By Emma Bernstein | The Playlist August 30, 2013 at 1:56PM
"Body Double" (1984) and Other Brian De Palma Films
What It's About: Recently fired and cuckolded, Jake Scully (Craig Wasson) takes a housesitting gig in the Hollywood Hills to tide himself over. But while spying on a neighbor (Deborah Shelton), Jake witnesses her brutal murder and suddenly finds himself a prime suspect in the case. Melanie Griffith and Gregg Henry co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Brian De Palma has always been a controversial figure. His penchant for graphic violence has been seen as indulgent, a criticism similarly levied at his oft-flamboyant methodology. And by displaying work riddled with filmic allusion, he has drawn allegations of near theft, as with his almost remakes of Alfred Hitchcock pictures in "Obsession" (1976) and "Dressed to Kill" (1980), respectively. But De Palma understands the importance of film literacy in the continued development of the medium and brings an unding sense of historicity to his otherwise modern works. Moreover, the director's talent for visual panache cannot be argued: his trademark split screens, tracking shots, and canted camera angles are inimitable, as visually pleasing as they are significant storytelling devices. And as prolific as he is divisive, De Palma has helmed twenty-nine feature films, six shorts, and a documentary, which is nothing to sneeze at, quite frankly. Recently given a limited release on Blu-ray via Twilight Time, "Body Double" is a classic entry in director De Palma's oeuvre, demonstrating flair of form and function in equal measure. But "Phantom of the Paradise," "Carrie," "The Fury," "Dressed to Kill," "Raising Cain," "The Black Dahlia," and several others are also available on streaming platforms, and we'd recommend them highly too. To help you decide what to watch first, read our retrospective of De Palma's entire filmography here.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU
"Boy A" (2007)
What It's About: After serving many years in jail for a murder he may have committed as a child, a young man (Andrew Garfield) is released, and begins to get back on his feet with the help of a dedicated caseworker (Peter Mullan). Wishing to shed his history and his prisoner moniker—"Boy A"—the ex-con takes on a new identity as he embarks on his new life. But his past catches up with him before long, and the newly christened "Jack" must decide how to reconcile his troubled past with the potentially bright future lying teasingly in wait. Shaun Evans and Katie Lyons co-star.
Why You Should Stream It: Before he launched into big budget crime dramas like this weekend’s "Closed Circuit," John Crowley exhibited his talents on a much smaller scale. "Boy A," adapted from Jonathan Trigell's critically acclaimed novel of the same name, was an independent U.K. production that shod the potential high-volume drama of its subject matter in favor of a quiet, efficient look at a damaged human psyche. It is a deliberate, articulate film that feels well planned in nearly every aspect: the directing, editing, and photography complement one another in their sowing of a deep seeded brutality. And Garfield's complete embodiment of Jack's mental struggle carries the film to a higher level of pathos, inspiring heartfelt sympathy for a less than upstanding figure. For this feat, a faculty we haven't seen as steadily in the young thespian's American roles, he was rewarded with the Best Actor trophy at the 2008 BAFTA TV Awards.
Where It's Available: Amazon Instant, iTunes, VUDU, YouTube
"Empire State" (2013)
What It's About: This straight-to-DVD actioner sees two childhood friends (Liam Hemsworth and Michael Angarano) sidelined in their attempt to rob an armored car depository by a hardnosed officer of the NYPD (Dwayne Johnson). Gruff words are exchanged, guns go off, and there's some bit about a local organized crime outfit. Emma Roberts co-stars as a love-interest, er, waitress.
Why You Should Stream It: We're not gonna lie to you, faithful readers: this movie looks pretty awful. Aside from the spot-on period aesthetics of 1980s New York, the bevy of pretty faces is probably the best thing about "Empire State." Which is a little odd, given that director Dito Montiel is no novice. In fact, he's already written and directed three films, and has another in the pipeline. Granted, while the first was pretty well received, the second disappeared faster than donuts at a police station, and the third was a total (and we do mean total) bust at Sundance in 2011. Still, it remains puzzling how a practiced filmmaker could create a project that falls so short of success in so many ways that an industry which put "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" in theaters this year couldn't be bothered to give it a single weekend. But hey, upside: if you rent the VOD version and invite a couple friends over to split the cost, you can all watch it for less than the price of a pack of gum. And there's the added bonus of being able to talk and use your cell phone while it plays. We bet you've paid more for worse. "Empire State" will be available on DVD next Tuesday, September 3rd, in case you're holding out for the Blu-ray with special features.
Where It's Available: Cable on Demand, VUDU
Criterion Hulu Plus Pick
We like Criterion a lot, but what we love is finding hard to find, not-readily-available-on-DVD movies. And so the Criterion hub on Hulu Plus is pretty awesome. Their archive has approximately 225 movies that will eventually come out on the Criterion Collection on DVD, but currently, it's just a rather incredible, early sneak peek treasure trove of what's to come. Each week we single out a film that we think you should see.
"Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman" Film Collection (1962-1973)
What It's About: Twenty-five titles concerning the adventures of a blind masseur and sword master (not a job description you stumble on everyday) set during the mid-19th century. Once a gangster, Zatoichi has renounced his lawless ways in favor of bringing swift justice down upon Japan's most wanton criminals and protecting its innocent citizens. The past never too far out of sight, however, he continually struggles to evade bounty hunters seeking vengeance for his misdeeds of long ago.
Why You Should Stream It: The longest-running action series in Japanese history, "Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman" enjoyed massive popularity and success, becoming a national phenomenon of James Bond-sized proportions. Fast-paced, emotive, and delightfully campy, these movies offer a fun-filled window into history and the Japanese filmmaking tradition. The winning combination of heart-racing combat, poignant drama, and enticing fantasy even spawned a same-titled television series that ran for 100 episodes. Furthermore, Shintaro Katsu, whose turn as the code-bound assassin created a screen legend and turned the actor into an overnight megastar, brings an arresting confidence and charisma to the leading role; his performance has lost none of its original electricity. A boxed set of the 'Zatoichi' films—dual format Blu-rays/DVDs, newly restored and subtitled—will be released as part of Criterion's November rollout, a diverse slate that also includes "Frances Ha," "City Lights," and "Tokyo Story." Try before you buy!
Where It's Available: Hulu Plus
Also Available to Stream
Despite not making our top six picks, the following films are certainly still worthy of your movie-loving attention, and are newly available via various streaming services. Links to our reviews are provided where available.
"Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
"At Any Price"
"The English Teacher"
"Footloose" (2011 remake)
"A League of Their Own"
"No Place on Earth"
"Now You See Me"
"The Other Sister"
"Our Idiot Brother"
"The Reluctant Fundamentalist"