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