IW Oh Brother

So as promised I watched the first episode of From Dusk Till Dawn the series and….pretty damn good actually. It starts off with a scene that will come to mean more as the series wears on and which calls back to the second straight to DVD From Dusk Till Dawn sequel Hangman’s Daughter which dealt with the origins of Salma Hayek’s Santanico Pandemonium head vampire character. After this we are back in sort of familiar territory with Don Johnson playing a suitably grizzled and weary Texas Ranger Earl McGraw on the look out for the Gecko Brothers who are on the lam and headed for Mexico.

Basically when it comes down to it, From Dusk Till Dawn is like a faithful adaptation of the original novel that the first film was based on if that were the case and it wasn’t an early Tarantino script. So whole characters and sub-plots from the original are fleshed out with McGraw given a partner and the Richie Gecko character previously played by Quentin Tarantino made even more crazy and prone to hallucinations which will again come to mean more as the story goes on. Robert Rodriguez directs the first episode and although he is remaking himself, it’s the most entertaining and solid thing he has directed for years, which kind of makes you wish he would get back to crime sagas with guns more often.

The entire first episode covers the pre-credit stand-off at the off licence from the original. Zane Holtz is suitably creepy as Richard Gecko and D.J Cotrona does a passable early wobbly head era George Clooney impression as Seth Gecko. Ironically the only times that this show stalls is with the dialogue call backs to the original which completely take you out of the good work that’s being done and make it feel cheap. Is it worth the price of a Netflix subscription? Probably not but it’s much better than it could have been and seems like it’s going to be a belter come episode five or so based on this strong first episode.

In other news, it looks like Amazon Prime is kicking Netflix’s ass on a weekly basis with major content being added to Amazon twice a week and curiously on a Sunday. Netflix has only its original content to defend itself with thus far and needs to up its game.

This week’s new additions of note are as follows:

This is the end

This is the End (2013)

Of all the films that were released last year, so far This is the End is the one that I have probably watched the most. Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s satirical and self-aware comedy horror is one of those comedies that rewards repeat viewings due to its heavily improvised dialogue and actually pretty terrifying view of the rapture and the end of days. This is another film that proves again that Rogen and Goldberg are a couple of smart cookies who take the genre elements as seriously as the laughs and now they are in charge of a celebrated nerd text with Garth Ennis’ Preacher for AMC, it couldn’t be in better hands as far as I am concerned.

Available on Now TV


Mud (2012)

In modern times there are very few directors who take the time to let a story breathe and unfold and there are an abundance who favour style over anything else in our increasingly attention short society. We need filmmakers like Jeff Nichols who with Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter proved that he is a master story-teller as well as a director able to get the best from his actors.

Mud is on the surface a simple old-fashioned story about two kids who encounter a strange loner on an island one summer and help him re-build a wrecked boat as he reveals hidden mysteries about his origins and why he is there. I flat-out love this film, Mud has it all; another winning performance from Matthew McConaughey, a Reese Witherspoon return to form, ace child actors, Sam Shepherd and a story that captures perfectly that age where you receive your first real disappointments and learn about the harsh realities waiting for you in adult life.

It’s on a par and reminiscent of Frank Darabont’s best work and proves that Nichols is one of the smartest and most interesting directors working today.

Available on Amazon Prime

Brad Pitt in World War Z

World War Z (2013)

First thing you should know is I am one of the angry nerds who read Max Brooks source novel which was very very clever and watched it have 300 million chucked at it when it’s fairly obvious that to re-create the book on-screen you could do it faux documentary style at a budget well under a million. Anyway how is the film? Well if you don’t normally watch zombie films and like Brad Pitt then it’s probably entertaining enough but even at this level it has massive problems.

The allegedly troubled productions biggest problem is its weak script which just has Pitt travelling to different parts of the world, that part is overrun by zombies and then he is on a plane and off to somewhere else, all a bit boring and repetitive really until the desperate search for a cure in a rundown lab which gets fairly tense. The relatively bloodless nature of the zombie attacks is going to anger most over 20 but it might serve as a good introduction to better films for anyone under 15.

