Happy Friday, streamers! Or, at least, it’s a happy Friday for the Internet. As for those multiplexes… well, it’s too soon to tell. But since we like to tie our streaming suggestions to the latest releases, here’s a quick rundown. We’re not sure what to make of “Kick-Ass 2” or “Jobs,” and we’re definitely not too excited about the star-studded (sigh) Liam Hemsworth vehicle “Paranoia.” On the other hand, we are thrilled to suggest an alternate film—little known and highly underrated—starring Gary Oldman. Also a number of older picks, including a music documentary, a cheapo ’80s fantasy flick, a major hit from last year, and a Criterion Collection gem from Indian auteur Satyajit Ray. The highly anticipated “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” while opening in theaters, isn’t available on VOD yet (tune in next week!), but another indie slated for September is, and we’ve got the details here. So here we go!
What It’s About: New York hedge fund manager Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is the very picture of success and happiness, his devoted wife (Susan Sarandon) and brilliant daughter (Brit Marling) completing a blissful picture of the American Dream. But as he celebrates his 60th birthday, the magnate’s rapidly failing business and torrid affair with an art dealer (Laetitia Casta) begin to get the best of him. His tranquil facade already crumbling, a bloody cover-up hatched with a shady acquaintance (Nate Parker) and the investigations of a curious detective (Tim Roth) push Miller even closer to the edge of stability and sanity.
Why You Should Stream It: Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, “Arbitrage” is a taut and
intelligent drama, a slow burning narrative that is admirably realistic:
the film avoids the all-too-common reprimand to white collar criminals
and creates a three-dimensional antihero that is at once sympathetic and
repellant. Though joined by a team of top-notch actors, Gere’s
performance can be given much of the credit here, his character’s
deterioration played with physical nuance and emotional restraint. Our
review lauds the simplicity of the cinematography and score, and notes, “instead of a clean-cut portrayal of hand-wringing corporate greed, Gere
and Jarecki work to show how motivated the mogul must have been to
amass the empire that he has over the course of decades, thus providing a
credible rationale for why and how he schemes so thoroughly to keep his
interests—family included—from going under.”
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix, VUDU
“State of Grace” (1990)
What It’s About: After ten years away, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) returns to Hell’s Kitchen, a New York neighborhood rife with organized crime and rivaling gangs. He immediately links himself with childhood friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) in a unit run by the latter’s brother, Frankie (Ed Harris). While allegedly reverting to a past life, Noonan’s homecoming is actually a cover for his new stint as an undercover cop, and he’s charged with excising the local cadres of Irish and Italian mafia. The treacherousness of the double life quickly begins to wear on the posing gangster, and he suffers further complications as he rekindles a relationship with the Flannerys’ sister (Robin Wright). John Turturro, John C. Reilly, and Burgess Meredith also co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Based on the stories of The Westies, a genuine gang from Hell’s Kitchen, “State of Grace” depicts the urban underbelly of New York with
startling, unsettling realism. Director Phil Joanou channels Martin
Scorsese (and, coincidentally, the film was released within a week of “Goodfellas“), bringing violence and pathos to the story’s forefront in
equal measure, getting to the heart of what makes these common criminals
tick. The three male leads are typically strong—Penn, internally
conflicted; Oldman, jarringly maniacal; and Harris an icy sociopath—but Oldman’s Jackie is far and away the film’s best performance, an
electrifying combination of brutal loyalty and terrifying cruelty. And a
score from acclaimed composer (and Sergio Leone favorite) Ennio
Morricone virtuously captures the wretchedness of the metropolitan abyss, adding
another level of darkness to this gritty crime drama.
Where It’s Available: VUDU
“And While We Were Here” (2013)
What It’s About: Vacationing on an island off the Amalfi Coast, a young couple, though literally swimming in old world romance, find themselves at uncomfortable odds. Writer Jane (Kate Bosworth) yearns for intellectual stimulation while Leonard (Iddo Goldberg) appreciates an existence uncomplicated by introspection. To escape the distressing tedium of her marriage, Jane delves into adapting her grandmother’s oral memories of WWII-era Europe, a task which leads away from her husband and toward an unexpectedly welcome entanglement with a 19-year-old American tourist (Jamie Blackley).
Why You Should Stream It: Writer-director Kat Coiro (“L!fe Happens“) draws on the fundamentals of
Italian neorealism quite liberally here, and successfully carries the
slice-of-life storytelling, location shooting, music, and cinematography of the ’40s style into the modern era.
The premise is simple, but surely deceptively so, as the film unfolds in
sometimes surprising ways. Yet the throughline of believable emotion—and the stirring familiarity of Jane’s marital discontent—keeps the
narrative grounded and engaging. Our review from last year’s Tribeca
Film Festival calls the lead actress “an undeniable screen presence,”
and concludes, “as an affecting romance between a woman caught between
two worlds, it very nearly sticks the landing. As a showcase for Ms.
