While it may be awards campaign season at the movies, at home, with video on demand, it feels less like a lavish cocktail party than a last-minute rummage sale.
Indeed, the glut of new releases available for streaming this month on iTunes, et al. — including, by my count, more than a dozen heretofore unknown American features — suggests some twitchy compulsion among micro-studio execs to dump their remaining wares before year’s end, whether for the purpose of qualifying for 2014 tax write-offs or fulfilling contractual obligations to the B-list likes of James Franco and Katie Holmes.
Still, the question remains: Might some of these distributors’ redheaded stepchildren be worth taking in for the night? Your faithful servant of VOD consumer guidance spent a long weekend investigating that question, and here’s what I found.
Showcasing the newly indie Holmes as a prim and proper schoolteacher surreptitiously packing heat, “Miss Meadows” caters to a certain curiosity among those of us who tend to reach first for People magazine at the dentist’s office. In “Miss Meadows,” Katie’s got a gun, and, well, more power to her.
Alas, this is a one-joke movie from its first scene. Tapdancing down the street in a floral print dress while waving sweetly to bluebirds and bounding deer like a suburban Cleveland Mary Poppins, the film’s title character deals with a leering dude in a supersized truck by shooting him point blank in the throat. Ha! And hmmm. … In the end, Holmes’ bid to have some fun with her liberated survivor persona is as admirable as her choice of material is unfortunate.
No less meta is Franco’s role in “The Color of Time” (available starting Tuesday), an experimental omnibus film whose 12 directors each take a slice of an actor-artist with too many trumped-up dimensions for any one of them to handle. Playing Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C.K. Williams, the hardest-working man in any medium you’d care to name appears bleary-eyed but dedicated once again, his character recalling the loss of his virginity along with other personal milestones that trigger all manner of pretentious flashbacks.
Perhaps because its actors carry far less baggage, the best of the straight-to-VOD offerings I’ve seen lately is “Life Partners,” in which Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs star as twenty-something BFFs who’d certainly be lovers if one of them weren’t straight. Cohabitating for an eternity with Sasha (Meester), Jacobs’ Paige meets goofy Tim (Adam Brody) and falls hard, at which point the longer and better relationship starts to suffer.
Co-writing the film’s screenplay with Joni Lefkowitz, first-time director Susana Fogel knows enough about female friendship to keep the tension around Paige’s quote-unquote lifestyle choices intact. An old-school “women’s picture” aficionado might even say that “Life Partners” vaguely channels 1943’s immortal “Old Acquaintance” with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins as de facto intimates forced to reckon with the other gender. Fogel and Lefkowitz incorporate social media into their narrative, but the larger details don’t change a bit.
Also notable on VOD
Apparently, one of the most widely streamed movie trailers in all of human history is the one for “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” (iTunes and YouTube). I’ve seen the thing only once, but even I know that it leaves a ’70s kid with a burning need to revisit the first two entries in the series — i.e., those from 1977 and 1980 (not to be confused with what they call “Episode I” and “Episode II” from ’99 and ’02, respectively).
Alas, none of the six extant episodes is on VOD, although “The People vs. George Lucas” (Hulu Plus with subscription and iTunes for rent) makes for a well-timed rental to the extent that this documentary’s Jedi-like lightsaber battle with Lucas and his digital “improvements” on the original films speaks to a fan’s dreams of a more organic sort of restoration in subsequent episodes.
Note to “Awakens” director J.J. Abrams: You’re our only hope.
Send questions or comments to Rob Nelson at VODcolumn@gmail.com.
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