FlixWorthy: Two Writers, Two Con Men, And 1,000 Corpses

By David Wharton 2010-03-09 14:56:41
Welcome back to FlixWorthy, your weekly guide to Netflix streaming. Each Monday FlixWorthy dives headfirst into Netflix's streaming catalogue and surfaces with a handful of new or notable selections for your amusement and edification. Sometimes it'll be classics, sometimes it'll be little-seen gems, sometimes it'll be shows you might have missed, and sometimes...sometimes it'll be crap so awful it simply has to be seen to be believed. Here's what's FlixWorthy this week, kids.

Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth
(2008, Not Rated, 96 min.)
If you aren't familiar with writer Harlan Ellison, you'll get a perfect introduction in the opening moments of Dreams with Sharp Teeth. Comedian and long-time friend Robin Williams asks Ellison if it's true that he once mailed a dead gopher to a publishing house. The response: "Absolutely true." What follows is a documentary profile of the outspoken writer through interviews, archival footage, and readings of his stories. Writers including Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Ron Moore, and Josh Olson put in cameos to discuss their friendship with Ellison and his influence on their work, but quite frankly the star attraction is the man himself. Prolific, passionate, and abrasive, Ellison is as distinctive as his body of work, and the personality that has won him both legions of fans and cadres of bitter enemies is on full display in Dreams with Sharp Teeth. It's clear that writer-director Erik Nelson (Grizzly Man) is an Ellison fan, so it's disappointing that the film doesn't delve deeper into the controversies surrounding the writer, but Ellison's fascinating personal history and love-him-or-hate-him personality carry the weight of the film well.

Double-Feature It With...
Trumbo
(2007, Rated PG-13, 96 min., HD)
Before discovering this documentary, my knowledge of Dalton Trumbo was limited to recognizing his impressive list of screen credits and his blacklisting by HUAC. Based on a play by Dalton's son Christopher, Trumbo is an engrossing look at the fearless writer responsible for Spartacus and Johnny Got His Gun. Trumbo combines the usual mix of interviews and historical footage with readings of Trumbo's letters by actors including Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti, and Donald Sutherland.



Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
(1988, Rated PG, 110 min.)
Pretty much the only entertaining parts of this week's Oscars were the ones involving Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. If Hollywood's big night has left you craving some vintage Martin, Netflix has added Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to their streaming catalogue. Directed by Frank Oz, Scoundrels stars Martin and Michael Caine as rival con men who face off over a wager to see who can swindle away the fortune of a wealthy heiress in the French Riviera. As you'd expect of the pairing of Martin and Caine, the film is a mixture of wit and slapstick, and it's great fun watching the two spar and undercut each other's plans (although it would be better if Caine delivered a monologue involving tangerines at some point). Weirdly, the film was originally intended as a project for Mick Jagger and David Bowie. All due respect to Bowie's fine performance in Labyrinth, but I think we're all better off that that version of the film never happened.

Double-Feature It With...
Roxanne
(1987, Rated PG, 107 min.)
In Roxanne, Martin steps from con man to the other side of protecting and serving as a small-town firefighter gifted (or cursed) with a prominent proboscis. Putting a modern spin on Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne sees Martin's C.D. Bales fall for Daryl Hannah and use a handsome buddy to seduce her by proxy. He also fends off several bullies using a tennis racquet at one point, which is awesome.




Mallrats
(1995, Rated R, 96 min.)
Ah, Mallrats. Before Jersey Girl came along, Mallrats was the easiest target for Smith detractors, the ugly middle child between the better-respected Clerks and Chasing Amy. Mallrats will always hold a special place in my heart, however, because it was the first Smith movie I ever saw, and a regular staple of my friends' weekend viewing habits throughout college. Broader in both scale and comedy than Clerks, Mallrats starred Jeremy London as the lovestruck and recently dumped TS Quint, and introduced the world to the awesomeness of Jason Lee, back before he broke our hearts with the Chipmunks movies. TS and also-dumped buddy Brodie (Lee) wander the retail wasteland that is the local mall, running across View Askewniverse stalwarts such as Jay and Silent Bob, discussing superhero sex organs with Stan Lee, and speculating about the dubious merits of getting busy in the back of a Volkswagen. Mallrats isn't as notable as Clerks or Chasing Amy, but neither is it as ridiculous as Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. It's just good, silly fun from the days before Smith was making "real" movies starring Bruce Willis. I'll take Mallrats over Cop Out any day of the week.

Double-Feature It With:
The Breakfast Club
(1985, Rated R, 92 min.)
Maybe it's just because the John Hughes montage during the Oscar made me nostalgic, but any excuse to rewatch The Breakfast Club is a good excuse to rewatch The Breakfast Club. Like many other filmmakers of his generation, Smith was heavily influenced by Hughes' teen films. Why not pair up vintage Smith with what is arguably Hughes' masterpiece?





House of 1,000 Corpses
(2003, Rated R, 88 min., HD)
There's no question that Rob Zombie has become a powerful player in the modern horror landscape. How you feel about that will determine whether or not you're excited that Zombie's House of 1,000 Corpses has turned up in Netflix's streaming library. This was the film that established Zombie as a writer-director, instead of just "that hairy guy from White Zombie." Inspired by old-school horror and exploitation movies, Corpses is a violent and gory throwback that tosses two couples into the midst of an urban legend that proves to be all too true. All the standard horror elements are here: hapless travelers, a bugfuck crazy family of psychopaths, and an array of insides becoming outsides in spectacular fashion. Granted, horror movies don't always review well, but the 17% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes probably won't lure in many sightseers who aren't already Zombie fans. Regardless of your opinion on the Halloween remakes, the path to them began here.

Double-Feature It With:
The Evil Dead
(1981, Not Rated, 85 min.)
Depending on whether you actually enjoyed House of 1,000 Corpses, Evil Dead will either be a complementary cult classic or a revivifying antidote. Either way, Sam Raimi's definitive "cabin in the woods" flick is chock full of win. (Available until April 1, 2010)






The Call of Cthulhu
(2005, Not Rated, 47 min.)
I remember this film getting a lot of buzz a few years ago, but I never got around to seeing it. Lovecraft has always been damn near impossible to get right on the big screen, but the filmmakers behind Call of Cthulhu decided to try something new by trying something old. The Call of Cthulhu is presented as if it's an actual relic from the 1920s, a low-budget affair delivered in silent-film style and black and white. By all accounts, the short film is very faithful to the Lovecraft story from which it draws its name and inspiration, and at 47 minutes, it's an easy way to kill a lunch or laundry break. Until Guillermo del Toro eventually gets around to making At the Mountains of Madness, this might just be your best bet for cinematic Lovecraft.

Double-Feature It With:
From Beyond
(1986, Unrated, 85 min.)
Del Toro isn't the only filmmaker determined to crack the Lovecraft nut. Stuart Gordon has been doing his best to bring the writer's works and style to the big screen since 1985's Re-Animator. Gordon regular Jeffrey Combs stars a scientist meddling in things he shouldn't, all loosely based on a Lovecraft short story of the same name. If I had my druthers, I'd actually suggest pairing Call of Cthulhu with Gordon's Dagon, but it isn't available streaming.


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