FlixWorthy: Veronica Mars, Below, And More
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.
(2004 - 2006, Not Rated, Three seasons, HD)
Some of us are still all broken up over the cancellation of Party Down, but at least we can soothe our grief with the knowledge that all three seasons of Rob Thomas' previous fan-favorite series are streaming in HD on Netflix. For fans, this is reason to cheer; for those of you who never watched, this is the perfect excuse! Kristen Bell stars as the lead, a whip-smart, acerbically funny 17-year-old sleuth whose high school seems to have an inordinately high crime rate. In between cracking cases for her schoolmates and swapping rat-a-tat banter with her cop-turned-private-eye dad (Enrico Colantoni as one of the best TV dads ever), Veronica strives to solve the murder of her best friend (Amanda Seyfried) in a season-long arc. Veronica Mars wraps noir trappings around a high-school setting in much the same way Brick did, but usually in a somewhat more light-hearted way. The dialogue crackles, the supporting cast amazes, and Bell herself cements Veronica in the top echelons of the best-written female characters ever to grace the small screen. Season two is by far the show's finest, an intricately plotted season-long mystery that demands (and rewards) careful attention. Season three ships Veronica and company off to college and suffers a bit by shifting to more self-contained episodes, but it's still absolutely worth watching.
Double-Feature It With:
(2007 - 2008, Not Rated, Two seasons, HD)
Speaking of quirky, much-mourned crimesolvers, the dead-whispering antics of Pushing Daisies should make a perfect companion to Veronica and her cohorts. A baker (Lee Pace) who can raise the dead with a touch solves mysteries alongside his resurrected crush (Anna Friel) and a caustic, ill-tempered private eye (Chi McBride) with the unlikely name of Emerson Cod. Season one and two are both available in high-def.
(2002, Rated R, 105 min.)
Last week I highlighted Session 9, one of those great underseen flicks that I occasionally have the pleasure of taking down off the shelf and introducing to a friend who's never even heard of it. A close second in that category is this little gem from David Twohy, a haunted-sub story so good it might just make you forgive Twohy for Chronicles of Riddick. On the surface (so to speak), Below is all too familiar: a group of people who run afoul of an angry spirit, then spend the rest of the tale trying to figure out why Casper's so damn pissed off before he kills them all. By placing the ghost story on an American sub during World War II, Twohy immediately solves the biggest problem with any haunted-house story. Namely: why don't these idiots just leave once the walls start bleeding? With German destroyers hunting them on the surface, they can't leave, can't surface, can't get away. They're stuck in the most claustrophobic of confines with a supernatural force determined to take its revenge. Bruce Greenwood shines as the boat's possibly unhinged commanding officer, and Zach Galifianakis puts in a memorable turn as a Lovecraft-obsessed crew member. Twohy's delivers his terror with slow-burn subtlety, unnerving you with things glimpsed out of the corner of the eye: a reflection not quite in sync with the man casting it, a dark shape in a bunk in the background, the hint of a spectral face behind a wall of cascading water. It's old-fashioned horror, and it's all the more to be appreciated in our age of torture porn and slasher remakes.
Double-Feature It With...
(1988, Rated PG, 92 min., HD)
If you're a masochist, follow Below up with Session 9. Otherwise revisit a less intimidating dead guy while you're trying to shake off the willies.
(2000, Rated PG-13, 104 min.)
It's easy to take good comic-book movies for granted these days. We've seen the likes of certified blockbusters like Iron Man and The Dark Knight, and noble experiments like Watchmen and Kick-Ass. But it wasn't that long ago that Batman & Robin damn near killed the genre entirely. Blade got Hollywood's attention by demonstrating that even a little-known four-color hero could make bank. Then X-Men came along and proved that superheroes in the right hands could not only bring in the moolah, but could make for seriously compelling storytelling in spite of the sillier aspects like code names and Wolverine's hairdo. While the sequel, X2, bettered this original outing in every way, this first X-film paved the way for all the caped crusaders and emerald space-cops that were to come. And it also happens to be a pretty damn good movie in and of itself, toad-lightning metaphors aside. Revisit Xavier's gang again and do your best to forget you ever heard the name "Brett Ratner."
