Herewith, the next batch of films for this year's 30x90 project, capsules below. (Editor's note: 30x90 is the sequel to last year's award-winning 30x30 project in which our critic hunted down and watched significant movies he'd somehow missed over the years. Last year he watched 30 movies in 30 days; this year he's spreading his viewing out over the summer.)
As with last year, I'm awarding a score on a 10.0 scale, along with what I'm calling a Relevancy score out of five stars. For that score, even if I wasn't wild about the picture, this score suggests the significance of the film in the overall appreciation of cinematic history.
1.Don't Breathe (2016): Fede Alvarez, a gifted horror filmmaker, has made a creepy home invasion film in which the standard sympathy line is turned on its head: Instead of rooting for the poor, blind veteran (Stephen Lang) whose house is broken into one night by a trio of thieving teens (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto), we are meant to instead worry about the teens, after it turns out the blind man has some insidious secrets of his own and knows his way around a gun or two. The plot contrivances are, for the most part, pretty silly, and best left unexplored (if one were to actually ask, there would be several gaping failures of basic logic), and, clearly, Alvarez isn't interested in anything airtight and methodically worked out. Instead, he fills his sumptuous frame (shot by talented Uruguayan DP, Pedro Luque) with dark, anxious and malevolent shadows, and has a hell of a time with the cat-and-mouse exertions of the protagonists. He also makes good use of the abandoned Detroit neighborhood where the action takes place -- a ghost town of boarded up houses and unkempt, weed-strewn front yards -- and cuts the film more or less to the bone, narratively speaking, so we're only given just enough to propel things forward. If one could take him to task for anything beyond the aforementioned logic problems, and occasional clichés (no amount of physical damage seems to stop the blind man, whose determination is only matched by his inattention to plot detail), it's the somewhat shameless way in which an inevitable sequel is seeded (and, yes, Don't Breathe 2 has recently been announced). It's nothing extraordinary, but succeeds at precisely what it was aiming for, which is no small thing.
2.Scenes From a Marriage (1973): Ingmar Bergman's relationship dissection is many things, but it also serves as an almost perfect time-capsule embodiment of the '70s, where the flames of counter-culture had burned down to glowing embers and ash, and adults had no earthly idea what to do with themselves in the wake of their freedom. They wallow in booze, cigarettes, pills, and extramarital dalliances, each time hoping above hope that their next terrible decision will be the solution. The film comes in two forms: A significantly edited 169-minute theatrical version, released in 1974, and the original nearly 300-minute version, initially shown on Swedish TV in six episodes the previous year. I opted for the latter, and was glad that I did. The episodes detail the marriage in question begins between the 42-year-old Johan (Erland Josephson) and the 37-year-old Marianne (Liv Ullmann) already 10 years into what they represent to a journalist as a perfectly happy and healthy relationship, with two young daughters, and both Johan, an assistant professor, and Marianne, a divorce lawyer, successful and supposedly contented. But over the course of the next 10 years, neatly divvied up into six different periods of time, it becomes increasingly clear just how far off from happiness the pair were. Through disloyalties, infidelities, betrayals, depressions, and even a horrific fight that turns brutally physical, the couple shares the best and worst of each other, only arriving at something resembling honesty when all the angst and expectation between them has been scourged. Bergman, whose relationship to love throughout his career was all-consuming, seems to suggest that the very vehicle of marriage, with all its attendant responsibilities and confinements, is the source of the resentment and bitterness between squabbling couples. Johan and Marianne begin one place -- he, a self-satisfied cad; she, a deeply repressed coward -- and, in the course of the next decade, morph into almost opposite where they started (he realizes and accepts his own mediocrity; she becomes emancipated and empowered), but still their doomed attraction remains. It's unclear whether we are to see this as hopeful; or something a good deal less optimistic. Much of the emotional weight of the film, notably hefty, is reflected in the camerawork of legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who focuses his lens tellingly on the perfectly emotive eyes of Ullmann, one of Bergman's longtime muses. It's hard to say how Bergman makes his pair of doomed lovers so absorbing exactly, but for five hours, you are watching little more than two people talk, fight, adore, and shatter each other in distressingly spare indoor spaces, and it's riveting.
