FlixWorthy: Pillars of Earth, Men Who Stare at Goats, and More

By David Wharton 2010-08-07 12:34:23
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.

The Pillars of the Earth
(2010, TV-MA)

For those of you without Starz, here's your chance to check out one of the summer's biggest TV events. Starz has been promoting the hell out of this miniseries, which Ken Follett co-wrote with John Pielmeier (Agnes of God), based on Follett's best-selling 1989 historical novel. Centered around the decades-long building of a gothic cathedral in the fictional 12th-century English village of Kingsbridge, The Pillars of the Earth uses the focal point of the cathedral's construction to weave together a tapestry of civil war, religious strife, and the struggle to determine the future of Britain. The outstanding cast includes such talents as Ian McShane, Donald Sutherland, and Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder, the architect whose passion shepherds the cathedral through every challenge. With Spartacus: Blood and Sand, Starz has established itself as a major player, and The Pillars of the Earth further cements that reputation. If you're a fan of elaborate costume dramas or Shakespearean machinations, you'll find plenty to love in The Pillars of the Earth. The show is halfway through its eight-episode run, so you've still got plenty of time to catch up. You can read Kelly's review of the miniseries right here.

Double-Feature It With:

The Tudors
(2007, Not Rated, Two seasons available)

In many ways, The Tudors paved the way for The Pillars of the Earth, along with other elaborate historical dramas such as HBO's excellent Rome and Deadwood. Jonathan Rhys Meyers gives us an appropriately lecherous young King Henry VIII, long before he ballooned into a portly and bearded icon. The Tudors mixes political intrigue with a generous dose of soap opera, and the results are addictive. Only the first two seasons are streaming, but hopefully seasons 3 and 4 will be added at some point.


The Men Who Stare at Goats
(2009, Rated R, 94 min.)

The Men Who Stare at Goats finds George Clooney in O Brother, Where Art Thou? mode, playing a role that deftly undercuts his leading-man looks and charm. In O Brother, he played the leader of a trio of well-meaning doofuses bumbling their way through a Depression-era retelling of Homer's Odyssey. In Goats, he plays Lyn Cassady, an eccentric who claims to have been trained by the United States government to be a psychic "warrior monk"...or, in the common shorthand, a Jedi warrior. After a chance encounter in Iraq introduces Lyn to journalist Bob Wilton (Ewan MacGregor), the two set out on a trip to track down Lyn's mentor (Jeff Bridges), whom Lyn believes needs his help. Along the way, Lyn tells Bob the history of the government's attempts to create an army of soldiers capable of remote viewing, walking through walls, and, of course, killing goats with their minds. Believe it or not, the movie purports to be based on real events, specifically events chronicled in the book of the same name by journalist Jon Ronson. Goats is uneven, but it's surreal, silly, and gains a lot of mileage out of its too-crazy-to-be-true concept.

Double-Feature It With...

The Hudsucker Proxy
(1994, Rated PG, 111 min.)

Not the Coen Brothers' most acclaimed outing, The Hudsucker Proxy has nevertheless attracted a cult following over the years -- and rightly so. Tim Robbins stars as well-meaning but naive mail clerk Norville Barnes, who stumbles into the CEO's chair of Hudsucker Industries after the corporation's patriarch leaps 45 floors to his death (counting the mezzanine). Screwball comedy of the finest sort unfolds, during which Norville invents the hula hoop and hotshot reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) fast-patters with the best of them.


Stargate Universe
(2009, Not Rated, One season available, HD)

I've tried. Over the course of 13 years and multiple spin-offs, I have tried and tried again to get into Stargate. I missed SG-1's original premiere back in the Showtime days, owing to a lack of cable, but I tried it on DVD. I tried it when they attempted to entice us Farscape fans in by casting Ben Browder and Claudia Black. And yes, I tried again when SGU premiered last year. I've finally given up. Much as I like the original Stargate movie, whatever alchemy attracts me to that production just hasn't carried over to any of the series for whatever the reason. Maybe it's the lack of Kurt Freakin' Russell. Nevertheless, I've come to peace with the fact that the multifarious Stargate spin-offs just aren't for me...but they are for quite a few fans, given how the franchise continues to flourish. This latest incarnation aims for more of a Trek/BSG vibe, featuring a crew trapped aboard an ancient, runaway starship and having adventures along the way. Hmm, maybe it's more Lost in Space/Space: 1999 than Trek/BSG...

Double-Feature It With:

Stargate: Atlantis
(2004, Rated TV-PG, All five seasons available, HD)

If SGU appeals to you, you can also watch all five seasons of its predecessor series, Stargate Atlantis. If you want to get the full Stargate experience, you'll actually have to pop some DVDs into your player, because, with the exception of a few standalone movies, none of parent series SG1 is available streaming.




The Rocky Horror Picture Show
(1975, Rated R, 100 min.)

Needless to say, watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show in your living room is going to lose a certain something. Unless, of course, you invite over a pack of costumed friends who know all the cues and appropriate things to shout/throw at the screen. On the other hand, you're much less likely to be pulled onstage and humiliated like the lowly "virgin" you are. Rocky featuring an insanely catchy soundtrack and a gleefully twisted storyline involving alien transvestites, cannibalism, and boot-knocking in nearly every conceivable combination. Tim Curry is at his Tim Curry-iest as the cross-dressing Dr. Frank N. Furter, chewing every bit of scenery in his most iconic role. Also along for the ride are Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors (ASSHOLE!) and Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss (SLUT!). Look, you really ought to just track down a midnight showing of this thing if you've never had the full Rocky Horror experience, but if you're just looking for an excuse to sing along with the soundtrack, this is an acceptable substitute. Barely.

Double-Feature It With:

Cannibal! The Musical
(1996, Rated R, 90 min.)

Speaking of musical cannibalism, why not follow Rocky up with a musical about cannibalism called Cannibal! The Musical? Based on the tale of notorious 19th-century long-pig enthusiast Alfred Packer (played by South Park's Trey Parker), Cannibal! explores the lighter side of killing and eating your fellow man.




Swamp Thing
(1982, Rated PG, 92 min., HD)

We take our current comic-book renaissance for granted these days, what with our Iron Mans and our Dark Knights. We sometimes forget how many forgettable or outright horrible attempts were made during the last few decades to bring various comic-book characters to the screen. From Dolph Lundgren's unfortunate outing as The Punisher to The Hof's blasphemous attempt to channel Nick Fury, the track record prior to X-Men hitting was not a good one. (Although you should totally watch the god-awful '90s Justice League pilot if you can find it.) One of the many dubious entries on this long walk to respectability was Swamp Thing, horror maven Wes Craven's campy adaptation of DC Comics' shambling, eco-friendly plant man. Ray Wise stars as an unfortunate scientist who becomes Swamp Thing after an experiment gone awry, and who then finds himself facing off against rival scientist Anton Arcane (Louis Jordan). Adrienne Barbeau plays an inappropriately cleavage-y government operative so Swamp Thing will have somebody attractive to carry on the movie poster. In the right hands -- Alan Moore, Joshua Dysart -- Swamp Thing can be heady, compelling stuff. Wes Craven was perhaps not the right hands.

Double-Feature It With...

The Toxic Avenger
(1985, Rated R, 82 min.)

One goopy, green mutant deserves another. The Toxic Avenger introduced low-budget experts Troma's best-known character, a hapless janitor who gets dropped into a dump truck filled with toxic waste and then decides to fight crime. With a mop.




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