With so many titles to choose from, Netflix Instant's library can be overwhelming. So we bring you this biweekly column as a tool to cut through the clutter by highlighting some now streaming titles that pair well with the latest theatrical releases.
Looking to Pompeii, The Wind Rises and Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me for inspiration, we've pulled together a selection of sword and sandal adventures, animation for adults, and bittersweet but funny bio-docs.
PompeiiInspired by the tragedy of Pompeii, Paul W.S. Anderson built a disaster movie that centers on the romance of two star-crossed lovers. Kit Harrington and Emily Browning star as an enslaved gladiator and the affluent maiden who falls hard for him. Kiefer Sutherland and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje co-star. Read our Review here.
As a sword and sandals epic, Pompeii is a pretty major disappointment. So if you're craving brawny men barreling through legendary adventures, you'll rally around these three action-packed titles.
Centurion (2010) After making his mark in horror with Dog Soldiers and The Descent, English writer-director Neil Marshall brought forth this action-adventure about a splinter group of Roman soldiers struggling to survive behind enemy lines after a gruesome battle ripped their ranks to pieces in 2nd-century Britain. Michael Fassbender, Dominic West and Olga Kurylenko star.
Conan the Destroyer (1984) For something more old school, check out this Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle in which the Austrian bodybuilder plays a fearless warrior. This sequel to Conan The Barbarian sees the titular gladiator setting out on a quest to recover a mystical gem so that his lost beloved will be resurrected. Helping him in his search is a wacky wizard, a fierce bandit, and a towering Queen's guardsman. Grace Jones, Olivia d'Abo, Wilt Chamberlain, and Mako co-star; Richard Fleischer directs.
The Thief of Bagdad (1924) To go seriously old school epic, watch this adventure from the heyday of silent film star Douglas Fairbanks. He fronts this feature as a devil-may-care thief whose love for a glamorous princess pushes him to prove himself with a quest of astounding feats that will take him through a wide array of fantastical settings. Nearly 90 years since its release, and this fantasy film is still heralded as one of the best the genre's ever known. Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher, Julanne Johnson, Sojin, Anna May Wong co-star; Raoul Walsh directs.
The Wind RisesThe life of Japanese fighter planes Jiro Horikoshi is explored in this beautiful and bittersweet animated feature. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt and Stanley Tucci lend their voices; Hayao Miyazaki directs. Read our Review here.
While Miyazaki has made a string of animated movies beloved by children of all ages, The Wind Rises is distinctly for adults, dealing with themes of regret and death. For more animation that plays better to mature audiences, check out this trio of titles.
The Secret of Kells (2009) Like The Wind Rises, this adventure earned an Academy Award nod for Best Animated Film. It even beat out Miyazaki's interpretation of The Little Mermaid, Ponyo, for the honor. Inspired by the famous illuminated manuscript The Book of Kells and his love of hand-drawn animation, Tom Moore creates a gorgeous film about a young boy who overcomes his fears and embraces his creativity when challenged to help in the book's illustrations. Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney, Brendan Gleeson, and Mick Lally lend their voices; Moore directs.
Chico & Rita (2010) This co-production between the United Kingdom and Spain revels in the beauty of Cuban music and the glory of love. Also an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Film, this lively romance focuses on the relationship that blooms between the titular two-some. He's a piano player with big dreams. She's a singer with a voice like none other. Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, and Mario Guerran lend their voices; Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba direct.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003) This Christmas tale out of Japan focuses on the kindness of strangers through an unusual story of compassion. When they find a baby discarded in the trash on Christmas Eve, three homeless people (an alcoholic, a teen runaway and a transvestite) band together to try to find the child a home. Toru Emori, Aya Okamoto, and Yoshiaki Umegaki lend their voices; Satoshi Kon and Shogo Furuya direct.
Elaine Stritch: Shoot MeOctogenarian singer and actress Elaine Stritch is as well-known for her brassy persona as she is for her award-winning turns on Broadway and television. In this documentary, she allows filmmaker Chiema Karasawa unfettered access to her professional and private life to give fans a look into what it means being Stritch. Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey and James Gandolfini make appearances. Read our Review here.
When I reviewed Elaine Strich: Shoot Me at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, I was struck by how the doc drew a careful balance between Stritch's brash sense of humor and her genuine fear of her own mortality. For more docs that are both wildly funny and bittersweet, check out these unusual biographies.
Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (2012) Like Stritch, Channing is a Broadway legend with decades of work behind her, and Tony honors to her name. In this revealing doc, she shares her story with heart and humor befitting the dazzling comedienne. Bruce Vilanch, Lily Tomlin, Debbie Reynolds, and Tippi Hedren appear; Dori Berinstein directs.
The Queen of Versailles (2012) Jaqueline Siegel is not a star of stage or screen, but that doesn't mean she won't live like one. This heralded doc follows her and her billionaire husband's quest to build the largest mansion in America, modeled on Versailles. But when the 2008 financial collapse hits them hard, this affluent family goes from haves to have nots, and the shift is at once dramatic and darkly comedic. Lauren Greenfield directs.
An Idiot Abroad (2010) Lastly, I suggest this outrageous travelogue starring a cohort of Ricky Gervais, his "idiot" friend Karl Pilkington. Tasked with traveling the world, Pilkington is offered the chance of a lifetime, but most of the trip he's flustered by being a fish out of water. For more fun, season three sees him joined by Warwick Davis, resulting in an awkward buddy comedy unlike you've ever seen before.