Movies reviewed this week: Mandabi, The House, Nosferatu, Fallen Angels, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
10/17/2022: Mandabi (1968): ***1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: made in Senegal
Poor Ibrahim. He’s a useless lump of a man but he doesn’t deserve to have his life screwed up by the gravitational pull of a French money order.
I liked the final dichotomy of viewpoints: hope for the future from the mailman and cynicism from Ibrahim. It’s to the movie’s credit that it doesn’t really take a side.
10/19/2022: The House (2022): ***
I’m glad someone’s still making stop motion animation, and this was visually cool throughout. I also liked the conceit of the house as the central character. At first glance the house wasn’t the same except for visuals, but it’s always an object of obsession that consumes the protagonists in one way or another, so that’s neat.
The first segment was head and shoulders above the others, with a really chilling ominous feel. The second segment got to a nicely surreal place but took too long to get there, at least for me. The third segment was touching.
Most important, 30 movies into our Halloween movie challenge, it wasn’t too taxing. Probably just as well we replaced The Wolf House with this.
Prompt: watch 2 animated films
10/21/2022: Nosferatu (1922): ****1/2
I was not expecting the acting to be so good. I mean sure, Max Schreck is legendary, but both Greta Schröder (as Ellen) and Gustav von Wangenheim (as Hutter) are really good. You really get a sense of Hutter as a big goofy lug of a guy who’s into the idea of a bit of danger. Even some of the bit parts stood out; there’s this sequence with a few workers loading up some coffins and it’s no more than five minutes but they all get across their personalities.
Loved Max Nemetz as the captain of the Empusa, too. Such sideburns.
Stylistically just wow. Murnau was sharp. His cross-cutting as Orlok became aware of Ellen was really effective; I also loved the use of negative film in some of the outdoor sequences. I’ll admit that the bit with the spiders and polyps was probably just there so he could show off, but it was 1922 and I can’t blame him.
Finally, there’s something interesting in here about mobs. The entire movie echoes propaganda about the Other; Orlok is the quintessential disease-ridden invader who brings darkness to a purer populace. But Murnau also makes a point of showing us how quickly that populace turns on itself in troubled times. The first hint of plague and it’s every man for himself.
Then there’s the scene where the town unites to hunt down Knock. It’s a bit of a digression from the main plot, and it doesn’t really lead to anything. I wonder if it wasn’t there just for the sake of that one lovely shot from the rooftops where the mob of Germans is almost indistinguishable in behavior from the mob of rats seen much earlier?
Murnau’s not talking so I suppose we’ll never know.
Progress: 31/31 (but there’s more…)
Prompt: 1 German silent
10/22/2022: Fallen Angels (1995): ****1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: watch a film by Wong Kar-wai
Looking from a window above
It’s like a story of love
Can you hear me?
It’s not like I can really dissect why Wong Kar-wai is so good. I’ll just say some things I liked.
The final scene, and the way it drifts into color (yeah, the 4K restoration; for my money this is a good change). The respectful nod to John Woo, Chow Yun Fat, and The Killer during the first assassination. Ice cream. The magnificent intertwined contrast with Chungking Express. Christopher Doyle’s jagged hand-held cinematography.
10/22/2022: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974): ****1/2
I suppose if you’re going to watch a grueling, uncompromising horror movie that never gives you room to breathe, it makes sense to watch it at the end of a 6 week challenge in which you watch 30+ horror movies. I think this would have hit me just as hard under any circumstances, though.
It’s a ridiculously competent movie for a second outing. Hooper sets the stage with that chilling opening sequence. His use of space is elegant: the sequence with Leatherface chasing Sally through the brush is nearly perfectly staged. He uses the full space when Leatherface is charging towards her initially; he cuts closer and closer when the chase is a more traditional left to right drama; and then when things are really close it’s a claustrophobic shot with hunter and hunted in one tight shot.
And man, that slow reveal of the charnel room early on. The cuts and the slow move until the full reveal of the couch is something else. It’s amazing to me that we see what’s in that room immediately, the floor littered in human and animal remains, but he still knows how to make it worse.
Great way to finish up the challenge.
Progress: 32/31 (done!)
Prompt: 1 Tobe Hooper film (there must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)