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