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Stream This: Joe Dante's 'The ’Burbs' is forever underrated

Also new to streaming is Jonathan Demme's career peak "Something Wild" and two versions of Georges Melies early film landmark "A Trip to the Moon."
The BurbsSomething WildA Trip to the Moon

‘The ’Burbs’
Netflix Instant

Along with his frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg, director Joe Dante is one of the key filmmakers who impacted the minds of ’80s kids. He doesn’t just have “Gremlins” to his name; he has “Innerspace,” “The Howling,” “Explorers,” to say nothing of the superior, enjoyably insane “Gremlins 2.” He also has 1989’s “The ’Burbs,” a gently savage takedown of comfortable, bored middle class life. A never more aloof Tom Hanks plays a planned community dweller coaxed into suspecting his new neighbors, led by Henry Gibson, of being something more sinister than mere weirdos.

The studios, as they often did with Dante’s work, released a slightly neutered cut, with a cleaner, happier ending (if you can call it that). But Dante’s puckish anger still shines through, and Hanks allows himself to be upstaged by game costars Bruce Dern and Rick Ducommun — one of Dante’s many character actor finds, albeit one who sadly never quite caught on. Dante has a new film — the indie horror-comedy “Burying the Ex,” his first American theatrical release since 2003’s hobbled but underrated “Looney Tunes: Back in Action” — and there’s no better way to celebrate that than dipping into his rich, sometimes neglected back catalog.

‘Something Wild’
Netflix Instant

Speaking of great, sometimes troubled ’80s filmmaker greats, Jonathan Demme has a Meryl Streep music drama out this summer, “Ricki and the Flash.” Way ahead of that, you can revisit his arguable, unassuming masterwork: a 1986 neo-screwball, featuring career peak work from Melanie Griffith as a mystery lady with a Louise Brooks ’do who kidnaps an uptight type (Jeff Daniels) and drags him on a road trip, whose first stop is a motel room encounter featuring handcuffs and a prank phone call to his boss.

With “The Silence of the Lambs,” Demme graduated to Serious Filmmaker, and even, with “Philadelphia,” made a bland hot button issue movie. He’s come back to his scrappier self with films like “Rachel Getting Married,” though there’s not a trace of the Oscar baiter he’d briefly become in “Something Wild.” You can’t even see it in the film’s famous mid-point tonal switch, which takes the film from a rollicking, loving, goofy survey of Americana into scarier territory — a shift unforgettably pinpointed with a mere dolly up to Ray Liotta, as Griffith’s sketchy ex, rolling his hand through his hair. From there on out, anything can happen, and frequently does.

‘A Trip to the Moon’
Netflix Instant

The magician-turned-filmmaker Georges Melies made hundreds of wondrous films in the early days of cinema, almost all of them lost, and many of those destroyed, burned down to create shoe heels. It’s not clear if his 1902 landmark “A Trip to the Moon” is even one of his very best, but it’s the one audiences and preservationists dote on the most. Netflix subscribers can now even chose from two versions streaming on their service: the black-and-white one, with a generic “silent film” score, or the hand-painted color version, discovered and fixed up a few years ago, then given a new, noodly soundtrack by Air. Either does the job, though the color version is even more transporting, with the splotchy, sloppy colors creating something that feels even more out of time and space than the more familiar black-and-white do.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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