Movies reviewed this week: The Long Good Friday, Billy Liar, Picnic, The Servant, Annette, and The Hard Way.
11/7/2022: The Long Good Friday (1980): ****1/2
Criterion Challenge 2022
Prompt: watch a film that has an out of print physical release
Racking up the crime flicks in this challenge right now!
This one is great; it’s got a desperate intensity that gives it a place of honor among my favorite crime movies of all time. There’s so much unsaid here, because saying it would be a waste of time. You know Harold and Virginia are obsessed with the trappings of upper class respectability, and you know they were never really going to get there. A lesser movie would have driven that point home. This one just keeps on moving for a remarkably quick 114 minutes until reaching the inconclusive, fearful end.
Eddie Constantine as the practical Mafia don is perfect casting. He doesn’t have to do much and he knows how to do the things he has to do. Helen Mirren is amazing; I could watch this whole thing again just to drink in the way she’s finding ways to get some slight degree of control over the men around her. There’s a whole movie right there. Hoskins is the best of all. That shot of him that we end on, it’s just something else.
The score is overdone. Alas.
11/8/2022: Billy Liar (1963): *****
I haven’t always resonated with Schlesinger’s work, although I’ve generally admired it. This was different. It’s light of foot and light-hearted until it’s time to be serious; I was surprised how quickly the movie moved. It’s my favorite of the Criterion Channel’s British New Wave collection so far.
It just sparkles. Tom Courtenay’s Billy Liar is driven to effervescence by his fear of reality, living in complex dream worlds. Schlesinger brings the flights of fancy to life, effortlessly slipping into and out of fantasy sequences. And Julie Christie as Liz shows exactly what Courtenay’s missing; you can try to have it all if you have the courage.
11/11/2022: Picnic (1955): ***
Boy, 75% of this one was just fine but William Holden is a bunch too old and kind of wooden to boot, and Rosalind Russell deserves better than old maid comedy. It’s a shame; if the core of the movie was free to be the relationship between two sisters, it could have been something.
Speaking of which, Susan Strasberg telling Kim Novak to stop thinking so hard and just follow her bimbo heart was pretty great.
11/12/2022: The Servant (1963): ****
That’s the chilliest movie I’ve seen a while. Losey kept veering from austere long shots to jagged close-ups; it’s a really effective way to show the progression of mental states. Marvelous performances helped, particularly from Dirk Bogarde.
As with so many of this Criterion Channel series, this one hasn’t quite escaped the idea that the lower classes are inherently dangerous. In this case, although James Fox’s upper class Tony is a fundamentally flawed human being, he’s also clearly not the cause of his own downfall. That one’s on Bogarde’s Hugo, the servant. It’s really interesting watching artists like Harold Pinter and Joseph Losey grappling with class themes without quite escaping the norms in which they were raised.
11/12/2022: Annette (2021): *****
I had to watch the opening sequence twice to make sure it was as good as I thought it was, and then I watched it again when the movie was over. It holds up; the whole movie holds up. It’s just a perfectly stylized immaculately constructed story that seems almost too extravagantly seat of the pants to be as meticulous as it is. But that’s Carax for you. Since the very beginning he’s made movies the same way Denis Lavant moves. Only someone with so much control can come as close to the edge without falling on his ass.
That whole scene on the boat, with the blatantly unreal rear projection!
The thing I loved most, though, was that the entire movie is just a dad telling his daughter “hey, don’t let this happen to you. Don’t let me do this to you.” Remember Nastya Carax’s scene in Holy Motors? Being a good father is on Leos Carax’s mind, and here the whole damn movie opens with him asking her to watch the story he’s about to tell. “Don’t be your father’s puppet.” I find this mesmerizingly heartwarming.
11/13/2022: The Hard Way (1943): ***1/2
Sharp and full of interesting performances, led of course by Ida Lupino, but ultimately it couldn’t get out of the way of its own cultural assumptions.