This month’s Netflix releases include a hallucinogenic look at the dangers of sexual desire, a hysterical depiction of the Golden Age of Porn, and a gut-wrenching study of the tensions of marital life. Additionally, if you’re planning on going to the theater anytime this month – whether for a festival or a new release – there are several DVDs you can watch to complement your experience.
Before Midnight (2013; out Oct. 1)
In 1995’s Before Sunrise and 2004’s Before Sunset, Richard Linklater told the unabashedly romantic story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), a couple who have a one-night stand, part ways, and still find themselves in love years later. 2013’s Before Midnight serves as a jarring status update: Jesse and Céline have gotten together and had a few kids, but the euphoric days of courtship have now given way to the bitter struggles of married life. As with Sunrise and Sunset, Linklater demonstrates that the best love stories don’t rely on musical flourishes or dramatic climaxes: all you really need is good old-fashioned dialogue. And while Linklater sometimes likes to create conflict just for conflict’s sake, he has in Hawke and Delpy two actors who could carry the film all by themselves. For anyone who chafes at mawkish notions of romance, Before Midnight provides a compelling testament to the fact that real love challenges just as much as it enriches.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999; out Oct. 1)
Stanley Kubrick’s last film depicts a nightmarish turning point in the life of Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), a doctor who lives in New York with his housewife (Nicole Kidman). After learning that his wife once wanted to have sex with another man, a distraught Harford spends a night wandering through the city and meeting various sexually active women; eventually, he attends a masked ball that features an elaborate orgiastic ritual. The story’s gender dynamics – a man learns that that mysterious species called Woman likes sex just as much as guys – are a bit dated. But like the rest of Kubrick’s late output, the film does a remarkable job creating an atmosphere defined by an ineffable touch of hypnotic grotesqueness. And in light of Kubrick’s tumultuous romantic life, the movie’s portrayal of erotic desire – a dangerous, all-consuming force you’re relieved to escape – carries a raw, personal touch that you won’t easily find in Kubrick’s earlier works.
Boogie Nights (1997; out Oct. 1)
On the surface, Boogie Nights’ Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) seems like a familiar protagonist: an idealistic teenager who puts off his education to jumpstart a career in acting. The catch? It’s not Hollywood he’s after but the porn industry. With his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek, director Paul Thomas Anderson follows Adams as he goes from being an award-winning celebrity to a narcissist who desperately fondles his dick in front of bathroom mirrors. Despite its explicit content, the movie isn’t so much a “dirty sex film” as a cutting portrait of the Sexual Revolution’s confused aftermath – an engaging depiction of how egos, misogyny, and raging masculinity hijacked people’s attempts to make sex mainstream. Hilariously self-absorbed performances from Burt Reynolds and John C. Reilly (plus Robert Elswit’s energetic cinematography) are just the cherries on top.
The movies listed below are all available on DVD, streaming or rental. Each of them is related to a new release that’ll be playing in Chicago sometime this coming month, and are recommended viewing before you head out to the cinema.
Before emerging onto the U.S. market with Sicario and Arrival, the Quebecois director Denis Villeneuve made Incendies, a 2010 French-language film that follows two siblings’ (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette) quest to learn more about their deceased mother’s (Lubna Azabal, in a haunting performance) secret, war-torn past. As with Sicario and Arrival, Incendies contains plenty of gut-wrenching suspense, and Villeneuve makes another moving plea for cross-cultural empathy. But beyond that, Incendies also provides poignant commentary on the slippery nature of familial ties: it shows just how easily younger generations can forget the sacrifices that their parents and grandparents made for them. Even if the film occasionally gets bogged down in its own misery, André Turpin’s gracefully restrained camerawork ensures that you’ll eventually be left feeling just as shocked and helpless as the characters themselves.
See it for: Blade Runner 2049. Villeneuve was tapped to direct this sequel to the 1982 Harrison Ford hit; it arrives in theaters on October 6.
Force Majeure (2014)
What would you do if you suddenly found yourself in the path of an avalanche? If you’re like Force Majeure’s Tomas (Johannes Ban Kuhnke), you’d run away and leave your wife (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and kids (Clara and Vincent Wettergren) to fend for themselves. Over the course of two hours, Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund turns what could’ve been the premise for a B-grade thriller into a scathing satire on our understanding of human relationships. He’s refreshingly willing to mock not just his characters but his audience, too: suspenseful music cuts off right before the story’s climaxes, while the ending flippantly overturns everything you thought you knew about the characters. And if the movie’s low view of human nature occasionally feels familiar, it still introduces a paradox – we all need companionship, but we can never be absolutely sure we have it – that leaves you just as satires ought to: unsettled to the core.
See it for: The Square. Östlund’s latest work won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this past May. It screens at the Chicago International Film Festival on October 13 (8:15 PM) and October 14 (5:15 PM).
The Class (or Entre les murs) (2008)
François (François Bégaudeau) is a middle-school teacher in inner-city Paris, and he has a problem. If he’s too strict towards his students, they’ll come to resent him. But if he’s too relaxed, they’ll never listen to what he tells them to do. His faltering attempts to resolve this dilemma form the core of Laurent Cantet’s The Class, a French movie that won the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival. Cantet shows no qualms about tearing down the image of teachers promoted by films like Dead Poets Society: François is dedicated, but he’s fallible, and he often struggles to connect with his students. What’s most unsettling about The Class, however, is Cantet’s assertion that apathetic kids and parents bear just as much responsibility for failing schools as the educators most public policy battles are fought over. Nobody is blameless in what proves to be one of the most nuanced looks at public education to come out in recent years.
See it for: The Workshop: Cantet’s latest film will be playing at the Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 14 (2:30 PM) and Oct. 15 (3:15 PM).
And for: BPM (or 120 battements par minute): Robin Campillo, the screenwriter and editor of The Class, moved Pedro Almodóvar to tears with this movie about the Paris branch of ACT UP. It screens at the Chicago International Film Festival on Oct. 14 (8:45 PM) and Oct. 15 (11:30 AM).
Todd Haynes is probably best known for his subversive treatments of sexuality, race, and gender (see Far From Heaven and Carol). But before he took on such topics, he made Safe, a 1995 film in which a housewife named Carol (Julianne Moore) falls ill from “chemicals” in her environment. Thanks to Haynes and Moore, what could’ve been a recipe for cliché, damsel-in-distress melodrama instead becomes a disturbing satire whose meanings still remain elusive. Is the story a critique of our over-reliance on medications? A plea for environmentalism? A portrayal of what Betty Friedan deemed “the problem with no name”? An attack on materialism and consumerism? What’s unnerving about Safe is that it’s all of these at once – and still more. Regardless of how you read it, however, the movie accurately captures a pervasive social problem: the idea that you have to be happy because everyone and everything around you tells you so.
See it for: Wonderstruck. Haynes directed this big-screen adaptation of Brian Selznick’s bestselling novel; it opens on October 20.
Most parents claim they’ll do anything to make sure their kids are safe. But would they intentionally raise their children so that 1) they never leave their house, and 2) they know nothing about sex, technology, or the outside world? That’s what one particularly paranoid couple (Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley) decides to do in Dogtooth – and the result is pure mayhem. With his characteristic blend of absurdism and pungent irony, director Yorgos Lanthimos juxtaposes some of the funniest sex scenes you’ll ever see with moments of violence that’d be right at home in a Michael Haneke film. The end result is that rare “sheltered life” movie that neither overly romanticizes the lifestyle (see Captain Fantastic) nor subjects the viewer to moralizing sermons. And in Stergioglou’s character, Lanthimos also uncovers a frightening incarnation of masculinity’s dark side: a man who believes he’s empowering the very people he treats like dogs.
See it for: The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Lanthimos’ latest movie won a screenwriting award at Cannes. It stars Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, and A24 releases it in theaters on October 20.