It seems I may have been too hasty in declaring the summer a relatively quiet time in the streaming wars. Out of nowhere, Lovefilm has started adding at least one title every day – and not just big win titles like Looper, but niche stuff like the latest Universal Soldier sequel and French animation The Illusionist.
Netflix isn’t exactly lying down either, having brought on board yet another Marvel title and an underrated horror film from last year. Before August is out, they will also bring subscribers Avengers Assemble and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the two biggest titles from 2012. What Lovefilm will counter that with is undoubtedly going to be amazing, but the smart money would be on Bond.
Regardless of what’s to come, the best titles online this week are as follows:
Looper (2012) – Lovefilm
Rian Johnson’s time travel triumph from last year is now available on Lovefilm. I think most people’s first viewings of this seem to be dominated by the Willis/Gordon-Levitt make-up giving them the creeps, so Looper deserves a second look; there are also a lot of clever time travel easter eggs thrown in that you wouldn’t catch first time around. Truthfully, the less you know about this film, the better it works – it has one of those Twilight Zone moral questions at its core that sneaks up on you. Looper was one of the best films of last year. Consider it ‘highly recommended’.
V/H/S (2012) – Netflix
Hands down the best thing that the found footage fad has brought us outside of Cloverfield is this collaboration between six indie horror up-and-comers – the first found footage anthology film. Ti West’s segment is the weakest; his slow burn sensibility doesn’t really work here, feeling out of place in the same way it did in The ABCs of Death. The strongest follows three college dicks who get a girl back to a motel, only to find out she’s more than they bargained for. Thanks to the POV camerawork, it’s scary and immediately thrilling. There’s also the surreal and gross Skype segment and the final hilarious, kinetic haunted house segment. It’s just a shame that the wraparound stuff binding these together isn’t as strong. Still, VHS 2 is due out later this year and early word is it’s even better.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012) – Lovefilm
Someone needs to hand director John Hyams the Terminator franchise very quickly. One of the few genuine surprises of 2013 so far is this fourth sequel in the now straight-to-DVD Universal Soldier franchise. After the events of the third movie, this finds Luc Devereaux (Jean Claude Van Damme) having gone native, Colonel Kurtz style, up a river, manipulating Scott Adkins’ bereaved amnesiac. This is so far from what your typical straight-to-DVD action sequel is supposed to be, it seems impossible it exists. Like a weird acid trip whilst watching The Bourne Identity, this has visual flair and thrilling action sequences better than films with ten times the budget. If there is any justice, Scott Adkins should become a major star. Keep an eye on John Hyams, too; he is going places.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Netflix
Marvel Studios made the right choice in picking The Rocketeer helmer Joe Johnston to bring their star spangled poster boy to the screen. For most of its running time, Captain America is a nostalgic blast of retro thrills, which sees Chris Evans absolutely nail the character and Hugo Weaving give yet another excellent villain as the Red Skull. It collapses in the second half as it forgets to be a film with plot points and becomes a series of action montages to get Cap to that point at the end so we could get that film the following year. This is still a far better film than comic fans could have hoped for, considering what came before, and a great lead-in to The Avengers.
The Possession (2012) – Netflix
This went by last year with hardly any attention here at all. I can see why; the subject matter is all too familiar, while the name change from Dibbuk Box to the generic The Possession makes it sound like just more mediocre horror product. Honestly, though, this might be the finest film about possession since that seventies William Friedkin movie. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but original Nightwatch director Ole Bornedal directs this with a certain weight and takes the material seriously – which is missing from most studio horror fare. You also get a series of terrific performances at the heart of the film, with each actor giving the material the credence it deserves. The method of possession draws from relatively unexplored Jewish folklore, so it’s actually fairly original despite the title, and involves moths… lots of moths… which is terrifying.
Doom (2005) – Netflix
Yes, it’s a video game movie, and yes, it stars The Rock and pre-Dredd Karl Urban, but, in terms of unpretentious, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin entertainment, you could do worse. Doom is, essentially, the film version of the game-changing first person shooter – a squad of hard cases with silly nicknames get trapped in an alien-infested complex in space. Cue shouting, shooting, gore, and a pretty great first person sequence from the POV of the final survivor. It’s not high art, but it’s enjoyable trash – and sometimes that’s what you need to end a day.
The Day (2011) – Lovefilm
Clearly made for almost nothing is this straight-to-DVD title from late last year. Douglas Aarniokoski’s film, set after an unnamed apocalypse, follows a group of survivors, holed up in a house, who come under assault from a tribe of savages. Shot in a de-saturated palette, with an unrelentingly bleak feel, this has good performances across the board from Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan, Ashley Bell, and Shannyn Sossamon. It’s a shame that it takes too long for the siege to get going; various elements are very strong, but it spends too long considering the ‘humanity in the face of annihilation’ theme to ever really be a contender for post-apocalyptic classic status.
eXistenZ (1999) – Lovefilm
Lesser Cronenberg is still worth the price of admission. As each year goes by and we live in a world where the top game designers are making tons of money, eXistenZ becomes more and more relevant. This is kind of a companion piece to Videodrome, but with virtual reality and video games replacing unchecked cable pornography. This being a Cronenberg film, it’s filled with truly gross imagery. The Chinese buffet/assembling the tooth gun scene has haunted my dreams since I first saw it in ‘99…
Unbreakable (2000) – Netflix
Hard to believe now, but M.Night Shyamalan was the JJ Abrams of the early part of this century. After The Sixth Sense was a huge and popular hit, his follow up was shrouded in secrecy, then blew every nerd away when it turned out to be a super-hero story. Possibly the most dour film to ever be a box office hit, Unbreakable is so well thought out, so well-constructed, and so greatly led by Bruce Willis and Samuel L.Jackson. A long talked up sequel has never come to fruition and I hope it never does – this film is pretty much perfect all on its own. What happened M.Night? What happened, man?