28 Nov 2023

ThreeNow: Is there anything for film lovers?

From Widescreen, 1:15 pm on 28 November 2023

The free streamer has had a facelift, with performance and reliability improvements, but has the feature film offering also improved, asks Dan Slevin.

Movie still from the 1988 comedy Beetlejuice featuring Michael Keaton

Photo: Warner Bros.

ThreeNow, the local free streamer owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, recently received a facelift making it easier to navigate and discover content. I wanted to see if that also meant any extra commitment to feature films that could make the service a regular destination for movie fans who are looking for an ad-supported competitor to the likes of Netflix and Prime Video.

At time of writing TVNZ+ has a top-level menu tab for movies and offers 271 films that once upon a time played theatrically in New Zealand.

Māori+ has 65 features that either played theatrically or in film festivals.

ThreeNow has four. One of those is the 2022 kiwi drama Muru which was part-funded by NZ On Air thanks to a broadcast commitment from Three. So they have skin in that game.

That leaves three titles, which is lucky because when I do these articles about streaming services I like to choose three films to recommend. Luckily, all three get a tick from me.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Movie still from Tim Burton's 1988 comedy Beetlejuice featuring Michael Keaton

Photo: Warner Bros.

Tim Burton’s smash-hit horror-comedy turned Michael Keaton from character actor and comedian into a fully-fledged star, leading the way to two Batman pictures and eventually a Golden Globe as another costumed hero in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) in 2014.

The stars at the time, though, were Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis who played a recently deceased married couple enlisting Keaton’s disruptive ghoul to help scare the new occupants of their house. The role was originally written for Sammy Davis Jr. but Keaton steals the film so completely, you would swear there could never be another actor in the role.

This was also the first significant credit for Winona Ryder, who plays their daughter, and she became one of the ‘it’ girls of the early 90s.

Beetlejuice is a reminder of how weird Tim Burton could be in his early career and also how box office success can often come along when you least expect it. More than 35 years later and Beetlejuice 2 is finally in production with Burton and most of the original cast taking part.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

Kirsten Dunst, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in a scene from the film 'Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles', 1994. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Photo: Warner Bros.

Made in 1994 when Neil Jordan was the hottest director in town (after The Crying Game) and producer David Geffen could just about afford the huge fees for co-leads Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, Interview with the Vampire was another big hit.

Adapted from the books by Anne Rice, Pitt and Cruise play vampires – and very close friends – who negotiate their way through two centuries of history, leaving plenty of carnage and broken hearts in their wake.

More psychologically sophisticated than it has a right to be, but still played at a suitably high pitch to match the gothic trappings, there’s a decent amount of practical gore thanks to effects maestro Stan Winston.

Fans of Rice’s books – and they are legion – will only be partially satisfied, as so much of the world she created has to be jettisoned to make the two-hour duration but if you have no stakes – so to speak – the film is an evocative and atmospheric undead melodrama and even with all that melancholy the actors – especially Cruise – look like they are having fun.

V for Vendetta (2006)

Movie still from the 2006 thriller V for Vendetta

Photo: Warner Bros.

Another big hit that could easily have gone either way, V for Vendetta is an adaptation of Alan Moore’s heavily political graphic novel series about the battle to overthrow a fascist regime in Britain. Moore (Watchmen) wasn’t a fan of the adaptation, and refused to take a credit or payment for it, but the film stands on its own two feet thanks to the involvement of many of the Matrix team including screenwriters and producers The Wachowskis.

Natalie Portman stars as Evey, a young woman whose family has suffered at the hands of the government and finds herself embroiled in the terrorist activities of a mysterious masked figure known as ‘V’. The famous Guy Fawkes mask that V wears to hide his identity (among other things) has been adopted by resistance movements the world over, demonstrating the continued influence of both the film and graphic novel.

I remember really enjoying the film first time around but I wonder whether it will land quite as solidly in our current political environment. I suspect it would.

One thing I didn’t know until researching this article was that Hugo Weaving wasn’t the first choice for the role of V. Indeed, James Purefoy shot the first six weeks of the film but because of the mask, you can’t tell when it’s him or when it’s Weaving.

You can find the feature film collection at ThreeNow here. With luck, new titles from the Warner Bros. catalogue will be added in 2024 as the platform is quite a good one now.

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