The weather has turned cold and many of us are preparing for the long winter – filled with hot cups of tea, ill-fated attempts to wear 6 sweaters at once, and spending snowy evenings with your dear friend, Netflix.
And that’s where I come in. I’m a firm believer that Netflix time should be quality time. Until their algorithm improves, I’m hoping to spare you some time searching through their catalog and point you right towards the good stuff. So in this edition of Netflix Hidden Gems, I present you with April and the Extraordinary World.
iZombie is based on the comic book of the same name by Chris Roberson and Mike Allred, who provides the gorgeous opening credit art, but apart from the primary conceit about how zombies work — that they absorb the personalities and memories of the previous owners of the brains that they eat, and if they don’t eat brains, they lose all intelligence and humanity — they couldn’t be more different.
The original comic was chock-full of other sorts of monsters — vampires, werewolves, and ghosts — and was a meditation on Emerson’s concept of an over-soul. iZombie, the show, is a police procedural about a zombie medical examiner with the punny name of Liv Moore who uses her brain-connections to solve murders. It sounds goofy, when you describe it like that, but trust me, the concept works. Mind you, I’m not sure if this show is totally “hidden,” but since I know so few other people watching it, I’m calling it.
In the pattern typical for showrunner Rob Thomas (no, not that Rob Thomas — though the Season Two finale makes great use of the connection), who previously helmed Veronica Mars and Party Down, iZombie seems to be critically acclaimed and enjoys a rabidly loyal but very small fan base.
As someone who hopes to see it last long enough to get a satisfying conclusion, here are five reasons you should be watching this show.
As the Ladies’ resident expert of movies and shows involving blood splatter, and since I did one of these posts last year, I decided now was a good time to prowl through Netflix for 3 more hidden gems to help get you into the mood for the best, or at least the spookiest (spoopiest?) month of the year. This time around I am going for a bit more variety, rather than just 3 straight horror movies. Think of them as choices in the spirit of trick-or-treating. Not one wants a bag full of just one kind of candy.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
I love a good horror comedy, but it’s a tough genre to do really well. For me it works best when there’s a real love and understanding of what is at the root of some standard horror tropes. Movies like Shaun of the Dead, Cabin in the Woods, and Zombieland do this particularly well. Enter Tucker and Dale vs. Evil with its flipped around take on the “backwoods murder hillbilly” trope. Frankly I think it’s more fun to go into the movie with less knowledge of the plot so I’m not going to give you much on purpose. I didn’t read any summaries myself and that made each reveal more fun. Plus, it stars Allen Tudyk, who is just a delight in his role. A word to the squeamish: while this movie is surely considered a comedy, it’s also pretty gory. If that’s not your thing, this isn’t for you. Note: It’s been reported that a sequel to this 2010 original is in the works. After enjoying this one so much I’m excited to see where these characters will go next.
4 out of 5 bodies through a woodchipper
Wait, what? Tiny Doom is going to write something about an animated thing? Yeah guys, I am, I’ve got layers. Well, it’s an animated thing with blood splatter so I guess I’m not really going too far off task here. Curated by veteran Disney animator and Spanish writer-director Raul Garcia, Extraordinary Tales is an animated anthology of 5 tales by Edgar Allen Poe. We are talking about some pretty time-honored Halloween fare. Each tale has its own animation style, and the voice talent (ranging from Christopher Lee – in one of his last projects before his death, Bela Lugosi, and Julian Sands) makes this an almost hypnotic watch. It’s not scary so much as it satisfies a craving for the Gothic and the creepy. It’s probably best viewed in the evening or on a dreary afternoon.
3.5 out of 5 red death masques
They had me at “lady ghost debunker” with this one. A BBC film, The Awakening is a period piece in which that invokes both horror and mystery tropes. Florence Cathcart uses science to expose charlatans and debunk claims of haunting. However, each time she succeeds at her task it’s a bit heartbreaking because she is also hoping for evidence of the supernatural so that she can contact her partner who was lost in the war. Think, the Houdinis. When she gets called to a case in a boy’s boarding school more is revealed about her past, including some memories she buried regarding her upbringing. This movie is a slow burn of creepiness, with some big reveals at the end. I found the ending to be sort of ambiguous and sort of not, but I think it leaves things open enough that if you want to believe, you can. If you liked The Woman in Black, you might like this.
3.5 out of 5 creepy British boarding school kids
Actually I think any month is for horror, but as soon as October hits you have a great excuse to binge (I’m watching The Shining as I type this). If you are a horror fan Netflix offers a lot of options. Not all are great, but I found three I enjoyed, some older, some newer, and a few more that are still in the queue for the lead-up to Halloween (and after).
Since The Goog is also a big horror fan, and since he also watched these movies with me, he’s chiming in his thoughts too. Two reviews, no waiting!
What it’s about: Boone is haunted by nightmares about a city of monsters called Midian. He goes to a psychiatrist for help, but rather than help him his doctor leads him to believe he is a serial killer. In his mania Boone takes off to find the city in his dreams, there he finds the Nightbreed, a monster tribe who help Boone figure out who he really is.
Why you should check it out: Clive Barker, of Hellraiser fame, both wrote and directed this movie so sit back and get ready to get your 90’s fantasy horror on. The Nightbreed themselves are fantastical in their scariness. Baker is clearly working to create a larger mythos and as such, the Nightbreed have their own laws and customs and generally do not mingle with “the above” world. They worship and protect their creator and understand that times are beginning to change for them. Also,the film is scored by Danny Elfman, who really tries to capture the tribal element of the Nightbreed, using lots of drums and choral elements. After watching this movie I mused on Facebook about why this hasn’t been turned into a series yet? Lo and behold, something may in fact be in the works. Note, Netflix offers the Directors Cut so if you have seen this movie before it might be a big different than you are used to.
Fun Fact: My mom saw me post something about this on Facebook, so she decided to watch it. She LOVED it. Especially the make-up effects. I would not have seen that coming.
The Goog: While I’m not a huge Barker fan I have always loved Nightbreed. He gives you just enough mythos to make you want to know more, it’s the same with a lot of the characters as well (which is mildly frustrating). Some of the Nightbreed are really cool looking, like Peloquin, some are really funky, like Kinski, and some are like Clive Barker sketches and paintings come to life (meaning the anatomy doesn’t quite make sense, but is still neat to see). There are some big changes between the theatrical and director’s cuts. Largely it’s deleted scenes that give more character development to Boone and Lori (Boone’s girlfriend) but the ending in the director’s cut is pretty different and much more open ended. I’m very happy to see that we might get a t.v. show! It’s about damn time.
What it’s about: An island bound Irish fishing village is plagued by bloodsucking creatures who thrive in water. They realize their best protection drinking alcohol and make a last stand during a pub lock-in.
Why you should check it out: Grabbers is Tremors meets Shaun of the Dead, with a sprinkle of Lovecraftian horror. I enjoy a good horror comedy and this is a fun one. The Goog for real laughed out loud many times. The Grabbers themselves are some great creature work. CGI, yes, but watching a giant Grabber scraggling its way down the street was pure creepy joy. Because this film is made in Ireland you may want to watch it with the sub-titles on. The accents are STRONG, and having the subtitles going will help you get some of the Gaelic jokes (adds a visual element).
Fun fact: This movie has the adorable Russell Tovey (Doctor Who, Being Human, Sherlock) as a proper English scientist.
The Goog: Oh man, I loved this. Definitely watch it with subtitles for all the reasons Tiny Doom mentioned. If I had to pick one thing that I didn’t completely love, the ending was a bit cliche, which is disappointing only because the rest of the movie played with horror movie cliches so well. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved this, but I would have loved it more had the ending been something a little more unexpected.
