Friday, April 5, 2013

New April Titles, pt. 1

This monthly feature spotlights a number of titles that recently debuted on (or returned to) Netflix Instant.

For April, a bunch of great movies are now streamable (is that a word?), from classics to Bond to sexy foreign and indies. Today we'll look at a few of the classics:

Carrie (1976)

On March 31, Brian DePalma's Carrie came online. This 1976 classic, based on the Stephen King novel and starring an Oscar-nominated Sissy Spacek and a young (pre-Kotter, pre-Saturday Night Fever, pre-Pulp Fiction) John Travolta is an over-the-top coming of age gothic horror tale that uses blood and religion the way most teen comedies use boobs (although, this being DePalma, there are plenty of those, too). A remake—likely to be far more politically correct—hits theaters later this year, so you've got a few months to bone up on the original and get one up on the inevitable "Which is better?" debates.

April 1 brought a number of other queue-worthy classics. Among them:

Roman Holiday (1953)

One of the few truly romantic movies in the classic sense, from before Hollywood learned to equate box office with "feel-good" and Katherine Heigl was still decades from being born. The film is notable not only for its '50s Rome locations, star Gregory Peck, and its tale of impossible love between a journalist and princess, but for giving Audrey Hepburn her first starring role (and first Oscar). Sweet, charming, effortless, and yes, feel-good, but in that bittersweet way that sticks with you like so many lesser romantic comedies don't.

How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)

With its wide Cinemascope images and bright colors, this one is in stark contrast to the same year's Roman Holiday. It's also more in the standard Hollywood romantic comedy mold. But instead of starring Kate Hudson or Ms. Heigl, it features Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable. So, you know, it's actually funny.

Play It Again, Sam (1972)

Ah, young Woody Allen—before the scandal, before the painfully younger female leads, before September, Hollywood Ending, and Anything Else. This was the man at his most likable and accessible, bringing all manner of awkward funny to this tale of a shlub movie critic obsessed with Humphrey Bogart while secretly in love with his best friend's wife (played by an equally young and endearing Diane Keaton). While not directed by Allen, the film—ably helmed by journeyman Herbert Ross—is written by Woody and based on his hit Broadway play. It also represents his first on-screen pairing with co-stars Keaton and Tony Roberts, all of whom starred in the theatrical production and would appear in many of Woody's later films (Keaton famously, of course, in Annie Hall and Manhattan). Do you have to know who Humphrey Bogart is, or have seen Casablanca, to enjoy this movie? Certainly it helps, but the comedy, characters, and situations are timeless—cinematically challenged girlfriend who still managed to laugh her head off.

Witness (1985)

Considering I saw this back when it originally premiered, vanity alone makes me hesitate to call it a "classic." But for those born in the '80s or (gulp) '90s, it may appear as musty as John Wayne movies did to my generation. It shouldn't. This is a solid cop thriller for adults that also plays as a culture-clash, fish-out-of-water romance. Directed by Peter Weir (Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander), it was nominated for eight Oscars, winning two (screenplay, editing), and giving Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) her most memorable role (unless you count Top Gun, which I don't). At the same time, it put Harrison Ford on the map as a serious actor after he'd become known as an action hero in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies. Like most of Weir's films, it holds up extremely well today, and is notable not only for the acting and slow ratcheting up of tension (violent, sexual and otherwise), but for the kind of beautiful imagery and often languid pace you don't normally see in a movie with cops and guns. A High Noon for its times.

Coming up in part 2: new indie and James Bond titles!


Another Day in Paradise (1998)
Daddy Long Legs (1955)
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
The Paperboy (2012)
Pi (1998)
Play It Again, Sam (1972)
Roman Holiday (1953)
Sex and Lucia (2002)
The Dead (1987)
The Impostors (1998)
Witness (1985)

James Bond movies, including:
Dr. No (1962)
Goldfinger (1964)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
License to Kill (1989)

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