Happy Fourth of July Weekend! We hope you're making the most of the summer weather and enjoying a fair share of barbeques, beers, and beach time. However, if you feel like stepping away from the UV for an hour or two and relaxing inside with a good flick, we would like to provide a few timely suggestions. There's, of course, the Independence Day-themed selection for your patriotic viewing pleasure. Similarly, several documentaries that acutely capture American topics and people, and both celebrate and question what it means to be a United States citizen, appear here. And in honor of this weekend's blockbuster release, "The Lone Ranger," we are recommending a throwback from the early days of Johnny Depp's career, in case you can't remember what he looks like without heavy makeup and a wig. Relish the long weekend, cinephiles, whatever you choose to do, and let us know what you think of our streaming selections in the comments section below.
What It's About: With a move to the English countryside and a fixer-upper of a cottage, the happily married Dawn (Claire Foy) and David (Benedict Cumberbatch) are ready to start a family. But, as with so many well-laid plans, it just isn't meant to be. David's brother, Nick (Shaun Evans), a war veteran suffering from posttraumatic stress, surprises the couple with a visit. Before long, he is revealing a complicated and suspicious family past quite unknown to Dawn, and she begins to question whether she really knows her husband at all.
Why You Should Stream It: It's not always easy to keep a struggling couple looking realistic, but first time director D. R. Hood manages to elicit subtle but extremely powerful performances that are reinforced by a high-tension script that relies heavily on subtext (and in a good way). Moreover, Foy gives a heartbreakingly believable performance and Cumberbatch offers his usual level of excellence, his penchant for inscrutable facial expressions serving the character of David as well. A faintly haunting score merging with the film's evocative and hazy look deepen the sense of uncertainty to great effect, the audience left as lost as the heroine.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes
"Born on the Fourth of July" (1989)
What It's About: In 1960s suburban New York, Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) is proud to be an American. He reveres President Kennedy, shares his birthday with the United States and, desperate to serve his country, enlists in the Marines directly out of high school. However, after a firefight in Vietnam leaves him paralyzed from the mid-chest down, the soldier returns home to family, friends, and a country that he no longer recognizes or understands, and with whom he has no place. As he struggles to rebuild his life, Kovic begins to see the illusions and dangers inherent in his patriotism and joins other veterans in their anti-war efforts.
Why You Should Stream It: Based on the best-selling autobiography, "Born on the Fourth of July" was co-written by Kovic and the film's director, Oliver Stone (also a Vietnam veteran). As a semi follow up to the latter's 1986 Oscar-winner "Platoon," the violence, guilt, pain, and lost innocence of the Vietnam War are also present with striking intensity and harrowing realness here, anchored by a simply astounding, Academy Award-nominated performance from Cruise. The film was nominated for six other Oscars, and won Stone a Best Directing statue. Finally, of course, it's Independence Day -- a celebration of American freedoms. And Tom Cruise's transformation from a decorated soldier to a countercultural figure fighting the man provides an accurate and inspiring representation of just how much freedom we enjoy here in the good old U.S. of A.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
What It's About: 1,400 close-knit, proud, hard-working citizens populate the coal-mining town of Oceana, West Virginia...and many of them are addicted to OxyContin and other prescription pills. What was ingested into the community as a remedy for the grueling physical work in the mines has become an abused substance, one that has ruined countless lives and threatens to decimate more. Footage of the neglected neighborhood backgrounds share histories from current and recovering addicts alike: the power of the drug quickly becomes apparent as the disintegration of Oceana is shown to coincide with rising use of OxyContin. Family members and local police officers also have a chance to comment, making it known that their love for the town and all its residents -- and their hope that the situation will eventually improve -- providing them with the will to remain there.
Why You Should Stream It: At this year's Tribeca Film Festival, "Oxyana" won a Special Jury Mention and director Sean Dunne, who has previously enjoyed success helming documentary shorts, won Best New Documentary Director. Our review from that festival called the doc "unwavering and unflinching," concluding, "it's a pained and uncompromising look at horrors that have decimated a community, and while raw-nerved and difficult to stomach at times, Dunne's respectful ability to never look away from these harsh realities is what makes the doc so vital, powerful and striking." While no less important than films examining the macro story of the war on drugs, the smaller scale of this particular portrait of addiction may hit closer to home and prove more affecting.
Where It's Available: Vimeo
What It's About: It's 1954 in Baltimore. Cars are fast, hair is greasy, Elvis is king. Pretty boy Wade Walker (Johnny Depp), nicknamed Cry-Baby for his trademark ability to shed a single tear, leads a gang of high school outsiders and enjoys status as a local god. However, much changes when -- much to the chagrin of his friends and her family -- he falls in love with the "square" Allison (Amy Locane) and begins to open up about his troubled, unhappy past. As the two get closer, the obstacles mount, including Allison's jealous ex-boyfriend and a conniving bad girl who hopes to bring Cry-Baby back to her side of the tracks. Iggy Pop and Ricki Lake co-star; Willem Dafoe makes a cameo!
Why You Should Stream It: A parody of high school musicals that spawned a Tony-nominated Broadway musical of the same name, "Cry-Baby" is another irresistibly campy creation from the ostentatious oeuvre of director John Waters. The songs are catchy, the costumes and sets a visual delight, the period era setting and lingo perfect. And the through line of satiric comedy gives it a delicious edge, adding complexity to the typically two-dimensional musical genre. Depp's ridicule of his (then prevalent) heartthrob status is especially successful, his Danny Zuko caricature both perfectly on point and immensely enjoyable; a wonderful irony also stems from the fact that he took the role to avoid typecasting as a teen idol. A box office flop upon its release, the film has since attained cult status and remains an excellent entry in the professional histories of its director and star alike.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU