So here we are in Christmas week, most of the usual streaming companies have done well for you so that you won’t be too bored post turkey when you have to tolerate the family. Apart from Now TV though, there is still a serious lack of Christmas themed films out there which is a disappointment unless you really like the Santa Clause movies because they are floating around Netflix somewhere.

Good news for 2014 though is that House of Cards season two debuts on Netflix in February and also the Breaking Bad/Bob Odenkirk spin-off “Better Call Saul” is going to make its way to Netflix at some point during the year as well. Netflix has agreed a deal where they will stream the show very soon after season one ends on AMC stateside but in Europe they will be the exclusive home of the show. This probably means that similar to what they did with the last season of Breaking Bad, we will get the episodes the day after their stateside airing. Good news for Netflix subscribers and a sign that things are changing even more as we head into 2014.

This week’s titles of note are as follows:

Ben Kingsley Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Vying for the title of best blockbuster of 2013 is this third stand-alone Iron Man feature from the Marvel studios stable. The wonderful thing about this film is it’s free from the shackles that the previous two films suffered with, meaning that it doesn’t have to build up towards another Avengers film. There are references here and there but this is mainly the Tony Stark show and is all the better for it. The other ace up its sleeve is Shane Black, the much-loved writer of Lethal Weapon and the director of the eternally underrated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The screenplay is as witty and as exciting as you would hope with Stark being brought low by new enemies and his past and using his wit and intelligence rather than the hardware for a good portion of the film and it’s refreshing. There are a couple of big twists and reveals that were major gambles and probably had the suits at Marvel sweating a bit, but Black pulls them off in a film which shows that Marvel is still taking more risks than anyone and pulling them off to the tune of a billion dollars. Like all of Blacks work, also takes place at Christmas, which fits.

Available on NOW TV


OZ: The Great and Powerful (2013)

Back when I saw this at a preview in March in the now sadly gone main screen at the Empire Leicester Square, the 3D was probably the best I had seen up to that point and I have no doubt it coloured my opinion. I loved this film on that first go round even though I still think James Franco was slightly miscast in the lead. For all those that moan how Sam Raimi sold out, you might be surprised to learn that this film shares the same plot more or less beat for beat with Army of Darkness; even so it will likely feel more episodic than before on the small screen without the wow factor. Visually the film was splendid with an amazing porcelain doll character and all the colour and flying monkeys you could hope for. As far as I remember, this made some serious money too and yet we haven’t heard a peep about another film in the franchise. A perfect family Christmas experience without actually involving Christmas.

Available on NOW TV


The Look of Love (2013)

The prospect of Steve Coogan and Michael Winterbottom re-uniting to tell an era specific tale was an enticing one after the superb Madchester evocation in 24 Hour Party People ten years ago. Here they chose to tackle the story of pornographer Paul Raymond who changed a specific corner of London and attitudes to sex in the country forever. The problem is that Raymond’s story is one dominated by tragedy where the good times and his relationships yielded casualties very close to the man. So an air of melancholy dominates the film pretty much the whole way through. The eventual outcome is hinted at through the editing choices at the start of the film. With a bit more consideration in terms of the way time was presented and how the film was put together, this could have been a very British version of Boogie Nights. Even the comedy parts are dominated by this air of sadness and so the film becomes something of a drag despite a great Coogan performance and the spot on period detail.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon


Aftershock (2012)

Nicholas Lopez and Eli Roth’s Chilean disaster movie is an extremely frustrating experience. On one hand the disaster elements are often thrilling and superbly done despite the low-budget. On the other hand the film has the usual Roth set up with a bunch of horny douchebags thrust into a terrible situation with crass sexual comedy. Once the earthquake hits and a group of prisoners escape, then the film becomes a mean-spirited slog with rape and murder scenes that leave a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s a shame because the film is brilliant at a few points (a cable car crash scene for one) and had it made more of a distinction towards disaster thriller rather than horror then it could have been more memorable.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon

Wreck-It Ralph in Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck it Ralph (2012)