Bosworth, never better, it’s often sublime.” “And While We Were Here”
will open in theaters September 13th.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, Cable on Demand, iTunes, VUDU
What It’s About: The first of four films in the “Deathstalker” legacy, this entry establishes the adventurous life of the titular warrior (played by Rick Hill). Sent on a quest to retrieve precious items from the evil sorcerer Munkar (Bernard Erhard), Deathstalker encounters a variety of colorful (and barely clothed) characters, enters a tournament, and rescues a princess. Richard Brooker, Lara Clarkson and Barbi Benton co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Dark Ages setting, muscled hunks in loincloths, indulgent special
effects and sound design, fantastical beasts, sweet martial arts moves,
wizened wizards with gravelly voices, economically decorated
soundstages… We could go on, but, uh, what’s not to like? Riding the
wave of sword and sorcery films popularized by 1982’s “Conan the
Barbarian,” this Argentinian American co-production from director James
Sbardellati was an unexpected, if modest, hit upon its release. Produced
for under $500,000 in the mode of executive producer Roger Corman—famous for his prolific, cheap, and very popular exploitation pictures
during the 1970s—”Deathstalker” yielded a tidy box office profit.
This success encouraged Sbardellati to align with his seasoned EP for
several more efforts, including “Barbarian Queen” (1985), which showed
the duo reteaming with Clarkson, now a household name among sci-fi and
fantasy devotees. While Sbardellati left the series for good after this
first installment, Corman maintained his producing role until its
conclusion. (Side note: if you manage to get your hands on copies of the
other three “Deathstalker” pictures, we can guarantee similarly
delightful helpings of beefcake and camp.) Should the film’s cult status
not convince you, maybe all those semi-naked people and the oodles of
heroic fighting will draw your attention. It should, at the very least, help dispel your “Game of Thrones” withdrawal.
Where It’s Available: Netflix
Shut Up and Play the Hits” (2012)
What It’s About: A rock doc showcasing LCD Soundsystem‘s April 2011 farewell concert at Madison Square Garden. Spanning the week’s worth of work leading up to the event, the blowout itself, and the day of reckoning that followed, “Shut Up and Play the Hits” captures the contradictory nature of retirement as the Grammy-nominated band reflects on its tenure, concedes success, and willingly calls it quits.
Why You Should Stream It: Directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern do a top-notch job relating
the expected concert environment, including plenty of loud and exciting
numbers that highlight the band’s style and talent well. The ecstasy of concert
going is infused throughout the documentary, with close-ups of the band
members and their gear excellently conveying the thrill of sharing a
room with rock stars. However, as the musicians experience the end of an
era, the directing team manages to express the emotional resonance of
that occurrence with just as much success. Our review says, “more like
any great concert than any great concert, it’s evidence of an era barely
bygone, but gone all the same,” and concludes that those unfamiliar
with the group “may not get the full impact of the band’s appeal and how
difficult a decision this must have been for [frontman James Murphy].
However, for fans of the late LCD Soundsystem, this is something of a
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix, VUDU, YouTube
Criterion Hulu Plus Pick
We like Criterion a lot, but what we love is finding hard to find, not-readily-available-on-DVD movies. And so the Criterion hub on Hulu Plus is pretty awesome. Their archive has approximately 225 movies that will eventually come out on the Criterion Collection on DVD, but currently, it’s just a rather incredible, early sneak peek treasure trove of what’s to come. Each week we single out a film that we think you should see.
What It’s About: Charu (Madhabi Mukherjee) is a well-to-do housewife living in 1870s Calcutta, becoming increasingly lonely as her husband, Bhupati (Shailen Mukherjee), spends more and more time at work. Noting his wife’s isolating, Bhupati asks his cousin Amal (Soumitra Chatterjee) to keep her company during the daytime. This seemingly simple request sets in motion a seismic shift in Charu’s mental and emotional state, and leads to profound and unexpected changes in her marriage.
Why You Should Stream It: Although perhaps less well-known than his “Apu Trilogy,” Satyajit Ray‘s “Charaluta” is nonetheless a staple of the Bengali director’s canon. This
unique picture was the winner of the Silver Bear for Best Directing at
the 1965 Berlin Film Festival, and continues to guide modern filmmaking,
as seen in its selection for Cannes‘ classics portion just this past
year. Furthermore, Wes Anderson has openly revealed Ray’s influence on
the “The Darjeeling Limited,” the many allusions to the latter’s visuals
and its signature musical number appropriated directly from “Charaluta”; this particular piece can even be heard in trailers for the
2007 film. The film is understated and sensitive, yet highly
sophisticated in its technique; the modest slice-of-life story prevails
with its sympathetic characters and poignant accessibility. “Charaluta” is also on Blu-ray/DVD next week and as is Ray’s “The Big City.” After years of being one of the biggest blindspots in Criterion’s collection in terms of seminal world cinema, the boutique DVD label has righted that wrong (not their fault either, there’s been loads of rights issues forever). Those wanting to get ahead of the curve note: three more Ray films are available on Hulu Plus already. 1961’s documentary “Rabindranath Tagore,” The Holy Man” (1965) “An Enemy of the People” (1990) and “The Home and the World” (1984).
Where It’s Available: Hulu Plus
Also Available to Stream
Despite not making our top six 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 Big Wedding“
“Caroline and Jackie“
“The Company You Keep“
“The Great Gatsby“
“Only God Forgives“
“Pain and Gain“
“Spark: A Burning Man Story“
“Waking Ned Devine“