Well then, Arrested Development’s 4th season came out in its Netflix exclusive clothes and was met with a largely favourable response. Many of the criticisms seemed to be levelled at the fact that the episodes were now 30 minutes long instead of the 20 minutes of old, and it felt like the show was overstaying its welcome. There were also complaints that we were seeing the same story over and over, although slightly skewed each time. Whatever your opinion, you can’t deny that Netflix pulled it off and got the old magic back on our screens for one of the most missed and celebrated shows of the modern age. It’s heartening that they got this so right after Hemlock Grove went so very wrong.
LOVEFiLM/Amazon have something called The Vikings which has been imported from one of the cable channels stateside and is being pimped as a LOVEFiLM exclusive. It looks very reminiscent of Game of Thrones and Rome and is apparently worth a look. Netflix meanwhile has something coming called Orange is the New Black from the creators of Weeds ready to launch in July. Still no more genre specific stuff from them yet but a major coup (Firefly revival?) is surely only weeks away.
There has been a lot of good stuff added over the last few weeks, here are some highlights:
Thor (2011) – Netflix
Probably my least favourite of the stand-alone Marvel movies thus far (except for Iron Man 2) but Thor still has a lot going for it. Chris Hemsworth is a brilliant embodiment of the God of Thunder for one. The film introduced us to Tom Hiddleston’s much loved Loki and we also get Anthony Hopkins as Odin. The problem is the script seems to lack a satisfactory third act, it’s all well and good Thor learning humility but it never really pays off the way it should, there isn’t much of a revelatory moment for the character that would have humanised him somewhat. That being said Asgard is beautifully imagined and rendered and hopefully a lot of this film’s issues will be corrected by sequel Thor: The Dark World due out this November.
The Ward (2010) – LOVEFiLM
To date John Carpenter’s last film as a director, (although he is making rumblings about a Dead Space film) this is not up to scratch with the films he did in the ’70s and ’80s but it’s not Ghosts of Mars or Village of the Damned level bad either. Carpenter does a good job with pretty weak and overly familiar material and gets good performances out of Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca and Jared Harris. This is the kind of ghost story that has been done a million times over the last ten years but Carpenter does solid work and lands some good scares. If it had come out in 1999 or 2000 it would probably be more celebrated than it is.
Surrogates (2009) – Netflix
Once upon a time this movie held so much promise. Based on a graphic novel by Brett Weldele and Robert Venditti, which had a fascinating and timely premise and starring Bruce Willis before he went to sleep, the end result barely registers. It’s a real loss because the source material is solid and director Jonathan Mostow has proved he can do big budget mayhem. Worth watching for the production design and the core ideas but ultimately it’s just a generic I Robot clone.
Quantum Leap Seasons 1- 3 (1989 – 1992) – Netflix
Back in the cultural wasteland of the early ’90s, after Twin Peaks was taken from us and before X-files became a thing, on a Tuesday night, there was Quantum Leap. The premise is simple, scientist stuck in a time warp inhabits different people throughout history each week and has to save himself/someone else and learn some harsh lessons on the way. This was very much the old school style of TV shows with a new problem each week rather than any on-going arcs and it’s all the more enjoyable for it. Family friendly, feel good entertainment and another show that is sorely missed as the planned film franchise never came to fruition.
War of the Worlds (2005) – Netflix
Steven Spielberg’s 2005 alien invasion blockbuster never really got the credit it deserved. It was either the fact that Tom Cruise had just done his sofa jumping thing or the fact that Spielberg stuck so rigidly to the same ending as the original classic without twisting it for modern audiences. Although it made money, it never really connected and stuck with people. Viewed now some 8 years later, this is very much a film made in the wake of 9/11 and is probably the bleakest blockbuster for some time, as it deals with large amounts of destruction, genocide and humans being terrible to each other in the face of annihilation. The crowd turning on the family in the people carrier is one of the tensest things in a blockbuster for ages. Not classic Spielberg by any means, but the tone and some breath-taking set-pieces make it essential viewing as one of his darker efforts.
Wall-E (2008) – Netflix & LOVEFiLM
There has been a recent splurge where loads of Disney titles have suddenly appeared on both LOVEFiLM and Netflix. Now unless you really have a thing for Home on the Range 2, WALL-E is the stand out film they have added from their catalogue. This is, for my money the best thing that Pixar have done so far, it’s just gloriously simple, old fashioned and beautiful. It has a dark subtext about where humanity could be headed and possibly what we are doing to the planet, but it has a hard heart that isn’t warmed by the adventures of a knackered old waste disposal robot and the sleek modern robot that catches his eye.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) – Netflix
The second Narnia film in the short lived and never finished franchise was the best film of all three of them. Wisely the drama school graduates, who played Peter and Susan so stiffly, took a back seat and gave way to the dashing Ben Barnes in the titular role. Based on this performance, why the man isn’t a bigger deal is baffling. The film was far better paced, had better effects and a more compelling story than the first and third films, but was a box office disappointment which essentially killed hopes for more films in a once promising series.
The Last Starfighter (1984) – LOVEFiLM
If like me, you grew up in the ’80s and had an obsession with Star Wars and video games then no doubt this was a huge part of your childhood. It’s a none more retro tale of a trailer park kid who is a whizz at an arcade game which turns out to be a recruiting tool for a rebellion in space against a huge evil galactic empire. Even today this is simply wonderful, and the retro value has probably made this an even more widely regarded film than it already is. Great characters and writing and effects fans take note; the first film to use CGI.
Hollow Man (2000) – Netflix
Paul Verhoeven last dipped his toe in the genre back 13 years ago for this invisible man thriller which finds Kevin Bacon’s scientist going all see through and psychotic at the same time. Lurid and violent, the effects work still stands up but the screenplay does not hold up to closer scrutiny. Bacon’s character for one, goes psychotic rather quickly, and gets all rapey more or less straight away. It’s hard to believe this based on what we get to know of the character being some kind of genius before the experiment. Still quite thrilling in places and worth a look.
The Rocketeer (1991) – Netflix
Another retro delight, people who liked the retro daring do of Captain America can see the seeds of what landed Joe Johnston the job in this film. This was based on a little known graphic novel by Dave Stevens and features young Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly in a tale of Nazis and super powered rocket men. It has that wonderful retro charm that so few things manage to capture the way they intend to (cough John Carter) and comes close to equalling the thrills of something like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The only problem is the budget was cut substantially just before filming and so we never got the planned massive rocket stunt sequences that would have tipped this over the edge. Even in this compromised form, The Rocketeer has buckets of charm and excitement for kids of all ages.
Ravenous (1999) – Netflix
Another film that is massively underrated and was also plagued by pre-production troubles is this ’99 lunatic western cannibal horror with Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce. The original director was fired early on and Antonia Bird was brought in to steer the ship right, resulting in a film which was less concerned with existential dread and more with black as night comedy and extreme violence. Ravenous has to be seen so you can believe that something this demented can be birthed from the studio system once in a while. Despite the schizophrenic tone, this is bravura filmmaking and a wholly unique beast and Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn’s score is one of the best of the last twenty years.
When the Lights Went Out (2012) – LOVEFiLM
Cruelly denied a proper cinema release or DVD push is this low budget true life horror tale from late last year. Apparently based on poltergeist activity that plagued a family in 1974, the scares and sense of dread present are way more effective than the last three Paranormal Activity films combined. It also has amazingly authentic production design for such a low budget feature. Turn all of the lights off and watch it, you won’t regret it.