From what I have seen so far it looks promising but then so did Hemlock Grove. Expect a full report next week. In related news, Netflix have announced a whole slate of stand-up comedy exclusive to its service after the success of the recent Aziz Ansari special. So the likes of Chelsea Handler, Jim Jefferies, Bill Cosby, Bill Burr and Chelsea Peretti will be adding stand up shows to streaming between now and December. I have only heard of a couple of these acts but there again one of the best things to do with an hour to spare is browse Netflix for its plentiful supply of stand-up specials and discover someone you didn’t know of before, it’s how I heard of Jim Gaffigan who now has to be one of my favourite stand up acts ever.
Speaking of stand-up comedy, it would be unfair for me to not mention this week the tragic and untimely passing of one of the greats, Mr Robin Williams. 2014 has not been kind to celebrities but this one really hurt, partially because like many of you of a similar age, Mork and Mindy was one of the first shows I remember liking when I was old enough to actually remember things.
So then my childhood was full of Robin Williams films as he went from little seen comedies to full-blown acclaim in the likes of Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King. By the time Williams had his biggest successes with Mrs Doubtfire and Aladdin I had already become a cynical teen but William’s talent and warmth were ever-present even in compromised stuff like Hook and Toys. He was one of the first to transcend both comedy and drama and be great at both and it’s a template that every comedian turned actor has tried to emulate since.
What makes this worse is that it was common knowledge that Williams struggled with depression and substance abuse over the years and seemed poised to make a comeback of sorts in the coming of years and perhaps even win a second Oscar but now that will not come to pass as he lost the battle and we will not get the old man Robin Williams performances that would have occurred and truly been something to behold.
There are a plethora of Williams’ films on streaming services if you wish to pay tribute and below is a list of some of the best available:
- The Fisher King (1991) – Amazon Prime and Netflix
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) – Amazon Prime
- Good Will Hunting (1997) – Netflix
- Insomnia (2002) – Netflix
- Bicentennial Man (1999) – Netflix
- The Birdcage (1996) – Netflix
- Aladdin (1992) – Now TV
- Dead Poets Society (1989) – Now TV
- Awakenings (1990) – Now TV
- Mrs Doubtfire (1993) – Now TV
- Jumanji (1995) – Now TV
- And okay…..Hook (1991) – Now TV
This week’s other titles of note added to streaming are as follows:
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Confession time; I don’t think I really dig Thor as a character. There – I said it and I’m sticking to it. As it is with every Marvel studios movie, people fall all over themselves to praise the Thor films but honestly I find them the weakest of all the Marvel universe movies, even in this second Thor film which is superior to the first one in every way. There is just something about the concept and Thor himself though that I cannot engage with the way I can with all the others.
This second trip into the realm of gods and warriors finds a new threat come to Asgard in the shape of creepy looking dark elves but the plot inevitably ignores this promise in order to shoehorn in Tom Hiddleston’s amazingly popular Loki character and wastes Christopher Eccleston as the chief villain. As required by some committee somewhere the action also crosses into Earth where to be honest you do get one of the funniest scenes in a Marvel film so far as Thor boars the tube.
The action is suitably epic and visually impressive and Chris Hemsworth and Hiddleston continue to impress in these roles, Hemsworth in particular really brings the charm this time around and seems less stiff than in the first film. Marvel phase two has had a major upswing in quality from the first pre-Avengers films with better writing and more sure-footed direction but Thor: The Dark World is still the weakest entry of phase two like the first was almost the weakest of phase two.
If you are on board for the brand though you are sure to love it. Curious how Captain America 3 is in pre-production, Iron Man 4 is being discussed but there isn’t a peep about Thor 3….
Available on Now TV
Alexander Payne’s most recent film which netted veteran actor Bruce Dern an Oscar nod, is far and away his best work since Sideways and perhaps even his best film overall. Dern puts in a wonderful nuanced performance as an elderly man who has started to lose his mental faculties and is convinced he has won a fortune from one of those junk mail letters we all get from time to time.
