Movies reviewed this week: Fail Safe, Midnight Cowboy, The Princess, Dark Waters, Cronos, Paddington 2, Lola, Accused of Murder, The Boxer from Shantung, and Enemy.
8/15/2022: Fail Safe (1964): ****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a war movie
Lumet, as always, is a master of tension. The amount of drama Lumet could wring out of a telephone conversation is just ridiculous. The acting helps a ton there, of course, in particular Matthau playing smarmily against type. But everyone’s really good. Dan O’Herlihy has maybe the most difficult job here, and he’s marvelous, particularly in the conversation when he’s looking at his counterpart’s photos.
8/16/2022: Midnight Cowboy (1969): ****1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie from the 1960s
What a brutal, sad tragedy. Schlesinger’s stylized approach isn’t always my jam, aesthetically speaking, but it’s perfectly correct for this film’s time and place. Joe’s perceptions of New York couldn’t be anything but shattered and fragmented; what we see on the screen is exactly what he perceives. The early sequence where he’s chasing after people who probably aren’t even Rizzo was wonderful.
8/17/2022: The Princess (2022): **1/2
I was somewhat disappointed. Great setup for an action movie, and I dug the structure from top to bottom. Joey King is fine; Ngô Thanh Vân is really excellent. The fight choreography is reasonably innovative, too; I liked the bit with the lettuce a bunch.
But man, calm that cinematography down. Le-Van Kiet uses a really mobile camera here and I think it keeps the fight scenes from feeling grounded, particularly in the early going.
8/17/2022: Dark Waters (1993): ***
A stylish folk horror movie set in your typical cursed monastery full of nuns. It’s often billed as Lovecraftian, but I don’t see it — there are elements you see often in Lovecraft’s work, but there’s none of that sense of incomprehensible horror that’s essential to Lovecraft.
That aside, it’s a lot of fun. The effects verge on goofy here and there, but the design is excellent and the director has an eye for images. There’s also a real sense of isolation, perhaps because the movie was shot in Ukraine under terrible conditions. Those catacombs aren’t a set, either; that’s a real set of tunnels.
8/19/2022: Cronos (1993): ***1/2
It’s early del Toro, so I’m not surprised that there were clunky bits, but the bones and the imagery are great. I also loved the emotional payload that carried us all the way through the plot holes in the second half.
Callow Ron Perlman is the best.
8/19/2022: Paddington 2 (2017): ****
No gods, no masters, only bears.
8/20/2022: Lola (1981): ****
Maybe slightly less awesome than the rest of Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy, but only slightly if so. I’m deeply impressed at his ability to make three movies in wildly different styles that nonetheless are clearly part of a coherent whole. Kieślowski comes close with the variations of mood in the Three Colors trilogy; Linklater approaches the same idea from a different direction in his Before movies. I think Fassbinder takes on the hardest self-imposed degree of difficulty and pretty much succeeds.
The Technicolor dream of Lola is the gorgeous illusion of the West German Miracle. Fassbinder’s form is his function. Everyone’s cloaked in some neon hue, which is a dead giveaway that nobody’s innocent. You could see this movie as a story about Von Bohm’s corruption, but nah. He was part of the capitalist system before he “fell” and he’s part of it afterwards. After all, he’s the guy who decides who gets to build.
And, as Esslin reminds us in the middle of his cynical reconciliation with reality, there are very few people listed in the land registry. The people don’t own the land in Coburg; the elite do, and Von Bohm has never been doing anything other than perpetuating that control.
Note too how ineffectual the anti-war protestors are. The characters stand with them for emotional release and gratification, but it’s a shallow relationship at best. Fassbinder’s cynicism is showing once more.
Great performances throughout. Barbara Sukowa is above and beyond good here, with several stand-out scenes. She attacked this role. The rest of the cast (with the inevitable exception of Günther Kaufmann) is also quite good. Fassbinder needed subtlety to make his satire work on multiple levels, and everyone gave him what he needed.
8/20/2022: Accused of Murder (1956): *1/2
That wasn’t good at all. There was this little flash in the middle with the crime boss and his thug which was pretty great. I wanted to watch a movie about the two of them, because it felt like it was set in the world of the Parker novels, and I really like that 50s crime milieu where the mob is just another business with suits and boardrooms. But I digress; this movie wasn’t that.
It also wasn’t a noir, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it a police procedural, since nobody does any actual investigating. Talking about hunches? Yeah. Questioning witnesses when they fall into your lap? Sure. Investigating, though, that’s hard.
8/21/2022: The Boxer from Shantung (1972): ****
It’s a pretty good gangster movie for the first hour and a half or so, and then it escalates into something transcendent with that final epic fight scene. It’d be worth watching as a key inspiration for the heroic bloodshed subgenre anyway, but man. The way Chen Kuan-tai raises his intensity is just wonderful.
8/21/2022: Enemy (2013): ****
Villeneuve’s fascination with identity and how it shifts is on full display here. There’s also a distinct echo of Polytechnique in Gyllenhaal’s fear of/fixation on women, I think.
While watching those sepia shots of Toronto, I wondered if this wasn’t a tribute of sorts to Cronenberg. Turns out Villeneuve watched Dead Ringers a lot to make sure he wasn’t using the same dynamics. I suspect it still got under his skin.