Hey there fellow streamers. The 2013 summer blockbuster season is (mercifully) winding down, and the Oscar rollouts haven’t yet begun, leaving us in the typically unpredictable middle ground of autumn. But with video on demand continuing to gain ground as a distribution platform, the streaming services don’t seem to have noticed, and keep on delivering cinematic nuggets for us to consume. It’s a fairly modern slate this weekend, with two simultaneous theatrical-VOD releases on the American indie side, and a Chilean movie skipping the cinema altogether. Then, we have two relatively recent picks: one from a divisive yet enduring filmmaker and another that focuses on a divisive and enduring issue in US politics. And as another seminal television program moves into its last season, we urge you to (re)watch the follow up episodes to gear up for what is sure to be a spectacular final push. So let’s get right to it: the best of streaming for the week.
What It’s About: Directing team Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, most recently of “Howl” fame, examine the life of legendary adult film star Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), cataloging an abusive marriage to Charlie Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), her performance in “Deep Throat,” and the anti-porn and feminist crusades she undertook in later life. Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Adam Brody, and James Franco co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Anchored by a team of strong actors, “Lovelace” offers a uniquely honest story, made all the more distinctive by a structure which reveals through repetition: an objective perspective marks the first half of the narrative, while a retelling from Linda’s point of view towards the end proffers a clarified set of events that are quite different from their original presentation. And shot in 16mm, the film has a grainy, vintage look reminiscent of ’70s filmmaking — think the best of John Cassavettes. Our review notes that “Seyfried’s performance is the best thing about the film by miles,” but admits the film wants for more of Lovelace’s perspective, concluding “we are allowed no illuminating details that might cast her as anything but a victim of the evil machinations of others.” “Lovelace” arrives in theaters and on VOD today.
Where It’s Available: VUDU
“Prince Avalanche” (2013)
What It’s About: After a wildfire ravages 43,000 acres of Texan forest, a pair of highway road crew workers begins to rebuild the roads crossing through the devastation. Neurotic Alvin (Paul Rudd) and freewheeling Lance (Emile Hirsch) seem destined for enmity, but as the two men go about their massive reparations, their discomfort and estrangement dissipate, replaced by a strong and familial bond.
Why You Should Stream It: Adapted from the Icelandic film “Either Way” (2011), David Gordon Green‘s “Prince Avalanche” draws parallels between the progression of human relationships and the evolution of the natural world, intelligently prodding at the eccentricities of modern life. Tim Orr‘s luminous cinematography and a wistful score from David Wingo and Explosions In The Sky enhance the multilayered tone of this intricate story, resulting in a picture that is subdued yet deeply touching. Our review calls the film “contemplative, playfully loose and exploratory” and “a deeply enjoyable, wondrous delight,” concluding, “‘Prince Avalanche’ is a distinctly singular David Gordon Green film which feels like the logical, next-phase direction for the filmmaker.” The movie makes its theatrical and VOD debuts today.
Where It’s Available: iTunes
“West of Memphis” (2012)
What It’s About: In 1994, three Arkansas teenagers — Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — were convicted of murdering three young boys the year prior. The sensationalism of the incident quickly earned the notorious trio the moniker “The West Memphis Three,” while the perceived injustices of the trial have inspired much public activism and demands for appeal in the 20 years since. In “West of Memphis,” documentarian Amy Berg outlines the events of the case, from the original trial to the numerous appeals that followed, muddying the waters as she does so.
Why You Should Stream It: The staggering detail Berg brings to the well-known account of the West
Memphis Three reveals an extremely complicated history that is somewhat
less prominent in public memory. And her examination runs much deeper
than its factual facade, ultimately generating a chilling claim of legal
negligence and a sobering look at the problems surrounding the US
justice system in general. Our review calls the doc “an emotionally
effective investigation into how real-life villainy may be more
insidiously present than commonly assumed, how persistently elusive the
truth can be and how a genuine sense of hope can persevere after years
and years of trials and other tribulations.”
