Movies reviewed this week: Angel Heart, The Deadly Bees, Dead Snow, The Darjeeling Limited, Suspiria, The Penalty, The Masque of the Red Death, Seoul Station, and Where Is My Friend’s House?.
9/26/2022: Angel Heart (1987): ****
Alan Parker was surely one of the most versatile, reliable directors around. This lush slab of supernatural tension is no exception. His decision to move the latter half of the movie to New Orleans is perfect. The nearly monochrome New York set the stage as a noir, and the saturated colors of Louisiana make us feel just as out of place as poor Harry.
Mickey Rourke hadn’t gotten weird yet, and De Niro was young. (Was he doing a Walken impression in that introductory scene?) All in all this was unexpectedly fun.
Prompt: watch a movie from 8 different decades (1980s)
9/29/2022: The Deadly Bees (1966): **1/2
So — this is directed by the Oscar-winning cinematographer who lensed Lynch’s Dune (and several other Lynch films), Room at the Top, and Glory? And that’s Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones in that pop band in the somewhat painful opening sequence? And Robert Bloch wrote the original screenplay?
It still wasn’t good or anything — Suzanna Leigh (Vivian Leigh’s god-daughter) got plenty to do, which was cool, but her performance wasn’t terribly engaging and overall the movie felt a bit flat. Terrible special effects. On the other hand, the sense of place was nice and I was successfully misdirected as to the true villain.
Prompt: watch 2 insect centered films
9/30/2022: Dead Snow (2009): ***
The last thing I saw that was this gory was Evil Aliens. Way too many undifferentiated characters for the first half of the movie but we got to the right place eventually. Absolutely gorgeous scenery, too. And so many intestines used in so many ways.
Prompt: watch a film from 6 countries (Norway)
10/1/2022: The Darjeeling Limited (2007): ****
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a film with a spine #500-600
I keep veering back and forth on this movie, but in the end I can’t interpret it as anything other than satire. If the brothers hadn’t wound up picking up exactly where they left off following an explicit repetition of the opening sequence, I might feel differently. As is, they haven’t really learned much. It’s nice that they’re nicer to each other, but that only matters in the hermetically sealed container of their family wealth. Peter’s still not joining poor Alice.
But that’s where some of his skill lies. He takes these fairly unsympathetic characters and shows us their humanity without demanding sympathy. These three twerps didn’t even figure out that they weren’t going to learn anything in India! You can’t like them, but you can understand them.
Anderson has said that this is a really personal film for him. When he was writing the screenplay, he realized he needed to head off to India to write some of it so he just grabbed Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola and went. That’s a bit outside the resources of the average filmmaker. On the other hand, it explains how he can make the brothers real: he practically knows them.
And, of course, it’s got all the precise fussy aesthetic you could want without being particularly staged. I have no idea how he pulled off a minimally invasive film shoot and still made every shot look like a precision drill, but that’s Wes Anderson for you.
One more live-action full length Anderson film to go! And it’s part of this challenge. I was clever back in January.
10/1/2022: Suspiria (1977): ****1/2
I have trouble using the word “restraint” in the context of this movie, but I think there’s a form of restraint at the heart of it. It’s a tremendously simple story: Jessica Harper arrives at a place steeped in evil. She sees something bad happen and makes a friend. Another bad thing happens. She investigates, and we arrive at the finale.
There aren’t a lot of gore scenes, although the blood is really effective when it does flow. It’s simple. It’s restrained. It gets power from the contrast.
Well, and from the humming swoops present in both the soundtrack and the architecture. What insane sets! I wouldn’t have known that Argento was inspired by Steiner if I hadn’t read it. My Waldorf high school was nothing like this. On the other hand, knowing the connection, I couldn’t miss the Steiner influences in the school: the long clean lines of the hallways, and the art nouveau designs painted directly on the walls. My high school classrooms could have had art like that.
Prompt: a films from six countries (Italy)
10/1/2022: The Penalty (1920): ***1/2
Only borderline horror but completely enjoyable. Chaney’s performance was impressively physical and compelling, and I kinda bought into his ability to dominate through force of will. Credit also to Ethel Terry and Claire Adams there.
The scenes of San Francisco were fascinating, just on a historic level. So were the attitudes: the Red Scare and fear of others isn’t anything new, huh? At one point the cop literally accuses Chaney of organizing foreign workers, although to be fair he was organizing them to do crime in the vulnerable suburbs.
Prompt: watch a Lon Chaney film; watch a film from 8 decades (1920s)
10/2/2022: The Masque of the Red Death (1964): ***1/2
Between this and Suspira, I am flat out of red for the week. Vincent Price was really effective as a matter of fact worshipper of evil; he gets across the idea that he’s more interested in corrupting souls for his master Satan than anything else. He wants you amused by the antics of his court, but only because that’s a sign of your corruption.
Beautiful cinematography courtesy of Nicholas Roeg, using beautiful sets courtesy of Becket.
Prompt: watch a film from 8 different decades (1960s)
10/2/2022: Seoul Station (2016): ***
Seoul Station dials the social commentary way up even compared to Train to Busan, but it’s hampered by average animation and it has to live in the shadow of the superior movie. We’ve already seen Seoul fall. Also, there’s no Ma Dong-seok in this one.
I did really like the social awareness, though. For the first twenty minutes or so I was worried it were just going to validate the trope about people living without homes and disease vectors, but then the old guy calls out the cops for perpetuating that exact trope. Come to think of it, I enjoyed the first half of the movie much more than the last half, and the last half is where it turns into a fairly standard zombie flick.
Prompt: 2 animated films
10/2/2022: Where Is My Friend’s House? (1987): ****1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: Watch a movie made in Iran
The thing is, I don’t love kids. They’re fine, I’d babysit if you asked me to, but I’m not all that interested in them. But it’s hard for me to get emotionally involved in a movie about children. The 400 Blows wasn’t an all-time great for me.
Where Is The Friend’s Home manages to transcend that. I’m not sure why. It might be the sly sense of humor. It’s not that the adults are jerks. It could be the compassion Ahmed shows throughout. It’s possible that I just don’t like movies about kids if they’re trying to be some kind of allegory. This one really is about Ahmed, which is good and pure.
The rest of the Koker Trilogy looks like it’ll scratch my metatextual itches, as well. I’ll have to return to this in due time.