The House of the Devil –
What it’s about– A college student in need of money accepts a babysitting job on the night of a lunar eclipse. When she gets there she finds the clients don’t have any children, but do have ulterior motives.
Why you should check it out– This move was made in 2009, but has the look and feel of a late 70’s early 80’s horror movie. The acting is solid and the typical tropes feel less derivative and more like an homage. It’s quiet and creepy, with a slower build-up. Think Rosemary’s Baby rather than Halloween. Watch this at night, in the dark, while waiting for a pizza delivery.
Fun Fact– This film claims to be based on actual events (muhahahahahah).
The Goog: The attention to detail in this is pretty great, they even filmed it on 16mm and used techniques and angles to capture the same feel of movies made at the time. The movie is a slow build, like TD says, the only time I actually questioned the pacing was a long drawn out scene of Samantha wandering the house and snooping about, which didn’t really build up any tension and just struck me as odd. Other than that, great acting, and an ending I wasn’t expecting.
Above I mentioned having more that are still in the queue:
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Trucker and Dale vs. Evil
Seen any of these? Any more recommendations?
Clearly, this blog attracts folks who love a good televised mystery – the enduring popularity of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries post is a testament to that. Really, it isn’t that surprising. Mystery is a genre, whether in books or tv shows, that seems to appeal to wide range of tastes. We all seem to like uncovering the dark secrets of a tiny seaside town, or the corruption at the heart of our own government – or at least we like watching someone else do it.
Mr. Menace and I watch a lot of these sorts of shows together, and I thought I’d seen just about every variation out there. The Sherlock Holmes retellings, the sassy lady detective, the stuffy fish out of water who solves crimes, the world-weary DCI looking for redemption. What kind of detective was even left?
And then, Smalerie’s friend Bree was talking to my husband, and mentioned a show I’d never even heard of, and yet another kind of detective was added to my list. The cowboy detective.
In retrospect, this makes total sense. You can insert a mystery into any setting. But Westerns in general have been in a popularity downturn for a while now. They were incredibly popular from the dawn of filmmaking until the 70’s, and it’s easy to understand why – the original Westerns are the ultimate American myth, stories of rugged individualists battling harsh landscapes, shady desperadoes, and of course, “savage” natives. Women in these stories were generally victims or someone to be killed to provide the protagonist with motivation. These stories fit into our self-image as a nation at the time quite well, and their fading popularity is at least partly due to that self-image changing a bit, to something sleeker, more modern and industrial.
Longmire takes what was appealing about those original Western tales – a rough-and-tumble protagonist, stark and beautiful scenery – and updates it for in some badly-needed ways, jettisoning the racist and misogynist tropes. Our protagonist may still be a rugged individualist and tough guy, but he also has a degree in English literature. He’s got layers, you know?
Sure, as the sheriff of the smallest county in the US, he’s a bit of a stereotype. He’s taciturn, blunt, and he’s very willing to solve problems with his fists when the need arises. But he’s quite good with his brain, too, and he solves the (in the way of all mystery series, excessive in number) crimes in his county with skill and sensitivity. Beneath the dour surface lies a complicated man who just wants what’s best for his county and the people he loves.
When the series opens, Walt is grieving the recent death of his wife, Martha. Nearly everyone, including his daughter Cady, believes that Martha died from the cancer that sent her to Denver for chemotherapy treatments. Only Walt and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear, know the truth – that Martha was murdered in an apparent botched mugging. Something about the crime nags at Walt, however, and the show, while having a murder of the week format, also explores a longer story of him solving the mystery of Martha’s death. It makes for a great, intense drama beyond the typical “whodunit.”
The casting in the show is top-notch, with a combination of familiar faces like Gerald McRaney as one of Walt’s antagonists, and lesser-known actors. Robert Taylor is the epitome of an American cowboy lawman as Walt – which is no mean feat when you consider the fact that he’s actually Australian.
