Hey-o cinephiles, and welcome to the deluxe edition of Stream This. There was a lot to cover this week, with so many films being released on VOD concurrently or in advance of their theatrical debuts, and we didn’t want to leave anything out, including those nifty themed picks. Thus, the result at hand: an extra-long version of the column, where we give you eight suggestions instead of six. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to buy special sheets or anything.) There’s work from Brian De Palma, Paul Schrader, and Lynn Shelton to name a few, and all of it is either playing or will be playing shortly on a silver screen near you. In related news, James Ponsoldt‘s third film, “The Spectacular Now,” opens this weekend to much critical praise from Sundance on down, so if you’re looking to brush up on his canon, an earlier work is available to stream. Plus there’s a largely forgotten Mark Wahlberg picture from the early 2000s to honor the “2 Guns” star while reminding us why we like artist formerly known as Marky Mark so damn much. And now, for our streaming picks of the week.
What It’s About: Callous, conniving corporate exec Christine (Rachel McAdams) has been working her way up in the world, her unfettered success due, in large part, to the toiling of unassertive underling Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). Eventually, the subordinate decides she’s had enough and begins to plot her revenge, beginning a circular tale of betrayal within the already vicious business culture.
Why You Should Stream It: A remake of Alain Corneau‘s 2010 film “Love Games,” this thriller from Brian De Palma features many of the director’s trademarks — a revelatory split screen, for example — and spirited performances from two clearly game actors. Our review from last year’s Venice Film Festival notes De Palma’s smart craftsmanship and adds “towards its end, the film begins to play like a greatest hits collection, with wry nods and winks to his most woozy thrillers. De Palma-nuts are sure to be delighted as the film transforms into a dizzying cinematic Ouroboros.” Catch “Passion” before it opens in theaters on August 30th, and read our interview with De Palma here.
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand, VUDU
“The Yards” (2000)
What It’s About: A recent parolee (Mark Wahlberg) takes a job as a New York subway car repairman, and quickly discerns the danger and corruption raging through the Queens rail yards. Joaquin Phoneix, James Caan, Charlize Theron, Ellen Burstyn, and Faye Dunaway star.
Why You Should Stream It: There’s that cast, for one thing. Despite certain misgivings about tonal and visual similarities to “On the Waterfront” and “The Godfather,” critics lauded the ensemble’s performances with near unanimity. Also, we’re not really sure what’s wrong with a film that pays homage to those two classics. Moreover, before poor showings at the box office slipped “The Yards” under posterity’s radar, co-writer and director James Gray received a Palm d’Or nomination for this insightful, intelligent, and beautifully lensed feature, his sophomore effort inspired by experiences of his own father. And if nothing else, Gray, Wahlberg, and Phoenix were pumped enough about the result to reunite for 2007’s “We Own the Night.”
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube
“The Canyons” (2013)
What It’s About: To keep his trust fund allowance spilling in, Christian (James Deen – not a typo) pleases his father by producing cheapo films in LA, often with the help of girlfriend Tara (Lindsay Lohan), an aspiring casting director. But things go south when Tara starts sleeping with an ex-boyfriend (Nolan Funk) and Christian becomes uber jealous, even though he’s a big cheating liar too. As in other tales from screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis (“American Psycho,” “Less Than Zero,” “The Rules of Attraction“) the extraordinarily wealthy are debauched, narcissistic, and apathetic. Also, cinema is dead… or something.
Why You Should Stream It: From the casting of Lohan to the crowd-funded financing to the reports of infighting and unprofessionalism out of director Paul Schrader‘s set, “The Canyons” has been a project rife with speculation and low expectations. And now that the sex-and-violence-ridden result of this troubled production has finally arrived, we can hardly avert our eyes. Plus, there are the upsides of a great soundtrack and a small role played by Gus Van Sant. Our review calls the movie a “more go for broke experiment than a film,” but adds the intriguing caveat, “while not about pornography, ‘The Canyons’ can’t help but possess that same lurid whiff of XXX material, from the crotchy, skeevy sweatiness, right down to its poor acting, tossed-off dialogue and visibly low production values.” We’re starting to see the appeal of simultaneous release via streaming services. This breakthrough in “cinema for the post-theatrical era,” hits theaters and VOD today, and you can read our interview with Schrader here.
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand
“Touchy Feely” (2013)
What It’s About: Masseuse Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) suddenly develops a crushing aversion to human contact, throwing her professional and personal lives into turmoil. Meanwhile, her brother, Paul (Josh Pais) — an emotionally distant, Type A dentist — discovers a theretofore unknown healing touch that sends his practice soaring and animates a stunted relationship with his daughter (Ellen Page). This miraculous reversal in energies forces both siblings to examine their identities and potential for human connection. Allison Janney and Scoot McNairy also co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: The fifth film from Lynn Shelton, “Touchy Feely” is somewhat subdued, but mysterious and compelling nonetheless, wisely using editing and camerawork to offer its insular characters a resonant voice. Our review from this year’s Sundance Film Festival says, “Shelton’s latest is an absorbing exploration of identity, family dynamics and the mysterious psychic push-and-pull balance of the universe” and notes a stand out performance from Pais. Watch “Touchy Feely” ahead of its theatrical release on September 6!
