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.
If you missed one of the best movies of last year and have a Netflix account, now you are without excuse. Moon is a simple genre concept realized with intelligence and humanity
thanks to an amazing performance by Sam Rockwell. He plays astronaut Sam Bell, the sole human crew member of a lonely lunar mining station. Excited about approaching the end of his three-year contract and ready to return home to his wife and child, Bell soon makes a discovery that throws his whole world into question. Like last year's District 9, Moon gets an amazing amount of production value and mood out of its limited budget, and with this film writer-director Duncan Jones established himself as a talent to watch. He's since gone on to take the helm of Source Code, set to arrive in 2011 starring Jake Gyllenhaal. It's based on an excellent high-concept script, so trust me when I say you should be excited about that one. I recommend seeing Moon with as little foreknowledge as possible, but if you want a bit more info, you can check out Tim Gomez's review here.
Any time anyone is throwing together a list of smart, mind-bending science fiction films, Solaris is almost always near the top. Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and based on Stanislaw Lem's novel, Solaris sends scientist Kris Kelvin to the titular planet to investigate what happened to an earlier mission. Once there, he begins seeing visions of his dead wife and starts to unravel the truth about the mysterious planet. I've got a soft spot for the flawed Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney remake, but I've been meaning to see the original for years. Now I just need to set aside 169 minutes...
The pinnacle of big-screen Trek, a movie so good that when the franchise finally ran completely out of ideas, they just tried to remake Khan and hoped nobody would notice. This movie has damn near everything: Kirk at his most daring and clever, yet still faced with the one problem he doesn't know how to solve. One of the greatest screen villains not just in Trek history, but in the history of moviemaking. Gripping action sequences, heartbreaking sacrifices, crackling dialogue, and a closing monologue that still gives me chills. As much fun as J.J. Abram's resurrection of the franchise was, he's got a long way to go before Khan is in any danger of being dethroned as the definitive Star Trek movie. Although in my opinion this is still the best thing to come out of Trek as a whole.
For some reason only Treks II, III, and IV are available streaming, but that actually works well since they form a trilogy of sorts. Sure, The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home can't match Wrath of Khan for sheer unbridled awesomeness, but I've always loved that space-whale probe, and our own Josh Tyler made a compelling case last year that Search for Spock gets an unfairly bad rap. It might not pack quite the same emotional wallop as Spock's death, but I mark the scene of Kirk and Bones watching the Enterprise burn and break apart as one of the franchise's finest moments.
There was a time during the 1980s when Hollywood was on a serious sword-and-sorcery kick, a run of fantasy films that pretty much marked the last gasp of the genre until The Lord of the Rings resurrected it a few decades later. You had your Conans, your Sword and the Sorcerers, your Krulls (sure, that one has sci-fi trappings, but call The Beast a demon instead of an alien and nothing much changes). One of the few that has stuck in my mind all these years, despite my not having seen it since before puberty, is Dragonslayer. Surprisingly dark and realistic for a Disney co-production, Dragonslayer is best known for its visual-effects achievements in creating one of the most impressive dragons ever to grace the silver screen, a gold standard for films that followed such as Dragonheart. You might be put off by the realization that the film's hero is played by a young Peter MacNichol, but if a couple of hobbits can save the world, why shouldn't The Biscuit? Also, the dragon is named Vermithrax Pejorative. That badassery merits a viewing in and of itself.
Really, I would stick with the dragon theme and recommend Dragonheart if it was available streaming, or even Reign of Fire if I hadn't already recommended that one a few weeks ago. So instead we'll just go with another relic of my youth. Sure, this original version doesn't have the 3D effects of the new remake, but...actually, that's a huge selling point.
The Man Who Wasn't There seems to have fallen between the cracks of Coen Brothers history. It's neither respectable enough to take home a shelf full of Oscars (No Country for Old Men), nor quirky enough to merit t-shirt slogans and regular midnight showings (The Big Lebowski). It rarely gets mentioned amongst their best works (Fargo), but neither is it dismissed as an unfortunate footnote (The Ladykillers). To be honest, I don't think I even would have remembered to include it if asked to list the Brothers' films. And that's a shame, because TMWWT is stylish and entertaining enough to merit a trip through your home theater now and then. Shot in stark black and white, The Man Who Wasn't There finds the Coens deep in noir territory with the tale of an emotionally distant barber (Billy Bob Thornton) who falls into the midst of a convoluted series of events involving blackmail, adultery, murder, UFOs, and dry cleaning (not necessarily in that order).
I'm going to break my own self-imposed rules here. The double-feature recommendation I'm listing here is Miller's Crossing. It's one of the Coens' best films. You really can't go wrong with Miller's Crossing. However, what I would prefer to recommend is The Hudsucker Proxy, because supposedly The Man Who Wasn't There was originally inspired by a poster the Coens saw while filming Hudsucker. Unfortunately, Hudsucker isn't available streaming. But if you've got it on DVD, seriously, watch that instead.
If you've never seen Ken Burns' seminal, Emmy-winning Civil War documentary, you've missed out on two things: 1) An excellent and entertaining look back at the struggle that divided our nation, and 2) Literally hundreds of pop-culture references. All those moments in TV shows and movies and sketch comedy over the past 20 years where somebody is narrating a letter over period photographs, likely while using a questionable southern accent? Yeah, they were totally referring to this. All nine parts of the series are here, and while that might sound daunting at first, each segment clocks in between an hour and an hour and a half, so it's easily digestible even if you're not in the mood for an ass-numbing yet educational marathon. See, kids, learning can be fun!
If you're a Burns fan with a Netflix account, you're in good shape. The documentarian's 10-episode look at the history of jazz is a perfect pick if you're craving more, but if another full-length series is too much right on the heels of Civil War, Netflix has a dozen other standalone films from Burns. Sadly, neither The War nor Baseball are available on demand yet. But by the time you get through both The Civil War and Jazz, they just might.