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THE TWILIGHT ZONE
138 original episodes
n What is there to say about Rod Serling's groundbreaking, monumental, mind-blowing series "The Twilight Zone" that hasn't already been said? Started in 1958, the seminal sci-fi/fantasy series has inspired several generations of writers, filmmakers and TV producers — not to mention scientists, physicists and philosophers, who took creator Rod Serling's bizarro plots and futurist musings as a challenge. I remember watching episodes on late-night television as a kid, marveling over the inventiveness of the stories and genuine scare-factor of their brilliant twist endings. As an adult, I still get all that, but I'm mostly blown away these days by just how much Serling and company were able to accomplish on what appears to be a very low budget and minimal special effects. Granted, some of the episodes look a little goofy these days — particularly, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," the 1963 episode starring William Shatner as a man who sees what appears to be a shag-carpeted gorilla tearing apart the wing of the jetliner he's flying on (this one was actually rebooted as a much scarier segment — with a much, much scarier monster — in 1983's "Twilight Zone: The Movie," which is also on Netflix Instant). That said, most of the episodes hold up brilliantly, and many still have the ability to scare the pants off someone who isn't familiar with their charms (the phrase "IT'S A COOKBOOK!" is still enough to give me a cold shiver, and I've seen that episode a dozen times or more now). I've long coveted one of the Twilight Zone box sets that have been available over the years, but can't bear to part with the premium-level dough. Now Netflix has made Christmas come early to Casa del Koon by putting 138 of the 156 original episodes of the series on Netflix Instant. Happy days are here again. Coming soon to a recliner near me: a full-day, beer-and-pizza Twilight Zone freakout. If anybody needs me, I'll be behind the door unlocked with the key of imagination, smoking unfiltered Pall Malls with Serling.
FIVE FROM THE COEN BROTHERS
n One of the cool things about Netflix Instant — when you look at it on the Internet, anyway, though I wish they'd expand the Wii-based search features — is that you can browse using any of a number of vectors to find what you want. For a film buff like me, who believes that cinematographers, screenwriters and directors speak in a kind of visual vocabulary that can be tracked over their film career, one of the coolest things to do is sit down and resolve to watch three or four films by a beloved filmmaker, just to see what they're working with. One of my favorite teams over the years has been Joel and Ethan Coen, the brother writer/director duo who just can't stop cranking out the quirky, bizarre and/or brutal hits. Their films "True Grit" and "No Country For Old Men" were up for several much-deserved Oscars in recent years, and their output over the past 20 years has been nothing shot of stellar. Netflix Instant has five of their films, including some undisputed classics. First up is "Barton Fink" (1991), their ode to struggling writers and the seedier side of old Hollywood. Next is one of their not-so-appreciated-but-should-be films, "The Hudsucker Proxy" (1994). That is followed in 1996 by the film that really put them on the map, classic kidnapping and gunplay dramedy "Fargo." And who can pass up another viewing of their now-immortal 1998 film "The Big Lebowski," which took circumstances that were similar to "Fargo" and put a much more absurdist twist on them (not to mention creating the character of Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, who I'm fairly certain will live as long as mankind). Finally, there's the Coens' 2001 black-and-white salute to film noir, "The Man Who Wasn't There." Like "Hudsucker," it's an underappreciated gem, featuring a great performance by Arkansas's Billy Bob Thornton. While Coen goodies like "Raising Arizona," and "O Brother, Where Are Thou?" aren't on Netflix instant (yet), the five that are on there are all great stuff, and a heck of a good reason for a Saturday night Coens mini-retrospective in your own living room.