Double-Feature It With:
Batman: The Movie
(1966, Rated PG, 105 min.)
Much as I can appreciate the charms of the old Batman TV series, there's still an undercurrent of bitterness toward it for convincing the world that this was all comic books had to offer -- the biffs, the pows, and the spandex-covered pot-bellies. Thankfully, we all managed to live to see Batman take up his true mantle -- that of the violent, mentally unstable head case who just happens to have our best interests at heart -- so surely we can make room in our hearts for the Batman who sometimes just can't get rid of a bomb.
(2003 - 2006, Not Rated, Three seasons, HD)
I've been a fan of Paul Gross ever since he played the definitive Mountie as Constable Benton Fraser in Due South. This Canadian production casts Gross as a very different character, but he's no less talented and engrossing -- ahem -- for it. Gross stars as Geoffrey Tennant, a has-been actor taking a new job running the New Burbage Theatre Festival. While dealing with insecure actors, insufficient budgets, and an overzealous marketing department, Geoffrey is also shaking off his grief over the recent death of his mentor, Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette). Things only get more complicated when Oliver begins appearing to him...whether as ghost or hallucination, even Oliver isn't quite sure. The writing is smart and sharp, with a full complement of delightful characters filling out the troupe and Gross himself knocking the role all the way past the bleachers. Each season focuses on the festival's production of a Shakespeare play, beginning with "A Midsummer Night's Dream," with each season's story arc reflecting and being commented on by the play in the offing. The radiant Rachel McAdams gives a wonderful turn as young actress Kate, but the rest of the cast more than makes up for their lack of name recognition. Slings & Arrows aired on the Sundance Channel here in the states a few years back, but this one is still well below the radar for most folks: check it out, and remember that seasons two and three are available as well.
Double-Feature It With:
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
(2006, Not Rated, 22 eps.)
Remember when everyone was confident that Studio 60 would be the show-about-a-show that would last, and that 30 Rock wouldn't even survive the first season? Yeah. Still, despite Sorkin's series often getting too high-fallutin' for its own good, not to mention the fact that what we see of the "brilliant" show within a show is frankly awful, Studio 60 is worth watching just for the lead performances of Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.
(2003, Rated R, 121 min.)
I've never seen it. Most of you have never seen it. But admit it: you're a little bit curious, aren't you? Gigli was almost totally eclipsed by the unfortunate pop-culture tsunami known as "Bennifer," but what little managed to sneak through the cracks of media coverage seemed almost hypnotically terrible. Why is Ben Affleck's hair doing that? Did anyone really think his accent was a good idea? Did Jennifer Lopez really just invite Ben Affleck to perform oral sex on her with the line "It's turkey time, gobble gobble." I mean, seriously, just read the plot summary from IMDb: "The violent story about how a criminal lesbian, a tough-guy hit-man with a heart of gold, and a retarded man came to be best friends through a hostage." This is a real movie. They made this. Somebody greenlighted it, people were paid for their work on it, and other people actually paid to sit in a theater and watch it. I don't know about you, but I almost have to watch Gigli. There are too many questions it raises about my fundamental concepts of truth and reality. Gigli should not be, but is. I think if I ever manage to truly comprehend Gigli, I will either die on the spot or immediately evolve Matrix-like superpowers. Join me, won't you?
Double-Feature It With...
Scent of a Woman
(1992, Rated R, 157 min.)
Because believe it or not, the guy who made Gigli also made some other movies that didn't imperil the very fabric of reality simply by their existence. One of them involved Al Pacino shouting a lot.
Last Chance Theater -- Expiring Soon!
Miracle at St. Anna (Expires 7/26)
Spike Lee gets historical. Sort of.
The Great Outdoors (Expires 7/31)
I miss John Candy. *sniff*
The Great White Hype (Expires 7/31)
Sam Jackson promotes boxing.
Slaughterhouse Five (Expires 7/31)
Billie Pilgrim becomes unstuck in time.
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