FlixWorthy: Iron Man, Star Trek, And The Best/Worst Of The '80s
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.
We've missed a couple of weeks here at FlixWorthy, partly because I've been slammed with other work and partly because the Netflix pickings this past month have been slimmer than slim. Thankfully, Netflix just made up for that drought with one of the biggest catalogue updates I've ever seen. I'd estimate hundreds of titles have been added this week, likely the result of that billion-dollar deal the Netflix folks made a few weeks back. It's a strange mix of blockbusters, curiosities, and deep-cut insanity (Mac & Me (opens in new tab)?) We'd have to make this column the length of a decent-sized novella to cover it all, so this week I'm just highlighting a few of the biggest, weirdest, and most awesome additions. I'll profile even more of them in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Here's what's FlixWorthy this week, kids.
Iron Man (opens in new tab)
(2008, Rated PG-13, 126 min.)
I almost feel silly writing anything about Iron Man. What more is there to say that hasn't already been said? Along with The Dark Knight, it's the movie that marked the (so far) pinnacle of the recent comic-book-movie renaissance. Dark Knight demonstrated that it was imminently possible to tell a smart, layered, morally complex story using source material that has often been dismissed or woefully mishandled by Hollywood. On the other end of the spectrum, Iron Man proved that not every comic-book property needs to shoot for dark and angsty...sometimes it's enough to be true to the source material and just try to have as much fun as is humanly possible. Step one to achieving that goal? Cast Robert Downey Jr. as your dashing, quick-witted hero and let him polish out any flaws in your screenplay through the sheer power of his charisma. The recent sequel may not have recaptured all the silver-screen magic of this original, but Iron Man is the movie that not only firmly cemented the second coming of Downey, it almost single-handedly made Marvel's ambitious big-screen Avengers scheme a possibility. It's damn near the perfect summer-popcorn movie.
Double-Feature It With:
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (opens in new tab)
(2009, Rated PG-13, 118 min.)
Of course, not every excursion into the toy boxes of our youth can be as rousing a success as Iron Man. Arriving the same summer as the execrable Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, G.I. Joe made for a queasy one-two punch right in the nostalgia gland of '80s children such as myself. That being said, G.I. Joe does manage to nail some fun set pieces in amongst the idiocy, and at one point Rachel Nichols jogs on a treadmill while wearing a sports bra. Plus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance literally defies description.
Star Trek (opens in new tab)
(2009, Rated PG-13, 126 min.)
J.J. Abrams' controversial not-a-reboot of the flailing Trek franchise succeeded on several levels. For the most part, it nailed the casting. Pine exuded the cool confidence of Kirk without simply aping Shatner's often-parodied delivery. Zachary Quinto went beyond his surface resemblance to Leonard Nimoy to portray a younger, more emotionally conflicted Spock. Zoe Saldana -- with all due respect to Nichelle Nichols -- finally made Uhura interesting. Karl Urban was an appropriately crusty Bones, despite not having that much to do. The visuals were sleek, the action was intense, and the script proved it wasn't afraid to take chances with this new continuity (sayonara, Vulcan). It wasn't all good news, however. Bana's Nero was seriously underdeveloped as a villain, the screenplay struggled to incorporate humor in ways that weren't cringe-inducing, and this new incarnation lacked the brains and heart of the best of the classic Trek outings. And the less said about Anton Yelchin's Chekov accent, the better. Still and all, it's a promising foundation for a newly reinvigorated franchise, and here's hoping Abrams and company fix what was broken and improve further on what worked whenever the sequel finally arrives. As long as they stay far away from anything involving "wrath" and anybody named "Khan."
Double-Feature It With...
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (opens in new tab)
(1986, Rated PG, 118 min., HD)
If Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman want to take notes on how to properly apply a sense of humor to the Star Trek template, they could do a lot worse than watch The Voyage Home. It may lack the pathos and intensity of Wrath of Khan, but it's just damned entertaining and packed with character-based humor. Plus, it's got that kickass whale probe.
The 'burbs (opens in new tab)
(1989, Rated PG, 102 min., HD)
How much do I love The 'burbs? I love The 'burbs as much as CinemaBlend head honcho Josh Tyler loves Clue, if not more. Actually, come to think of it, I love Clue, too. But The 'burbs is awesome, that's what I'm saying. Working from the thesis that we grown-ups shouldn't let little kids have all the awesome, Goonies-esque adventures, The 'burbs introduces us to Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks), an average suburbanite in dire need of a vacation. He just wants to sit around the house and relax, and he finally convinces his wife (Carrie Fisher) to let him do just that. Sadly, relaxation will not be on the schedule, because manchild-next-door Art (Rick Ducommun) soon entangles him in the neighborhood scuttlebutt that the new family on the block, the rarely seen Klopek clan, are psychopathic murderers. Ray's protestations lose some of their steam when another neighbor vanishes and leaves behind signs of a struggle, and soon Ray is reluctantly considering the possibility that yes, the Klopeks might have a backyard full of bodies and a cellar full of secrets. The cast is uniformly awesome, from Bruce Dern as gun-crazy vet Mark Rumsfield, to Corey Feldman as enthusiastic rubbernecker Ricky Butler, to the late, lamented Henry Gibson as the Klopek patriarch. The 'burbs is the perfect mix of the silly, the scary, and the surreal, and has been on regular rotation in my home for years. Come to think of it, it's about time for another spin...
