Remember when I started this column and I said that whoever signed 20th Century Fox would win the online streaming service war? No? Well that’s okay because both Netflix and LOVEFiLM signed a deal simultaneously it seems. Netflix are trickling out Fox titles and LOVEFiLM got excited and added about 25 all in one go. Although what they added was a lot of lesser known catalogue stuff like Best Laid Plans, Road to Perdition and Monkeybone. They have yet to add anything from the Die Hard, X-Men or Alien franchises but this must surely be forthcoming.
So now the last major player has signed a deal what happens now? Well Netflix is quickly becoming almost on par with the US service and with Hemlock Grove and Arrested Development shortly to make exclusive Netflix debuts they could have this sewn up but LOVEFiLM now has a certain brand loyalty and a more aggressive advertising campaign. We will see…
Paul (2011) – LOVEFiLM
All the ingredients were in place for this to be an absolute riot. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were playing nerds, who go to comic con, end up looking for area 51 and get a hard living alien voiced by Seth Rogen along for the ride. Plus it was directed by Greg Mottola who was coming off both Superbad and Adventureland. For some reason though Paul just doesn’t quite work. It’s too long, too broad and not as funny as it should have been though there are some chuckles to be had. Seth Macfarlane did a similar thing with Ted last summer and produced a far better film.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012) – LOVEFiLM
The good news is that this is far better than the 2007 Mark Steven Johnson directed exercise in tedium. The bad news is it’s still not that great. Part of the problem with why it’s not that great is that they hired the hyperactive duo of Neveldine/Tyler to make the film and then don’t let them off the leash. There is very little of their hyperactive and kinetic style in evidence and the plot is a re-tread of the Terminator films. Had they let the pair bring their trademark craziness to the film then we could be talking about something special here but as it stands this is merely adequate Friday night entertainment.
Ultraviolet (1998) – LOVEFiLM
Joe Ahearne’s much loved and celebrated Channel 4 vampire series is now available on demand for everyone to catch up on what the fuss was about. Back in ‘98 The X-Files was still going strong and anything that aped the formula got a lot of attention. Ultraviolet was unique because it focussed on vampires and the squad of government agents who were assigned to control them. Dark and inventive, this is still essential viewing. The much talked about series two never happened and Ahearne instead gave us the inferior Apparitions and The Secret of Crickley Hall, although he did write the forthcoming Danny Boyle mind trip Trance which by all accounts is amazing.
Love (2011) – LOVEFiLM
Last year’s no budget sci-fi spectacular has been largely ignored by the masses and sniffed at by critics. Perhaps it’s the connection with emo group Angels and Airwaves or the finale that coasts too closely to 2001. Either way this film is now available for those of you who were cynical enough to give it a miss last year. If for nothing else this deserves your attention because of how good it looks and how far director William Eubank was able to let no money take him. Approach this with an open mind and it’s very rewarding. Trust me; Eubank is a name to watch.
The Hunger Games (2012) – Netflix
Last year’s young adult book series that got a megabucks franchise starter was The Hunger Games. This first film split opinion the way that the Twilight franchise did despite being almost completely different. Those that love the books pretty much loved the film and went back two or three times, those who know nothing of the books thought the film was a tedious re-tread of films like Battle Royale and The Running Man. I recognise the film has issues, some trimming in the first half would have gone a long way and some of the more horrific elements of the book are skirted over but I still think this a solid first step for what is to come. Perfect time to watch it too as Catching Fire is due in cinemas this November.
Species (1995) – Netflix
This film is so ‘90s it hurts, blending the H.R Giger influenced creature feature with the erotic thriller that was all the rage at the time. This is a film from a time when Michael Madsen was still thought of as being one of the next big leading men. So he and a cast including Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger chase around a babe played by Natasha Henstridge who is an alien bent on shagging and killing foolhardy men. It starts off well but soon descends into silliness and schlock and the creature work is poorly staged. Still a nostalgic film for some who remember the year this came out and how the VHS was passed around all your horny classmates.
Spaced (1999-2001) – LOVEFiLM
The place it all started for Pegg, Frost and Edgar Wright. The soft focus TV camera work may have aged the series somewhat but Spaced is still essential viewing for the awkward 20 something geek. At its core this is a straight sitcom about penniless youngsters struggling in London around the turn of the century but manages to mix things up with some serious nods to the genre and pop culture references all over the place and is endlessly rewatchable. Thankfully the US version of Spaced never came to pass but we did get the brilliant Community which owes Spaced a huge debt and has a very similar rabid fan base.
Black Mirror Series 1 (2011) – Netflix
If you enjoyed the recent second series and the feature with Charlie Brooker in the recent issue of Starburst then now you can enjoy the first series of Black Mirror on Netflix. The series is three short stories all about modern media and a dark reflection of our society. The first series presents three scarring and scary stories that you will never forget. The first episode is perhaps the strongest because of the controversy and will stay with you forever. The second is the more angry and sci-fi, presenting a world where everything is decided by a bunch of X-Factor style judges but the third is the best of all with Toby Kebbell playing a man who has recorded his entire existence. The quality was mostly upheld in the second series and this is some of the best writing currently on British TV. I hope this goes on long enough to actually change many of the things in society that it is commenting on.
Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982) – Netflix
For the third in the franchise, the producers abandoned the Michael Myers stalk and slash formula entirely and went with something different. The story is still set at Halloween and presents a world where a maniacal toy company owner intends to melt kid’s heads into piles of snakes using pagan magic, rubber masks and a TV signal that sets off the apocalypse. This truly does not belong in the Halloween series but is absolutely nightmarish and surreal and, if you saw it young enough, most likely an experience you will never forget. I like the fact that in the last couple of years due to a quality DVD and Blu-ray re-release this film is now getting its due, it really does deserve better.
Battle: Los Angeles (2011) – LOVEFiLM
Sadly lumped in by many with the dire Skyline, Battle: Los Angeles is a much superior alien invasion film. It’s no masterpiece, it’s cheesy and cliché ridden but my god the action is breath-taking. It truly does feel like the action of something like Black Hawk Down or the Call of Duty games transposed to the city streets with aliens instead of enemy soldiers. On a big enough TV and with the sound cranked up at home this is a great way to spend two hours of balls to the wall action entertainment.
The American Scream (2012) – Netflix
This is a touching documentary about how Americans celebrate Halloween and would make a good double feature with Halloween 3 if you are twisted enough to think that way. The American Scream focusses on 3 different families and individuals and the lengths they go to to make Halloween a night to remember not just for themselves but for their neighbourhoods as well. It will make you cry, it will make you laugh and it may well inspire you. Interesting to note that despite much acclaim and festival love this has bypassed DVD and gone straight to streaming.
Kaboom (2010) – Netflix
After Mysterious Skin and Smiley, director Gregg Araki returned to his twisted genre films about homosexual identity confusion with Kaboom. The film starts as many of these things do with a youngster living through a confused life as he experiments in college with his sexuality and drugs and stuff. Things get complicated when some kind of end of the world cult reveals itself and things change drastically for a full tilt lunatic finale. I am probably not the audience for this film but I found much to enjoy here.