Breaking Bad is over and what a finale it was, although it may have been predictable based on what we knew from the flash forward at the start of the season, it still didn’t disappoint and was full of stirring and thrilling moments. More importantly, now that this is over, Netflix crucially need to up their game.

Hansel and Gretel and Texas Chainsaw, two pretty dire entries from earlier this year, just are not going to cut it against Argo and The Perks of Being a Wallflower regardless of who did what at the box office. Netflix seem to have the monopoly on quality catalogue titles this week with some little seen gems with Permanent Midnight and Orange County but this means nothing to the public and mostly registers with nerds like me.

This isn’t a suggestion that the company is in trouble at all but consider what the US version is currently doing, debuting seasons of TV shows 1 month (sometimes less) after the DVD release, whereas in the UK version we are still waiting for season 8 of The Office a full year and change after US broadcast.

When the UK version of Netflix gets up to this level of adding content then it could be a serious contender here but right now Lovefilm/Amazon is regularly beating them in terms of value.

Anyway, no column last week due to holiday and time commitments, so this week you get a bit more than usual….


Argo (2012)

Last year’s big award winner from Ben Affleck deserved all of the praise and plaudits thrown at it. Not only is Argo a thrilling account of a true story that manages to still be tense and exciting despite knowing the outcome but it’s also incredibly well written and funny too.

The true story behind how they got those embassy employees out of Iran is so absurd that it could only ever be true, Affleck and the writers know this and they play along to it giving the characters some great lines and never letting the pace sag so you take stock and realise how daft it all is. It’s a very difficult thing to pull off and walks a line somewhere between political lesson, comedy and thriller and yet somehow it works.

The film also contains some great performances from Affleck himself, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Scoot McNairy as well as a whole heap of familiar supporting players. Funny how quickly everyone forgot the love they had for this film when Affleck was announced as Batman.

Available on Now TV.

Emma Watson & Logan Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

This film written and directed by Stephen Chbosky based on his own novel, was the best teen film from last year.

Set in 1991, the film is very nostalgic but not loaded with Hammer pants, Right Said Fred and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, instead the nostalgia comes from those feelings of being an awkward teenager and not quite fitting in. Then meeting the others that don’t quite fit in either and having that moment where you realise that it doesn’t matter that much.

It also perfectly captures that feeling you get when you are first exposed to the wider world and the cool alternative stuff that you used to have to work hard to find. These days it’s all available at the press of a button of course and no doubt some level of character building has been lost.

The film is perfectly balanced between the wistful nostalgia and the darker parts of growing up and an abuse subplot which isn’t exactly in your face but is just present enough. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller are all perfectly cast here and this will be regarded as a teen classic in a few years and rightfully so.

Available on Lovefilm

Denzel Washington in Flight

Flight (2012)

Robert Zemeckis’ return to live action filmmaking after years in a motion captures studio felt like it was going to be a disaster but luckily it wasn’t. Flight actually contains a nominated performance from Denzel Washington who does very well with pretty slight material.

The film is perfectly watchable and even somewhat compelling but its portrayal of addiction feels a little misjudged. There is one scene where the main character has to prepare for an important court appearance and they pull in his dealer and he ‘gears up’ and gets loaded so he can make it through the day. This is soundtracked like some kind of superhero finding his powers or Arnie or Sly tooling up for the finale of an action flick.

Considering the seriousness of much of the film and the subject matter, this feels a little misjudged and leaves a nasty after taste. Still great plane crash sequence up there with the best.

Available on Now TV.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul in Smashed

Smashed (2012)

From one flawed portrayal of alcoholism to a really great one. Smashed was released here at the tail end of last year with little fanfare.

James Ponsoldt’s film based on Susan Burke’s semi-autobiographical screenplay is not just a study of a young woman recovering from her addiction but also a marriage breaking down. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has rightly won all of the plaudits for her fearless and convincing performance but Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul deserves some acclaim too as her husband, unable or unwilling to see anything wrong with their lifestyle.

