My first two recommendations this week are two excellent thrillers from last year that are now available on DVD: The Whistlers and The Room. The Whistlers, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2019, is a cheerfully curvy, dark comic Romanian crime thriller that, in its puzzle structure and flowing loyalties, is reminiscent of films like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing and Quentin Tarantinos Reservoir Dogs, but nevertheless finds a unique tone thanks to the approach of director Corneliu Porumboiu. He takes a bizarre stance on his eccentric group of police officers who play both sides of the law and the criminals who persecute and / or work with them, but then he cleverly and subtly adjusts the perspective halfway around the To give relationships more weight and power. What begins as an easy exercise with style becomes delicate, excruciating and exciting through the climax. Similarly, Christian Volckman's The Room is impressive in using well-known genre conventions to achieve strong emotional effects. When the main couple (Olga Kurylenko and Kevin Janssens) realize that their new house has a secret room in which all wishes are fulfilled, there is initially a dizzying rush on both the characters and the audience. However, Volckman quickly brings the film into a troubling psychological and philosophical area when one of the desires has unforeseen effects that make The Room one of the most frightening and moving horror films in recent years. It is also one of the most unpredictable and plays fairly with its tricks – there are many surprises, but the twists in the storyline all seem inevitable in the end.
The portrait of the room from a marriage dissolving under pressure would double well with Noah Baumbach's marriage story, another great movie from last year that makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut this week, courtesy of Criterion. In its own sneaky way, Marriage Story is as much a thriller as The Room or Whistlers, with its ever-growing sense of threat (beautifully underlined by production designer Jade Healy's imposing and cramped spaces) that overlaps with excruciating heartache like the outgoing husband and wife played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson make horribly fateful choices after another. Marriage Story combines the devastating emotional penetration of Ingmar Bergman's scenes from a marriage with explosively funny elements of the screwball comedy, concise social satire and an almost Kafkaesque view of the California legal system. It is endlessly complex and conveys everything with an elegant simplicity. Baumbach's control over his material is so tight that he never has to push for results. he always seems to catch people who accidentally stumbled in front of his camera. However, such “effortlessness” requires complete mastery of the craft. The best thing about the new Criterion version is the opportunity to look behind the curtain and see how Baumbach and his team achieved their monumental achievement. There are hours of behind-the-scenes footage and insightful interviews in which Baumbach, Healy, editor Jennifer Lame, costume designer Mark Bridges, producer David Heyman, the actors and others articulate their process in a concrete, useful and inspiring way. It is an indispensable package.
While Baumbach's intent is to make his technique invisible, the exquisite Cannery Row is a film that goes in the opposite direction – it's a proud artificial jewel whose pleasure derives from the high style that permeates every image. Cannery Row was written and directed by David S. Ward (screenwriter of The Sting and screenwriter and director of the Major League) in 1982 and is an adaptation of two John Steinbeck novels that exist in a kind of romantic dream world. The cameraman Sven Nykvist illuminates each shot with the kind of detail and tenderness associated with the golden age of Josef von Sternberg, and the production designer Richard Macdonald and the costume designer Ruth Myers pack each frame with kaleidoscopic colors. The film takes place during the Great Depression in Monterey, California, but even the exterior shots are shot almost exclusively on sound stages, which gives the film a theatrical quality that is enhanced by the increased side appearances (by reliable character actors such as M. Emmett Walsh, Audra Lindley) will and Frank McRae) and lively narrative by John Huston. What Cannery Row really catapults to size are the two main appearances by Nick Nolte and Debra Winger, whose approaches are in line with the general sense of craftsmanship, but still generate honest acuity and longing. Both actors were at the top of their game in 1982 – Nolte would follow Cannery Row at 48 hours. and under fire, and Winger had an officer and a gentleman and tenderness conditions on deck – and in Cannery Row they're touching, funny, and honest in a way that desperately makes the viewer see them together. The film's synthetic surfaces and good dialogue have turned off some critics at the time of its release, but I think the collision between high style and real pathos is exactly what gives Cannery Row its unusual taste and effect. It is new on Blu-ray via Warner Archive and the flawless transfer makes the disc a great way to discover this underrated treasure.
Jim Hemphill is the author and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.