FlixWorthy: Abbott & Costello Meet An Emaciated Christian Bale
Welcome back to FlixWorthy, your weekly guide to Netflix streaming. Yet again we're bringing you a handful of new or notable selections from Netflix's streaming catalogue. Some will be classics, some will be little-seen gems, some will be shows you might have missed, and some...some will be crap so awful they simply has to be seen to be believed. Here's what's FlixWorthy this week, kids.
(2004, Rated R, 101 min., HD)
I'm long overdue on seeing this film, especially since it's director Brad Anderson's follow-up to one of my favorite films of all time (that'd be his master class in head-fuckery, Session 9). Far more people than have actually seen the film will remember it as "that movie where Christian Bale looked like a concentration camp victim." Bale basically starved himself for months prior to filming, purportedly subsisting on a diet of coffee, apples, and tuna fish, and eventually dropping to 120 pounds...all the more impressive when you consider he was playing an extremely buff Batman a year later. In The Machinist Bale stars as, well, a machinist named Trevor Reznik, a victim of a year-long bout of insomnia that has peeled the pounds from his body. After his distraction costs a coworker an arm, Reznik is plagued by visions and cryptic notes, threatening to spiral him ever deeper into madness unless he can figure out what is real. The film was mostly well reviewed when it hit back in 2004, so we'll all just pretend not to notice that it was scripted by the same guy who wrote the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Amityville Horror remakes. Nobody's perfect, right?
Double-Feature It With...
(1998, Rated R, 70 min.)
Long before he was brilliantly toying with narrative structure in Memento or teaming with Bale to help us all forget the name "Joel Schumacher," director Christopher Nolan was already demonstrating his storytelling genius with a little indie neo-noir called Following. It's about a troubled writer who begins following random people around the streets of London, hoping to stumble upon just the right inspiration to shatter his writer's block. And I will absolutely not tell you anything more about it, because that would spoil the fun.
(1971, Not Rated, 97 min.)
Looking to expand your cinematic education? How about a crash course in blaxploitation, starting with the film that more or less created that genre? Sweetback is a testimony to the power of independent filmmaking, carried across the finish line with no help from Hollywood, almost entirely through writer-director Melvin Van Peebles' determination to get the film released (with a little help from, of all people, Bill Cosby). Van Peebles (yep, the father of Mario) had a three-picture deal with Columbia Pictures at the time, but neither they nor any other studio would agree to finance Peebles' tale of a black "sex worker" who goes on the run after killing a racist white cop. Undaunted, Peebles financed the film himself, along with a $50,000 loan from Cosby, and managed to get the film released in a paltry two U.S. theaters...and it went on to become the top-grossing independent film of the year. According to IMDb, Peebles contracted gonorrhea from one of the actresses while shooting a sex scene, then applied to the Directors Guild for compensation since it happened on the job. He used the money to buy more film. I'd like to see Michael Bay top that.
Double-Feature It With...
(1972, Rated R, 93 min.)
You can bet Hollywood started paying attention once Sweetback became a box-office success, and before you knew it theater screens were filled with badass black folks sticking it to The Man. Shaft actually came out the same year as Sweetback, but it isn't streaming, so you will have to continue your blaxploitation marathon with the nearly as well-known Super Fly.
(1948, Not Rated, 83 min.)
I'm not sure who first had the idea to pair the comedy team of Abbott & Costello with the classic Universal monsters, but I would like to buy that person a Coke. It's an odd concept when you stop to think about it, the equivalent of tossing Will Ferrell and Steve Carell into the middle of, I dunno, the next Saw movie. And by the way, Lionsgate, I would totally watch that movie. In fact, that's pretty much the only way I'd pay to see any of the Saw movies, so somebody should get on that. At any rate, AaCMF casts the comics as freight handlers who manage to meet not just Frankenstein (or, more properly, Frankenstein's monster), but Dracula and The Wolf Man as well. The movie even reunited two thirds of the holy Universal monster trinity, with Bela Lugosi re-donning Dracula's cape and Lon Chaney Jr. once again slapping on the yak hair as The Wolf Man. Boris Karloff turned down the chance to reprise his role as the Monster, passing the flat-top to Glenn Strange, who, with a name like that, really should have spent less time acting and more time being a supervillain. The film even tossed in a nice little sequel tease with a last-minute appearance (so to speak) by the Invisible Man, as voiced by Vincent Price.
Double-Feature It With:
Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy
(1955, Not Rated, 90 min.)
After Frankenstein, Abbott & Costello went on to meet or re-meet assorted other Universal monsters before finally wrapping things up almost a decade later with ...Meet the Mummy. That's not a bad run, right? Seriously, somebody make this Ferrell/Carell thing happen. At the very least give me a movie where Michael Myers cuts Dane Cook in half with a band saw.
(2007, Rated R, 85 min.)
Back in 2001, in my home stomping grounds of Fort Worth, Texas, a woman named Chante Mallard slammed her car into a homeless man named Gregory Biggs. Rather than dialing 911 for help, Mallard drove her car home and stashed it in her garage -- with Biggs still lodged in her windshield. She then allegedly went inside, had sex with her boyfriend, and eventually called several friends to help her ditch the body and the ruined car. It sounds like something that could only happen in a movie, but the nationwide media coverage the story garnered reminded us all that truth is often not only stranger than fiction, it's way, way more fucked up than fiction. Despite the insanity of the events, it seems an unlikely candidate for a movie...after all, there's no happy ending here, and is there really an audience that wants to pay 10 bucks apiece to watch some poor schmuck beg for his life and bleed out for 90 minutes? Fortunately writer-director Stuart Gordon and screenwriter John Strysik don't even try to play things straight, instead latching onto every bit of gallows humor and absurdity in the situation, morphing the story into a sort of Bizarro version of events that's short on factual accuracy but much more satisfying than reality. Mena Suvari stars as Mallard stand-in Brandi Botski; occupying her windshield is Stephen Rea as Thomas.
Double-Feature It With:
Masters of Horror: The Black Cat
(2006, Not Rated, 60 min.)
Even with Stuck's tongue-in-cheek approach to a hugely depressing real-life story, chances are you're going to need something lighter to cheer you up afterwards. So why not try Gordon's take on Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Black Cat," where Poe himself (creepy Gordon mainstay Jeffrey Combs) takes on the role of a man driven mad by the titular feline and his own guilty conscience. It's a picker-upper!
(2009, Rated R, 86 min.)
There's no question that Netflix's streaming catalogue is rife with stuff you've never heard of and stuff you'd never want to. Thankfully the also-rans and the never-weres are countered by tons of little films you might have missed in theaters, ones that you might have thought sounded interesting but then would likely never remember to seek out unless they show up in your Netflix recommendations (or, indeed, in this column). Big Fan is one such film, an indie comedy that got a lot of good buzz and even earned a Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance. Comedian Patton Oswalt straps on his acting boots to play Paul Aufiero, an average guy who just happens to be an insanely devoted fan of the New York Giants. It's written and directed, oddly enough, by Robert D. Siegel, who also wrote The Wrestler and used to be the editor in chief of The Onion. Any career path that manages to encompass both Mickey Rourke and Patton Oswalt is just strange enough for me to get on board with. Plus, Katey Rich gave it four stars, and we all love Katey.
Double-Feature It With:
The Comedians of Comedy: Live at the El Ray
(2006, Not Rated, 54 min.)
Sure, Patton's trying to branch out and fill up his acting resume, but he's still at his very best when he's working a mike and making people laugh. This concert film highlights the final show of the so-called "Comedians of Comedy" tour, featuring Oswalt alongside Maria Bamford and Brian Posehn.
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