Disney’s CG animated effort from last year that isn’t a Pixar movie is something of a major triumph for the studio. Playing out like a video game version of Toy Story, Wreck it Ralph finds the titular Donkey Kong like character learn to love himself and nearly pull apart the video game universe in the process as he crosses over into other games. You can tell that the premise is stretched to the limit by the writers in the way they quickly get Ralph into the Sugar Rush game where he spends most of the film, but it hardly matters when you get all the iconic video game characters from the last thirty years popping up which must have been a licensing nightmare of Roger Rabbit proportions. Aside from playing spot the reference, the film is also a lot of fun with some great characters and some great set pieces too which make the most of video game physics and iconography as well as a touching friendship at the heart of the film. Wreck it Ralph is that rare film that has something for the kids of today but also seems majorly geared toward the nostalgic thirty something parent too. More like this please Disney…

Available on NOW TV


Tower Heist (2011)

Does what it says on the tin, there is a tower and there is a heist and because it’s directed by Brett Ratner, you aren’t getting any more than that. A seriously missed opportunity with some major comedy names like Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda just going through the motions in a by the numbers and lifeless affair which even fluffs its timely sticking it to the 1% fat cat message. Unless you’re already in a coma on Christmas day afternoon then it’s probably something you can afford to skip.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon

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Dexter – Season 7 and 8 (2012-2013)

After eight years Dexter comes to an end and seems to have disappointed a great many. I think like many of the fans who sat riveted to Dexter throughout the first seven years even through the rocky parts, I was disappointed by the final season and where the show ended up. I still think that Dexter’s problems all stemmed from having a ‘writers room’ rather than one creative visionary steering things forward. This resulted in a show that was too scared to shake up the formula or change the game even in spite of some tragedy and major drama along the way giving ample opportunity for this. The natural ending which you could be forgiven for thinking you would get to this saga, doesn’t ever materialise and the final season feels very much like treading water, even failing to really ever live up to the finale of season seven. There is a fairly dramatic ending but everything that precedes it feels so forced and unlikely that it feels unearned and fails to have the impact it should have. There is one minor scene which feels like the kind of pay off eight years of viewing would lead to, but it’s so minor and so badly done that it’s just an insulting afterthought. Still most of season seven is solid entertainment even if it does reveal that the Miami homicide department is the dumbest bunch of cops in the history of television.

Available on Netflix

Near Dark 3

Near Dark (1987)

Before she started to win Oscars with films tackling the war on terror, Kathryn Bigelow tackled vampires, dirty, grungy vampires in the American Midwest. Near Dark is something of a minor classic and harkens back to a time when B Movies like this would get a decent cinema release whereas now they go direct to DVD at Asda (see below). Unfairly overshadowed by The Lost Boys at the time, Near Dark presents its vampires as a bunch of outlaws who just crave blood without fangs or shiny eyes and live by night with heightened senses. It also shares some DNA with Bigelow’s Point Break in that a young man is seduced into their way of life and bonds with them even though he knows the relationship and way of life is doomed. Great performances from James Cameron stalwarts Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein and violent in a way that few films manage these days. I love the fact that a few years back this was re-packaged so the cover art looked like Twilight; this has probably inadvertently changed some youngsters viewing habits for the better or scarred them for life.

Available on Lovefilm / Amazon

The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Only in the 80s could a film such as The Last Starfighter be made and exist in a manner that would be taken seriously. I still remember clearly the big green box with the gorgeous cover art in my local video shop, Middlesex Video!  Anyway The Last Starfighter concerns a kid at a trailer park who is a whizz at their one arcade cabinet and when he gets a record score he is whisked away to another galaxy in order to defeat a Darth Vader like super villain because the arcade machine was a front for recruitment to the rebellion. Blending elements of Tron with Star Wars seems to sing box office winner but unfortunately this failed to make an impact financially despite being a film which was the first to use CGI in its space battles. The Last Starfighter may be fairly era specific but it’s still full of charm, wit and is briskly paced. Whatever happened to writer / director Jonathan Betuel? Between this and My Science Project it feels like he could be making a killing now when this retro stuff is back in vogue.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon



Available on this week on the rent for 24 hours and pay once services are the following titles:


Elysium (2013)

One of the biggest disappointments of 2013 was Neill Blomkamp’s follow up to District 9. Elysium is in no way a bad film but it’s just a good action film and the subtext never really comes through in the way that made District 9 so memorable. Matt Damon plays an exploited worker on a ruined Earth who ends up terminally ill and makes a desperate bid to get to the space station where the super-rich live in order to cure himself. It’s visually stunning and action packed and Blomkamp films violence and hardware in a way that nobody else is doing currently, it’s just missing that spark that would have pushed it over the edge and Jodie Foster’s performance is odd to say the least.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies/Blinkbox


