This week things remain fairly stagnant in the old Netflix vs. LOVEFiLM war. After the one upmanship and sabre rattling of the past two weeks, things have settled back into a polite few titles here and there and a bonanza of geek TV from LOVEFiLM. What has thrown me however is that there is now something called Blinkbox which I heard about through the magic of the radio of all places.
Blinkbox is a new service run by Tesco (yes that Tesco) but you wouldn’t think so to look at it. It’s notable because it offers free movies to stream without signing up and there are some pretty good titles too. You can sign up and operate a pay as you go type account and get access to stream the latest releases and TV shows which is also what YouTube do for the standard price you would expect to pay these days. Be warned however that although the free titles are fairly decent, you do have to wade through adverts both at the beginning and during the film you have chosen. Currently Blinkbox is available through most of the ways that you choose to view sites of this sort; however it does not yet have a handy PS3 app and only an Xbox 360 one. Surely it’s only a matter of time though before PS3 owners get a Blinkbox app of their own.
Angel: Seasons 1-4 (1999-2003) – LOVEFiLM
To many people, Angel is the show that was superior to the show that launched the character. Up until Dollhouse it definitely felt like the Joss Whedon show with the most balls. For five years the Buffy spin off was darker, grittier and had a great penchant for killing off main characters or shocking betrayals. The show somehow managed to take potentially hokey storylines (Angel’s son Connor for one and evil law firm Wolfram and Hart) and make the best out of them with constant twists and revelations which meant you were never quite sure what was going to happen next. Like Buffy this takes a while to find its feet but by the mid-point of season two this is just as good, if not better, than Buffy was.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Seasons 2-7 (1997-2003) – LOVEFiLM
LOVEFiLM have gone and added the rest of the Sunnydale saga after adding season one last week which means that if you haven’t yet caught up you get to see where this ground-breaking TV show goes over its whole seven year run. You will quickly get used to the format; it’s a monster of the week affair with an overarching ‘Big Bad’ nemesis each season. Each season manages to also be a brilliant documentation of the different phases of growing up, taking in things like careers, addiction and even the death of family members. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll get scared during classic episodes like Hush from season 4.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005) – Netflix
Rob Zombie’s sequel to his directorial debut House of 1000 Corpses is an altogether different beast from that film. Whereas the first film had teens in peril and some kind of bizarre underground zombie factory at its conclusion, The Devil’s Rejects does away with the supernatural elements and instead focuses on the Firefly clan as they go on the run from an equally deranged lawman out to kill them in the American Midwest in the 70s. It’s stylish, it’s violent, there is a great soundtrack and it’s morally confusing as there is nobody to root for who isn’t a sadistic killer. So far Zombie has failed to top this film or live up to the promise this showed for his directing career although he has continued to load his projects with genre veterans which he began here.
V for Vendetta (2005) – LOVEFiLM
James McTeague’s powerful and uncompromising screen version of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel is still fairly underrated. Considering the climate that it was released in this was an incredibly brave film to be released by a major studio. V for Vendetta is the story of a terrorist and also manages to show how a terrorist may come into the world and it’s not afraid to make you ask some lofty questions both about society and about how you would react in a similar situation. It’s challenging in all the ways that cinema should be. Definitely a film that struck a chord with many people as, if you watch the news carefully during any protest these days, you’ll see the V mask in the crowd somewhere. It’s also really well written by the Wachowski Brothers who unfairly got most of the credit here and although there is a lack of kinetic action scenes, somehow it never feels dull.
Troll Hunter (2010) – Netflix
Last year’s found footage sensation from Norway is now available on Netflix for the masses. Possibly the last really good found footage movie produced and something that will no doubt be imitated ad nauseam for the next ten years; this is still a hell of a lot of fun. It may take its time getting going and there may be one too many shots of the countryside and the breathtaking Scandinavian views but the creature work is flawless and the acting top notch.
