The Internet is a wild place, overflowing with information and imagery. It can be overwhelming to navigate to any one place, and impossible to choose one option once you’re there. This can be especially true of online media, a realm of ever-expanding sites and continually updated content. So, to make it all a little easier, we would like to offer up some help in that arena. Below, you can find our recommendations for the five best films newly added to the streaming universe. Summaries, criticism, and trailers will clarify our choices (and hopefully convince you as well), while links to the streaming sites offer immediate gratification. And in addition to the five films highlighted each week, we will also suggest a sixth option that is culled exclusively from the Criterion Collection, and which is not generally available on DVD in the United States. Think we might have missed something? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section. And now, here are our streaming selections for the week, for your reading and viewing pleasure.
“Upstream Color” (2013)
What It’s About: Identity is a falsehood; the pollution, the infections and viruses that spread through each of our bodies are what truly connect us. Kris (Amy Seimetz) is abducted and drugged, awakening several days later to discover she’s been infected with a parasite. The only way to remove the creature is to transfer part of Kris’ body to that of a pig, a process that inextricably links the two organisms. At this point, the woman’s life is in shambles; she meets Jeff (Shane Carruth, also the film’s writer, director, editor, composer, distributor….), a kindred spirit who has undergone the same trauma, who saves Kris from herself, and the new lovers bond over their broken bodies and lives. And, you know, we’re not even 100% sure that’s really what it’s about.
Why You Should Stream It: There’s certainly the arrestingly beautiful aesthetics and strong performances to consider. Yet, with a premise both simple and puzzling, it may be worth watching purely for the challenge of understanding it. Our review called the film “thematically rich, layered and hypnotic,” adding, “it’s a picture that’s not easy to process, and that’s part of what makes it so breathtaking and brilliant. You’re baffled by what you’ve seen and in awe of how it’s illuminated your mind.” Viewing “Upstream Color” will require nothing less than your full attention, but the emotion and thought it stimulates makes the film a highly unique cinematic experience.
Where It’s Available Amazon Instant, Cable On Demand, iTunes, Netflix, VUDU
What It’s About
Promoting his new book, a struggling horror writer (Val Kilmer) arrives in a small town and quickly becomes ensnared in the suspicious death of a young girl. The author searches for answers as he tries to heal the wounds of his own past, and discovers a local history far eerier than anything he could engineer. Then, a series of vivid dreams featuring visits from a ghost (Elle Fanning) and Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) spark his detective brain and imagination alike, and he begins writing a new novel. That’s when the spheres of reality and non-reality start to collide. Director Francis Ford Coppola has attributed the story’s roots to an aborted dream of his own, and the deeply personal turn the picture takes is a clear effort to see that vision through to its end.
Why You Should Stream It: Perhaps most importantly, this marks the first time the film is available to American audiences. And with a small screen release date that matches up with daughter Sofia‘s big screen premiere of “The Bling Ring,” it’s hard not to acknowledge the cinematic talent in this family. While our review of “Twixt” out of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival wasn’t necessarily glowing, it did admit the movie’s humorousness and concluded, “the film is ostensibly a mystery about some murders in the town but really seems to be about Coppola having fun playing inside his subconscious.” Well, that sounds quite intriguing. Bizarre and low budget it may be, but for crying out loud: it’s still Francis Ford Coppola.
Where It’s Available Amazon Instant, Cable On Demand, iTunes, VUDU
“Funny Games” (1997)
What It’s About: A family vacation turns harrowing (but not in the usual, bored stiff kind of way) in this psychological thriller from Austrian writer-director Michael Haneke. A couple and their young son arrive at a secluded lake house, but plans for a little R&R are swiftly waylaid when the two men staying next door take them hostage. Physical and mental torture ensues as the captors force the family into a series of sadistic games.
Why You Should Stream It: Distinct from many of today’s similarly premised slaughter-fests, “Funny Games” maintains suspense without ever resorting to excessive goriness, the controlled use of violence making the horrors and the thrills that much more successful. With a meta-narrative that blends fiction and reality while constantly defying classical Hollywood technique, this is a piece of cinema that interrogates the filmmaking process and serves up just as many questions as answers. In true Haneke fashion, the film forces the audience to confront something unsettling within itself: we are asked to examine the pleasure we glean from watching appalling behavior onscreen and the anticipation we feel at the shocking moments still to come. And hey, if nothing else, the director liked it so much he made a shot-for-shot English-language remake in 2007 starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth.
