You know how previously I said that Netflix has all the original series’ and that LOVEFiLM had nothing? Well pretend I never said anything because what I forgot was that LOVEFiLM is owned by Amazon, the Amazon of the giant buy-anything website. In the states they have Amazon Instant which is essentially what LOVEFiLM is in the UK and Europe and they have launched ‘Amazon Originals’- a series of pilots intended to be possible launch pads for a series. Perhaps the most high profile of these is the Zombieland TV Show.
You might remember Zombieland from 2009 as a witty and clever zombie film that breathed new life into a stale genre. It was originally conceived as a TV series before it became a movie and now ironically is back to TV again, well what passes for TV now anyway. This is LOVEFiLM’s first shot across the bow in the original content game with Netflix, which is a good thing because…
Hemlock Grove – The First Season (2013) – Netflix
This is quite possibly the worst series of television I have ever seen. It has a premise which is a bit Twin Peaks, a bit The Killing and then really wants to be True Blood or The Vampire Diaries. Trouble is it’s nowhere near as compelling as Twin Peaks or The Killing and isn’t even trashy fun like those two vampire shows. The central mystery revolves around a murder in a small town ruled by some sinister corporation. Two teenage planks of wood mope about and spout terrible dialogue whilst supposedly trying to solve the mystery and looking longingly at each other. None of it really connects because it’s all about being pretentious and giving you a load of plot threads that will never pay off. 13 episodes of this tedium should be used as torture for any new terrorism suspects we detain for the next few years. What was once representative of a promising new future for how you consume episodic entertainment lies in a smoking badly acted ruin which should end the careers of all involved. Roll on Arrested Development.
Zombieland – Pilot (2013) – LOVEFiLM
So the good news is that the first episode of this show is a thousand times better than Hemlock Grove. It has all the rules for survival and ‘zombie kill of the week’ scenes that make it over from the movie. It’s clever, it’s funny and it’s short, with masses of scope for more. Admittedly the cast are no Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg or Emma Stone but it picks up weeks after the movie ends and runs with the premise as our heroes look for other survivors to join their ‘family’. They haven’t cheapskated on the effects and production design either and there is tons of violence amongst the laughs. The only thing that sucks is that so far there is only one episode, hopefully this gets the order for more episodes pretty sharpish because it will leave you wanting more.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) – LOVEFiLM
This was probably 2012’s most underrated and underappreciated film coming as it did more or less opposite The Amazing Spider-Man. A quirky insightful comedy about very serious things never had a chance in the face of reheated super shenanigans. With this film Steve Carell proved he is one of the most talented all round performers we have currently and Keira Knightley was finally likeable again. It doesn’t have the fireworks a typical end of the world story might have but it has so much emotion and a really great message about the fallacy of the ‘one who got away’ mind-set. Now it’s available online there is no excuse not to seek it out.
The Adjustment Bureau (2011) – LOVEFiLM
George Nolfi’s adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story is no Blade Runner or A Scanner Darkly but thankfully it’s not Screamers either. This particular Dick around is all about fate and changing life’s grand plan. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt have undeniable chemistry and their central relationship hooks you in in a way the similar Vanilla Sky failed to do. Despite this great central hook, the fantasy elements never really get a fair shake and apart from a great set piece where the couple run through different secret doors, the film’s fantastical elements feel a bit undercooked. How you feel about the ending depends a great deal on how much you had invested in what you have already seen but I found it disappointing. Still The Adjustment Bureau is worth a look as a mid-level Dick adaptation.
Apartment 143 (2011) – Netflix
Last summer’s straight to DVD found footage haunted apartment film is far far better than most that get more hype and deserves your attention. The protagonists are likeable and talk more in terms of the science of ghost hunting in a way that feels authentic and real. There is also a fantastic performance by Kai Lennox as a dad at the end of his rope with his troubled children. Unlike the last few Paranormal Activity films this is also super scary.
Grabbers (2012) – LOVEFiLM
Too silly to be taken seriously even as a Tremors like monster romp and not really going far enough in any direction to be a serious contender, nonetheless Grabbers is not without some belly laughs and has some pretty decent effects. The whole idea of the Irish having to get drunk to avoid ravenous beasts is pretty one note and borderline offensive but seems to dominate the entire second half of the film when some more creature action would have gone a long way. Still an entertaining bit of silliness that probably works better if you are just as intoxicated as those on screen.
Red Lights (2012) – Netflix
Last year’s follow up to Buried from director Rodrigo Cortes was something of a disappointment. It’s derivative as hell and you can see the reveal coming a mile off as Cillian Murphy investigates Robert De Niro’s sinister magician who has come out of retirement. Taken as a mood piece however and Red Lights has few equals and its dark corners and skewed world view carry the film through, just.
Outland (1981) – LOVEFiLM
This sci-fi western is directed by journeyman director Peter Hyams who would go on to do 2010, The Relic and Timecop. It stars Sean Connery as a marshal who is the law on a mining colony on one of Jupiter’s moons who clashes with the corrupt company boss who in turn hires assassins to kill him. Outland has aged exceptionally well and is still visually impressive with some great production design and model work standing up well 30 years later. The problem is that once we know the killers are on route it takes ages for them to get there and when they do it doesn’t quite pay off as it should. Still you could do far worse and if you miss Connery, who hasn’t been in a film in ten years, then give it a look.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010) – LOVEFiLM
Somehow this film about some warrior owls, fighting against slavery and the young owl who (hoo?) joins their ranks bombed on release. It is perhaps too well animated with very real looking owls rather than caricatures and this may have confused its audience who then stayed away. Truthfully it’s not bad, it takes itself a bit too seriously to really be fun but it looks fantastic with a lot of director Zack Snyder’s signature touches present and correct.
V Seasons 1 and 2 (2009-2011) – LOVEFiLM
This short lived reboot of Kenneth Johnson’s masterful ‘80s original starts strong and the first season is okay. Sadly the allegory of the first is completely lost in favour of something about media which never really comes across. The problem is the people behind it are in too much of a hurry and the show feels very ‘network’ with events happening at an alarming rate and the characters not really allowed to develop and breathe. By the time it got to season 2 and the ratings were way down it tried to up its game and got confusing and even more rushed. Never made it to the end but now is my chance.