Available on Now TV


Before Midnight (2013)

I like Richard Linklater as a filmmaker. This is a guy going to extreme lengths and doing some pretty out there things just to produce something interesting like the forthcoming Boyhood and A Scanner Darkly from 2006 and even if the end results are not always the equal to their execution they are always fascinating.

I have to shamefully admit that I have never seen any of this trilogy starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy but people seem to love it and people went gaga over this third film last summer which looks at a once touching relationship in its late summer/autumnal period.

Available on Now TV


Crawlspace (2012)

This is one of those straight to DVD horror sci-fi films that I know I have seen but I remember almost nothing about it. It’s a Resident Evil/Aliens type of thing with a bunch of soldiers sent to Australian Area 51 at Pine Gap to investigate why they have lost contact. It’s fairly low-budget but gets around it by just having actors crawl endlessly around identical looking air vents and corridors with the poor special effects kept in the shadows.

Available on Now TV

American Horror Story (1)

American Horror Story: Season One and Two (2011-12)

There is a side of me that knows American Horror Story is the most cynically awful TV show for quite some time. Season one starts quite well, building the mystery and the reveals and it’s actually quite compelling TV before running out of steam and having multiple natural ending points. I enjoyed it despite it having blatantly gratuitous elements designed to get ratings.

In season two however it becomes painfully obvious that Glee creator Ryan Murphy has no actual idea about horror aside from what he has googled and is just throwing a bunch of stuff that’s outrageous up on-screen with no real rhyme or reason making the whole thing a massive chore to get through. Season one centres on a house and its bad history, season two centres on an insane asylum and has possession, Nazis, frustrated nuns, rape, alien abduction and serial killers all with little coherence or sense and it truly is a case of the emperor’s new clothes with so much going on that none of it ever sticks. Somehow as the seasons wear on Murphy is attracting more and more talent which is then wasted. Watch season one and then don’t bother with the rest.

Available on Netflix


Homeland: Season One and Two (2011-12)

Another popular show that ran out of steam too soon. Admittedly I watched the whole of season one and then four episodes of two and lost interest but season one is actually pretty damn good. Homeland presents a couple of fascinating characters, an emotionally troubled but brilliant CIA analyst played by Clare Danes and a haunted heroic soldier who has gone over to the terrorists way of thinking and converted played by Damian Lewis. It’s gripping intelligent stuff with some of the

tensest scenes I can recall since the heyday of 24. So then season two ends up playing its hand far too early and torpedoing its gripping central conundrum and it never recovers. From what I understand it gets even worse in later seasons too. Again, watch season one and forget all about it.

Available on Netflix


Safe House (2011)

When this film was released, somebody wrote a piece about how Safe House represented Denzel Washington entering into the Harrison Ford in his sixties phase of his career where he just looks bored and isn’t even trying, I don’t think that’s necessarily true because he followed this up with Flight and 2 Guns but the bored feeling is more a reflection of the actual film itself. The trailer was great and promised an adrenaline fuelled action romp but the actual execution is flat and uninspired. It has some good moments but there really is a great action movie hiding in here somewhere which never sees the light of day.

Available on Amazon Prime

Assault on Precinct 13

Assault on Precinct 13 (2005)

John Carpenter’s original Assault on Precinct 13 was one of those seminal viewing experiences when I caught it on BBC2’s Moviedrome when I was 11. It was a stylish and violent exercise in menace and was truly an influential experience as much of Carpenter’s early work was. The inevitable remake wasn’t one I was looking forward to necessarily but then early word was strong, the actual film turned out to be a complete surprise but not many people ended up seeing it.

