Physical media is dead. Blu-ray’s are lovely and all but the next battle for your wallet will be fought online. The issue now seems to be about how you access the media rather than the quality and the extra features. With the rise of digital media through MP3’s and on demand services like iTunes and the Playstation Store, two champions have emerged providing the public with streaming movies and TV shows for basically what amounts to pocket change each month.
Over the last two years the UK streaming market has been dominated by LOVEFiLM, with subscribers able to stream films through the internet or through handy applications on their PlayStation 3, Xbox or even an ultra-modern television set. Then Netflix made its UK debut in January and the whole playing field changed. Netflix has been going for a while in the US and offers thousands of films and shows available often mere months after their DVD release or the end of their TV run. The UK Netflix isn’t quite on a par with our US cousins. It has a limited amount of films but does beat LOVEFiLM in the TV show stakes and in their presentation. LOVEFiLM seeing this competition has really stepped things up - they signed up deals with companies like Optimum and healed their previous rift with Universal and now offer exclusive titles and even a HD option on some titles. LOVEFiLM still has issues with bandwidth and an awkward to navigate menu system which Netflix does not, but at the moment they have them beat when it comes to the content. Netflix seem to only update with one new title a week and that just doesn’t cut it. I feel that whoever signs a deal with 20th Century Fox will win this battle and it’s only a matter of time before a deal is announced. For the time being its Netflix for presentation and television and LOVEFiLM for the sheer number of films on offer.
Anyway, the aim of this piece is to highlight what is brought to the various services each week and pick out some gems that you should look out for and maybe even some things that you should avoid. If you want to leave me feedback below it would be appreciated, or hit us up on Twitter. So let’s get into it…
Conan the Barbarian (2011) – Netflix
Last year’s attempt to reboot the Conan franchise unfortunately was not the success that Lionsgate hoped it would be, essentially ending the franchise right there. Which is a shame because although this film gets a lot wrong when it comes to Robert E.Howard’s anti-heroic warrior, it’s also quite good fun and Jason Momoa does well in the Conan role. Director Marcus Nispel can craft a good action scene and has a great visual eye but no skill with nuance and performance. Although it’s nowhere near on a par with John Milius' seminal 1981 classic, it’s definitely worth a watch and if you have Netflix then it’s one of the occasional releases they get that is fairly recent and exclusive so it’s a win.
LOST (2004-2010) – Netflix
This may be a controversial choice to some and to others they will be all over this like a rash if only to watch the whole thing again to catch what they may have missed first time around. Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams' seminal mystery television show has been available on LOVEFiLM for a while but now the whole saga is available on Netflix (sadly not quite HD though). Whatever your opinion about the ending, you can’t deny that this show was always about the journey. For six years Lost was the best written show on TV, the mystery was always in the background for me and the show was never going to answer all of the threads and questions that hung over the central mystery. Lost is brilliant TV and is probably the most influential show since The X-Files. Many imitators have come and gone and nary has a new season gone by without a massive cast promotional photo that echoes the early days of this show. If you haven’t seen this before, now you have a chance to watch the whole thing for almost nothing. Be prepared to lose your social life, and possibly your job!
Kill List (2011) – LOVEFiLM
Ok I must admit I find Ben Wheatley’s breakthrough horror film from last year pretty overrated. I went in expecting a classic and was left feeling a little underwhelmed come the ending. I have since spoken to many people about what it all means and the themes in the film and have found its one of those films I can’t stop thinking about. The setup is very simple; two ex-soldier hitmen receive a list of targets from a mysterious businessman and go off to dispose of them very very violently. During this time, one of them starts to unravel as each target is revealed to be the epitome of evil. It all builds towards an ending and a sudden shift in tone that will either thrill you or leave you cold. LOVEFiLM have also made this available in HD so the time is right to catch up with this film which will haunt you for days.
Interview with the Vampire (1994) – LOVEFiLM
It's funny how times change isn’t it? If they were to adapt Anne Rice’s novel now then it would be either a trilogy of films or one three hour epic, but back in the early '90s everything was one and done. As a result Interview with the Vampire feels like the cliff notes to a story much more expansive and epic. It’s very much a film of two halves with the first being dominated by Tom Cruise’s hammy performance as Lestat and the second focussing on Brad Pitt’s Louis and Antonio Banderas’ Armand and dialling up the homo eroticism to groundbreaking levels for the time. The film still looks great and although it’s deeply flawed it is very good. What stays with you though is Kirsten Dunst’s breakthrough performance as an old soul trapped in a young body. Now that is a child acting.
The Faculty (1998) – LOVEFiLM
Aka the Robert Rodriguez film nobody remembers. Back in the late '90s Rodriguez teamed up with the then hot screenwriter Kevin Williamson to make this Invasion of the Body Snatchers riff which crossed that premise with The Breakfast Club and resulted in a derivative but very cool and fun film which I inexplicably watched many many times when I was twenty years old. The dialogue is great, there is an unbelievable amount of swearing and Rodriguez is so far the only director who knows what to do with Josh Hartnett. The film still has a real anarchic spirit that I love and is therefore highly recommended.
Little Shop of Horrors (1985) – LOVEFiLM
With the news this week that we are finally going to see the alternate ending where Audrey grows huge, now is a good time to revisit Frank Oz’s 80s B-Movie inspired musical. The songs are great, the B movie tone is perfect and it’s notable for being a film that will make you miss the old days when Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and even Bill Murray were on top form. Also for anyone who complains about remakes, this is further evidence that they have always been with us as this is based on a '60s Roger Corman film.
The Others (2001) – LOVEFiLM
Alejandro Amenabar made three cracking genre movies early on in his career. He started with Tesis in 1996, followed that up with Open Your Eyes in '97 (the inspiration for Vanilla Sky) and then The Others in 2001. He has since abandoned us for worthy drama’s and this is a crying shame as The Others is one hell of a classy ghost story which is similar to the recent The Woman in Black but also manages to be better than that and The Sixth Sense. Nicole Kidman has never been better than she was here and it was all downhill for her after this. In the early part of the century when PG-13/12A horror was all we got, this was the stand out.
Highlander – The Series (1992 – 1998) - Netflix
To some people, this is the true continuation of the Highlander franchise after the original 1986 movie and to others this is six years of tedium. Whether or not you were one of the hardcore or whether like me you have always been curious, the entirety of the Highlander television show starring Adrian Paul is now available on Netflix for your streaming pleasure. The show must have done something right as it lead to female centric spin off The Raven and an animated series I believe.
Roswell (1999-2002) – Netflix
Another late '90s show that’s derivative as hell gets added to Netflix. Roswell (aka Roswell High) was the series that combined The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek to create a moody, angsty show with a great soundtrack all about human-alien hybrids living and growing up in the infamous American town. The teens have gifts and a destiny which they mope about instead of doing what most teenagers were doing at the time, whacking off to Gillian Anderson and listening to No Doubt. This also launched the careers of Katherine Heigl and Colin Hanks. Okay so I have never seen this but I have friends who loved it so I will be checking it out shortly.