Hey there fellow streamers. The 2013 summer blockbuster season is (mercifully) winding down, and the Oscar rollouts haven't yet begun, leaving us in the typically unpredictable middle ground of autumn. But with video on demand continuing to gain ground as a distribution platform, the streaming services don't seem to have noticed, and keep on delivering cinematic nuggets for us to consume. It's a fairly modern slate this weekend, with two simultaneous theatrical-VOD releases on the American indie side, and a Chilean movie skipping the cinema altogether. Then, we have two relatively recent picks: one from a divisive yet enduring filmmaker and another that focuses on a divisive and enduring issue in US politics. And as another seminal television program moves into its last season, we urge you to (re)watch the follow up episodes to gear up for what is sure to be a spectacular final push. So let's get right to it: the best of streaming for the week.
What It's About: Directing team Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, most recently of "Howl" fame, examine the life of legendary adult film star Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried), cataloging an abusive marriage to Charlie Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard), her performance in "Deep Throat," and the anti-porn and feminist crusades she undertook in later life. Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Hank Azaria, Chris Noth, Bobby Cannavale, Adam Brody, and James Franco co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Anchored by a team of strong actors, "Lovelace" offers a uniquely honest story, made all the more distinctive by a structure which reveals through repetition: an objective perspective marks the first half of the narrative, while a retelling from Linda's point of view towards the end proffers a clarified set of events that are quite different from their original presentation. And shot in 16mm, the film has a grainy, vintage look reminiscent of '70s filmmaking -- think the best of John Cassavettes. Our review notes that "Seyfried's performance is the best thing about the film by miles," but admits the film wants for more of Lovelace's perspective, concluding "we are allowed no illuminating details that might cast her as anything but a victim of the evil machinations of others." "Lovelace" arrives in theaters and on VOD today.
Where It's Available: VUDU
"Prince Avalanche" (2013)
What It's About: After a wildfire ravages 43,000 acres of Texan forest, a pair of highway road crew workers begins to rebuild the roads crossing through the devastation. Neurotic Alvin (Paul Rudd) and freewheeling Lance (Emile Hirsch) seem destined for enmity, but as the two men go about their massive reparations, their discomfort and estrangement dissipate, replaced by a strong and familial bond.
Why You Should Stream It: Adapted from the Icelandic film "Either Way" (2011), David Gordon Green's "Prince Avalanche" draws parallels between the progression of human relationships and the evolution of the natural world, intelligently prodding at the eccentricities of modern life. Tim Orr's luminous cinematography and a wistful score from David Wingo and Explosions In The Sky enhance the multilayered tone of this intricate story, resulting in a picture that is subdued yet deeply touching. Our review calls the film "contemplative, playfully loose and exploratory" and "a deeply enjoyable, wondrous delight," concluding, "'Prince Avalanche' is a distinctly singular David Gordon Green film which feels like the logical, next-phase direction for the filmmaker." The movie makes its theatrical and VOD debuts today.
Where It's Available: iTunes
"West of Memphis" (2012)
What It's About: In 1994, three Arkansas teenagers -- Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. -- were convicted of murdering three young boys the year prior. The sensationalism of the incident quickly earned the notorious trio the moniker "The West Memphis Three," while the perceived injustices of the trial have inspired much public activism and demands for appeal in the 20 years since. In "West of Memphis," documentarian Amy Berg outlines the events of the case, from the original trial to the numerous appeals that followed, muddying the waters as she does so.
Why You Should Stream It: The staggering detail Berg brings to the well-known account of the West Memphis Three reveals an extremely complicated history that is somewhat less prominent in public memory. And her examination runs much deeper than its factual facade, ultimately generating a chilling claim of legal negligence and a sobering look at the problems surrounding the US justice system in general. Our review calls the doc "an emotionally effective investigation into how real-life villainy may be more insidiously present than commonly assumed, how persistently elusive the truth can be and how a genuine sense of hope can persevere after years and years of trials and other tribulations."
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube