Some pretty good titles this week in the build up to Christmas when Now TV will suddenly dominate the week with all the new content they got coming.
The titles of note this week are as follows:
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Take an unfilmable book, add the sibling directors of The Matrix and Speed Racer and the underrated director of Run Lola Run and Perfume, sit back and watch the beautiful, flawed and transcendent results. David Mitchell’s spiritual, revolutionary and vast book practically begs to be filmed due to the concepts and visuals that it asks you to conjure in your mind but it also has a tricky reincarnation subtext with characters appearing again and again in slightly different guises each time. The Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer decided to use the same actors with heavy prosthetics or different skin tone or even a different sex in each different period over 300 years. Some people have criticised this as jarring and that it takes you out of the story. Whilst it’s true that some of the make-up is a little off and some works better than others, if you find yourself enveloped in the story it scarcely matters. And what a story it is, Cloud Atlas takes in everything from slavery to despair to conspiracy to an Orwellian and then a Mad Max type future and all accompanied by one of the best scores or recent memory. It has tones that range from adventure to apocalyptic horror to old school farce and yet it all seems like its part of the same story. The ultimate message of the story can be read through the characters that Tom Hanks plays in each time period, starting as a despicable villain and gradually becoming more human each time until he has to literally face the devil for his soul but then there is also the core thread of an act of kindness creating ripples through time which the cynical may balk at but the more thoughtful and open will be extremely moved by. Cloud Atlas is like a flawed diamond, beautiful but not without its rough side and is an experience not to be missed.
Available on NOW TV
The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)
The other film in which Ryan Gosling played an outlaw this year seems to have been largely forgotten already and is not being mentioned on anyone’s best of lists. The Place Beyond the Pines is like a classic 70s era Springsteen song made flesh and takes on some subject matter similar to Cloud Atlas but in a more contained manner and portrays it in a way which is unusual for an indie film like this. The Place Beyond the Pines is essentially a story of how the sins of the father are passed on to the son and how people are seen due to their roots and upbringing no matter what their current situation is. The problem is it’s told in completely linear fashion spanning about 17 years when a kind of mix up in the editing room probably would have helped make the film have more of a pulse than it currently does. The first half with Gosling as a motorcycle stunt driver who turns to crime is riveting enough with Derek Cianfrance directing some superb motorcycle getaway scenes and Gosling doing his best smouldering broody thing. Bradley Cooper is then introduced and the story becomes about his rise to local hero status and then their respective children. It’s in the final act (if there is such a thing here) where the films themes become clear and Dane DeHaan is the performance that leaves a lasting impression in the somewhat ambiguous final scene. Probably not the best film released in 2013 but definitely one that will stay with you for a long time afterwards.
Available on Lovefilm / Amazon
Identity Thief (2013)
A comedy which on paper held so much promise. A timely tale of identity theft causing great personal loss crossed with a great road trip comedy of mismatched companions in the spirit of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It could have been the film that Due Date wanted to be but completely failed at. Except it just isn’t. Identity Thief isn’t terrible but it’s a screenplay that isn’t written to either Jason Bateman or Melissa McCarthy’s strengths as performers. Bateman’s character comes across as a barely there company goon, so when he gets desperate and too easily resorts to the type of crime he despises towards the end, it makes no sense. McCarthy is just annoying, which she is supposed to be I suppose, but they go so far in this direction that it’s impossible to make it back to sympathy. Director Seth Gordon does a very weak job here, seemingly allowing little room for improv and just filming the script with no life, no pop and no memorable laughs. A shame.
Available on NOW TV
Evil Dead (2013)
First of all, Evil Dead 2013 is not as terrible as everyone thought it might be during production. Sam Raimi produces for Fede Alvarez to direct with a far bigger budget than they ever had first or even second time around, and this is where the problem lies. The original Evil Dead films were one of those things that I was obsessed with, along with John Woo and David Lynch, during those formative teenage years. As a result I read everything I could about the making of the first film, planning to go into the woods at some point and make my own opus. If you know anything of the backstory then you know how much of a struggle and a labour of love that first film was. In Evil Dead 1 and 2 you can see the love on-screen, Raimi loved what he was doing and was being so inventive through both circumstance and hubris and the extreme nature of the film at the time was necessary in order to get some notice and they were advised to go this route by a producer. With Evil Dead 2013, it looks very nice, it’s suitably horrifying but there isn’t any love there, the film is mean-spirited and it’s the same thing that bothered me with Kick Ass 2, a sort of stomach turning commitment to shock instead of story. It’s not that I expect a film called Evil Dead to be all hand holding and singing but they go to these extreme lengths here just because they can, and one character in particular is a punching bag for the story and it isn’t treated in the same slapstick manner that Bruce Campbell endured. This is kind of the reason I don’t want to see an Evil Dead 4/Army of Darkness 2, Raimi isn’t the same filmmaker anymore and he has millions of dollars at his disposal which have diluted what we loved about him in the first place. Still I would be curious to see what an actual sequel to this movie would look like because Evil Dead 2013 isn’t bad and is pretty sharp late night entertainment.
Available on Lovefilm /Amazon
Black Rock (2013)
Mumblecore pioneer Mark Duplass decided to write a horror film for his wife Katie Aselton to direct and star in with a couple of her friends. The results are sadly predictable in terms of what people think horror is and that it’s an easy option for a first feature, with the film fluffing its feminist message in favour of supposed thrills. Basically Aselton and some gal pals go to an island and drink and end up crossing paths with some army guys on leave and things go wrong. Badly acted, badly edited and just plan lifeless, there are one or two moments when the film threatens to become interesting but mostly it just feels like a real missed opportunity.
