Monday, March 21, 2011

New to Netflix Watch Instantly (3/21/11)

We'll start the week off right with some Quick Picks of films that are new to Netflix Instant View as of last week.

Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1965, 99 minutes)
Netflix: Directed by cinematic legend Jean-Luc Godard, this mesmerizing sci-fi noir centers on secret agent Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) and his mission to destroy Alpha 60, the sentient computer that controls Alphaville by destroying freedom of thought or individuality. Brilliantly realized and crafted, Godard's 1965 film helped to lay the foundation for future sci-fi classics such as Blade Runner, The Terminator and The Matrix. Netflix link.

The last sentence in the Netflix summary is true, but not in the way that you're probably imagining in your head as you read it.  What is brilliant about Alphaville is that it makes almost no attempt to futurize the mise-en-scene, and instead sets the futuristic action in the streets of 1965 Paris, resulting in a jarring mixture of film noir, science fiction, and art cinema.  The hero, Lemmy Caution (American Eddie Constantine) appears as a classic detective hero as he arrives in Alphaville from the Outlands in his Ford Mustang. Caution's ultimate goal is to destroy Alpha 60, a supercomputer that has enslaved Alphaville by outlawing free thought and emotion.  So what makes Alphaville special in relation to Blade Runner, The Terminator, and The Matrix is how it explores ideas without any dependence on spectacle for its own sake, which is often a weakness of mainstream American science fiction films.  In Alphaville, Godard is also at his most flamboyant and audacious in terms of playful narration and visual style.  This isn't for everyone, but it is great fun if you're game.

The Taking of Pelham 123 (Joseph Sargent, USA, 1974, 104 minutes)
Netflix: Deep in the bowels of New York City, a gang of men led by "Mr. Blue" (Robert Shaw) hijacks a subway car and radios the transit authority with a demand: Deliver $1 million in cash in the next hour, or they'll shoot one passenger each minute. Now, it's up to Lt. Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) to keep a cool head, secure the money and deliver the ransom before time runs out. Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Earl Hindman round out Mr. Blue's crew. Netflix link.

No this is not the John Travolta / Denzel Washington remake (which I have not seen but have not heard good things about); this is the original with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws).  There's a reason they remade this: the original is quite good.  Now I know what you're thinking: "Walter Matthau?"  But you must remember that Matthau was in a wider range of roles than the comic ones we most remember him for; another well respected action film with Matthau was Don Siegel's Charley Varrick (1973).  While The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is not as innovative or adventurous as other films of the period, it does benefit from many of the qualities that made 1970s mainstream American cinema interesting and vibrant.  Perhaps taking its cue from grittier action films like The French Connection and Dirty Harry, Pelham does try to capture the feel of New York City at the time, and the unglamorous qualities of urban life.  And while in the end it might be a genre film, it is a tight and well executed genre film with more interest in suspense than spectacle. 

The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, UK, 1951, 85 minutes)
Netflix: Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness) invents an indestructible cloth that never gets dirty and celebrates by having a white suit made of the fabric. But soon, the lowly mill workers start fearing for their jobs while the mill owners worry about their profits. Chase scenes and double-crosses ensue as the impish Stratton struggles to defend his discovery from the mob. Ernest Thesiger portrays decrepit mill owner Sir John Kierlaw. Netflix link.

Ealing Studios in England became famous for their comedies in the 1940s and 1950s.  Other famous Ealing comedies included Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Lavender Hill Mob (1951),  and The Ladykillers (1955), all of which featured classic performances by Alec Guinness.  The Man in the White Suit came in at number 58 in the British Film Institute's list of the top 100 British films of all time.  It has been a while since I've seen this (probably since high school) so I'm looking forward to visiting it again soon.

Darling (John Schlesinger, UK, 1965, 122 minutes)
Netflix: Up-and-coming fashion model Darling (Best Actress Oscar winner Julie Christie) burns with ambition. First, she falls hard for married television interviewer Robert (Dirk Bogarde). Next, Darling meets Miles (Laurence Harvey), who knows all the right people in London's swinging '60s film industry. But he's just another stepping stone as Darling scrambles her way to the top. The trouble is, the pinnacle of success can be deceiving. Netflix link.

I've put this on my list of films that I really should have seen by now.  This was the breakout role for Julie Christie, who is quickly becoming on of the most cited actresses on this blog.  On the same BFI list mentioned above, Darling came in at number 83.

If you get a chance to see Darling before I do, or if you have any other thoughts about these films, please let me know in the comments section below.  --JLK

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