Best of Digital – Netflix Movies

Icon-Movie-150Carrying on the series from last week’s Best of Digital – Netflix TV Shows, I’d like to highlight a few perhaps hidden gems of Netflix’s movie offerings.

Capote – Writer Truman Capote finds himself in a dance with the devil while researching the Clutter family murders for his masterwork, “In Cold Blood.” It won Philip Seymour Hoffman the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Academy Award in 2006.

Fargo  – When a car dealer conspires with dim-bulb criminals to kidnap his wife for a hefty ransom, a folksy — and pregnant — police chief is on the case. It won 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1997.

Stand By Me – When four boys seek adventure in the woods while looking for a missing teenager’s dead body, they learn some truths about themselves along the way.

Vanilla Sky – A man who has everything — money, good looks and a gorgeous woman — seemingly loses it all when his face is horribly disfigured in a car accident.

Fish Tank – The life of a hot-tempered teen outcast takes an unexpected turn when her mother brings home a handsome and mysterious boyfriend.

The Raid – Trapped in a tenement building during a raid, a SWAT team must fight its way out against the forces of a drug lord they were trying to assassinate.

Battle Royale – The Japanese government introduces a system whereby randomly chosen schoolchildren are taken to an island and forced to fight each other to the death.

Carrie – An outcast teen with telekinetic ability lashes out with her deadly power when the high school “in crowd” torments her with a sick joke at the prom.

The Square – As the Egyptian Revolution unfolds, this 2014 Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature immerses the viewer in the intense emotional drama of young people on the streets of Cairo claiming their rights and creating a society of conscience. As two governments topple, the personal stories of the freedom fighters unfold in an inspiring tribute to the power of citizenship.

TV Review – Penny Dreadful continued

Penny Dreadful - Sir MalcolmThree episodes of Penny Dreadful have aired so far in the UK, one behind the US. Sadly, the promise of the first episode has not quite been maintained. While episode 3, Resurrection, wasn’t as much of a mess as the preceding Séance, the dialogue seemed particularly all over the place. Overall there was a feeling that much scenery was made available for actors to chew, but none of it of any substance. Hence…

Judging by the previews of next week’s episode, the ensemble will soon be complete, and come together at last; and perhaps Josh Hartnett’s character can take another inevitable step along his nigh-literal Hero’s Journey.

TV Review: Penny Dreadful – Episode 1 – Night Work

Penny Dreadful - Vanessa Ives

Showtime’s new show Penny Dreadful has been on my radar for a little while now, and to no great surprise: A Victorian era urban fantasy show, with shades of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Written by John Logan, famed for Sweeney Todd, Gladiator, Skyfall and The Aviator? Starring Eva Green? Directed by J.A. Bayona, best known for The Orphanage? It’s a perfect storm.

Let me put you out of your misery; thanks to Sky and Showtime’s decision to make this show available digitally ahead of its TV release, I have just finished watching it, and it’s very good.

(Aside: We really need to find a better term to call this programming than ‘TV’)

Some mild spoilers ahead.

Penny Dreadful - Ethan ChandlerThe first episode, Night Work, introduces us to the world and begins to introduce its dramatis personæ, through the eyes of Josh Hartnett’s gunslinging ingénue. While he isn’t the focus of the episode, he is shaping up to be the hero of the show. Not in a simplistic way, but he is literally taking the Heroes Journey here, guided by Eva Green and Timothy Dalton’s hooded light.

While his depths are alluded to, what we initially see is his naivety to this world, this Victorian London caught between light and dark. It is his guides that have layers and depths and mysteries to them. Mysteries that, in contrast to a lot of other recent TV shows, I actually care to have revealed. I want to know; but I’m also enjoying not knowing.

The horror tropes, alluded to by the title, are there as expected, some of them pleasantly subverted. But this is not a horror show. It is a mystery show, a Victorian urban fantasy, painted with the palate of horror.

I’ll grant, it’s a well-used palate, and the show borrows heavily, not just from literature, but from past shows. But this League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets From Hell is definitely watchable; even knowing when to lighten things a little, like with a superb turn by Simon Russell Beale.

It’ll be interesting to see how the show develops. It only has eight episodes and there are more major characters to be introduced, all plucked from the pages of Shelley, Wilde, Stoker and their contemporaries. But one episode in, I’m excited for more.

Short Film: The First Step

This review is different to previous short film reviews in two ways: Firstly, I was told about it and given an opportunity to watch it by the filmmaker, Daniel Brown. And secondly, as the aim is for it to be shown at film festivals, the full short film isn’t available to watch online yet. However, here’s the trailer:

tfsteaserposterWritten, directed and edited by Kate McMeans and Daniel Brown of Wide Eyed Pictures, The First Step is a seven minute horror short.

It’s a familiar horror tale, the monster living in the cellar of an old house, the young girl being stalked. Sadly, it’s very familiar indeed, and the main shock or surprise of the short was that there was neither shock nor surprise to be had. The narrative was a straight, and well-telegraphed line, from beginning to end.

However, the production values are high, and the acting solid. Particular praise should also be directed towards the construction and portrayal of the monster, a creepy construct with perhaps a reminiscence of The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. Also, the shot down the staircase is well executed and well used.

As an alternative horror short though, I’d like to recommend David Sandberg’s Lights Out, which even on a re-watch still gives me goosebumps!

Short Film: Lot254

By way of a friend and the Digital Theatre daily short, I was pointed at Toby Meakins’ Lot254, a three-minute horror short.

This film, shot for hundreds, not thousands, and selected for numerous film festivals in 2012, is a brilliantly atmospheric piece. Wonderfully shot and graded, it builds its horror gradually. Even with familiar tropes and ideas the tension builds smoothly, and the pay-off is delivered cleanly.

There are so many excellent short films out there, I’m thinking of finding and highlighting one per week. If you have suggestions or pointers, please get in contact!