The summer slump continues unfortunately with only the below titles really standing out as the genre offerings worth talking about in the last two weeks.
All signs are pointing towards some major developments over the next two weeks as Netflix get Breaking Bad season 4 which represents a major win. The other streaming providers can only respond with some content which will benefit the consumer and we will of course let you know about if it falls in Starburst’s remit.
Zombieland (2009) – Netflix
Zombieland was available on LOVEFiLM for a while but has now shambled its way on to Netflix. When it came out three years ago Zombieland was praised for being something new in the zombie genre which is looking even more tired now than it was back then. Although this is fun, inventive and likeable, on re-watches it becomes less and less so. The problem is that much like director Ruben Fleischer’s follow up 30 minutes or less, this is so lightweight and brief that it barely registers. The fact that this was once a TV pilot definitely shows at times but it rises above its origins due to the great performances from Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone. Despite being flawed Zombieland is still an enjoyable hour and a bit if you haven’t seen it yet. Once seen you can join the debate on whether this should be continued either in film or on TV. I vote TV…
I Am Legend (2007) – Lovefilm
What has always baffled me is the fact that whenever anyone talks about adapting Richard Matheson’s seminal horror novel I Am Legend, they talk about 200 million dollar budgets which is what lead to this version working its way through development hell for over ten years. If you read the book then I’m sure you’ll agree that you could do a faithful, terrifying version for well under your typical budget of a blockbuster. This is actually the third adaptation of the novel and none has been as good or as spot on as Matheson’s source material. Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man probably came closest but was loaded with cheese. Will Smith’s version was the one that came out after Ridley Scott and Arnold Schwarzenegger failed to make it happen and Francis Lawrence took over in the director’s chair. This version is an incredibly frustrating film, for everything it gets right it gets an enormous amount wrong. The action has been moved from LA to New York City and seeing a deserted city is impressive and no doubt where most of the budget went. Will Smith gives possibly his best performance and his mannerisms and behaviour as the last man on Earth are spot on. The major problems which the film never gets passed is that CG bald fellas are not scary no matter how loud or angry they get and the last act sadly falls in to blockbuster formula despite a moving ending that thematically feels right. Worth watching just so you can see the production design and Will Smith’s performance but sadly it’s consistent with Smith’s run of flawed sci-fi blockbusters.
Snowtown (2011) – Lovefilm
If you fancy having your day ruined and are just too damn happy then give Snowtown a watch, it is the very definition of uncompromising and powerful cinema. Based on the true life case of Australian serial killer John Bunting this takes into account the people he surrounded himself with and who he influenced. Bunting, played by the mesmerising Daniel Henshall, bonds with abused and downtrodden youth Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) and gradually whilst trying to help him brings him into his depraved and murderous ways. Director Justin Kerzel did a very good job with some very difficult material. The film doesn’t shy away from the full horror and misery that was present in these people’s lives but it’s never in bad taste or exploitative. If you like your films raw and in your face and enjoyed Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer then you must see Snowtown. It’s like looking into the face of evil for two hours.
Vanishing on 7th Street (2010) – Netflix
Brad Anderson has made some very interesting films that are kind of like modern Hitchcock with Session 9, The Machinist and Transsiberian. With Vanishing on 7th Street however Anderson seems to be entering an M. Night Shyamalan style slump. That’s not to say that the film is bad, in fact it’s a perfectly watchable Outer Limits episode stretched to full length. The problem is that none of the characters fully engage as average people in an extreme situation the way they should have, Hayden Christensen is the lead which should tell you all you need to know. As much as the central mystery of why people are disappearing is fascinating it’s also frustrating in its obtuseness and a little hint of an explanation would have been welcome. Now it’s available on streaming it’s probably a good time to check this out if you haven’t already.
The Matrix (1999) – Lovefilm
The original Matrix film from 1999 changed cinema forever and remains a masterpiece of cool sci-fi filmmaking. Even if you haven’t seen it then you know the set-up, the film changed action filmmaking and special effects forever and the film is a densely plotted and mythology rich cyberpunk classic. All these years on what’s amazing about The Matrix apart from how it hasn’t dated is how wonderfully written it is. The Wachowski Brothers manage to pack in an incredible amount of backstory, world building and plot into a screenplay that comes in at just on two hours whereas in other less skilled hands it would have been a bloated three hour mess.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003) – Lovefilm
The general opinion seems to be that The Matrix sequels were a let-down compared to the game changing first installment. There are also those who love what The Wachowski’s came up with to continue the story. Sadly the former are more vocal than the latter. Personally I enjoy the second movie although it has massive pacing issues and is the introduction of what ruins the sequels for me, namely the human settlement of Zion. Nothing about Zion convinces, not the council, not the inhabitants and worst of all some kind of rave/orgy sequence just feels really out of place. Regardless of your opinion of the second movie, it does have the freeway chase scene and an ending which subverts everything you think you knew about the trilogy which let’s face it, was massively ballsy.
The Matrix Revolutions (2003) – Lovefilm
So we come to the finale of the trilogy and it’s a massive improvement and a darker film than anything previously. The film is mostly set in the real world so you still get frickin’ Zion but the film is more thematically on the money than Reloaded. There is a debate here about Artificial Intelligence and where it would go once self-awareness or consciousness was firmly established. Again the ending divides people who don’t like it because it didn’t end in typical sci-fi blockbuster trilogy fashion but those people are not thinking about the enormity of the ending they wanted based on the world that was set up here. If you are only here for the eye candy then you get that with the final battle between Neo and Agent Smith as well as the journey to the machine city. For me the ending is the absolute ending that makes sense in the context of the world and I still remain hopeful that someday we will return to the world to see the implications of the new world created at the finale.