When Winstead’s character takes the decision to quit then the cracks start to appear in a relationship built on being permanently wasted and this is what stays with you from the film. James Ponsoldt’s next film The Spectacular Now is apparently even better.

Available on Lovefilm

RZA in The Man with the Iron Fists

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

I seemed to be alone in thinking that this was going to be great and even so, The Man with the Iron Fists remains my biggest disappointment from last year.

RZA’s directorial debut after years of rapping about it and creating Afro Samurai, is obviously wanting to be an old school Shaw Brothers kung fu flick except updated to now with Manga style violence and Ninja Scroll level mutants.

The problem is that the screenplay fatally lacks focus and is too in love with what it is doing to ever really engage. RZA casts himself in the lead which is a big mistake in a film filled with them. There is some fun to be had of course, especially with Russell Crowe as a loud mouthed assassin and some stylish action but it could have been so much more.

Available on Now TV.


Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2012)

Tommy Wirkola’s studio follow-up to Dead Snow is not a good film by any measure but if you sort of squint whilst you are watching it, it does yield some not bad entertainment.

Tonally it’s all over the place with gore, comedy and dark fairy-tale tropes and feels like the bastard offspring of Van Helsing and The Brothers Grimm.

There are one or two chuckles and a couple of cool action scenes but like The Man with the Iron Fists, it feels like a film that is far from being what it could or should have been.

Available on Netflix


Texas Chainsaw (2012)

Notice I am leaving the ‘3D’ off the end of the title, that’s because without that cinematic gimmick this film becomes even worse.

Director John Luessenhop does a solid job of orchestrating the mayhem but the producers and writers outright hate their audience and have nothing but contempt for Tobe Hooper’s legacy. The film acts as a reboot and sets the film after the events of the original (set in 1973) but then goes forward to present day which presents us with a bunch of characters who simply would not exist in their young incarnations.

The gorgeous Alexandra Daddario would be in her forties for example and not the early twenties as presented here and Leatherface would be ancient. Also the less said about the mobile phone camera shenanigans the better.

Somehow all this made it through screenwriting, development and production and nobody stopped and said “Hey, this doesn’t make sense” Avoid.

Available on Netflix

Truth or Dare PosterTruth or Dare (2012)

Every now and then I get wind of a British horror film which comes out stateside a long while before here and gets a certain amount of acclaim with the horror crowd there and then squeaks out some kind of release here.

The latest of these is Truth of Dare which I had heard was an okay straight to DVD effort. Sadly this is not the case and I worry what our American cousins think we are really like based on this.

Truth or Dare is perhaps the most awful British horror film for years; it makes Lesbian Vampire Killers look like The Descent by comparison. Nothing in this film rings true at all, it proposes that university students all talk with massively posh accents but still use terms like ‘Geezer’ and ‘Bruv’ and sit around at parties sniffing nitrous oxide.

None of these characters represent anything I have encountered in my thirty odd years of living here and I just wanted them to all die from frame one which means the other hour and twenty of this dreck is torturous to get through and it doesn’t even have good gore or death scenes. Yes, every now and then we produce a Shaun of the Dead but there is still so much of this level of crap which is rightfully swept under the carpet.

Available on Now TV


Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

Set in 1988, this acts as a prequel to the events of the first two Paranormal Activity films and somehow manages to be the best one.

It’s probably the best because things actually happen in it and it also goes some way to giving an explanation to the events of the other films. The third film feels very much like it wraps things up for the franchise nicely in the same way that Saw 3 did, but of course it was never going to end there so we got a lacklustre fourth film and they are currently messing about with a fifth.

You can still of course watch this, pretend it was the end and then not watch 4,5,6 or 7.

Available on Netflix

The Walking Dead (2)

The Walking Dead – Season 2 (2011-12)

Show runner Frank Darabont was ‘let go’ early on in this series and replaced with someone else who also got fired and as a result the second season of The Walking Dead feels like its treading water for the entire run and lost a lot of fans from the first season.