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand, VUDU, YouTube
“The Lifeguard” (2013)
What It’s About: The almost-30-year-old Leigh (Kristen Bell), upon finding out that her boss/boyfriend is getting married to someone else, decides job dissatisfaction has reached an all-time low, and abandons New York for her childhood home in Connecticut. Living with her parents (Amy Madigan and Adam LeFevre) and resuming a former position as a private apartment complex lifeguard, the former reporter is basically a glorified high school student who reunites with friends (Mamie Gummer and Martin Starr) and begins a tryst with a 16-year-old skater punk (David Lambert). Things are going, um, swimmingly until they’re suddenly not, and Leigh comes face-to-face with the downward spiral that her once thriving life has become.
Why You Should Stream It: Advance reviews of the Liz W. Garcia-helmed comedy haven’t been spectacular, but we think Veronica Mars is a gifted comedienne and, most of the time, worth watching. And most critics have noted her talent here, with plaudits for Lambert and Gummer as well. There’s certainly some interesting material here that should strike chords with similarly aged viewers, even if the relationship at the film’s center isn’t explored fully or with the pathos of other May-December screen romances. Ultimately, “The Lifeguard” won’t be in theaters until August 30th, so it’s just as well that you watch it in the comfort of your own home. With a pause (and maybe a fast-forward) button at your disposal.
Where It’s Available: Cable on Demand, iTunes, VUDU
“On the Road” (2012)
What It’s About: Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garret Hedlund), often accompanied by Marylou (Kristen Stewart), take a road trip across the United States, searching for the meaning of life, the height of coolness, and the “it factor,” those things which make you feel most alive. Along the way, the duo encounters a number of characters, played by the likes of Amy Adams, Viggo Mortensen, Elisabeth Moss, Kirsten Dunst, Terrence Howard, and Steve Buscemi.
Why You Should Stream It: Jack Kerouac‘s seminal work “On the Road” was long considered an “unfilmable” piece of literature. That is, until director Walter Salles and writer Jose Rivera came along and successfully converted the episodic, introspective novel into a beautifully meditative motion picture. The movie is enjoyable in its particular loyalty to its source material, but much of its inherent beauty comes from the talents of cinematographer Eric Gautier, who deftly captures the color and oddity of the American wilds. Our review applauds the actors, particularly the charismatic Hedlund, and calls the film “scenic and episodic, full of youth’s passion but with a shade of the future yet to come dimming the brightness of its vision.” While the collected images may not be the milestones that Kerouac’s words were, “On the Road” remains a must-see for any fan of the Beat Generation.
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
“Breaking the Girls” (2013)
What It’s About: Sara (Agnes Bruckner), a hardworking law student, nearly has her scholarship revoked after waging frenemy warfare with classmate Brooke (Shanna Collins), and turns to a potential lover named Alex (Madeline Zima) for help. The latter suggests a pair of untraceable crimes, an idea that Sara disregards until, landing at the center of a police investigation, she begins to suspect that Alex may have framed her for murder.
Why You Should Stream It: This movie is about two-thirds “Strangers on a Train” and one-third “Wild Things” mixed with “Heathers.” That is to say, it’s kind of an homage soup. The tendency toward tribute aside, however, director Jamie Babbit and her lead actresses are clearly having fun with the material, conveying twisted psyches and snaking machinations that are so absurd as to boarder on soap opera material. Speaking of which… Both Babbit and writer Guinevere Turner worked on “The L Word,” and the tone of the Showtime series carries through here: youthful angst, quirky romance, and fraught breakups abound. “Breaking the Girls” hit cinemas last week, so if you haven’t had a chance to see it on the big screen, watch it at home today!
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
What It’s About: Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is a first grade teacher who, after throwing up in front of her class, is forced to admit she has a drinking problem and enrolls in AA. Her equally addicted husband (Aaron Paul) doesn’t, however, leading the couple into a painfully honest examination of their problematic and co-dependent relationship, so long supported by alcohol. Nick Offerman and Octavia Spencer co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: There’s a great deal of talent in director and co-writer James Ponsoldt‘s second film. Winstead digs deeper than her usual sunniness, skillfully portraying a tortured soul, while Paul demonstrates his range with practiced depictions of loving tenderness; it should also be noted that Spencer and Offerman hold their own here. Similar success is seen in the authenticity and multi-dimensionality of the script, complemented by clever framing and accomplished editing choices. Our review says, “all of the pain and problem-solving here feel human and natural, never forced or contrived. The sober are not heroes; the drunk, not all demons. Ponsoldt, Paul and Winstead make a remarkably effective team for this film’s points and purposes, and ‘Smashed’ burns long after it goes down smoothly.”
Where It’s Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube
Also Available to Stream
Despite not making our top eight 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.
“Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm“
“Breaking Bad: Season 5, Part 1“
“Cockneys vs. Zombies“
“I Declare War“
“Night Across the Street“
“What Maisie Knew“
“Zach and Miri Make A Porno“