Where It’s Available Amazon Instant, iTunes, Netflix
“Neighboring Sounds” (2012)
What It’s About: Released in only three theaters in the United States, “Neighboring Sounds” is a film you probably didn’t have the chance to see. Luckily, the well-received Brazilian feature from Kleber Mendonca Filho is now in wide release on the Internet. A sizable ensemble cast that never singles out a true lead grounds a slice of life story set in the city of Recife. As a private security detail attempts to staunch a series of burglaries in a prosperous seaside neighborhood, scenes of its interactions with the diverse families that populate the area offer a vibrant portrait of modern day Brazil.
Why You Should Stream It: The various characters are juxtaposed in original and exciting ways, the definition of their personalities and behaviors imbuing the story with a thrilling plausibility. Surrealist aesthetics that punctuate many of the sequences provide the narrative with a subjectivity that lends the film similar integrity and appeal. Our review out of the Vancouver International Film Festival praised the film as it “uses the tools of cinema to view life, and never feels the need to impose a reason other than the joy of watching it unfold unencumbered by the strictures of narrative.” Furthermore, voted as one of the world’s top 10 movies of 2012 by A.O. Scott, and winner of the Best Brazilian Film prize at the Sao Paolo International Film Festival the same year, Filho’s debut feature is not one you’ll want to miss.
Where It’s Available iTunes, Netflix
“Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” (1958)
What It’s About: A troubled socialite has a close encounter with aliens that transforms her into a giant femme fatale, and she uses the newfound size and strength to take revenge on her philandering husband and his mistress.
Why You Should Stream It: A remnant of Postwar Era Hollywood spectacles, Nathan H. Juran‘s “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman” features a simple story augmented with excessive special effects, perfectly illustrating how the film industry competed with television. Although the retro effects may inspire more than a few giggles today, the size-changing human storyline was widely popular in the late ’50s: this was the third movie to feature a protagonist that grew or shrank immensely, and the first to feature a female lead. Moreover, it remains deliciously campy, an amusing insight into the world of classic postwar science fiction films. And while the plot may be highly melodramatic and hint toward misogyny, the enormous papier-mache hands and transparent use of rear projection are just delightful in their hilarious additions to the absolutely ludicrous storyline. The film’s legacy has led to its reference and allusion in numerous films and television episodes, as well as spawning two spoofs and a remake, directed by Christopher Guest and starring Daryl Hannah. With the DVDs now out of print, streaming is likely your best chance to catch this historical gem.
Where It’s Available Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, Warner Bros. Archive Instant
Our Pick from the Criterion Collection on Hulu Plus (note this incredible archive has 200-some Criterion movies not available on DVD, or seemingly anywhere else either)
“The Cremator” (1969)
What It’s About: Blackly comedic yet bizarre and chilling, “The Cremator,” from director Juraj Herz, is a prime example of the Czechoslovak New Wave. This 1960s movement featured unscripted dialogue and non-professional actors, and used social commentary cloaked in absurdist humor as a means of rebelling against the Soviet regime. Set in 1930s Prague, “The Cremator” finds its titular professional slowly descending into madness, a love for his work evolving into an obsession with freeing souls from their bodies through the burning of human flesh. As the Nazi invasion grows imminent, the cremator’s mania intensifies as he becomes consumed with achieving racial and, thus, spiritual purity.
Why You Should Stream It: Employing the shadowy, distorted aesthetics of the German Expressionists in conjunction with its period locale, this film calls attention to the horrors of past and present alike: the destitution and fear storming through Soviet-occupied territories in the 1960s echoes, in many ways, the sweeping propaganda and mass delusion in Nazi-occupied Europe. This highly political subject matter, combined with explicit imagery, led to a universal ban on the film following its premiere, and it remained widely unseen until after the fall of the Soviet Union 20 years later. Today, it’s largely considered by regional critics to be one of the best Czech films ever made.
Where It’s Available Hulu
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.
“A Good Day to Die Hard“
“Dead Man’s Burden“
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters“
“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone“
“Oz the Great and Powerful“
“We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks“