Eliza Dushku playing at least a dozen characters, an ode to the fightin' Irish, early efforts from directors Guillermo del Toro and Steven Soderbergh and the force of nature that is Lost make up this week's new releases on Netflix Instant. Watch them right now, if you like -- because you can!
Joss Whedon's slinky sci-fi fantasy series ultimately can't hold a candle to the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or Firefly, for that matter), but there's still flashes of the old Whedon magic here. Eliza Dushku plays an operative at a top secret (and highly illegal) organization that can program its "dolls" with different abilities and personalities, depending on the needs of a particular client. Want a hot date for the night? Get yourself a doll. Want someone killed quickly and discreetly? Get yourself a doll. It's fun to watch Dushku do more than just scowl and give attitude (there's very little Faith here) and, more often than not, the individual "assignments" from episode to episode are rather clever. Now if Whedon would take a break from hanging out with all these young 'uns, we might see what he's really capable of.
Neil Jordan's rousing historical drama about the IRA folk hero Michael Collins, the "Lion of Ireland" who established the Irish Free State in 1921, gets most of its mileage from a lusty, fist-shaking performance by Liam Neeson in the title role (you even get an idea of the lustiness and fist-shaking from the poster image). Michael Collins feels like a welcome return to familiar ground (and home turf) for Jordan after taking on Interview with the Vampire two years earlier, and Alan Rickman, Aidan Quinn and Stephen Rea provide solid support (and authentic Irish accents!). Julia Roberts stumbles a bit as Kitty Kiernan, but so what? This is Neeson's show all the way -- and Jordan's, as he once again salutes his home country and its various rocky roads.
If you're a fan of director Guillermo del Toro and have never seen his first feature, now's your chance. Before there was Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, there was this moody, melancholy fantasy about an elderly antiques dealer who's stung by a mechanized scarab. He soon finds himself renewed with a sense of youthful vigor... and a thirst for blood. A unique take on the vampire genre, Cronos is also surprisingly touching in its portrayal of the relationship between the antiques dealer and his granddaughter, who becomes endangered by her grandfather's sudden cravings. You also get Ron Perlman hamming it up as the villain who's after the scarab for his loathsome, immortality-obsessed uncle.
A clever and atmospheric bit of film noir from Steven Soderbergh, The Underneath (actually just Underneath) features Peter Gallagher (reuniting with Soderbergh after the director's debut, Sex, Lies and Videotape) as a gambling addict who returns home for his mother's wedding and attempts to patch things up with his ex-wife. He ends up working for his mother's new husband as an armored car driver... and then things get complicated. Underneath isn't a great movie, but there's greatness in it -- you can see Soderbergh trying out the non-linear storytelling techniques and editing tricks he would later explore (and perfect) in The Limey and the Ocean's movies. And you know you're in for at least one or two twists that you didn't see coming.
A series that remained compulsively watchable even when it jumped the shark about 50 times over, Lost is truly great television, though the writers occasionally seemed to forget that. It isn't just the first season that's now available on Netflix Streaming -- it's the series in its entirety (all six seasons), which means, if you feel up to it, you can get the whole Lost experience in one (very) long sitting. Tread carefully, though -- once you start, you probably won't be able to stop. That's the power this show has.