Not much to report on this week I’m afraid, it still appears to be a quiet period before either Netflix or LOVEFiLM burst out again all guns blazing with an avalanche of content. Most of this week’s picks are titles from the last few years with only really two recent releases as the stand outs.
Oh and good news for console owners, LOVEFiLM has now added the entire Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel saga for viewing through their console app! Rejoice!
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011) – LOVEFiLM
Last year’s remake of an obscure ‘70s American TV movie has been pretty much forgotten about already which is a shame because it’s a solid and visually accomplished horror film which will appeal to anyone who ever got scared of the dark corners of their bedroom as a kid. Troy Nixey directed this and does a great job with the material and the performances, but co-writer Guillermo Del Toro’s fingerprints are all over this film. It’s very much in keeping with his previous films like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone and although it never reaches the heights of those movies, it’s a nice little companion piece.
The Prestige (2006) – LOVEFiLM
Before The Dark Knight and before Inception, Christopher Nolan made this film about duelling magicians based on the novel by Christopher Priest. On the surface this appears to be a period drama-thriller but actually goes to some places that will surprise you with some interesting science fiction trappings and a genius non-linear way of telling the story that is reminiscent of Memento. For all the narrative tricks though, what will stay with you is the way that these two magicians played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are completely and utterly devoted to their art and how their conflict and one upmanship ultimately drags everyone close to them into it with some tragic consequences. This is a must see if you haven’t yet.
Life on Mars (2006-2007) – Netflix
Okay confession time, I haven’t actually seen this yet but I have heard nothing but good things. This short lived BBC series from the middle of the last decade was all about a police inspector who is involved in a car accident and wakes up in the politically incorrect 1973 and partnered with the bullish, iconic Gene Hunt. Is it real or some kind of pre-death mind trip? This was good enough to get an American TV remake and an ‘80s set follow up which apparently wasn’t as good. Looking forward to checking this out…
Beowulf (2007) – LOVEFiLM
The problem with these animated features which aim for photo realism and use motion capture is that they date really quickly as the technology evolves. This hasn’t affected Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf as much as it has The Polar Express but the cracks are starting to show. Regardless of the technical wizardry on display, this remains a thrilling and visually inventive take on one of the very first stories on record and like all of the original stories it concerns a seemingly invincible hero brought down by a very human desire. Don’t be fooled by the animation either, this is dark with a capital ‘D’ and surprisingly violent too.
Retreat (2011) – Netflix
Retreat was another film from last year which was little seen by people in general and deserves another look. Many people try and set their low budget thriller in a single location and then forget to bring a truly compelling script with them, this is not a mistake that Retreat makes. You start off with a bereaved couple played by Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton as they go to a remote island getaway to re-connect with each other. Then Jamie Bell’s soldier shows up at their door claiming that the outside world is falling apart because of a deadly virus and proceeds to seal them inside. Is he unhinged? Of course he is! However the possibility of a virus remains a mystery. It’s brilliantly acted, wonderfully tense and the writing is great even if it feels a little stagey at times.
300 (2006) – LOVEFiLM
It’s become trendy now to jump on the backlash bandwagon against director Zack Snyder but around the time of his second feature we were all on board his style over substance train. Taking its cue from the previous year’s Sin City adaptation, Snyder’s visually stunning interpretation of another Frank Miller book is all style, and what style it is. Violent visual eye candy of the highest order, as time has gone on it’s gotten less cool and the cracks have become more apparent but this is still thrilling in all the right ways and Gerard Butler has yet to match the charisma and intensity he shows here as Leonidas.
Speed Racer (2008) – Blinkbox
Speaking of style over substance, have you seen this? No? That’s okay nobody bothered four years ago either. One of the biggest flops of recent years, The Wachowski Brothers’ follow up to The Matrix trilogy is an eye ball searing literal translation of a fondly remembered old Japanese anime. Literally everything here apes the anime: the dialogue, the delivery and the camera angles and speed lines for things in motion. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this was a good film but it’s fascinating to watch. If you happen to have kids under ten though then this will likely blow their mind.
The Iron Giant (1999) – Blinkbox
Hard to believe I only caught up with this recently, Brad Bird’s very nearly lost animated masterpiece is a must see no matter how old you are. It’s a touching tale of a boy and his giant robot set during one of the most paranoid and fraught periods in American history when everyone was suspected of being a secret communist working for the red menace. The film captures that perfectly and has buckets of heart and wonder comparable to Spielberg’s ET. Bafflingly this is based on Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, which I remember being super weird when I was a kid.