It’s summertime and livin’ is easy, and but for a few shows, it is effectively the off-season for network TV. Netflix has you covered with a new season of one of its trademark shows. Return to Litchfield Correction Facility with Piper, Red, Taystee, Poussey, Nicky, Crazy Eyes, and the whole crazy gang in “Orange Is the New Black: Season 3.” And just to make things more interesting, Laura Prepon is back as Alex. All 13 episodes are now available to stream. Queue it up!
Also debuting on Netflix: “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 2,” the network TV spin-off of The Avengers, follows Agent Phil Coulsen (Clark Gregg), who died in The Avengers (his resurrection is part of the story), and his special team put together to tackle the new threats and challenges posed by superheroes, Gods, alien technology, and other issues unique to the Marvel Comics Universe.
Like the first season of the show, it didn’t seem to know where it was taking us and the complications were more promising than compelling. And like the problematic first season, it wasn’t until the back half of the season that the show started to pull itself back together. The final few hours of the show wasn’t the “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” I thought I’d signed up for, but it was a lot more interesting than the confused team in the shadows show that came before it. It brought in The Inhumans, resolved Skye’s origins, and opened the door for more Marvel superheroes and villains to join in for the third season. And yes, there will be a third season, which gives Marvel fans a reason to catch up in case they’ve dropped out. Queue it up.
Pay-Per-View / Video-On-Demand
“Red Army,” ostensibly a sports documentary about the powerhouse national hockey team of the Soviet Union of the eighties, uses the story of how the team and its players were used as political pawns in a geopolitical PR game. Like the best documentaries, it provides a new perspective into bigger story, in this case the culture of communist USSR and the turbulence of the political and social culture of the Soviet Union from the eighties through the fall of the communist state. On VOD through Amazon Instant, Vudu, and Xbox, also on Blu-ray and DVD.
“The DUFF” stands for “designated ugly fat friend,” a designation that infuriates high school senior Mae Whitman in this comedy about the savage social hierarchies and cruelties of teenage life. Robbie Amell is the hunky athlete and boy next door who helps her remake her image in her final year and Bella Thorne is the school’s queen bee mean girl. Based on the young adult novel by Kody Keplinger, rated PG-13 for sex-obsessed teens and hard partying. On VOD through Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow, also on Blu-ray and DVD.
High school kids take the lead in the time-travel thriller “Project Almanac” as well, using the experimental device to go back and time and rewrite their histories until it all starts to unravel. PG-13 for language and sexual content. On VOD through Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow, also on Blu-ray and DVD.
Also new: the Israeli drama “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem” (Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Vudu), the Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu” from Mauritania (Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, Xbox), and the documentary “The Yes Men are Revolting” (Cable On Demand, Amazon Instant, iTunes, Vudu, Xbox)
Available from Cable On Demand same day as theaters is the new take on “Madame Bovary,” with Mia Wasikowska as the young wife who escapes a stultify marriage through reckless romantic affairs, and the science-fiction thriller “Pressure” with Matthew Goode and Danny Huston.
“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” Matthew Vaughn’s gleefully violent film of the Mark Millar / Dave Gibbons comic book about an ancient organization of British agents, is not available on Cable On Demand yet but it is on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD, and you can get a streaming VOD rental through Amazon Instant, Vudu, Xbox, and CinemaNow.
The film has a comically nihilistic attitude toward both the ruling class and the working class, which can be fun but is also a little creepy, but give the film credit for proving that Colin Firth makes a classy action hero. Taron Egerton stars as the upstart recruit to the secret society roundtable and Mark Strong, Michael Caine, and Samuel L. Jackson co-star.
Netflix and Amazon Prime:
“Words and Pictures” (2013) stars as Clive Owen as a passionate but alcoholic English teacher at an expensive prep school and Juliette Binoche as the new art teacher. It’s pretty familiar stuff, a personality clash that eventually results in romantic sparks, but it’s also a refreshingly grown-up story with two dynamic stars. Their performances and sparring byplay make it worth seeing. PG-13 for language and adult themes. My review is here.
“Life of Crime” (2013), based on a comic crime novel by Elmore Leonard, stars Jennifer Aniston as the wife of corrupt real estate developer Tim Robbins, who refuses to pay the ransom when she’s kidnapped by two hapless, hopeless crooks (John Hawkes and Yasiin Bey). Rated R for language and violence. Queue it up on Neflix or add to Watchlist on Amazon Prime.
“Nightcrawler,” a wicked satire of the tabloid news television starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a freelance video journalist who races to crime scenes and accidents to record the freshest, goriest footage, earned an Oscar nomination for director Dan Gilroy’s screenplay. Rated R for blood and violence. My review is here or just queue it up!
Jon Stewart took a leave of absence from “The Daily Show” to make his directorial debut with “Rosewater” (2014), the real-life story of the imprisonment and torture of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal) after making an appearance on “The Daily Show.” Queue it up.
“Grace of Monaco” (2014), starring Nicole Kidman as Hollywood royalty that became genuine royalty, went from Cannes Film Festival opening night event to Lifetime Channel TV movie. It comes to Netflix mere weeks after its TV premiere. Queue it up.
“On the Road” (2012), the adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation landmark, stars Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, and Kristen Stewart. It’s produced by Francis Ford Coppola (who spent years trying to crack the adaptation) and directed by Walter Salles, who also made “The Motorcycle Diaries.” Queue it up.
Jet Li takes a cue from Jackie Chan and combines rascally humor with martial arts prowess in “The Legend” (1993) and “The Legend 2” (1993), which were released in the rest of the world under the titles “Fong Sai Yuk” and Fong Sai Yuk 2,” named after the folk hero he plays in the films. These are dubbed, unfortunately, but the action is superb! Queue them up: Legend and Legend 2.
The ABC Family Channel hit “Pretty Little Liars: Season 5” arrives in time to catch up before Season 6 launches its summer run. Queue it up.
A few more notable additions to the catalog: the racy (and very adult) coming-of-age drama “Y tu Mama Tambien” (2001) from Mexico and director Alfonso Cauron (queue it up) and the spooky ghost story “The Others” (2001) with Nicole Kidman (queue it up).
Hulu and Hulu Plus:
Set during the depression, “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985) is another of Woody Allen’s valentines to the magic of movies both literally, when the goofy romantic second lead Jeff Daniels steps out of a dizzy screen comedy and sweeps movie-mad Mia Farrow’s off her feet, and figuratively, when the sorrows and frustrations of real life are swept away for a few brief moments in the dark of a movie theater. On Hulu Plus only.
Before Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan redefined the martial arts movie, the Shaw Brothers dominated the genre with colorful, lively, melodramatic costume pictures filled with swordplay and acrobatic action in the sixties. Two of their defining Hong Kong productions are available on Hulu: the graceful “Come Drink with Me” (1966), which set the bar for costume action films and inspired Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and the harder-edged revenge film “One-Armed Swordsman” (1967). Both are dubbed in English and available on Hulu, free with commercials. I review them here.