FlixWorthy: Your Weekly Guide To Netflix Streaming

By David Wharton 2010-02-08 14:20:46
Netflix has spent the last couple of years trying to conquer the home entertainment world, one outlet at a time. It won me over after its partnership with Xbox 360 meant no longer having to sit in front of my computer to watch streaming movies or TV shows. Sure, it wouldn't have been that difficult to rig things so I could watch the computer-streamed stuff on my big-screen TV in the living room, but Netflix on the 360 hit the sweet spot of decent quality combined with an appeal to my overpowering laziness. Now I didn't have to put any effort in beyond booting up the 360 and pressing a few buttons. As long as the controllers are within reach, I don't even have to leave my comfy chair, and if that's not the American way, I don't know what is.

But Netflix's streaming catalogue is a bit of an odd duck in this era of iPhone-YouTube-Hulu instant gratification. For every hit and classic there are reams and reams of movies you've never heard of. Oscar winners like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest share queue space with notable indies like Julia and earnestly Z-grade flicks like Transmorphers: Fall of Man. It conjures up a bit of nostalgia, frankly, calling up the days of browsing the shelves of the local independent video store, never knowing what you were going to find. All that's missing is the "adults only" section hidden behind a curtain in the back corner.

Much as I love me some Netflix streaming, however, it can be a challenge to sort through the glut to find the gems. That's where we come in. Each week, FlixWorthy will pick through the dusty halls of Netflix and bring you our picks for the new and noteworthy, the awesome and the awesomely bad. Take my hand, children, and let's kill some time together.


Touch of Evil
(1958, Not Rated)

It's hard to go wrong with Orson Welles. Well, okay, not that hard. But before he descended into a bloated train wreck of incoherent commercial outtakes and green peaness, Welles' talent was as titanic as his waistline eventually became. Touch of Evil doesn't seem to get as much press as supposed best movie ever Citizen Kane, but it's definitely worth seeing. Welles wrote, directed, and stars as Hank Quinlan, the corrupt arm of the law in a small U.S./Mexican border town. After a car bombing draws the attention of Mexican narcotics officer Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston), Quinlan and Vargas are soon matched in battle of wits and flexible morality. The American Film Institute lists Touch of Evil as number 64 on their "100 Years, 100 Thrills" list, and it opens with a legendary tracking shot that's been imitated for decades. It's film noir at its finest.

Double-Feature It With...
The Third Man
Welles is always more fun as a villain, and it'll make a nice contrast to jump from the rugged Mexican border to the sewers and alleys of Vienna.


Beer Wars
(2009, Not Rated, HD)

What better way to soothe your lingering hangover from the Big Game than by learning a little about the people that brought you your beer. Writer-director -- and former General Manager of Mike's Hard Lemonade -- Anat Baron takes you on a tour behind the scenes of the beer industry and the tension between the big established companies and independent brewers. Baron's documentary focuses on two such indie brewers, and the difficulties they face trying to make a mark in a niche dominated by names like Miller and Bud. Reviews are mixed, but if nothing else you might discover a few new brews to try. Bonus points if you can come up with a drinking game to play while you watch.

Double-Feature It With...
National Lampoon's Animal House
Because if you do decide on a drinking game, by the time you're done with Beer Wars, you'll probably be the perfect level of drunk to best appreciate the antics of Blutarsky and the rest. But do it before March 1st, because Animal House is only available on Netflix's streaming library until then.


Little Ashes
(2008, Rated R, HD)

Just for the Twihards out there. Shiny vampire Robert Pattinson trades his unruly hair for a wicked mustache as surrealist painter Salvador Dalí in this movie about the relationship between Dali and poet Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltran). The 24% rating over on RottenTomatoes doesn't inspire confidence, but if you're watching this flick it's probably because you're staunchly Team Edward. Find out whether Pattinson's got any acting chops when he's not starring in a juvenile teeny-bopper Mormon romance -- not that I'm suggesting he has any in Twilight, mind you. But seriously, check out that 'stache!

Double-Feature It With:
The Edge of Love
Speaking of movies you'll only watch for the actors, I give you Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller as two thirds of a Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) love triangle. It's only marginally better reviewed than Little Ashes, but on the up side it does feature Keira and Sienna sharing a bath.


Them!
(1954, Not Rated)

The final word in movies featuring giant, radioactive ants, despite what Syfy's Saturday-night programming block would have you believe. Them! is one of the quintessential '50s monster movies, high on Red Scare fumes and atomic paranoia. This movie was a staple of my childhood, earning regular rotation between Doubleshock Theater on Sunday afternoons and my dad's increasingly worn VHS copy. It's giant ants, people, rendered with the best technology 1954 had to offer. Plus, the cast includes Leonard Nimoy and James "Gunsmoke" Arness. What's not to love?

Double-Feature It With:
Eight Legged Freaks
Exhibit A in the case that better technology doesn't necessarily equal better movie. Eight years after it came out, Eight Legged Freaks is best remembered -- if it's remembered at all -- for starring a very cute, very young Scarlett Johannson and for misplacing a hyphen in its title. Still, it doesn't take itself seriously and it's hard not to get a little amusement in watching David Arquette and Kari Wuhrer battling giant spiders.


The Guild: Seasons 1 & 2
(2007, Not Rated, Season 2 in HD)

First of all, if you aren't already a fan of The Guild, for shame. Created by, written by, and starring the so-cute-it's-sickening Felicia Day, The Guild is an online sitcom about a group of friends who spend all their time playing an unnamed massively multiplayer fantasy game that has nothing whatsoever to do with World of Warcraft, honest. Day will be familiar to Whedon fans from Buffy, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Day plays Codex, who spends more time juggling the idiosyncrasies of her guild-mates than she actually does playing. The cast is sharp and funny, and there's plenty to like here even if you don't know a tank from a noob. Day and her cohorts have done an awesome job of spreading the word about The Guild and making it available in a variety of formats, but if you haven't run across it yet and have a Netflix account, what are you waiting for? Each episode is short, but for some odd reason Netflix has opted to lump each season together in a chunk. I'm guessing that's the way the concurrent DVD release was packaged. It's not a big deal, since season one clocks in at around 45 minutes and season two just over an hour, but it does rob you of the convenience of watching each episode bite-sized.

Double-Feature It With:
The IT Crowd: Series 1
Hands down my favorite British comedy in years. Following the adventures of a tech-unsavvy supervisor (Katherine Parkinson) tasked with overseeing the misanthropic and spectacularly unproductive IT team of Roy (Chris O'Down) and Moss (Richard Ayoade), The IT Crowd is the office comedy for people who are sick of The Office. Bursting at the seams with quotable lines and unforgettable sight gags, The IT Crowd can stand proudly next to the likes of Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, and Spaced. If you can make it through "The Haunting of Bil Crouse" without struggling to breathe, you're a better man than I.
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