Fans of the Battlestar Galactica reboot will recognize Katee Sackhoff, that show’s Starbuck, playing Vic Moretti, one of Walt’s deputies and the only woman working for the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Department (besides Ruby, Walt’s long-suffering secretary). Sackhoff’s character, like Starbuck, is tough and physical, but is a bit more tender-hearted and feels like a progression, rather than a retread.
Since the show is set in Wyoming and the fictional Absaroka County borders a Cheyenne reservation, there are also numerous roles for Native actors, and the show has been widely praised for its mostly authentic portrayal of modern Native American life – both on and off the reservation. Lou Diamond Phillips as Walt’s best friend Henry is a bit quirky – but you get the sense that it has nothing to do with his being Cheyenne – that’s just who he is. (And every time he answers the phone at his bar – “It’s another beautiful day at the Red Pony and continual soiree” I laugh with delight.)
Don’t get me wrong – this series is still, at its heart, a drama – and that’s a good thing. The soapy twists and outlandish mysteries are what make the show fun. If you don’t like a good mystery show this probably won’t change your mind, but if you do and you’re looking for something a little different, give this one a shot – and then tell me what you think in the comments!
Ok, let me stop you right now. If you don’t care for anime, you might want to stop here and check out any previous posts you might have missed or come back next week. I am not saying that I don’t want you here, because you know how I feel about you, but the truth is that anime and manga can kinda be a tough topic for the the Ladies of Comicazi (some of us are more for it than others), so I will understand if you would rather look at these cute pictures instead. No really, I get it. Anime isn’t for everyone. And this can be particularly true when we are talking about anime that involve underage girls running around in very short skirts.
So, everyone who wants to be here is still here? Wonderful, let’s do this thing.
Really, I have Cartoon Sara to thank for this one, especially since she spent such a long time trying to convince me to give this show a chance. But here we are, a year and an awful lot of resistance later, and it turns out she was right. Mystery Inc. is pretty darn great. The strange thing about it is that I don’t even like Scooby Doo. I grew out of it very fast, and it was always something I watched as a kid only if there wasn’t anything else on. It was too formulaic, and when they tried to update it for the nostalgia crowd by making live action movies, I found myself even more confused by its popularity. Well except Matthew Lillard. He was born to play Shaggy. It kinda creeps me out. Good on you, Hollywood Casting Person!
There is a bit of a hidden agenda in my post for this week. And by “hidden,” I actually mean not hidden at all. My friends and I share a lot of similar fandoms, but there are times when I am DYING to talk about a show and then I am shocked to discover that none of my friends are watching it. It kills me because deep down in my heart I feel like they should love them too. No really, we have so much in commom, why not these too? So this week, I am using my blog time to not only try to convince the other ladies to check these shows out, but also try to find some like-minded blog readers who would like to chat about how awesome these shows are.
Phineas and Ferb
Hey you! Stop the eye rolling, I mean it! This show is hilarious and has an amazing sense of self awareness that can be hard to find in shows that are aimed for kids. Yes, it’s Disney. Yes, it is well established that I have been brain-washed by the Mouse. But hear me out.
Phineas and Ferb are two brothers who happen to be super geniuses. Each episode, they come up with some sort of crazy project to do that day and the hijinks begin. So far they have invented the best ice cream in the world by sending cows into space, turned their entire downtown into a giant board game, and even had a special where they team up with the Avengers. They have a pet platypus who is a secret agent assigned to fighting the worst evil villain in the world. Oh, and they have an older sister who spends way too much time chasing them down in hopes of ratting them out to their mother.
Where this shows really shines is that you can tell it has been created and written by people who spend a lot of time thinking of ways to reference things that both the children and the parents will enjoy. In fact, there are times that I even suspect that many of the references are going right over the kids’ heads. This feels especially true when things happen like the kids finding out that their mother was an 80s pop icon known as Lydana (whose song strongly states that she is a girl who wants to have fun, not unlike a certain other 80s Pop icon we know).