Jean Francois Richet’s film moves the action from LA to a soon to be closed precinct in ghost town Detroit and has Ethan Hawke play a haunted sergeant who is thrown into chaos when his station takes custody of a cop killing gangster played by Laurence Fishburne who some corrupt cops want dead. Although stylistically time has moved on from the original this has wonderful tension, characters and well executed action and is actually pretty bad ass in a way that a lot of action cinema doesn’t quite get. Also the writer is one James De Monaco who would go on to do The Purge which feels much like someone trying to do early Carpenter in the modern age and not quite getting it.

Available on Now TV

Matchstick Men

Matchstick Men (2003)

Ridley Scott sadly seems to be losing his touch more and more as time goes on with his last two films being big disappointments (yes, even Prometheus) which makes me fear for the threatened Blade Runner sequel. Later this year he will be back on more familiar territory with the epic Exodus but ten years ago he was still stepping out of his comfort zone and sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Matchstick Men is Sir Ridders on unfamiliar ground in a comedy/noir/con-artist caper of a film with an excellent Nicolas Cage as an OCD criminal and a delightful Alison Lohman as his apparently estranged daughter. It’s witty, thrilling and really well written but has a fatal flaw that holds it back from greatness and that is the all too familiar studio cop-out ending which ruins it. Still Matchstick Men is pretty underrated and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it already.

Available on Amazon Prime


The X-Files (1998)

During the peak of its 90s popularity, Chris Carter’s televisual phenomenon went into feature film mode and the first X-Files film debuted amongst a crowded summer marketplace that included Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show and Armageddon. It did okay business but wasn’t necessarily the bonanza they were hoping for that would turn it into a Star Trek style movie franchise and it would be ten years before Mulder and Scully would appear in the cinema again in a woeful and undercooked sequel.

Anyway the first movie is surprisingly cinematic with the big screen giving director Rob Bowman the opportunity to do some big set pieces and there are some really terrifying alien creatures with a fairly gory birth process along with an epic Antarctica set finale. Contrary to popular opinion I also think you don’t necessarily have to have seen the show to watch this, although it definitely helps.

Available on Now TV

Batman BTS

Batman (1989)

I would agree that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy remains the definitive Batman on film for now, but I find I go back to Tim Burton’s proto comic book blockbuster every couple of years, partly out of nostalgia and partly because I actually like it. It’s probably hard for anyone to understand who didn’t live through it but the first Batman surfed a wave of hype and marketing that had never been seen before with Batman and the Joker appearing everywhere, in toy shops, on underwear, massive posters, in Prince albums etc, there was no escaping it and it’s why even now almost every big summer release has some action figures being produced for it somewhere even if the film tanks.

Tim Burton’s Batman is interesting because it’s less Burton and more influenced by Frank Miller’s work with the character and is much grander and operatic that any other interpretation of the character. Common consensus was that Jack Nicholson’s Joker overran the film but I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this, the Joker gets the best lines but Michael Keaton is brilliantly brooding and menacing as both Bruce Wayne and Batman but its clear Burton would like him to be a freak 24-7. It’s hard to believe you haven’t seen this but here it is just in case. As a side note, if you have the time it’s worth looking for Sam Hamm’s original screenplay online and giving it a read as it manages to portray Batman more as Frank Miller’s psycho and even introduces Robin, it’s essentially the same just more violent.

Available on Amazon Prime

batman returns

Batman Returns (1992)

Tim Burton’s sequel to his massive first caped crusader movie is an altogether different affair from Batman. The studio mandated blockbuster tropes are dialled down and the Burton love affair with freaks and the weird is turned way up into something that caused a fair amount of outrage at the time but is now quite fondly remembered. The two villains that Batman faces here are Catwoman, memorably played by Michelle Pfeiffer with serious S&M undertones and Danny DeVito’s pervy disgusting orphan The Penguin. The Penguin’s plot to become the mayor is straight out of the 60s camp TV show and he is aided by Christopher Walken’s ghoulish Max Shreck.