Double-Feature It With:
Top Secret! (opens in new tab)
(1984, Rated PG, 90 min.)
One of the very best -- if not the best -- of the Abrahams/Zucker productions, Top Secret! casts Val Kilmer in one of his three best roles (the other two are Real Genius and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, FYI) as an American rock singer who gets swept up in international intrigue. This pitch-perfect parody of WWII spy movies is loaded with killer lines my friends and I have been quoting for the past quarter century. Latrine!
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (opens in new tab)
(1984, Rated PG, 102 min.)
Any self-respecting list of cult classics compiled since the mid-'80s is virtually guaranteed to include this odd little gem. Trying to summarize the concept will in no way do it justice, but I'm going to give it a shot nonetheless. Peter Weller stars as Buckaroo Banzai, a world-famous physicist/neurosurgeon/secret agent/rock star who travels the world inventing stuff, rocking out, and having adventures. He's accompanied by a memorable pack of sidekicks known as the Hong Kong Cavaliers, an eccentric assemblage that could give Doc Savage's entourage a run for their money. (Any group that includes both Clancy Brown and Jeff Goldblum is formidable indeed.) In Across the 8th Dimension, which was written and shot as if it was one part of a long-running series, Buckaroo must save the world from inter-dimensional invaders known as "Red Lectroids." If it all sounds rather strange, that's because you haven't been paying attention...it is in fact exceedingly strange. But in a good way. But strange.
Double-Feature It With:
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (opens in new tab)
(1987, Rated PG, 97 min.)
I'm not even going to attempt to explain the concept of Garbage Pail Kids to any of you born after 1990. If you're curious, go read the Wikipedia entry. Suffice to say, those of you who grew up in the '80s aren't even reading this anymore, because you've clicked the link up there and are busy adding it to your queue, if not already watching it. Seriously, this sort of deranged pop-cultural artifact is exactly why Netflix Instant Watch was invented.
DeepStar Six (opens in new tab)
(1989, Rated R, 99 min., HD)
Hollywood's tendency to release suspiciously similar movies one on the heels of the other is well documented at this point. Armageddon and Deep Impact. Volcano and Dante's Peak. The Transformers franchise and Michael Bay's bowel movements. It's hardly a new phenomenon, however, and denizens of the year 1989 got not two, but three sci-fi-tinged underwater thrillers over an eight-month period. Of the three, only one of them made any lasting impact: James Cameron's excellent The Abyss, which appropriately enough arrived in August, saving the best for last. The first out the gate, however, was DeepStar Six, which arrived 13 days into January and pit the crew of an experimental undersea nuclear base against a nasty critter with a taste for squishy humans. Being 11 at the time, I never saw DeepStar Six, but I've always wanted to see how The Abyss' lesser-known aquatic competition panned out, and now I have the chance. Even if it sucks, you've got to love that poster art.
Double-Feature It With...
Leviathan (opens in new tab)
(1989, Rated R, 98 min.)
Next up in the 1989 Underwater Thriller Three-fer was Leviathan, which surfaced in March of that year. It set itself apart from The Abyss and DeepStar Six by being about, um, an undersea team that encounters a mysterious creature. But hey, it stars Peter Weller and that guy from Home Alone who isn't Joe Pesci!
Zone Troopers (opens in new tab)
(1985, Rated PG, 85 min.)
Man, Netflix really dug deep into my childhood for this catalogue update. I remember endlessly watching a crappy VHS copy of Zone Troopers that we taped off some late-night TV airing, and it's one of those movies that immediately and powerfully conjures memories of my youth. It's also a movie damn near no one else I know has ever seen or heard of. Director/co-writer Danny Bilson went on to write the enormously entertaining Rocketeer movie and the quirky early-'90s Flash series, but if you ask me he peaked in 1985 with Zone Troopers. The flick follows two WWII American soldiers who discover a crashed alien spaceship in the woods of Italy and soon run across the charming alien chap pictured above. The G.I.s team up with their new furry extraterrestrial friend to try and reclaim his ship before those pesky Nazis can get their swastikas all over it. As near as I can tell, Zone Troopers has never gotten a DVD release, so its arrival on Netflix Instant Watch is nothing short of awesome.
Double-Feature It With...
Laserblast (opens in new tab)
(1978, Rated PG-13, 85 min.)
I remember watching this movie on some idle Saturday afternoon in the mid-'80s. Given that all I remember about it is the distinctive alien weapon the protagonist straps to his arm (and which soon begins mutating him each time he uses it), there's every possibility it's not very good. That being said, I can't wait to crack open a six pack and watch it again.
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