Movies reviewed this week: The Slumber Party Massacre, Thing, Robin Redbreast, Pickpocket, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Return to Seoul, Four Days in July, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, The Proposition, and Police Story 3: Super Cop.
3/13/2023: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982): ***
It’s a slumber party, there’s a massacre, not much to complain about there. Around the fifth fake jump scare I got tired of that schtick. I enjoyed watching everyone have fun, and I liked the line about Larry Bird. Actually the whole basketball scrimmage was pretty well filmed even if it was poorly played.
Not many 80s flicks were this comfortable with female desire.
3/14/2023: Thing (2021): ***
I felt sorry for everything in this short, especially the dog, but I can’t say I approve of their actions either.
3/16/2023: Robin Redbreast (1970): ****
This is just delightful. It takes a deft hand to produce folk horror without anything overtly supernatural, and Robin Redbreast manages it. It’s just old ways vs. modernism, Easter vs. Christmas, and plenty of dark hints. I’ve got to stop assuming Scarfolk is a parody.
I really enjoyed the political subtext, which I won’t spoil. The movie wears its sympathies on its sleeve and it’s far franker than I might have expected. Although given Penda’s Fen perhaps I should have expected exactly this.
3/17/2023: Pickpocket (1959): ****1/2
The austerity didn’t wear thin with me. I think it’s because there were these brief moments which you couldn’t ever call austere; for a minute or two, now and again, the patient minimalism of the rest of the film drops away. Hands dance, bodies turn, wallets vanish, and faces betray the joy that comes with competence. Then it’s back to Michel‘s life of desperation.
It doesn’t always work. The arc of the film ends in the jail cell with the ecstatic love of Michel and Jeanne. I can’t connect those dots; as lovely as Jeanne is, it’s not clear to me that she equals the thrill of pickpocketing. The entire movie has shown us how theft is Michel’s relief from the quotidian. He couldn’t even stay on the straight and narrow for her. And now she’s the equal of his first love, the new center of his life?
Well, maybe. But I prefer to believe that Michel’s not caught between love and crime; he’s just trapped by his own fierce need to be a special man. Perhaps he’ll find happiness with Jeanne as long as she thinks of him that way.
3/18/2023: Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979): ****1/2
Klaus Kinski’s performance makes this maybe the best rendition of the classic Dracula tale. He’s so damned subtle, which is an odd thing to say about someone with two prominent fangs wearing four hours worth of makeup. But the wistfulness in his eyes when he meets Harker is, in fact, subtle. When he comes to Lucy’s bedroom for the second time, you can distinguish that wistfulness — it’s more charged with desire. Stunning work.
Herzog’s direction is also masterful. The original’s black and white was so evocative I was nervous about how it would translate into color. Silly of me. The shot of Harker arriving in the castle and exiting the carriage is a perfect extrapolation of black and white cinematography, with everything in grays and blacks except Harker himself: a muted note of color against the stone. Harker, and the carriage light. For the remainder of the movie, black and white is a signal of vampiric presence, and color is the living world.
The sense of decay is something. The castle is grim, rotting away from the first glimpse. And as Dracula arrives in Wismar, he brings decay with him — not as much physical this time, more the social order. The scenes of the plague-ridden villagers feasting and dancing next to swarms of rats are intensely striking.
Can’t ask for much more than we get here, I think.
3/18/2023: Return to Seoul (2022): ****
Two hours of raw nerves rubbing up against each other, even when you think maybe now Freddie has settled? But no, it’s a kaleidoscope, reflecting trauma through the years. Stunning performance from first-timer Park Ji-Min.
On the way back from the theater I sort of came to terms with the lack of closure. It is what it is; people are cruel. Freddie certainly was. Or, stated differently, people do what they need to do to protect themselves.
I’m also still chewing on the choice to make Freddie exceptional. It’s not that she leads a charmed life, it’s that she’s good at everything except her own emotions. It brought a certain atmosphere to the film — you, too, may say “missiles?” Apparently there’s a three hour cut that goes into more of that plot line. But, no, we never really know, any more than we can ever understand anyone.
3/18/2023: Four Days in July (1984): ***1/2
Beautifully human; I could watch Mike Leigh characters shooting the shit all day long. Bríd Brennan stands out but everyone’s good. The curtain half-separating the two mothers at the end is an elegant touch.
3/18/2023: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962): ****1/2
This is a highlight of the British New Wave; the Criterion Channel collection was great, but it should have included this one. Richardson brought more empathy to this than he did to Look Back in Anger, and as a result I think this is a more effective movie.
I was struck by the use of “Jerusalem” as a musical cue throughout. It’s irony, when it’s played over the shot of the prison bus bringing the lads to their new residence. But later, during the “show” that culminates with them all singing it together, it’s a symbol of the nationalist chains that bind them. Even Tom Courtenay’s belting it out.
That montage at the end is one of the most effective things I’ve seen in a while.
3/19/2023: The Proposition (2005): ****
You can’t impose morality by force of will, as it turns out. You can’t assume your family is along for the ride, either, whether it’s your wife or your brother. The color grading didn’t age that well, but the soundtrack did.
3/19/2023: Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992): ***1/2
It’s still ridiculously exuberant and Jackie Chan in his prime is always worth your while. However, from the lofty perch of three decades later, I think it’s time for me to admit that Stanley Tong was not really a first tier Hong Kong director. As a scaffolding to support some of the best stunts you’ll ever see, this is great, and the comedy still lands well. It just doesn’t have a coherent story or theme besides Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan getting into trouble and back out of it again.
Now, that’s all you need for a good time, especially when you have Maggie Cheung being as charismatic as possible in the comedic girlfriend role. It’s intensely charming. It’s also got that final twenty minute sequence, which can stand up to absolutely any action scene ever filmed. So I feel a bit like I’m damning a good movie with faint praise here! It’s just not a John Woo flick (despite the more serious tone).