Movies reviewed this week: Phantasm, Saloum, Life, The Crawling Eye, The Entertainer, Hungry Wives, Santo vs. the She-Wolves, and The Mummy.
9/19/2022: Phantasm (1979): ***
What a persistently batshit surreal vision of a movie! I’m not gonna say it was well made or anything, but it had complete conviction and a weird sort of heart. There are moments when Mike looks like he’s come to terms with the fact that he’s stuck in hell and nothing will ever get better, and you can’t help but feel for him.
Also, there’s a gom jabbar.
Prompt: a bloodthirsty old person film (and how!)
9/20/2022: Saloum (2021): ****
Believe the hype. This is a sinewy living creature of a movie; I could compare it to half a dozen other genre flicks, and director/writer Jean Luc Herbulot knows his influences, but really it’s not any of those other movies. The way he weaves in childhood trauma and themes of exploitation of all kinds is magnificent.
The acting, too. Yann Gael isn’t a newcomer, just new to most of us, and he’s great. Roger Sallah and Mentor Ba are great. It’d have been so easy to let the three mercenaries be cliches, but the way Herbulot shows us the depths of the connection between them is much better.
Great soundtrack. So many beautiful shots of Saloum itself. Maybe a little less coherent cinematography than I wanted? But now I’m picking nits.
9/22/2022: Life (2017): **1/2
I went back and forth so much on this movie. I thought it made great use of setting; you could really feel the ISS sitting at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, for good and bad. It was well written: it opened with the mission commander explaining that going too fast is bad, and every single bad thing that happened subsequently was because someone rushed matters more than they should have. I liked that the critter wasn’t actually terribly hostile until Hugh poked it with an electrical charge, and even then it didn’t try and kill anyone until Rory tried to incinerate it. And the creature design was cool.
That’s a lot of characters carrying around idiot sticks. People kept not prioritizing the obvious need to keep the creature under control. The thing that bugged me wasn’t that people were acting stupidly, because people do that. What annoyed me was that half the mission hadn’t been briefed on the precautions they were supposed to take when they found life. Dr. North knew, as the CDC quarantine officer. Mission Commander Golovkina knew what she should be doing. In what universe do you lay plans that involve potentially sacrificing yourself without making sure everyone on that mission has bought off on the potential consequences? Why is a hothead like Rory on this mission in the first place?
I’m ranting because all of this was so fixable. It’s OK for Rory to be an idiot under pressure. It’s fine for Hugh to get weirdly attached to the coolest thing he has ever seen in his life. You just have to have the characters acknowledge that they’re going back on their word, and everything makes sense. It’s actually a better movie because the characterization is improved. “I don’t care what the rulebook says, I’m going in there!”
It was so amazingly cool and grim. Yeah, a lot of this movie is an Alien riff. Sure, Alien is a better movie. But Life committed to the grim in a way that Alien really didn’t. Once the critter gets into the open, there’s not really a ton of hope left, and the movie isn’t interested in stringing us along. Even when they’re taking their very best shot at saving the world, it’s clear that there’s no guarantee of success. And in the end… welp, sad story, we had a good run. I really admire the way Life embraced failure.
In the end, though, I am more disappointed in a movie that could have been better but wasn’t than I would be in a movie that reached the limits of what could be done with the available budget and people.
9/23/2022: The Crawling Eye (1958): ***
Surprisingly good! Early in the movieI wasn’t sure what people see in this, and I’m not gonna say the overall filmmaking ever gets excellent, but everyone’s giving their all and it’s relatively competent. I liked the technocratic air of the protagonists, I liked that nobody was stupid, and I liked the unapologetic special effects. You really do get crawling eyes. And Janet Munro is… well, she doesn’t have much to do, but she does what she can while everyone’s telling her what she should be doing.
Prompt: watch a movie from 8 different decades (1950s)
9/24/2022: The Entertainer (1960): ****1/2
Wait, this isn’t about a frustrated young worker who doesn’t know how to fight against oppressive class structure. Confusing.
Olivier is of course the beating heart of this movie, nerves exposed to the salt air of Blackpool at every turn. You never like his Archie Rice, although he makes sure you understand him. Everyone in the family helps. It wouldn’t be such a good portrait of British decay if Archie wasn’t framed by Billy and Frank, one with all the talent he needs and one substituting cynicism for the talent he doesn’t have.
Poor Frank: he idolizes his father to the point where he’s toxically shaped by him. And that’s a mirror too, because Archie idolizes Billy so much that he won’t ever give up success on the stage. Any other field would represent disappointment, or so Archie thinks.
Meanwhile Jean is finding idealism amid the Suez Crisis. Doesn’t do her much good amid her family, though.
9/24/2022: Hungry Wives (1972): ***1/2
It’s a sharp movie, even in the somewhat brutal 90 minute edit. (Nobody’s streaming the 104 minute version? Pity.) I was struck with how savage Romero’s sense of social emptiness was. In a weird way, the party scenes reminded me of The Swimmer, made a mere five years earlier, but Romero’s a ton angrier than Frank Perry and/or Sidney Pollack was.
Like early Cronenberg, this is a movie made by an extremely talented director who doesn’t quite have the resources to realize his vision. The home intrusion scenes are really effective, but the best scene in the whole movie was the occult shop. I loved the fluid, mobile camera and I loved the way Romero observed Joan through the distorted glass of the flasks. I loved, by which I mean hated, the way the shop clerk was always watching her. And the way he set himself up to belittle her no matter what she said. Lots of anger in this one.
Prompt: 2 1970s regional US films
9/24/2022: Santo vs. the She-Wolves (1976): ***
Blissfully semi-coherent with some nicely chilling scenes of the werewolf cult. I wasn’t entirely ready for how much in-ring wrestling there was gonna be but I like that stuff. This was my first Santo film and I was fairly satisfied.
Prompt: watch a movie from 6 different countries (Mexico)
9/25/2022: The Mummy (1959): **1/2
This failed to really work for me. The saturated colors were great, of course, and you can’t complain about Cushing and Lee. Except that Lee spent the majority of the movie under gauze, and while he did a lot with just his eyes and anguished glances at Yvonne Furneaux, there are limits. Also, the extended flashback sequence sucked out all the movie’s momentum.
Prompt: 2 Christopher Lee films