The continuity is great, the characters call themselves out on their various traits and taglines, and every episode features a song! Ok, I realize that the song might not be a selling point for everyone, but seriously, if you can stand the cute, the show might really be worth your time. And really, any series that will take the time to write a song about having squirrels in your pants is a-ok with me.
It is quite possible that this show is much more well known than I have been lead to believe. In the year or so since I have watched it, I’ve only run into two or three other people whose eyes have lit up with both recognition and glee at the mere mention of Moss’s Abracada-bra or Roy’s Kermit witness protection program t-shirt. So in my eyes, more people need to stop watching The Big Bang Theory and log on to Netflix to watch the vastly superior IT Crowd.
The premise of the show is pretty basic. Jen (played by the hilarious Katherine Parkinson), is a woman with much more ambition than smarts. During a rather bizarre job interview, she manages to talk her way into the position of IT Manager at a large company. She soons finds herself managing the two IT guys in the basement – Roy, a raggedy guy with a short temper (played by Chris O’Dowd, now of Bridesmaids and Girls fame) and Moss (played by Richard Ayoade, recently seen in The Watch), a guy who is both strangely literal and cluelessly naive.
The IT Crowd is strong on a number of levels other than it just being funny. The show truly excels at making fun of the worlds of dating and work, and there isn’t a single performer in the show that gets consistently overshadowed by the rest.
And just to give you a taste of the show’s funnier moments, I found this little ditty for you on youtube. Quick intro: Jen suddenly realizes there is a red door in the IT office that she has never noticed before. A quick exploration introduces her to the 4th and rather secret member of her office – Richmond, an executive whose discovery of death metal and goth music has resulted in a demotion to the bowels of the building:
You enjoy that cameo by Noel Fielding? I did.
Other gems include the boys convincing Jen that the entire internet is housed in a tiny black box they lend her as a visual aid for an upcoming speech, Moss enrolling in what he thinks is a German cooking class but finding out the “I want to cook with you” ad means something else entirely, and my favorite episode that involves an awkward dinner party at Jen’s house.
In the end, the IT Crowd is a cheeky and very funny show. Rather than just spending all its time pointing and laughing at the nerds, the focus turns to the members of the IT team eventually learning to support each other and work through all the crazy situations together. Of course, that doesn’t mean all their witty jabs at each other go away either. What you end up with is a sassy and slick show filled with pop-culture references, a few parodies, and over the top antics.
The nerd/geek love is certainly there in spades as well. A person could spend hours looking through all the goodies they’ve got in their IT office – vinyl toys, indie comics, old gaming systems, and every kind of poster and clever bumper sticker you could think of. I will admit to not getting a lot of the references myself, but that is proof in itself that the show is pretty accessible to those who might not necessarily identify themselves as a nerd/geek.
If you are still not convinced that this show is worth your time, those of you who watch a lot of British TV might be excited to learn that this was the third series from Graham Linehan, creator of both Father Ted and Black Books. Oh, and there are scores of people out there who want to get their hands on some of the t-shirts that Roy wears throughout the episodes.
Lastly, if you have already seen The IT crowd and was wondering what else might be worth your time in the scary sea of Netflix Instant watch, here are a few other shows/movies that I have watched recently.
Black Books: Bernard Black is a surly bookshop owner/expert drunk who would rather tell you off than actually sell you a book. After yet another one of his crazy drinking sprees, he discovers that he has hired the recently laid off and rather chipper Manny as his new clerk.
Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: Let’s imagine Kevin Smith wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer and replaced Buffy with a sex obsessed, pot smoking Canadian boy. Yeah, it’s pretty much that.
The House – Korean animated film about a girl who moves into a declining neighborhood and suddenly finds that she can see and talk to the spirits of the old houses. Very slow moving, but the animation style is interesting.