So he is set on travelling to Nebraska in order to collect and his put upon son played by Will Forte ends up travelling with him, comedy actor Forte really surprising with his role here. Once they arrive they end up meeting with their family who of course are now overly friendly thinking they might be in line for a share of a million dollars. Nebraska is simply a wonderful film, full of pathos, humour, sweetness and affection.
The black and white really adds to the feeling that Dern’s character is trapped in some kind of loop of confusion which he is only partly aware and adds a half glimpsed memory feel to a lot of the scenes of the American countryside whipping past as they travel. In the end Nebraska ends up being a story about dignity and regret told in the most beautiful and human way as well as a representation of family in the modern age and comes highly recommended.
Available on Now TV
How I Live Now (2013)
Despite a poster campaign that was simple and eye-catching, this film version of the novel by Meg Rosoff directed by Kevin Macdonald didn’t really take off last autumn. Its possible people were confused by what it actually was as it skirts a few genres, young adult romance, drama and speculative sci-fi quite possibly too.
Saorise Ronan plays Daisy, an angry American girl who goes to stay with her country dwelling relatives in the UK as world war 3 breaks out. Depending on how it is portrayed, speculative cinema can be more terrifying than any horror film and to a degree that is what Macdonald pulls off here. The film doesn’t really have the pace or the length to do a lot of its ideas justice as well as the romance angle but scenes that take place in the aftermath of a nuclear bomb going off in the UK and the results felt in the rest of the countryside are really chilling.
Ronan is as good as ever and she is ably supported by a bunch of unknown young brits who match her beat for beat. How I Live Now is an engrossing and very well made film with some breathtakingly tense stuff that may well surprise you if you ignored it last year.
Available on Netflix
2 Guns (2013)
This throwback action movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington was a modest hit late last summer and is really unpretentious and enjoyable fun. Two undercover lawmen find themselves thrown together for real after impersonating criminals for years and of course they have to deal with the consequences of their secret being found out and also bring scumbag drug cartels to justice.
2 Guns really does feel like an unmade Tony Scott film from the early 90s and manages to be a simpler story but also a more enjoyable one compared to most of the action films that come out nowadays which try to outdo each other in terms of what huge items they can blow up. 2 Guns doesn’t aim to blow up the moon or anything but its smart, witty and a safe bet for a Saturday night with some beer and pizza.
Available on Amazon Prime.
Mr Jones (2013)
I have rallied and winged about found footage and how it was spoiling my favourite genre but still the films just keep on coming and it looks set to be around for a while. The good news is that when you write off a genre completely it gives you the capacity to be genuinely surprised when a really good one comes along. Mr Jones isn’t quite a really good one, it’s still a majorly flawed film but it’s a solid one and has some really great ideas within it which in my book makes it the best of the genre for a while.
The premise is simple, imagine if the Blair Witch was actually an artist along the lines of Banksy and imagine if their artwork as acclaimed and valuable as it was, was actually serving a really important purpose with implications for the entire world. So a couple who have issues head into the wilderness to film a documentary and stumble across this strange cloaked individual nearby and work out who he is and their documentary takes a different angle from there on out.
Mr Jones ups the creep factor using the frame and dark shapes very well without resorting to loud noises or jump scares. Like the recent Banshee Chapter, Mr Jones’ flaws come from loose understanding of what ‘found footage’ actually means, essentially abandoning the format half way through until the ending when it remembers what it is. Mr Jones would have been much better off not using the format at all and letting its story unfold by old-fashioned means but you take what you can get and Mr Jones is actually a genuine surprise for fans of this genre.
Available on Netflix
The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
I like many others, have long been of the opinion that a successful remake should be based on something that wasn’t very good in the first place but had a wonderful premise not done justice first time around.
It may be sacrilege to say this in some circles but Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes was not that great but is widely known and recognised hanks to iconic posters and characters and so of course it was going to get remade. Alexandre Aja was fresh off the hard-core slasher success of Haute Tension (aka Switchblade Romance) and was given the chance to make this redux of the Wes Craven original and what we got was far better than I think anyone was expecting. For a release coming out of one of the big studios, The Hills Have Eyes 2006 is a remarkably savage affair with lots of violence, rape, more violence and a scene where a man holds a gun to the face of a crying baby.
