Apologies to the five or so of you who read this with any regularity, there was no column last week. Day job woes and Christmas combined to stomp my ass into a fug of inactivity in terms of watching and writing about it. Therefore you get a bumper edition this week with two weeks’ worth of content.

In other big news House of Cards returns to Netflix with season two in February and the Turbo super-fast snail animated series, based on that DreamWorks film that recently came out, debuts in December. NOW TV also has you covered during Christmas week by adding a new big title pretty much every day between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, although apart from Elf on Now TV and a dedicated Christmas selection, there is a disturbing lack of Christmas themed films on the other services.

Someone add National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and Gremlins quick!


The Last Stand (2013)

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the cinema in the first part of 2013 was an almighty box office flop. The Austrian Oak followed that up with a film where he co-starred with Stallone and that also died, indicating time has truly moved on.

The Last Stand is a fun, tongue in cheek festival of violence that has a level of self-awareness unseen in most of Arnie’s other work. Regardless of time and reputation, the fact is that The Good, The Bad, The Weird director Kim Jee Woon is just simply one of the best action directors working today and is able to orchestrate adrenaline fuelled scenes which rival Woo or even Spielberg at their peak and all without the assistance of shaky-cam which is sadly a rarity in Hollywood.

The script has plot holes you could drive a high-powered corvette through and some pretty poor dialogue especially around the main character, but it hardly matters when the mayhem is this glorious. I usually hate this term but this is one of those good times where you can just switch your brain off and enjoy.

Available on Netflix

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in This Is 40

This is 40 (2012)

There seems to be two opinions on Judd Apatow’s latest dramedy. 1. It deals with middle class well off people who don’t really have problems so we don’t care and 2. It’s too long.

Point 1 is a disturbing trend that seems to be growing with every ‘FirstWorldProblems’ hashtag on twitter, are we really going to start dismissing all drama because the characters have more money than us? If that were the case then Downton Abbey and Mad Men would be in serious danger of being canned and yet people love it. People is people and problems is problems, everybody is going to hit forty and everyone is going to take stock and maybe struggle on their own terms. The themes of This is 40 are universal.

In terms of it being too long, this is perhaps true but on demand and streaming, the film has perhaps found its natural home and should be received better and still feels shorter than Apatow’s last film Funny People. I liked This is 40, I don’t love it but something about Paul Rudd’s likeability and his challenges here really spoke to me and Leslie Mann is sweet enough and only just bordering on annoying. Overall better than its reception would suggest.

Available on NOW TV


Penthouse North (2013)

Remember when we all thought that Michelle Monaghan was going to be the next Julia Roberts or Sandra Bullock? Well it didn’t quite work out that way, and now she appears in a straight to streaming thriller also starring a manic and bald Michael Keaton.

It’s another home invasion thriller with a twist where Monaghan’s character is a blind woman living in the New York penthouse of her dodgy boyfriend when Michael Keaton and associate thug show up looking for what is owed to them.

The truth is this is actually quite good, director Joseph Ruben is always more reliable working on a smaller scale like this rather than big budget messes like Money Train. Apart from a few clumsy lapses in logic, it’s suspenseful and fun and short and it’s great to see Michael Keaton in a meaty psycho role again.

Available on NOW TV


Broken City (2013)

In many ways Broken City is the most disappointing film I have seen this year, it has all the elements to make it work and yet somehow never comes alive.

Mark Wahlberg playing a flawed and morally dubious person, Russell Crowe plays a nasty political scumbag and Catherine Zeta-Jones features as the femme fatale. On top of this you have Allen Hughes striking out on his own, and since this man was partly responsible for Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, this should have worked wonders. Apart from Wahlberg’s performance, Broken City never rises above mediocre and feels flat and dull.

It tries to be too clever and doesn’t try hard enough at the same time. For a similar thing done miles better seek out Harold Becker’s underrated City Hall from 1996.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon

Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams in Passion

Passion (2012)

Brian De Palma’s latest film, a remake of 2010 French thriller Love Crime, suffered the indignity of going direct to DVD over the summer this year.