3.Nosferatu (1922): Very nearly a century old, with the only surviving print pretty badly damaged, F.W. Murnau's horror classic still remains indelible, with haunting imagery (including many iconic shots of looming shadows and silhouettes of the Count), and a blueprint for horror convention that remains fascinatingly relevant to modern takes on the genre. With sections of the surviving print blown-out (including a few unintentional solarization flares), the camerawork by F.A. Wagner and an uncredited Günther Krampf, remains exemplary, but never more so than when focused on the Count (Max Schreck), a skinny apparition with a rounded, bald pate, deep-set eyes, goblin-like ears, and curling, elongated claws like palm fronds. The fact that such a visage can still be so deeply unsettling after 100 years and countless imitations is a testament to the power of Murnau's creepy vision. The story, based a bit too closely on Bram Stoker's novel (the producers did not secure the rights, which led to numerous lawsuits), tracks the journey of the count from his native Transylvania to a small town in Wisbourg, where he wants to buy a new dwelling, right across the street from the comely wife (Greta Schroeder) of the young real-estate agent dispatched to close the deal by his decidedly creepy boss (G.H. Schnell), a devotee of the "master." Murnau's genius was to connect the phantasmagorical Count with the equally unnerving natural world (spiders and venus fly traps, specifically), not unlike what Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger would pull off 57 years later in Alien, creating a tableau that feels all too real. As a blueprint for future genres, this film is essential viewing for horror mavens.
4.George Washington (2000): The debut feature from Arkansas native son David Gordon Green, who has gone on to have a bountiful, if eclectic, career, the film, centered around a loose group of pre-teens and teens in a small southern city, has a deliberately ramshackle construction, with different, seeming non sequitur, snippets of dialogue placed along with small, tightly constructed scenes that move the story -- such as it is -- forward. Where it truly shines is in its depiction and evocation of place, and its careful accumulation of physical detail -- with dilapidated buildings, overgrown backyards, and an extended series of shots at the local dump -- that slowly builds a kind of poetic resonance (this film would play nicely on a double bill with RaMell Ross' Hale County This Morning, This Evening). There are also pretty clear signs of it being a young director's work -- some slapdash editing, uneven pace work, and dialogue that treads between opaque and gibberish -- but a lot of what Gordon Green displays here can be connected to his later, more professional (and bigger budgeted) films, from Snow Angels to Stronger. It's an unseasoned work, but one that suggests a filmmaker with a curious and affecting vision.
5.Idiocracy (2006) Mike Judge's satiric comedy -- in which an unambitious Army soldier (Luke Wilson) and a local prostitute (Maya Rudolph) agree to take part in a hibernation experiment that keeps them frozen, only instead of for the intended single year, they wake up in 2505 -- suffers from being a bit too on the nose with its prediction of a severely dumbed down country. As Judge has it, the human population gets progressively stupider (essentially, the dumbest people in the world keep reproducing at a fantastic rate, while the intelligent ones keep waiting for the "right time" to have kids), and soon enough no one knows how to do anything properly anymore -- to the point where they try unsuccessfully to water their crops with a Gatorade-like substance ("electrolytes!"); and a vain WWE reject (Terry Alan Crews) is elected president. About the only thing Judge gets wrong about his prediction is the extended timeframe. Instead of the collapse of the intelligentsia happening in half a millennia, it only took 10 years. As a comedy, it starts with a lot of verve and kind of peters out by the end, as if Judge could have used a couple more drafts of the screenplay he co-wrote with Etan Cohen. There's also some off-color bits (including a repetitive gay slur) that have aged surprisingly poorly in the relative short time since its release. But his supposition -- that humanity wasn't poised to have a gleaming, high-tech and limitless future, but rather the exact opposite, with the future's highest form of entertainment a movie just showing a naked male butt for 90 minutes, and a TV show about a dude who keeps getting whacked in the privates over and over again -- seems almost too right-on and depressing now to really fully enjoy it as a comedy.
6.Night and Fog (1955): A decade after the liberation of the German concentration camps at places like Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Belzec, and Auschwitz, French auteur Alain Resnais, took his camera back to the now rusted, overgrown camps and filmed them -- in color -- empty and abandoned. These images, he set against footage taken from WW II, the Nazis seizing power, the Jews transported from the ghettos to the camps via cramped, airless train transports, 100 prisoners to a compartment, where they are immediately separated into groups -- to the right, they are taken to the barracks and the work camps; to the left, they are led immediately to firing squads, the gas chambers, the ovens. Those who live survive under impossibly nightmarish conditions, under constant threat and scrutiny by the SS, and the evil Kapos, who enjoy better conditions and certain freedoms in exchange for betraying their own people and helping the Germans efficiently execute their fellow Jewish prisoners by the hundreds of thousands. Juxtaposing the two time periods, the camps under the Nazis, and years after they've been forsaken, left derelict, Resnais, via the dark narration of Michel Bouquet (with text written by Jean Cayrol), challenges the idea that the Nazis were an isolated incident, a one-time violent quirk, quickly forgotten and buried underground, as deeply as the mountains of emaciated, broken corpses pushed by backhoes into mass graves outside the camps. Appalling and unbearable, the images of theses bodies must remain in our collective consciousness, he implies. A lesson, it would seem, in the current age, are all too happy to put behind us, allowing such horrors to progress once again, as if they never happened before.
MovieStyle on 07/12/2019
Print Headline: A six-pack of films missed when released