There’s a few weeks in September and then again in January when the marquee listings start to look more like the $1 bin at Wal-Mart. It becomes hard to justify a trip to the movies when only five movies are playing, most of them a month old and not very good; and you wonder what’s left to entertain you between homework and the newest Miley Cyrus video. This fall you have several options. You could dig into the many great shows on TV – “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, the new “Homeland,” the final “Breaking Bad.” You could add two hundred more films to your Netflix Instant Queue; you could re-watch Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.”
You could also look back at what films this summer had to offer, many of which are starting to roll out on DVD and streaming services. Summer movies have a reputation for ratcheting up millions on opening weekends, then fading into obscurity once the budget’s been recouped and audience interest has waned; but a few of these films manage to travel beyond their release date, to resonate and linger and then land safely in your movie collection. So this fall, if you’re ever browsing Amazon thinking what new films you might revisit over and over, you can’t go wrong with these titles:
“Before Midnight”: The third film in a trilogy that isn’t really a trilogy. “Before Midnight” continues ten years after “Before Sunset,” which continued ten years after “Before Sunrise.” I have no doubt that if ten years from now co-stars Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and director Richard Linklater are willing, we will continue to meet up in ten-year intervals with Jesse and Celine, the international, time-transcending lovers who grapple with love, death, art, and humanity in deeply riveting and – yes – incredibly erotic conversations, erotic not because of sexual content but the passion of their language. “Before Midnight” features more of these exchanges, though the couple talking are older now, more cynical, but still enchanted deep down by their life’s romance. The actors may be thirty years older from where they began, but the film still feels vital. It delivers lighthearted jabber around a dinner table, lures us in with easy jokes about sexual difference, and then opens up to a bittersweet reflection on losing family; and a vicious, thirty-minute argument that caps off the film tests the audience’s tolerance for watching people be cruel to people they love. What makes “Before Midnight” work then is that we love these characters, really, really love them, and as they grow older they never grow old to us. It’s an odd film to call romantic – especially with so much vitriol inside – but share it with a loved one and then see how much more you cherish your own relationships. “Before Midnight” is due for DVD release Oct. 22.
“The World’s End”: Edgar Wright films tend to fare best on opening night or once they come out on DVD. There you’re amongst fellow Wright-nuts, an avid crowd or group of friends who don’t scratch their heads at lines like “Chicken isn’t vegan?” and “Every year is the anniversary of a year!” but laugh as loud as you. I sometimes call Edgar Wright the King of Nerds for his work on “Spaced” and “Scott Pilgrim,” but with films like “The World’s End” it’s kind of a demeaning title. Even when blue-blooded alien-robots are taking on British drunkards mano-a-mano, Wright has a lot to say about nostalgia and the corporate takeover of small town culture. He’s no longer aping film styles for his own purposes but inventing his own: a manic expressiveness that’s infectious whether you’re focused on the plot or not. It’s smart sci-fi built from witty rejoinder after witty rejoinder, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost deliver career-best performances, and every action scene is a master class on how to film an action scene. Already seen it? “The World’s End” will only get better with a group of mates, some cool glasses of lager and a small dorm to watch in once the DVD ships. “The World’s End” is due for DVD release in November.
“Only God Forgives”: Speaking of directors who work even when you don’t pay attention to story: Nicolas Winding Refn has been telling the same story his whole career, the story of a bad decision that leads to a bad decision that makes everyone die or strip naked and beat up police officers (thanks, “Bronson”!) But he packs his films with such distinct iconography, Gosling’s scorpion jacket and “Real human being” and slow-motion kisses followed by head stops, that it’s hard to fixate on what’s the same in a world driven by glamour and fetishized destruction. Now, with “Only God Forgives,” Refn carries the violence to your very eyeballs. This is less movie, more music for the retina, a minimalist composition built of primary colors, sleepy silences, and the sudden punctuation of a Bangkok police officer driving a carving knife through a guy’s ear. It’s another revenge story, also starring Ryan Gosling, which is also heavily stylized and driven by pulsing synth courtesy of former-Chili Pepper Cliff Martinez, but I dare you to find a film that’s so uncomfortable to watch, filmed inside the uncanny valley and viewed through a filter of dread. Fans of “Drive” will hate to see Gosling reduced to an even more dispassionate cypher; inarticulate, weak, accosted by forces he can’t control… but the same goes for the audience. A beautiful movie that has no qualms about victimizing the viewer and treating them to the prettiest, most punishing images committed to film. And for that I love it. Only God Forgives is currently out on DVD, iTunes and On Demand.