The premise was loaded with potential with mis-cast Rachel McAdams playing a real bitch at an advertising agency that manipulates and uses people to get ahead and Noomi Rapace’s possibly disturbed and mousey intern clashing with her.

This premise is tossed aside however in favour of De Palma indulging in the worst of his Hitchcock love fetish even at the expense of sense and reason. Sadly this is more the De Palma that brought us Mission to Mars and Bonfire of the Vanities rather than who directed The Untouchables and Body Double so it is a big disappointment.

The acting is horrible with all the nuance and conviction of a porno and it’s sadly as erotic as a wet biscuit. If you were drunk then this might be some kind of camp classic and could well achieve this status over the next few years.

Available on Netflix

Bill Murray Hyde Park on the Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

Roger Michell’s latest film has Bill Murray playing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and focuses on his relationship with his cousin played by Laura Linney during a royal visit to New York.

Although the film has a great premise and a unique setting before World War 2 changed the world forever, the film lacks focus and drags a bit but is still quite a nice way to spend an hour and change with a great performance from Murray.

Available on NOW TV

Win Win

Win Win (2011)

Writer and director Thomas McCarthy’s latest film is possibly the best thing he has done so far. Win Win is a simple tale of a struggling lawyer who moonlights as a high school wrestling coach and bonds with a potential star athlete from a troubled background.

What McCarthy does better than everyone else is show how people from various backgrounds are thrown together and how their relationships blossom and develop despite social hurdles. With Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Jeffery Tambor and Alex Shaffer, McCarthy has a great cast who really shine in a feel good triumph which definitely deserves your attention.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon

the girl with the dragon tattoo pics 1

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Hopes were high for David Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s popular book which has been a pop culture phenomenon. Apart from a great Fincher title sequence and Rooney Mara’s different take on the Lisbeth Salander character, this version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t really do anything different from the Swedish TV movie original.

It’s still a great story and is handsomely mounted and shot with great performances but I expected more and didn’t really get anything I hadn’t before from the story and the way it was told. Sadly flopped pretty badly which means we miss out on an American version of the next two books in the Millennium trilogy.

Available on Lovefilm/Amazon


Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)

The latest Mission Impossible adventure follows the template that JJ Abrams set up with the third movie and focuses on the team just as much as Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.

Although we get Jeremy Renner’s fun addition to the team we are saddled with a pretty weak villain here who doesn’t hold a candle to Philip Seymour Hoffman from the third movie. Having said that you probably don’t watch these films for their characterisations but rather for the stunning set pieces and here you get a break in to the Kremlin which is tense and hilarious as well as the celebrated and terrifying scale around a bloody great big skyscraper in Dubai followed by a chase through a sandstorm.

Thrilling stuff which sadly the finale doesn’t quite live up to. With Mission Impossible 5 having just been announced for 2015, I hope they can keep up this team template which seems to fit the franchise perfectly rather than the one man show of the second movie.

Available on Netflix

Henry Cavill buffs up for Immortals

Immortals (2011)

Visual craftsman Tarsem Singh brings his gift for framing and baffling costumes to some Greek god tomfoolery and the results are pretty great fun. Although Singh’s previous film was the triumphant The Fall which had some substance to the style, here the substance is dialled back again in favour of the visuals with the performances being pretty hammy and overwhelmed by Mickey Rourke’s psychotic warlord.

If you though 300 was too artificial then this is probably a step up with terrible violence, stylish action and some cracking set pieces. It won’t change your life or anything but Immortals is still a fun two hours of shiny nonsense in sandals.

Available on Lovefilm/ Amazon


Munich (2005)

Back in 2005 Steven Spielberg made two pretty bleak movies during a supposed dark period which probably started with Minority Report in 2002. War of the Worlds is probably the most nihilistic and bleak blockbuster that Spielberg has ever made but was still saddled with a cop-out ending that disappointed many.