Batman Begins (2005) – LOVEFiLM
Just in time for the third and final film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, LOVEFiLM have added both of the previous films in the series to their streaming service. Whilst it’s not quite the classic that the next film was, Batman Begins sets the scene and the template remarkably well and introduces the concept of a city dying from the inside out and the hero that Gotham needs born out of tragedy. I’ll never forget my first viewing of this film thinking that Christian Bale’s performance whilst in the outfit was spot on and loving the fact that the world’s greatest detective actually did some detecting in the film.
The Dark Knight (2008) – LOVEFiLM
The sequel to Batman Begins ups the ante considerably. Not only is this a great Batman film but it’s a perfect action crime film as well. I find it amusing that when something is this good there will be a backlash against it no matter how good it is. So for some people this isn’t comic booky enough and they appear to want a return to the Schumacher Batman films of the 90s, those films were soulless and empty and had a stubborn refusal to take the source material seriously. Here it feels like the villainous Joker is truly a threat to an entire city as he creates mass panic and pushes Batman to the limits of his own moral codes. Heath Ledger’s Joker is rightly celebrated, nobody knows where the murderous clown came from or why he is there, he just is and it feels right. Such a shame that he passed on as it would have been wonderful to see how he figured into the last movie in the trilogy (which was the plan apparently). The Dark Knight is a shining example of what is possible in comic book cinema.
Blade (1998) – Blinkbox
Up until this film, the comic book movie genre really wasn’t taken all that seriously and we suffered through the likes of Batman and Robin and Spawn. Stephen Norrington’s Blade film is the one where people started to take this a little more seriously; there was no camp and just stylish action and brutality with a never better and perfectly cast Wesley Snipes as the titular vampire hunter. Guillermo Del Toro’s Blade 2 was even better and they seemed like they were going to cap off a pretty great trilogy with a post-apocalyptic storyline, but then we got Blade: Trinity and it all went wrong. Some of the CGI may be a little ropey now but this still stands up surprisingly well and it makes you wonder just where the hell Stephen Norrington went when there were films like Judge Dredd that needed rebooting.
Visitor Q (2001) - Blinkbox
It’s alarming that this film is available for free to anyone online right now; you could begin watching half way through and think you had stumbled on to some kind of snuff home video. Visitor Q is perhaps not the best introduction to the work of Takashi Miike but it’s a pretty good demonstration of how a mad man can get a film made in Japan. On the surface this is a story about a stranger integrating himself into a suburban family and bringing them to life but then touches on rape, incest, necrophilia and graphic murder without restraint. I don’t know what it says about me that I laughed a lot during this film but it’s almost impossible to recommend although if you love ‘extreme’ cinema, your prayers have been answered. There is never any danger of Hollywood remaking this one…
Appleseed: Ex Machina (2007) – Blinkbox
One of the best anime titles of recent years is Shinji Aramaki’s sequel to the 2004 anime reboot of Masamune Shirow’s classic cyberpunk manga. The 2004 version suffered from too plasticky cut scene looking animation and a clunky screenplay. With the scene already set, here the franchise gets to tell a brand new story in this world with breathtakingly improved fluid animation as well. Even if you are not typically an animation sort of person this is worth watching, the climax is so exciting that you forget what you’re watching is animation and are completely caught in the wonderfully detailed sci-fi universe that Aramaki is showing you. Can’t wait for Aramaki’s Starship Troopers anime film due later this year.
Big Man Japan (2007) - Blinkbox
One last piece of Japanese weirdness for you, Big Man Japan looks and feels like something you would see on a weekday evening on BBC2 or 4 at about 8pm. What you have here is a documentary about a simple, dishevelled and moped riding man who just so happens to have the ability to grow gigantic when electrocuted and take on some of the weirdest looking monsters ever seen outside of Power Rangers as they terrorise Tokyo. Unfortunately this man is something of a social pariah and an annoyance to his community despite the fact that he saves their lives regularly. Big Man Japan somehow never lives up to its brilliant premise and has serious pacing problems but is frequently very well observed and hilarious.