Wednesday, May 18, 2016

100-Something Movies – Building up to Update 1

In my ongoing quest to expand the Files’ 100-something Movies, I’ve encountered a fair share of noteworthy films that either didn’t click with me in some personal way, didn’t demonstrate excellence across the board, or have such a limited appeal that it’d be counterproductive to put them on a blanket list for people who love movies.  Given the merits of each one and the positive reception of our more economical reviews, it makes sense to start a sort of companion series similar to but separate from the main list.  The first part of this catch-up will mostly focus on horror and other genre films, while the second part will cover everything else. Consider these 30-something movies you should watch if you share the Author’s taste in movies.

The Witch does to the New England Puritan household what The Revenant wanted but totally failed to do to the 19th-century fur trader/pioneer.  I watched it in a mainstream Edwards theater with five other adventurous people, one of them a middle-aged woman who muttered upon the credits, “That was one of the dumbest movies I’ve ever seen,” which just about proves director Robert Eggers must have done something right.  The full-frame aspect ratio lent a giant and formidable appearance to the woods, the child actors weren’t annoying, and the horror ranged from interpersonal to environmental to darkly sexual in nature.  I definitely wouldn’t have minded a subtitle track, though.

Goodnight Mommy is known primarily in the States for a misleading trailer that a bunch of clickbait websites labeled the scariest thing they’d ever seen.  Obviously it was not, because the trailer for The Witch came out right around the same time.  Anyways, subsequent to its two seconds of fame, nobody bothered to distribute, publicize, or pay to see the movie, which is a damn shame because Goodnight Mommy weaves an artsy and absorbing tale that you want to watch again immediately after it’s over.  A lot of idiots IMDb users seem to dislike it because they guessed the twist pretty early on, but foreknowledge of a movie’s plot does not a terrible movie make, especially one as atmospheric as Goodnight Mommy. Goodnight Mommy is not a whodunnit mystery drama produced for simple minds to puzzle over what’s going to happen next; it’s a dark, astonishing, and beautifully rendered treatment of depression and denial that keeps the spectator riveted to whatever’s happening right now.

Everyone’s raving about the CG bear attack scene in that Leonardo Dicrapio movie, and I’m sitting here getting traumatized by Backcountry.  Backcountry is not as long a movie as The Revenant, nor does it have as many famous people feigning gruff mountain man accents as The Revenant.  It’s still a much more suspenseful and immersive movie than The Revenant for being a hundredth of the price to make.  I especially liked the way the actors are so often pushed off to the side instead of centered in the frame; even if nothing truly dreadful happens to them for more than an hour, I was still restlessly scanning the screen for motion in the background.  This would be a perfect movie if not for some close-ups and musical cues that made me think the director thought I was daft.

Drag Me To Hell
was a rather routine Sam Raimi movie with a larger budget and some 21st-century effects. Lots of creepy dutch angles and jump scares used appropriately.  What sets it apart from other haunting or satanic-themed movies is that the heroine isn’t a slut or a bimbo or a nuisance, so the parts that are supposed to scare you actually put you on edge.  Other parts, such as the talking goat or the possessed handkerchief, affect you in another, no less giddy way.

In Fear concerns a couple that go for a road trip and get lost in a wooded maze where there’s probably no reception.  They drive around in circles and panic a lot until their gas is all but depleted and they have to venture outside of the vehicle, which is a rather bad idea with all the creepy goings-on around them.  For most of the film, my mind remained in doubt about the nature of the threat they faced, and once I thought I’d figured it out, the final shot upended my assumptions, recalling classic horror films where the monster is decidedly supernatural, omnipresent, and unkillable.  The ending shot, incidentally, is one of mainstream viewers’ chief misgivings with the film, controverting the closure they’ve been reared to expect from Hollywood.  I thought it was perfect.

Whether the terrifying force is mortal or immortal, bound to or exempted from the laws of physics, the vacationers themselves may be their own worst enemies.  Like The Loneliest Planet, In Fear deals with trust between individuals and the illusiveness of a friendship in which that trust is fractured.  That’s not to say it’s a really profound movie, as the main attraction for most should be the splendid low-light cinematography, mostly accomplished in the interior of a car.  Caveat claustrophobes, or maybe that’s a recommendation.

Slither is a mid-budget creature feature courtesy of the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, though it’s definitely aimed more at horror and B-movie buffs than at the general public. Charming and campy to the extreme, it feels like an ode to all of James Gunn’s influences and effortlessly integrates body horror, alien invaders, and zombies into one freakish and hilarious picture.  Two survivors walking off into the sunset has rarely been done so well.

Cross-apply the points on Slither to last year’s indie darling Turbo Kid, which is like Mad Max meets Tron meets a lot of other 80s cult classics, with cartoonish levels of gore as the cherry on top.