Available on Netflix
War Horse (2011)
The stage production of War Horse based on the book by Michael Morpurgo is perhaps one of the best things I have ever seen in a live setting. The craft of the puppets on stage and the story is so compelling and so moving that you completely forget what you are actually watching are four people carrying a wicker horse. The material seems like a natural fit for Spielberg who is great at bonding experiences and also life during wartime and predictably Spielberg nails the first part of the story with young Jeremy Irvine bonding with a horse and then going off to war. The problem with the story is that after this it becomes very episodic and even the performers, writers (including Richard Curtis) and Spielberg can’t crack this part where essentially the main character is the horse and the film drags when introducing new characters who are considerably less compelling than the main teenager/horse relationship. Luckily Spielberg pulls off the finale, which if you have seen the stage play will know, it’s perfectly in his wheelhouse. War Horse is a worthwhile film and Spielberg on an off day is still better than most directors working at their peak.
Available on Netflix
Adventure Time: Season One (2010)
If you have gone into Forbidden Planet recently and wondered what all the merchandise featuring a simply rendered boy in a white hood and his yellow dog was all about, then wonder no more. The first season of Pendleton Ward and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time is now on Netflix for the rest of the country to catch up with. Adventure Time shows us some kind of psychedelic apocalyptic future earth full of strange and wonderful creatures, candy kingdoms and icy villains and has us bear witness to the adventures of a boy and his shape shifting dog. Adventure Time harkens back to a time when kids’ shows were random and drug influenced with a relatively dark undercurrent that wasn’t always apparent as a child. Literally anything can and will happen in this show and it’s all the better for it. Its flights of imagination recall the best work of Miyazaki and Tove Jannson and it works for kids and adults alike. Best ending theme song ever as well, prepare to fall in love.
Available on Netflix
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
If you watched Iron Man 3 this year and wondered why the dialogue was so good and why you laughed more than expected, then here is the reason in its purest most undiluted form. Shane Black is a cracking writer, he has a gift with dialogue that rivals Tarantino and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was his directorial debut and should have been another Big Lebowski but sadly is still fairly unknown amongst the masses. A brilliant inversion or noir tropes and detective stories, the plot is confusing and doesn’t quite add up but this is sort of the point and watching Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer buddy around in the middle of all the violence and confusion is just absolute bliss.
Available on Lovefilm/Amazon
Before he was consigned to straight to DVD hell, Val Kilmer was doing the most interesting work of his career and here he is again with a great writer backing him up. David Mamet is a well-respected writer but his directorial career has never really taken off despite the greatness of The Spanish Prisoner and Redbelt. In Spartan, Kilmer plays a badass recruited by the secret service when a major politician’s daughter is kidnapped. Does he discover a sinister conspiracy at the heart of the kidnapping? Of course he does, does he crack heads and spout brilliant Mamet dialogue? Absolutely. Spartan may surprise you in how good it is and how unknown it is at the same time and it doesn’t outstay its welcome at an hour and forty, like action movies used to be.
Available on Lovefilm/Amazon
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)
As it approaches Christmas, and with the second Hobbit film in cinemas, it seems a perfect time to revisit Peter Jackson’s first visit to middle earth which changed fantasy filmmaking forever despite being seen as a massive gamble during production. What still surprises me even now is the weight that Jackson gives middle earth, how silly concepts like Hobbits, Elves and Orcs become completely riveting and real and how dark the films are. Despite knowing that the story would have a positive outcome, the story and characters feel so hopeless and lost at times and you were right there with them on the edge of your seat. Jackson films the action scenes perfectly and the finale of Fellowship gets me every time when Aragorn tells Frodo to leave and then turns around to kick some Orc ass. Jackson then goes on to top this scene about three times throughout the course of the trilogy. The versions available here are not the extended and definitive versions of the films but even in their shortened versions they remain essential cinema. Upon release I wondered whether in my life time I would see anyone top this trilogy of films in terms of fantasy cinema, so far sadly not.
Available on NOW TV
The Iron Giant (1999)
Just in time for the Christmas holidays is this kid favourite which is now rightly regarded as an animated classic. At the time of release, The Iron Giant was a 2D old school animation stuck in a time which wasn’t sure whether CG animated films were all that mattered anymore or if there was still room for this. Time has since moved in favour of the CG with the 2D hand drawn style being a lost art. LOOSELY based on that weird children’s book The Iron Man that was read to you at school, The Iron Giant is a wonderfully retro tale set during the American paranoia of the McCarthy era with CIA agents everywhere in a small town as a young boy makes friends with a massive metal man voiced by Vin Diesel. His origins remain wonderfully obscure but it’s the hardest heart that wouldn’t be moved by the core friendship and the misunderstanding adults.
Available on Lovefilm /Amazon
Pay Per View
Available this week on the pay once, rent for twenty-four hours streaming service are the following titles:
We’re The Millers (2013)
It could be that it featured Jennifer Aniston as a stripper, it could be that the world had finally come around to Jason Sudeikis as the new Chevy Chase or it could be that it was young Will Poulter’s time to shine but We’re the Millers made a ton of money, even in the UK, and despite some middling reviews on release it connected with the public and even now has an IMDB score of 7.1, practically unheard of for a comedy in these times 5 months after release. Sudeikis plays a pot dealer who pulls together a fake family of misfits in order to complete a massive marijuana deal. Drug trafficking doesn’t exactly scream comedy but if it works it works.
Available on EE/Virgin Movies/Film4OD