Hello streamers, and welcome back to our weekly search for the best of what's available to watch on the World Wide Web. The home entertainment system reigns supreme for another day, as two late summer flicks appear on VOD before their big screen release and a well-received picture, fresh off its theatrical run, hits the streaming services in advance of its DVD debut. Of course, there's plenty going on at the cinema too—this is blockbuster season, after all. Observing the premier of "The Wolverine," we have a much better alternative: an early-ish Hugh Jackman film, you know, before all the singing and all the muscles. And with the newest Woody Allen movie in theaters, starring the inimitable Cate Blanchett, we have celebrations of both artists. It could be that two-for-one which put us over, but with so many good VOD choices, we decided to forgo a Criterion selection for this week. Hulu Plus remains, however, and that section will be back next time, we promise. Now, let's get to the picks.
What It's About: While exploring an isolated island on the Mississippi River, Arkansas boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) encounter local fugitive Mud (Matthew McConaughey) and decide to help him reunite with his girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon) and skip town. Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, and Michael Shannon co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Writer-director Jeff Nichols paints an impressive and stirring portrait of southern American life, much of it through the unique perspective of youthful protagonists. These heroes are grounded by notably realistic performances from Sheridan and Lofland, who prove, even alongside the film's throng of screen veterans and McConaughey's stand-out turn, that they're worth a good deal of salt. And while this coming-of-age story cum crime drama proves intelligent in its showcasing of character development, it also plays to the beauty of its locations, with tremendous views of the Arkansas wilderness. Our review calls the film a "brilliantly constructed, emotionally satisfying genre deconstruction," hailing the depth of the characters, the introspection and complexity of the narrative, and the universal strength of the cast. From its striking opening shot of an abandoned boat lodged high in a tree to its well-earned and emotionally satisfying conclusion, "Mud" is nothing short of magnificent.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
"Veronica Guerin" (2003)
What It's About: In this biopic, Cate Blanchett plays the titular Irish crime reporter who, upon witnessing the deleterious effects of Dublin's expanding drug trade, decides to expose those responsible. As Guerin edges closer to the truth, her investigation becomes increasingly risky, endangering her own life as well as those of the people closest to her. Co-stars include Ciarán Hinds, Gerard McSorley, and Brenda Fricker.
Why You Should Stream It: When it was released, "Veronica Guerin" received very mixed reviews, charged with simpleminded tedium and winning restraint in equal measure. We imagine the extreme divergence there should be enough to spark the curiosity of any film buff. Plus, the always fascinating and formidable Blanchett triumphs here, bringing sympathy and pathos to a sometimes anti-heroic character; she received Golden Globe and Empire Award nominations for her nuanced and compelling performance. And director Joel Schumacher, probably best known for his 'Batman' installments in the '90s, brings his talents for slick visuals and brisk action to this character-driven piece, creating a gripping thriller that never tumbles too far into soppy emotionality.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
"Drinking Buddies" (2013)
What It's About: Chicago brewery co-workers Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) have been beating around the flirting bush for weeks, their respective relationships (with Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) hampering any further action. Oh wait, where do they work again? Yes, that's right. And there’s nothing like a little (or a lot of) beer to blur the line between friendship and, er, more than friendship.
Why You Should Stream It: Mumblecore personage Joe Swanberg—serving as the film's writer, director, and editor—has become a key figure in that movement's elevation and recognition. "Drinking Buddies" does much to continue his reputation, the dialogue and performances ringing both spontaneous and sincere, while encouraging the story's comfortable progression. There's also the honesty of the movie's main conceit, as the friction that can be spawned by monogamy is explored (albeit drunkenly, though that plot point arguably increases the authenticity). Our review from this year's SXSW Film Festival lauds the "crazy palpable chemistry" between the two leads, adding "Swanberg has by all accounts turned a corner with his latest, winning over even critics who had previously written him off." "Drinking Buddies" hits theaters on August 23rd, so here's your chance to catch it early!
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, Cable On Demand, iTunes