Happy Fourth of July Weekend! We hope you’re making the most of the summer weather and enjoying a fair share of barbeques, beers, and beach time. However, if you feel like stepping away from the UV for an hour or two and relaxing inside with a good flick, we would like to provide a few timely suggestions. There’s, of course, the Independence Day-themed selection for your patriotic viewing pleasure. Similarly, several documentaries that acutely capture American topics and people, and both celebrate and question what it means to be a United States citizen, appear here. And in honor of this weekend’s blockbuster release, “The Lone Ranger,” we are recommending a throwback from the early days of Johnny Depp‘s career, in case you can’t remember what he looks like without heavy makeup and a wig. Relish the long weekend, cinephiles, whatever you choose to do, and let us know what you think of our streaming selections in the comments section below.
What It’s About: With a move to the English countryside and a fixer-upper of a cottage, the happily married Dawn (Claire Foy) and David (Benedict Cumberbatch) are ready to start a family. But, as with so many well-laid plans, it just isn’t meant to be. David’s brother, Nick (Shaun Evans),
a war veteran suffering from posttraumatic stress, surprises the couple
with a visit. Before long, he is revealing a complicated and suspicious
family past quite unknown to Dawn, and she begins to question whether
she really knows her husband at all.
Why You Should Stream It: It’s not always easy to keep a struggling couple looking realistic, but first time director D. R. Hood
manages to elicit subtle but extremely powerful performances that are
reinforced by a high-tension script that relies heavily on subtext (and
in a good way). Moreover, Foy gives a heartbreakingly believable
performance and Cumberbatch offers his usual level of excellence, his
penchant for inscrutable facial expressions serving the character of
David as well. A faintly haunting score merging with the film’s
evocative and hazy look deepen the sense of uncertainty to great effect,
the audience left as lost as the heroine.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
“Born on the Fourth of July” (1989)
What It’s About: In 1960s suburban New York, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) is proud to be an American. He reveres President Kennedy, shares his birthday with the United States and, desperate to serve his country, enlists in the Marines directly out of high school. However, after a firefight in Vietnam leaves him paralyzed from the mid-chest down, the soldier returns home to family, friends, and a country that he no longer recognizes or understands, and with whom he has no place. As he struggles to rebuild his life, Kovic begins to see the illusions and dangers inherent in his patriotism and joins other veterans in their anti-war efforts.
Why You Should Stream It: Based on the best-selling autobiography, “Born on the Fourth of July” was co-written by Kovic and the film’s director, Oliver Stone (also a Vietnam veteran). As a semi follow up to the latter’s 1986 Oscar-winner “Platoon,” the violence, guilt, pain, and lost innocence of the Vietnam War are also present with striking intensity and harrowing realness here, anchored by a simply astounding, Academy Award-nominated performance from Cruise. The film was nominated for six other Oscars, and won Stone a Best Directing statue. Finally, of course, it’s Independence Day — a celebration of American freedoms. And Tom Cruise’s transformation from a decorated soldier to a countercultural figure fighting the man provides an accurate and inspiring representation of just how much freedom we enjoy here in the good old U.S. of A.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
What It’s About: 1,400 close-knit, proud, hard-working citizens populate the coal-mining town of Oceana, West Virginia…and many of them are addicted to OxyContin and other prescription pills. What was ingested into the community as a remedy for the grueling physical work in the mines has become an abused substance, one that has ruined countless lives and threatens to decimate more. Footage of the neglected neighborhood backgrounds share histories from current and recovering addicts alike: the power of the drug quickly becomes apparent as the disintegration of Oceana is shown to coincide with rising use of OxyContin. Family members and local police officers also have a chance to comment, making it known that their love for the town and all its residents — and their hope that the situation will eventually improve — providing them with the will to remain there.
Why You Should Stream It: At this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, “Oxyana” won a Special Jury Mention and director Sean Dunne, who has previously enjoyed success helming documentary shorts, won Best New Documentary Director. Our review from that festival called the doc “unwavering and unflinching,” concluding, “it’s a pained and uncompromising look at horrors that have decimated a community, and while raw-nerved and difficult to stomach at times, Dunne’s respectful ability to never look away from these harsh realities is what makes the doc so vital, powerful and striking.” While no less important than films examining the macro story of the war on drugs, the smaller scale of this particular portrait of addiction may hit closer to home and prove more affecting.
Where It’s Available: Vimeo
What It’s About: It’s 1954 in Baltimore. Cars are fast, hair is greasy, Elvis is king. Pretty boy Wade Walker (Johnny Depp), nicknamed Cry-Baby for his trademark ability to shed a single tear, leads a gang of high school outsiders and enjoys status as a local god. However, much changes when — much to the chagrin of his friends and her family — he falls in love with the “square” Allison (Amy Locane) and begins to open up about his troubled, unhappy past. As the two get closer, the obstacles mount, including Allison’s jealous ex-boyfriend and a conniving bad girl who hopes to bring Cry-Baby back to her side of the tracks. Iggy Pop and Ricki Lake co-star; Willem Dafoe makes a cameo!
Why You Should Stream It: A parody of high school musicals that spawned a Tony-nominated Broadway musical of the same name, “Cry-Baby” is another irresistibly campy creation from the ostentatious oeuvre of director John Waters. The songs are catchy, the costumes and sets a visual delight, the period era setting and lingo perfect. And the through line of satiric comedy gives it a delicious edge, adding complexity to the typically two-dimensional musical genre. Depp’s ridicule of his (then prevalent) heartthrob status is especially successful, his Danny Zuko caricature both perfectly on point and immensely enjoyable; a wonderful irony also stems from the fact that he took the role to avoid typecasting as a teen idol. A box office flop upon its release, the film has since attained cult status and remains an excellent entry in the professional histories of its director and star alike.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
“Bad 25” (2012)
What It’s About: A tribute to Michael Jackson and his music, the Spike Lee-directed “Bad 25” documents the making of the artist’s 1987 album Bad, the fifth best-selling record of all time, on the 25th anniversary of its release. (The #1 best selling album? Thriller.) The film sets up the character and story of Jackson — his personal life and success leading up to the creation of the titular album — then launches into proving its thesis that Bad was, in many ways, the finest work this artist ever created. The production of each track forms the documentary’s backbone, and are examined through taped recording sessions, vintage interviews, and discussions with collaborators and fans that include Stevie Wonder, Martin Scorsese (who directed the video for the “Bad” single), Mariah Carey, Kanye West, ?uestlove, and… Justin Bieber?
Why You Should Stream It: Lee is no stranger to Jackson, having directed two of his music videos: 1996’s “They Don’t Care About Us” and “This Is It” in 2009. And the filmmaker’s regard for the superstar is clear here, his compilation of footage and voices rendering an insightful and engaging portrait. Furthermore, the technical aspects of the documentary are top-notch, the overlap of music with discussion a particular feat as it creates a sense of behind-the-scenes commentary. Our review out of the 2012 Venice Film Festival notes, “as a making-of documentary, it’s fascinating, warm and immensely watchable stuff, and fans of both Jackson and pop music in general will surely eat the film up.” The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray earlier this week, but if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy, now you can watch it online as well.
Where It’s Available: YouTube
Our Picks from the Criterion Collection
“The Brood” (1979) and “Scanners” (1981)
What They’re About: Two early sci-fi horror films from writer-director David Cronenberg that set the stage for much of his work to come. In “The Brood,” the mentally disturbed Nola (Samantha Eggar), engaged in an embittered custody battle with ex-husband Frank (Art Hindle), begins psychotherapy with the renowned Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). The doctor is known for a therapy technique called “psychoplasmics,” in which patients rid themselves of mental disturbances through physiological changes. Soon after the sessions begin, a number of Nola’s acquaintances are murdered by what appear to be children, eventually targeting Nola’s daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds). In “Scanners,” the titular subjects are humans with telepathic and telekinetic powers that are being targeted by the ConSec corporation that, while claiming to be serving the public good, actually intends to use the powerful beings for the personal gain of its executives. When Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), an extremely powerful scanner whose powers have necessitated his withdrawal from society, is abducted by ConSec agents, officials decide to use their prisoner to infiltrate the secretive scanner community and take down its renegade leader, Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside).
Why You Should Stream Them: Absorbing, disturbing, and well made, featuring a victorious combination of sympathetic characters and twisty plots punctuated by moments of sheer terror, these two pictures are a study in successful low-budget filmmaking. The release of “The Brood” was surrounded by controversy, with many exhibitors requiring significant edits and critics reading the film as a misogynistic allegory for the danger of feminine power and the anxiety surrounding the women’s liberation movement. Whether or not that was the director’s intent at the time of its production, a contemporary viewing of the film should offer a whole new set of interpretations and reactions. “Scanners,” on the other hand, seen as Cronenberg’s most conventional movie at the time of its debut, received less direct censure and far less praise. But until the release of 1987’s “The Fly,” it was his highest grossing film, and received Saturn Awards for Best International Film and Best Makeup, and a nomination for Best Special Effects. Moreover, its initial reception as a schlocky C-movie has since been largely revised, making it a legacy in the stable of ’80s horror flicks and raising its popularity enough to spawn two sequels and two spin-offs (though none of these involved Cronenberg).
Where They’re Available: iTunes (The Brood / Scanners)
Also Available to Stream
Despite not making our top five picks, the following films are certainly still worthy of your movie-loving attention, and are newly available via various streaming services. Links to our reviews are provided where available.
“The Artist is Present“
“Bullet to the Head“
“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind“
“The Hand That Rocks the Cradle“
“The House I Live In“
“The People vs. Larry Flynt“
“The Quick and the Dead“
“The Truman Show“