It’s important that films like this don’t just rely on sensationalism for their appeal though and The Hills Have Eyes is never less than compelling and tense with a great soundtrack and some subtext that was very reflective of what was going on in the world at the time (look at what Aaron Stanford’s character does with an American flag at one point). The way in which it changes tack part way through and becomes a weird, gore soaked western is remarkable in that it doesn’t lose the audience at all and continues to impress.
At the present time (I haven’t seen Horns yet) The Hills Have Eyes remains Aja’s best US film to date and proves he is perhaps the best horror director we have working today and someone who understands tone perfectly. In case you’re interested the Aja less sequel to this film from 2007 is also on Now TV but it’s frankly crap and is pure exploitation with no real point.
Available on Now TV
The Beach (2000)
Coming off the disappointment of A Life Less Ordinary and before the triumphant 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle made this adaptation of the popular Alex Garland novel about the backpacking lifestyle and culture and made a film somewhat compromised by the massive popularity of Leonardo DiCaprio at the time. The book is kind of like a Fight Club for the UK youngsters who leave university and head east with nothing but a toothbrush and a pair of flip flops.
Thanks to DiCaprio replacing one time lead Ewan McGregor and a budget bigger than necessary we get an adaptation with less grit, more gloss, a different ending and lots of weird moments reflective of DiCaprio’s popularity at the time with teenage girls (one word: telescope). The problems with this film can be summed up in the fact that there was an All Saints pop single released to promote the film.
Having said that, there is a lot that works in the film. The largely beautiful scenery is breath-taking and you can see yourself being seduced by this if you were in the same situation, capturing that feeling you sometimes get when you wander off the beaten path on holiday in a foreign land, probably not Bognor Regis. DiCaprio’s mental breakdown is pretty convincing as is the occasional sad appearance by Robert Carlyle and the small moments of actual horror are as shocking as necessary. It is a film where you can’t help but think of what might have been though had it not had the weight of its star and is a minor blip on Danny Boyle’s resume.
Available on Now TV
The Truman Show (1998)
Over ten years on Peter Weir’s wonderful media satire still packs a punch as Jim Carrey’s blissfully unaware Truman Burbank comes to realise that the world around him is not what it seems to be and he is in fact the lead in a reality TV show/soap hybrid that the world is watching.
Nobody expected this from Carrey at the time but his performance is wonderful and this truly was his awards moment where he shamefully didn’t win. Carrey is the centrepiece in a film which is thought-provoking, sinister and occasionally creepy, hilarious and finally moving to the point of tears. This was a definite move towards more thoughtful entertainment in the late 90s that would come to a head with The Matrix and Fight Club in 1999 and it’s funny that looking back at the time everyone said this was where we were headed when reality TV was still in its infancy but I doubt anyone could have predicted that we would be in the largely grotesque reality TV space we are in now.
The Truman Show is a film about life and more importantly a film about escape and freedom, themes that remain universal no matter who you are.
Available on Now TV
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Another film that could be considered one of the best of the late 90’s is George Armitage’s black comedy about a troubled hitman who goes back to his hometown for a high school reunion. Perhaps one of the last true cult films, Grosse Pointe Blank became a minor word of mouth hit that came out around the crime film boom of the 90’s post Tarantino but managed to transcend that ghetto with great writing, winning performances and charm all its own.
John Cusack has never been better than he was here, Martin Blank is a typical charming Cusack character but he also has a great deal of regret visible on Cusack’s face and even the way in which he slumps his shoulders following every act of violence that seems unavoidable. Cusack’s supporting cast includes wonderfully unhinged Dan Aykroyd, harassed Alan Arkin, scatty Joan Cusack and even Jeremy Piven in one of his classic best friend roles. Minnie Driver steals the show though, second only to Cusack as a quirky girl you could truly fall for and who would be worth going back to the scene of a crime for.
