FlixWorthy: Spartacus, Kevin Smith, and More

By David Wharton 2011-01-25 23:30:36
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.


Spartacus: Gods of the Arena
(2011, TV-MA, 1 ep. available so far)

The fallout from Spartacus: Blood and Sand star Andy Whitfield's having to bow out from the lead while he fights cancer is still unfolding. While Andy was a true talent and his presence will be much missed when the show returns for its second season, Starz wasn't likely to let a certified hit fizzle out. After Whitfield gracefully bowed out and gave them his blessing to recast the role, series creator Steven S. DeKnight came up with the clever idea to film a prequel series using the standing sets and many of the existing cast. Hence, we have Gods of the Arena, which premiered on Starz last Friday and is being uploaded to Netflix on a weekly basis. Gods is set several years before Blood and Sand and finds the house of Batiatus still struggling to make a name for itself in the gladiatorial world. While the premiere episode didn't hit the lofty heights of its predecessor right out the gate, it holds enormous promise and has the added benefit of giving us more of characters and actors whose fate at the end of season one left them...shall we say "unavailable" for future episodes. Like Blood and Sand, Gods of the Arena is bloody, vulgar, and full of scheming. If that's not a recipe for a good Friday night, I don't know what is. It has all the makings of a very satisfactory time-killer while we wait for season two. In the mean time, we wish Andy Whitfield good health and new Spartacus actor Liam McIntyre good luck -- he's got some big damn shoes to fill.

Double-Feature It With:

The Tudors
(2007, TV-MA, Two seasons available)

If you like your history soapy and scandalous, why not jump forward a few centuries and pair ancient Rome with the days of King Henry VIII? Jonathan Rhys-Meyers stars as the lusty king as the series weaves through a complex web of duplicity, marriage complications, and shagging. Unfortunately, only the first two of the show's four seasons are available streaming.



Kevin Smith: Too Fat for 40!
(2010, Rated TV-MA, 117 min.)

Kevin Smith has been in the news a lot in the last year. There was the unfortunateness that was Cop Out, followed by Smith's (over)reaction to the negative reviews. He was infamously removed from a Southwestern Airlines flight, allegedly because he didn't fit into his seat properly. There was his 24-part video response to the Southwest Airlines incident that he posted to YouTube. This very past week at Sundance he threw a public auction for his new film Red State, cancelled the auction and announced plans to distribute the film himself, and finally declared his intent to retire from directing after filming his hockey comedy Hit Somebody. Love him or hate him, one thing remains clear to those of us who have seen the man speak in person: regardless of what you think of him as a director, he's a damn funny personality on the stage. Hence, I direct your attention to this TV comedy special shot in the aftermath of Smith's Southwest Airlines controversy. If past experiences are any precedent, Smith will recount horror stories from the Hollywood trenches, name-drop shamelessly, and curse a blue streak that would send the Parents Television Council into a twitching vegetative state.

Double-Feature It With...

George Carlin: Carlin at Carnegie
(1982, Not Rated, 59 min.)

Speaking of censorship, Netflix has recently uploaded a metric butt-ton of specials featuring one of the best stand-up comedians of all time, the much-mourned George Carlin. Many of these are the fruit of Carlin's long partnership with HBO, and they are fruitful indeed. They span the length of the man's long career, showcasing a genius that never lost its edge. I recommend starting with this concert from Carnegie Hall, which includes a ripping delivery of Carlin's infamous "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television" routine.



Exit Through the Gift Shop
(2010, Rated R, 86 min., HD)

This one is offered sight-unseen based on reputation alone...a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an Oscar nomination is no mean feat. Ostensibly a documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop begins as filmmaker Thierry Guetta's attempt to examine the world of underworld street art. During this process, he meets a British artist named Banksy, and soon things get really, really complicated. Guetta and Banksy switch roles, with Banksy taking over filmmaking duties and Guetta taking on a new persona as a supposed street artist named Mr. Brainwash...and then becoming a phenomenon amongst Los Angeles art critics and aficionados. To make things even more confusing, there is still some speculation as to how much of this was real or whether the entire thing was an elaborate bit of mockumentary sleight of hand. Whether it's a case of truth being stranger than fiction or just a very clever bit of nimble performance art, one thing is certain: by all accounts, it's one hell of a good time.

Double-Feature It With:

The Parking Lot Movie
(2010, Rated PG-13, 70 min.)

Another recent documentary, The Parking Lot isn't nearly as byzantine in its concept, but then not everything has to make you question reality to be entertaining. Director Meghan Eckman spent three years following the attendants who worked at a single parking lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. It's human nature, writ small, and you don't even have to find a place to park.



Hogfather
(2007, Not Rated, 2 episodes)

Terry Pratchett's comedic Discworld books comprise one of the few fantasy series that can actually give Piers Anthony's never-ending "Xanth" books a run for their money when it comes to longevity. With nearly 40 novels in the run so far, it's kind of surprising that the books haven't been adapted more often than they have. The most visible adaptation is this British TV version that faithfully adapts Pratchett's novel of the same name. There's trouble in Discworld, you see, because Santa stand-in Hogfather has gone missing, and his disappearance may be only the beginning of even bigger trouble. Riding to the rescue is Death himself, as well as Death's assistant and Death's granddaughter (the family reunions must be murder). Both of Hogfather's two parts are available streaming, each clocking in around 90 minutes.

Double-Feature It With:

The Color of Magic
(2008, Not Rated, 2 episodes)

Hogfather was followed up the very next year by this outing, which finds Pratchett staple Rincewind the wizard assigned to babysitting duty over a rich tourist who's visiting Discworld with cash to burn. This outing ups the star power with a cast that includes Jeremy Irons and unofficial Cinema Blend mascot Tim Curry.




The Illustrated Man
(1969, Rated PG, 103 min.)

After Zack Snyder finishes blowing out minds with Sucker Punch and hopefully doing a better job with Superman than Bryan Singer did, one of the many projects on his development slate will reteam him with Watchman screenwriter Alex Tse for a new film based on Ray Bradbury's iconic collection of short stories. But while we will have to wait until 2013 or so to see what Snyder and Tse do with The Illustrated Man, you can check out the trippy 1969 cult classic on streaming right now. Making a movie out of a collection of short stories is a challenge to say the least, but The Illustrated Man finds its framing element in the character it's named after. Rod Steiger stars as the Illustrated Man himself, whose skin is almost completely covered by a patchwork of tattoos. When I.M. crosses paths with a young drifter, we soon learn that his illustrations are more than merely decorative: his tattoos contain many stories, three of which the film unfurls. The movie adapts three of Bradbury's stories from the book, namely: "The Veldt," "The Long Rain," and "The Last Night of the World." While this movie version didn't exactly win over the critics or set the box office on fire, if you're a Bradbury fan or curious as to what Snyder might have in store for us a few years down the line, take a gander at the Illustrated Man's ink.

Double-Feature It With...

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
(2009, Rated R, 147 min., HD)

Keeping with the theme, Stieg Larsson's award-winning "Millennium Trilogy" kicked off in 2005 with, of course, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Published after Larsson's death, the trilogy introduced the world to young hacker Lisbeth Salander, who is set to be played by Rooney Mara in the upcoming David Fincher-directed American adaptation next December. Netflix has just recently added this final installment in the Swedish film trilogy, but if you want to start at the beginning, both of the first two are available streaming as well: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire.






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