FlixWorthy: So Say We All

By David Wharton 2010-10-13 16:06:28
Welcome back to FlixWorthy, your guide to Netflix streaming. I've been AWOL for a few weeks with a very pregnant wife, but I'm back with another crop of new and notable picks 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.

Battlestar Galactica
(2003 - 2009, Not Rated, Four Seasons, HD)

Say what you will about the controversial ending, but for much of its run Ron Moore's reimagining of the cheesy '70s space opera Battlestar Galactica was simply amazing. While certainly not the first show to present a serious drama couched in science-fiction trappings, it was one of the highest profile and most successful attempts in recent memory. Sure, Battlestar Galactica was full of space battles and killer robots, but it wasn't about those things. It was, like all the best stories, simply about the human condition, as examined through a handful of complex, well-written characters trying to find their place in it. While it has its off moments -- the boxing episode wasn't a highlight -- it succeeds far more often than it fails, and its ambition is much to be admired. If only more SF television followed in its footsteps by realizing that genre is just another way to tell a story, equally as valid (and certainly more interesting) than yet another show about horny doctors or quip-heavy forensic investigators. All four seasons of the show are available streaming, but if you want to check out the standalone movies Razor or The Plan, you'll have to actually request the discs for those.

Double-Feature It With:

Farscape
(1999 - 2002, TV-14, Three Seasons Available)

Given that the SyFy line-up these days is littered with wrestling and "reality" shows, it's easy to forget that the network has produced some actual, honest-to-gosh science fiction over the years. Battlestar Galactica may have gotten all the critical buzz, but Farscape is still one of the best genre shows of the past several decades, and I challenge you to find an onscreen couple with better chemistry than John Crichton and Aeryn Sun. Look upward, and share the wonders I've seen...although you won't be able to see season four, which isn't available streaming for some reason.


Paranormal Activity
(2007, Rated R, 99 min.)

I still haven't seen this one, so this recommendation is based solely on internet buzz and that it seems to be one of those movies you just sort of have to see at some point. If so, watching it for "free" via Netflix is as good a way as any. Our own Perri Nemiroff was a big fan of the tale of a couple being haunted by a very unfriendly presence. Following in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity is shot as "found footage," in this case recordings made by Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) in hopes of catching evidence of the malicious entity that has begun tormenting them. Wait until it's dark outside, turn off all the lights, and watch this one alone for best results. Just make sure any pets are locked up so they don't knock anything over in the middle and give you a heart attack.

Double-Feature It With...

The Devil's Backbone
(2001, Rated R, 108 min.)

If you're in the mood for a more traditional ghost story without all the pseudo-documentary trappings, The Devil's Backbone is one of the creepiest films of the past decade. Co-written and directed by the ridiculously talented Guillermo del Toro, the film is set in 1939 Spain during the end of the Spanish Civil War, and centers around paranormal goings on at an orphanage. That's all I'm going to tell you about it. Go watch.


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans
(2009, Rated R, 121 min.)

Another blind recommendation on my part, I have yet to hear anyone have less than effusive praise for this not-a-sequel from director Werner Herzog. To read some of that effusive praise, you can check out Nick's Blu-ray review or Josh's theatrical review. The main attraction is Nic Cage in the lead role, by all accounts giving the sort of performance that reminds you that he actually does have some acting chops when given the right material and not in close proximity to bees. Cage stars as New Orleans police sergeant Terrence McDonagh, a crooked cop dating a hooker, addicted to gambling and assorted drugs, and not terribly good at the whole protect-and-serve thing. This is a snapshot of a man on his way to the bottom, stopping only to pick up a shovel along the way.

Double-Feature It With:

The Rock
(1996, Rated R, 136 min.)

Yeah, remember how I said Cage wasn't a bad actor with the right material? The Rock isn't really the right material, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good time.






Damages
(2007 - 2009, Not Rated, Two Seasons Available, HD)

Continuing this week's theme of "stuff I really should have already watched by now," we come to FX's legal drama Damages, a show that my friend Jason has been pestering me to watch nearly as long as the show has been on the air. Glenn Close stars as cutthroat lawyer Patty Hewes of the prestigious New York firm Hewes & Associates. She takes on a new protege named Ellen Parsons, and the stormy relationship between the two forms the spine of the series. Unlike most legal dramas, Damages tackles only one case per season, similar to the approach used by Murder One back in the day, and focuses on what happens behind the scenes rather than any of the usual courtroom antics. The show also makes extensive use of nonlinear storytelling techniques. It is, according to the aforementioned friend Jason, the second best drama FX has produced so far (just behind Sons of Anarchy). Let's all find out if he's right, shall we?

Double-Feature It With:

The Riches
(2007 - 2008, TV-MA, Two Seasons Available)

If you're looking to pair Damages with another FX drama, I highly recommend this short-lived series starring Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver as a pair of roving gypsy con artists who tackle the biggest scam of their careers: taking over the identities of a wealthy suburban family nobody but them knows is dead. It only lasted two short seasons, making it perfect if you're looking for something to fill a few nights of viewing. If only it had lasted longer...


Destination Truth
(2007 - 2009, Not Rated, Three Seasons Available)

I know I was badmouthing SyFy's "reality" programming up at the top of the column, but Destination Truth is a highly entertaining exception. While I'm a long way from a believer, I've been a sucker for these "monster-hunting" shows since I was a kid, and Destination Truth is one of the best of its kind. Each week host Josh Gates hops to a different corner of the globe in search of some creepy bit of local folklore such as the chupacabra or the thunderbird, armed with all manner of night-vision cameras and motion trackers. What makes the show so much fun is that neither Gates nor his companions take themselves or their mission too seriously, which is crucial since most of the "evidence" they come away with is questionable at best. Getting video evidence of a real-life leprechaun isn't really the point here; the fun is simply seeing what manner of trouble Gates will get himself into, getting glimpses of some truly gorgeous and rarely seen corners of the world, and letting yourself believe -- however briefly -- that there still might be mysteries lurking in the dark out there. Also, if anyone ever invents a drinking game for every time the crew has vehicular trouble, there are going to be a lot of cases of alcohol poisoning amongst the Destination Truth audience.

Double-Feature It With...

MonsterQuest
(2007 - 2010, TV-14, Four Seasons Available)

If Destination Truth hasn't fully scratched your cryptozoological itches, The History Channel's equivalent has so far logged four seasons of critter-hunting, including obvious targets such as the Loch Ness Monster alongside more obscure choices like the "Ohio Grassman." I'm presuming that's not just somebody's pot dealer.






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