It follows the comic in that they make it to Hershel’s farm and whilst the comic stayed there for a few issues, the series remains there the entire time and it drags, boy does it drag. The good things about this are Shane and Rick’s developing conflict and Darryl slowly becoming more humanised throughout.

Season 3 improves remarkably but even that has a couple of treading water episodes. Still better than most network shows though even with the lack of forward momentum.

Available on Lovefilm

Melancholia poster

Melancholia (2011)

Love him or hate him, think he just sets out to shock or whether you think he actually has something to say, you can’t deny that Lars Von Trier at least makes interesting films.

Melancholia is actually his best for years and was sadly overshadowed by the director’s big mouth taking all the headlines shortly after its premiere and getting booted out of Cannes. The film is a spot on study of depression and its debilitating effects as a huge Earth like planet collides with our own, the metaphor isn’t subtle but it’s worth noting.

Kirsten Dunst gives a revelatory performance as a woman crippled by her own illness and Charlotte Gainsbourg is just as good as her sister who has it more together until the end comes. Visually stunning and moving, this is great thought-provoking cinema.

Available on Netflix


Faster (2010)

Despite early hype as the next Arnie, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson hasn’t really ever broke through in that mould like many hoped. Sure he was great in Fast Five and the latest GI Joe film but when he is on his own; he hasn’t really managed a great action flick, although Welcome to the Jungle is damn close to brilliant.

Faster goes some way to redressing that balance in that it’s just a pure and unpretentious revenge thriller with The Rock barely speaking as he goes round unleashing vengeance when released from prison.

There is a deleted ending on the DVD that if spliced back into the film would make this even better but as it is it’s merely good and the kind of thing we want more of from Mr Johnson.

Available on Netflix

Permanent Midnight

Permanent Midnight (1998)

Hard to believe now but there was a time when Ben Stiller was really trying to find himself and his on-screen identity as a director, performer or TV comedy star. We didn’t really get the Ben Stiller we know today until There’s Something About Mary and Meet the Parents and he seems set to change perceptions of him again with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Shortly before his breakthrough though, he made a film that has gone relatively unseen on these shores. Permanent Midnight is the true life story of well-paid and acclaimed sitcom writer Jerry Stahl who had a serious heroin addiction. Stiller plays Stahl in a harrowing and tortured performance, the kind that usually gets recognised come awards season due to dramatic weight loss.

As he is on screen the entire time, Stiller really gives it his all and convinces totally with almost no scenes of levity. For anyone that doubts Stiller these days and thinks he is just a performing monkey in studio kids fare, see this film at all costs and see what he is capable of and why he shouldn’t be written off.

Available on Netflix

Orange County

Orange County (2002)

Arriving straight to DVD and bypassing cinemas in the UK ten years ago was this brilliant and funny piece from director Jake Kasdan.

Colin Hanks plays a talented young writer desperate to get into a college and study under his favourite author. Unfortunately everything he does is hampered by a stoner brother, alcoholic mother and bleeding heart girlfriend. Orange County really manages to convey that desperate feeling between school and college where it feels like everyone is pressuring you to do something and you have to make important decisions on a whim. It also does this with excellent supporting turns from Jack Black, Catherine O’Hara and John Lithgow.

Only problem is the film is very short and the characters so sharp that you just want to spend more time with them. Based on this its baffling that Colin Hanks didn’t take the easy route and follow his father’s early footsteps into more comedy but went and started playing creeps instead.

Available on Netflix


Friday (1995)

Director F.Gary Gray’s first film is somewhat different from the rest of his output. Surprisingly co-written by up until this point very serious Ice Cube this is a typical 90s indie in that it follows two no hopers in pretty much one location for the entire film over one day as they talk and encounter all manner of misfits in the hood. Despite dealing with some themes that do not necessarily scream comedy,

Friday is still very very funny and marks a time when Chris Tucker was not annoying and Ice Cube was someone who held so much promise. Somehow this spawned a franchise of decreasing quality and Tucker bailed for the Rush Hour series.

Available on Lovefilm