At first glance Creep appears to be a really generic, trapped-in-a-subway slasher/thriller, prime video-game material but a shoddy subject for a film.  Then the plot thickens and it somehow metamorphoses into a really gruesome, effective, and wordless statement on abortion, one that’s only a statement because of how sickening its violence gets.  If you can stomach it, there’s also some strong lighting, location, and makeup work to be admired herein.  The reason it doesn’t make the cut is because it turns into a stupid horror movie at the end where the characters pass up four or five good opportunities to kill the mutant thing that’s terrorizing them.  It’s knocked down, you dummies.  Press X to finish with harpoon.

Ten years later, the indie found-footage movie Creep released to an audience of nobody before going almost straight to Netflix.  Written, directed, and acted by two people, it would be an OK movie without the supporting presence of Mark Duplass, but he elevates it to the status of greatness.  Duplass’ acting in Creep is the stuff of which Oscars would be made, if the Oscars actually designated substantive achievements.  Isn’t that right, Leo, Eddie?

Dario Argento’s Suspiria is one of the reddest, and probably most beautiful films I’ve ever seen.  Any critic who puts Wizard of Oz on their 20 essential movies list but not Suspiria is an ignoramus, or a pander, or both.  Every particle of the sets looks meticulous and purposeful, and the unrelenting experimental soundtrack by Goblin carries the film.  Basically, whenever nobody’s talking, this is pretty faultless as horror goes.  The reason it’s not on the list is because I watched it back to back with David Slade’s Hard Candy, and Hard Candy does the Suspiria aesthetic even better than Suspiria, without the terrible dubbing and acting.

After Suspiria and Hard Candy, I checked out Wong Kar Wai by means of 2046, which I wasn’t aware was a sequel to his most famous In The Mood For Love and which left me somewhat confused.  Sensuous and evocative though it is, 2046 is not a good entry point to its director’s work or to foreign cinema.  Having no central relationship or clear delineation between the world of the actual and the world of Tony Leung’s authoring, the film captivated me with its cinematic virtuosity and persuaded me I need to watch a Wong Kar-Wai production that actually makes sense.

From Dusk Till Dawn is penned by Quentin Tarantino, but I found more stylistic connections with the Evil Dead series than with anything else.  I won’t say anything else about the plot, except to say that it’s just pure, dumb fun.  Likewise with True Romance, which I didn’t like as much.

Coherence was shot in a single house on a budget of nothing without much of a script, and released in 2013 to Amazon Prime but not to Netflix, which automatically reduces its coolness for many of my peers.  It involves three or so couples coping with a meteoric phenomenon that causes a convergence of innumerable parallel universes, to the detriment of any coherence in the narrative.  The film is designed for multiple viewings, but I only had time in my week for one.

Rewatching Hanna, I noticed a lot of cool stylistic choices that didn’t stand out to me on first viewing: things like the synchronization of certain actions with the musical beats, the none-too-subtle references to Grimm’s fairy tales, and the somewhat childlike, fanciful point-of-view throughout, most prominently in exterior shots.  Recruiting the Chemical Brothers to provide music and plastering them all over the advertising was a wise move, albeit one squandered on one of their weaker stand-alone albums.  Joe Wright is also a retard, but in the case of Hanna, his rights outweigh his wrongs.

House of Flying Daggers is just as immaculately produced as its predecessor Hero, lavishly shot and choreographed from the courtly game-turned-showdown at the beginning to the exhilarating chase through a bamboo forest.  It’s a shame its plot is so trite and Twilight-y by comparison.  Still, if you’re a fan of action or wuxia films or close-ups of Ziyi Zhang, you’d be a fool to pass it up.

I gave Saving Private Ryan a second watch a couple months ago and it was still a technical marvel. Historical inaccuracies or fabrications aside, its best achievement is starkly showing what an incredible sacrifice it is to fight and die for one’s country.  I just don’t think it needs to go on another movie list, not with the gratuitous patriotic framing scenes in the graveyard, the forgettable soundtrack, Matt Damon, or the asinine, Hollywood drama at the end ensuing from one soldier’s cowardly incapacity to shoot the Germans.  Give me a break.

Jarhead pretty much falls into the same camp as The Revenant in that it’s one of the most technically astounding, emotionally hollow mainstream art films ever made.  The script itself is a smugly pacifistic satire of the United States’ meddling in foreign nations, wherein every situation is exaggerated times 10 to “prove” a point, but it also wants to be taken seriously.  I kind of hated it.  But Roger Deakins is a genius, as is Thomas Newman.

And no, we’re not done comparing movies to The Revenant.  We still have to talk about the “live-action” remake of The Jungle Book.

1 comment:

  1. So does this mean 10 Cloverfield Lane makes the list, since it's not part of the excluded titles?


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