1997) – There can be only one, they say, but this one (starring Adrian Paul as the immortal Duncan MacLeod) lasted six seasons in first run syndication.