Upstream Color (2013)

As of time of writing, Shane Carruth’s follow up to Primer is my favourite film of 2013. Upstream Color is even more obtuse than Primer but a very different beast. Whereas Primer demanded some level of participation as the audience tried to keep up and figure out the time travel mechanics, Upstream Color is more poetic and is best enjoyed as an experience to let wash over you much like David Lynch’s more recent work. At its core Upstream Color is a love story that asks questions about fate, destiny and what is pre-determined and whether or not you should rebel against life’s grand plan. These are big questions and questions that I hope Carruth continues to ask in a career that is still just getting started.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies

Pain and Gain Poster

Pain and Gain (2013)

Michael Bay proved with Pain and Gain that he is incapable of making anything which is low-key and more considered with less money than he is used to. This was supposed to be Bay’s True Romance but he isn’t capable of taking a great script and making it anything less than loud and trashy. Pain and Gain is the true story of three lunkheaded body builders who decide to take the American dream for themselves without any of the intelligence to pull it off. Truthfully I like the film quite a bit, it’s loud and crass and threatens to become obnoxious constantly, but it’s also very good dark comedy with great performances from Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie and a revelatory Dwayne Johnson who is given some great scenes to exercise his considerable acting chops.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies/Blinkbox

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Lovelace (2013)

In a manner similar to The Look of Love, the story of Linda Lovelace and Deep Throat is one loaded with tragedy and behind the scenes horror and the film is overwhelmed by this even though what happened in real life is way more disturbing than the highlights reel we get here. Perhaps there should not be any balance between lightness and horror in Linda Lovelace’s story and perhaps it is best served as a cautionary tale, Even so directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman direct with little purpose and despite a great scumbag performance by Peter Saarsgaard and a good Amanda Seyfried as Lovelace herself, the film feels like it has too many scenes of stock Italian American character actors standing around talking when they should be providing some subtext to what Lovelace would later turn her back on and campaign against. Lovelace feels like a film compromised at the editing stage when somehow 30 minutes disappeared, how else to explain such minor inconsequential appearances by Robert Patrick, Sharon Stone, Hank Azaria, Adam Brody and Juno Temple. Someday someone will tell this story properly, just not now.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies

Frances Ha

Frances Ha (2013)

Perhaps the best film director Noah Baumbach has made so far, Frances Ha is completely different from any of his previous work and recalls old school Woody Allen but blends it with the modern-day aimless hipster movement to create something delightful. Greta Gerwig plays Frances, a New York based dancer who isn’t actually that great at dancing and who is too nice for her own good. The film simply follows Frances through a year or so of her life and it’s a whimsical and free-falling delight. One of those rare films that has a can’t put your finger on it quality where it should be terrible but somehow becomes the most likeable film of the year.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies


The Frozen Ground (2013)

This based on true life story of serial killer Robert Hansen who murdered prostitutes in Alaska for years before he was caught, suffers from a similar problem as Lovelace where it feels like it really needed an extra twenty minutes to breathe and become memorable but is in too much of a rush to the finish line. Nicolas Cage is fine as the cop on Hansen’s trail but it’s John Cusack as a driven maniac and Vanessa Hudgens as his damaged last intended victim who really shine in the film with great performances that feel like they belong in a better movie.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies/Blinkbox

John Dies

John Dies at the End (2012)

Finally after all the festival showings and debuting as an Asda DVD exclusive, the whole country can now see Don Coscarelli’s demented B movie which is a true one-off. Based on the cult sprawling novel by David Wong, this doesn’t so much adapt the whole book as the important central 300 pages or so. Talking dogs, meat monsters, other dimensions and sentient reality warping drugs are all included and even if the leads are not quite the sharp vintage Kevin Smith slacker wits of the book and they literally run out of money and can’t do the finale justice, it’s still a very fun and inventive hour and a half. You might not like John Dies at the End, you might bemoan its low-budget not matching its ambitions but I can guarantee that you have never seen anything quite like it. If there is such a thing as a cult film anymore, then this truly fits the mould.

Available on Film4OD/EE/Virgin Movies