No such ending in Munich, Spielberg’s take on the mission of vengeance carried out by Israeli Mossad agents after the killing of their athletes in the Munich 1972 Olympics by terrorists. Eric Bana has never been as alive on-screen as he was here or in Chopper, and the film really shows the toll that the mission takes on the squad assembled as each of them are haunted in their own way.

In the time in which it was made, the message here was probably an important one that largely fell on deaf ears amongst the jingoistic shouting. Still a fine example of Spielberg at the top of his game.

Available on Netflix


Available on the on demand rental services to stream for 24 hours are the following titles:

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

Man of Steel (2013)

Somewhere between hate it and love it lays Zack Snyder’s reboot of Superman. Man of Steel divided opinion so much that I have no idea where the common critical consensus lies anymore.

If you come to it without a pre-formed opinion then I suspect that Man of Steel is enjoyable on a purely aesthetic level because Snyder directs the hell out of an action scene and the flashbacks to Supes upbringing are really moving although sometimes jarring. Then you have one of the most controversial finales in a blockbuster ever, which putting the collateral damage aside, is still kind of a kick in the guts of everything you ever knew about a beloved character.

Still when it happened it made sense in terms of setting up the introduction of another major character from DC lore in further instalments and then of course they announced Batman vs. Superman which is now sadly morphing into a cheap and desperate attempt at Justice League by DC.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin


The Lone Ranger (2013)

This box office catastrophe from earlier this year was seemingly judged on the marketing and who the film’s themes appealed to rather than how the actual film was.

Whilst it’s true that the tone of the film is an absolute freak show, The Lone Ranger is really great, old-fashioned fun with Armie Hammer cutting a dashing figure as the titular lawman and Johnny Depp giving great physical comic relief as his sidekick Tonto.

May well be the most violent film to ever open with the Disney logo but the train sequence finale backed up by the classic theme music is just awe-inspiring stuff.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin


The Conjuring (2013)

Every year or so a horror film comes out that breaks through with the mainstream and ends up taking in a ton of money, it gives horror fans like me a reason to complain about multiplex audiences if nothing else.

The Conjuring even went further than that because rather than another cheap Paranormal Activity knock off we got an honest to goodness great film that was really well made, and so its power came from the skill with which it was carried out and then word of mouth did the rest.

Despite all sorts of discrediting stories about the Warrens coming out over the last few months, The Conjuring is an incredibly tense and scary affair that deserved its big audience and has perhaps done us all a favour by the money it made, showing the big wigs that horror can sell and maybe now we will get the bigger budget horror films like At the Mountains of Madness and Bio-Shock that we all want to see but the studios are reluctant to make.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin


Only God Forgives (2013)

If you only knew the work of Nicholas Winding Refn from Drive, then move along. However if you also saw Valhalla Rising and Bronson and appreciated what you saw, then you may well love this. Only God Forgives makes no concessions whatsoever for the multiplex crowd and is a hypnotic and oppressive, disturbing descent into hell with a trio of great performances at its core.

Much more Takashi Miike or David Lynch than Michael Mann, Winding Refn describes this as really good acid against Drive’s cocaine fix which is probably a good way of looking at it.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin

Chloë Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass 2

Kick Ass 2 (2013)

The sequel to Matthew Vaughn’s DIY superhero triumph was widely panned on release and died on its ass at the box office. Then it strangely appeared as one of Quentin Tarantino’s favourite films of 2013 so far, which probably means people will give a second glance on the home video services.

More clumsy and cheap feeling than the first one, the black humour feels more laboured and crass and somehow it becomes the film that people claimed the first one was without having seen it with none of the loveable anarchy of that film. Perhaps Jim Carrey was right….

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin


2 Guns (2013)

Want a throwback to the 80s/early 90s buddy action movies with witty banter and big stars? 2 Guns has you covered. Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington star as two mismatched lawmen that have to come together when they are forced on the run after not knowing either one was undercover.

Violence, explosions and cool chemistry with the leads, director Baltasar Kormakur does a much more lively job here than he did on Contraband.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin