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Legal Download: The end of the world on demand

The world of film is changing.  For one thing, there’s not much actual film anymore.  The future is digital; more and more, it’s streaming on our computers, too.  Every week in Watch This Now, we survey the landscape of online movies to bring you a snapshot of what’s available. This week, the end is nigh — whatever nigh means — as we watch some end-of-the-world movies.

The world is coming to an end.  Not in a vague, one-of-the-days sort of way; this is definitive and precise and all too soon.  What do you do?  The possibility of the end of the world looms over many science-fiction films; the aftermath of the end of the world is the focus of even more.  But a smaller and more thoughtful subset approach the apocalypse from this unusual angle.  The only race against time in movies like these has nothing to do with blowing up asteroids or defusing a doomsday bomb; it’s just that all too familiar urge to do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do before it’s all over. So what would you do if the end was coming? Personally, I’d make some reservations at Per Se before they all get snatched up.

On SundanceNow
4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH (2012)
Directed Abel Ferrara
$6.99 to rent or stream

In a recent appearance on Charlie Rose, director Abel Ferrara said he wasn’t really talking about the end of the world in his new movie, 4:44 LAST DAY ON EARTH, he was talking about himself.  Many of Ferrara’s films feature a thinly veiled stand-in for the filmmaker; in 4:44, the lead is taken by Willem Dafoe, who, with the clock ticking down to the moment when the planet goes kaput, alternates between loving and fighting with his girlfriend Skye (Shanyn Leigh, Ferrara’s real-life girlfriend).  In true indie fashion, Ferrara mostly keeps the big one offscreen, or rather on screens, as TV footage tells the story of the world’s preparations for the long goodbye while Dafoe and Leigh hang around their apartment, order takeout and talk to people on Skype. Guess you don’t really need to worry about racking up a big bill or anything at that point.

On Netflix
LAST NIGHT (1998)
Directed by Don McKeller
Free for streaming plan members

The citizens of Toronto have six hours until the end of the world.  We don’t know what will destroy everyone but we suspect it has something to do with the sun, since it never gets dark even as the night draws on.  Written, directed, and co-starring Don McKellar, LAST NIGHT is a sad film, not simply because it is about the untimely demise of all existence, but because it finds grace and humanity even in the darkest of times.  McKellar follows several interweaving storylines during the earth’s final day, but the one that always strikes me the hardest on a gut level is the one involving film director David Cronenberg as a gas company employee who calls every single customer in their directory one at a time to reassure them that the gas will remain on until the end.  That, I suppose, is all we really want from life: for things to carry on, peacefully and orderly, as long as humanly possible (that and affordable, well-maintained gas service).

On Amazon Instant Video
MIRACLE MILE (1988)
Directed by Steve De Jarnatt
$2.99 to rent, $9.99 to purchase

“All your life you think you have time for everything, and then it’s just…”  Then it’s just the news, delivered by a stranger on a random pay phone, that nuclear missiles are in the air and on their way to Los Angeles.  In less than an hour, everyone there will be dead.  Harry (Anthony Edwards), who answers the phone call while trying to find the girl (Mare Winningham) he met earlier in the night and accidentally stood up, doesn’t know if it’s a genuine warning or a prank.  But he soon begins to suspect it’s real — or maybe his repeated warnings set off a panic in L.A. that’s real regardless of whether the warheads are or not.  All apocalyptic stories have nightmarish qualities, but MIRACLE MILE feels like an actual nightmare.  The horror begins when Harry oversleeps and then wakes in a panic.  So maybe he never woke at all, and the entire film is a bad dream about the worst case scenario for the impending date.  It would be nice if that were the case.

On YouTube
MELANCHOLIA (2011)
Directed by Lars von Trier
$3.99 to stream

Here the characters aren’t entirely certain of their doom, but we sure as hell are: Lars von Trier’s atypical apocalypse movie opens with the image of the Earth destroyed by the rogue planet Melancholia, which hid behind the sun for a while, then circled around the earth, then swung back and smashed it (little did you know planets had orbits based on childhood playground games).  Von Trier then rewinds to happier times — although perhaps happier isn’t the right word — and the wedding of Justine (Kirsten Dunst) to Michael (Alexander Skarsgard) at her sister Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mansion.  Justine suffers from crippling depression, which threatens to ruin the affair and her marriage just as it begins.  Later, Michael is gone and Justine and Claire’s family are alone at the mansion as Melancholia begins its inexorable swirl towards us.  Directed by  von Trier in response to his own struggles with depression, MELANCHOLIA suggests that in the face of inevitable destruction, a total lack of hope in humankind can be a surprisingly reassuring thing.

On iTunes
DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
$9.99 to purchase, $17.99 to purchase in HD

DR. STRANGELOVE is fatalism at its funniest; true, some of the characters in the film try to avert the nuclear war that is started by a deranged general (Sterling Hayden) when he sends an Air Force plane (piloted by Slim Pickens) to drop a nuclear bomb on the Soviet Union.  But the overall portrait of mankind painted by Stanley Kubrick’s blackest of comedies is one of incompetence in the best of times and insanity in its worst: armageddon is assured not because of man’s wickedness but his intense stupidity and lunacy.  The President (Peter Sellers) is a boob, his nuclear scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers) is a former Nazi, and his military advisor (George C. Scott) is excited about the prospect of total annihilation.  Then again, given the amount of chance and bad fortune that factors into the narrative, maybe God plays a hand, and his sense of humor is even more wicked than Kubrick’s.