A sequel was talked about for a while and Cusack claims we sort of got it with the messy War Inc. a few years back but this is one cult film I really hope they don’t sequelise, it’s so unique, so well done and so charming that a sequel would inevitably soil its legacy.
Available on Now TV
Penny Dreadful (2014)
John Logan’s horror fiction LXG a like recently finished its initial 8 episode run and will be back next year. In the meantime Now TV has again made the whole thing available to stream for a while longer. So is it worth you putting the time in?
Well it depends. Do you like great production design, hammy performances and occasional sex and violence? Well then Penny Dreadful might just be enough. The fact remains though that Penny Dreadful has a wonderful premise, some major talent in front of the camera and then does nothing with it. After the high energy first episode all momentum is lost and doesn’t return until episode 8.
It wastes Dorian Gray as a character, and he seems to just appear for other people to have sex with. A welcome Timothy Dalton isn’t given much to do despite his presence carrying the whole thing and only really Eva Green stands out with another mad performance where she gives it her all. There are a lot of pregnant pauses that go nowhere and lots of hints at larger horrors that we never get to see and the very final scene is just sad. It might pick up in season two but for now the jury is out whether this is an attractive time waster or just a waste of time.
Available on Now TV
Available this week for a fee are the following titles:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
I have been known to greet every reception of ‘Best Marvel Movie Ever’ with scepticism and snark due to the fact that on Twitter this reaction seems commonplace after industry screenings of Marvel’s latest blockbuster.
It sets unreasonable expectations that the film can never meet for me. However, in 2014 alone we have had this superb Captain America sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy, two of the best films of 2014 so far, so it’s getting more and more difficult to not join the chorus of praise and hyperbole. The second Captain America adventure ditches the nostalgia of the first movie for something that focusses on the man out of time angle as Steve Rogers finds himself at odds with the paranoia and the security at all costs philosophy of his governmental superiors.
Rogers uncovers a conspiracy and is joined by Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L.Jackson’s Nick Fury as they battle those whom they once worked with in a saga that has huge implications for the cinematic Marvel universe as a whole. The action scenes are stunning, the plot is compelling and Chris Evans and Johansson have wonderful chemistry. Captain America: The Winter Solider is not just a great Marvel movie, it’s a great movie full stop and hopefully this level of quality will continue post Avengers 2 into Captain America 3.
Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/ Virgin Movies/ Amazon/blinkbox
The Quiet Ones (2014)
Hammer studios haven’t really had a good time of it since their return to production late last decade. Wake Wood was a modest video hit, Let Me In flopped despite its quality and only really The Woman in Black became a big hit, on these shores anyway.The Quiet Ones is their latest production and quietly slipped in and out of cinemas in April with nary an eyebrow raised. Its’ surprising that this wasn’t better received as there was nothing else going on horror wise at the flicks at the time and it’s based on an apparent true story where some university students tried to create a poltergeist and uncovered all kinds of darkness in the process. There again The Quiet Ones apparently sat on a shelf since 2012 and probably only appeared now following star Sam Claflin’s appearance as a hunk in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire last year. Probably still worth a look.
Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/Amazon/blinkbo
I can’t decide whether I want to see this or not, the trailer is certainly impressive and it has been well received critically but I have never gotten Mia Wasikowska’s appeal and I have yet to board the Adam Driver in everything train. Still I love people alone against the wilderness stories and this is apparently a good one and director John Curran directed the criminally underrated Stone in 2010 as well which was a film in touch with spirituality despite a thriller outer shell.
Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/Amazon/blinkbox
Alien Abduction (2014)
Apart from imagery involving terrified faces contorted in horror, there is one other thing that scares the pants off me and that is aliens and alien abduction. This is the latest in a long line of found footage horror of course but Alien Abduction centres on just these very concepts and even the trailer alone is a jarring and horrific experience. Some people on IMDB claim this film to be awful but it might skate by on just its premise alone and has to be better than The Fourth Kind if not better than Jason Eisener’s alien segment of VHS 2.
Available on EE/Film4OD/Filmflex/Virgin Movies/Amazon/blinkbox