This time around Batman is given a fairly low priority and Burton gets his wish with Bruce Wayne seeing something of himself in the villains he faces. You could argue for days over whether this film is better than the first Batman film, it doesn’t feel as grand and feels very much like it’s all filmed on an indoor set but it’s worth watching if only for the fact that it was one of the few times a major studio let a director put such a personal stamp over a big summer tentpole for better or worse. Plus Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin are available on Amazon now as well and frankly they make this look like Nolan’s films anyway.

Available on Amazon Prime

Pay Per View

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


Veronica Mars (2014)

I have never seen a single episode of this much missed and celebrated TV series but I have friends who love it. This is the film that is the end result of the much talked about kick-starter campaign from last year which could be a sign of things to come and true fan interaction. What’s more important to me here is how this film has been released. Its official cinema release was last Friday but I couldn’t find a single cinema showing it locally but regardless here it is ON DEMAND for a slightly higher price than your standard rental and to that I say YES!

This is how it should be done on an increasing basis here in the UK and how things are getting a fair shake stateside for a while now whilst we lag behind and some cool stuff is left in limbo. All distributors of mid budget and experimental fare should be looking at this model and adapting it because ultimately it’s you who are losing out on money after all because your true film fan will find it elsewhere.  I should also mention in fairness that Curzon Cinemas has been doing a wonderful job with on demand art house stuff for a while but it has been the only outlet and that just won’t do.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin Movies/Amazon/Blinkbox


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

There was a lot of talk on release about how this second film in the Hunger Games quartet was a better film than the first; I am still undecided about this mainly because I still have a lot of love for the first film. What is clear is that director Francis Lawrence is a much better suited director to the material than Gary Ross was and the action sequences towards the end with Katniss and Peeta forced into a second go round of death and mayhem is shot much better with less emphasis on shaky cam.

I think the main problem with Catching Fire lies with the source novel and it feels like two separate films mashed together with the fascinating and tense conspiracy thriller of the first half stitched messily to the re-tread of the first movie in the second half. Still this introduces a whole bunch of new characters who are infinitely more interesting than anyone in the first film including an enjoyably nuts Jena Malone and the dashing Sam Claflin. Now also sadly one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances and his scenes with evil Donald Sutherland are brilliant.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin Movies/Amazon/Blinkbox


Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

This French love story based on a comic *cough* graphic novel has met with a fair share of controversy. First it debuted to much acclaim at Cannes last year and then its actresses went and turned around to slate its director and then the creator of the graphic novel went and poo pooed the film as well. What remains is the critical consensus that this is a really wonderful and powerful look at love which even at three hours long is never less than compelling and thoughtful.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin Movies/ Amazon/Blinkbox

Michael Fassbender in The Counsellor

The Counsellor (2013)

One of the big disappointments from last autumn was Ridley Scott’s latest film based on a Cormac McCarthy screenplay. It has all the doom laden philosophical dialogue you could hope for except that as a screenplay its proof that novel writers cannot necessarily do both and Scott seems really ill-suited and out of touch to really do anything memorable with it apart from point the camera at good-looking people and let them mumble on. Probably the only reason this isn’t as beloved/derided as cult sensation The Room at this point is because nobody saw it at the cinema, well now here you are! A Prince Charles quote along lies somewhere in the future…

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin Movies/Amazon/Blinkbox

Cabin Fever 3 Blu-ray

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2013)

Oddly looking forward to this even though I probably will end up disappointed. The first Cabin Fever was Eli Roth’s fun if overrated debut film which had a suitably skin crawling subject matter. The second was a fun and somewhat underrated film by Ti West who seems to resent the whole experience. This third movie is a reboot starring Sean Astin which goes back to the origins of the flesh-eating virus in the Caribbean. The director is Kaare Andrews who used to work for Marvel comics and directed the tentacles in the sky horror Altitude so it should at least be competent.

Available on EE/Film4OD/Virgin Movies/Amazon/Blinkbox