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube
“To The Wonder” (2013)
What It’s About: Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) meet in Paris and fall in love, then relocate to the former’s home in Oklahoma to begin a life together. However, an emotional chasm develops as Marina forms a relationship with troubled priest and fellow ex-pat Father Quintana (Javier Bardem) and Neil rekindles his love with a childhood sweetheart (Rachel McAdams). And when Marina encounters visa trouble, her necessary return to France literally shoves the lovers in opposite directions.
Why You Should Stream It: Unsurprisingly for a Terrence Malick film, “To the Wonder” can be quite
meditative. However, the nearly dialogue-free picture never strays too
far from the central story, and its leisurely quality complements the
way in which its characters experience shifting emotions. Moreover, the
gently unfolding narrative provides the actors with plenty of room to
breathe; strong performances are found throughout. It is also — and again,
to be expected — a truly gorgeous piece of cinema: Emmanuel Lubezki‘s
camera captures the soaring joys of new love and the heartbreaking fear
as it’s placed in jeopardy, becoming a subjective observer
that is as restless and uncertain as its subjects. Our
review concedes the film “is unlikely to win over many who’ve sworn off
Malick in the past,” but calls the director’s latest venture “coherent,
deeply felt and satisfying” and “a beautiful, heartfelt and raw piece of
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, YouTube
“Magic Magic” (2013)
What It’s About: The naive and emotionally fragile Alicia (Juno Temple) decides to travel through South America with her cousin (Emily Browning) and several friends (Michael Cera, Agustin Silva, and Catalina Sandina Moreno), hoping to expand her worldview and mind alike. Things quickly go south as Alicia begins to butt heads with her increasingly deranged companions, and recurring bouts of insomnia that blur the lines between reality and dreams threaten to send the innocent girl tumbling toward a full-scale nervous breakdown. And it all takes place on a remote island…
Why You Should Stream It: Chilean writer-director Sebastian Silva of last month’s “Crystal Fairy,”
brings us another tricked out road trip movie with “Magic Magic,”
though this later release sports a decidedly darker tone. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival in January and playing several months later in
Cannes, this psychological thriller pokes at our fears of the unknown
and conveys that anxiety through each filmic element, resulting in a
delightfully tangible tension. There is also a startling current of
humor present here, as Silva’s reflection on human isolation is as
hilarious as it is insightful, made all the more so by the squad of
capable and very game actors. Released on DVD this week, “Magic Magic”
will not be shown in theaters, so streaming may be your best (immediate
gratification) shot at catching this indie gem. You can also read our interview
with Temple here.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
“Breaking Bad: Season 5A” (2012)
What It’s About: The continuing adventures of high school chemistry teacher turned crystal meth dealer Walter White (Bryan Cranston), as he negotiates the ever-lessening gap between the secretive criminal activity and his public life as an upstanding citizen and family man. Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, and Jonathan Banks co-star in this slow burning (half) season.
Why You Should Stream It: This Sunday marks the premier of the last eight episodes of the Vince
Gilligan-created series “Breaking Bad,” so this weekend seems like the optimal
time to catch up or review all that’s come before. Shocking, penetrating,
complex, discomfiting, and obscenely entertaining, this past season captured
the essence of masterful television and continued to mark the show
as a must-watch for the modern era. Our review of the finale, “Gliding Over All,”
called the episode “unforgettable,” noting that it sets in motion “the
very beginning of the endgame that the series has been working towards
since the pilot.” Furthermore, our piece on the best of the 2012/2013 television season
calls the program “undoubtedly one of the best, most important shows of the
current era, and will go down in the history books alongside ‘The
Sopranos‘ and ‘The Wire‘ as a classic.” How oh how will it all end
(because “all bad things must come to an end“)? Keep yourself chomping at the bit with Season 5A. For even more “Breaking
Bad,” see the piece on our five favorite episodes here.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, Netflix, VUDU
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 Chronicles of Riddick“
“Eddie the Sleepwalking Cannibal“
“Girls: Season 2“
“My Amityville Horror“
“Olympus Has Fallen“
“Robin Hood” (1973 animated version)
“Scary Movie 5“
“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s“