Movies reviewed this week: Dressed to Kill, Enys Men, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Match Factory Girl, How to Blow Up a Pipeline, The Tarnished Angels, Pillow Talk, White Material, and The Stone Tape.
4/10/2023: Dressed to Kill (1980)
Man, I’m staring at that little row of stars and I just don’t know, so I guess I won’t.
Loved the craft, loved the tension. Loved the way De Palma takes Hitchcock’s helpless woman and inverts her, with the capable help of Nancy Allen, turning her into the active protagonist. And when you think about that it makes the big twist almost clever, because it’s another inversion. But god it’s tacked on.
Did not love the twist. So there we are.
4/11/2023: Enys Men (2022): ***
Not gonna lie, I left the theater cranky. This, despite ninety minutes of amazing 16mm texture, full of grain and ominous edges. Not to mention the sound, also fully created by Mark Jenkin. It’s a tour de force.
But I also wanted the film to pick a lane. Don’t tease me with body horror, then ghosts, then time slips, then a gloomy meditation on the scars of Cornish industrialism. Which were visible even on that remote island. That’s saying something. Fine; but how do they come together?
A Blueprint for Survival is a 1972 book advocating for a return to small, tribal communities. (The author, tangentially, wound up working with the European far right from time to time.) It’s also all over Enys Men. It’s too prominent not to matter.
So… environmentalism and traditionalism? That meshes well with the miners and those awful haunted smiles. Lichen grows everywhere. And that touches on the strange sense of time on the island. It all coheres.
And grief is just what happens when you can’t avoid the past, I suppose. I think that’s weaker, though. There are two movies coexisting here, one about Mary Woodvine’s past and one about the creaking wheel of progress. I just don’t think they’re coexisting terribly well.
Less cranky now. It’s a worthwhile experience.
4/13/2023: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947): ****
I thought it was going to be a bit slow, but then it picked up around the time she went back to London the first time, and then it got excellent. Gene Tierney really embodied the independent-minded woman in a time when that wasn’t done, and in the end I appreciated the life her character led. It’s an understated role but effective.
The guys (in all their sexist glory) were also pretty fun.
4/15/2023: The Match Factory Girl (1990): ****
The book she’s reading on the bus, early on, is a translation of Sara Orwig’s Oregon Brown. Orwig is a prolific romance author from Oklahoma. People who live in Helsinki in Kaurismäki movies often want to be anywhere else.
I love the way Kaurismäki lingers on a tragic moment until it’s mordantly funny. If you were to balance this movie on a single point, it’d be right in the middle, when Kati Outinen gets some news and the camera zooms in on her face. It might be the only zoom in the entire movie. It’s terrible but it’s hilarious because he’s just spent half an hour setting us up to think we’re getting nothing but long static shocks. It’s practically slapstick.
Which makes sense, because it’s not a subtle movie, just a minimalist one. Not at all the same thing. The theme is evident from the opening, with the giant logs being slowly ground down by machines until they’re in a form that’s useful to society. Kati Outinen is undergoing the same process. Her parents just haven’t ground her all the way down yet. Kaurismäki has zero interest in hiding what he’s doing.
4/15/2023: How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2022): ****
If you want to revitalize the heist genre by framing it around ecoactivism, why not? It works as a movie, taut and gripping with a particularly standout performance from Forrest Goodluck, and it works as political commentary.
There are eight characters on the job, and I walked out of the theater knowing who each of them was, which is pretty core to why it works as commentary. You have to believe in the motivations to understand the passion.
Oh, and I’m not gonna tell anyone how to parse the politics but Leah Sotille’s podcast Burn Wild is relevant here.
4/15/2023: The Tarnished Angels (1957): ****1/2
You can start with the early scene when Rock Hudson’s alcoholic reporter Burke Devlin is hunched over his typewriter in a seedy New Orleans newspaper, out-writing everyone around him while he drinks whiskey-laced coffee. He’s trapped by the gravitational pull of that typewriter. It’s demeaning and his boss makes fun of him but it’s the only skill he has. His slumped shoulders speak volumes about how much he wants to escape.
That’s everyone in the entire movie. Everyone wants to escape, and nobody gets out whole. Colonel Fineman is the richest man in the entire movie, and he’s on crutches, because that’s how the world works.
Devlin doesn’t just want to be with LaVerne (and holy crap, Dorothy Malone, as always), he wants the family. Maybe even without the romance although I’m cautious of the usual temptation to read subtext into this. His first contact with the Shumanns is the young son, Jack, though.
Roger Shumann wants to get out of the business of risking his life but the only place he’s content is in the cockpit. People are too complex. Jiggs wants out of the love triangle but he’s too emotionally involved with both of them. It’s just a tangle.
Sirk’s so good here. He establishes a milieu of desperation in five minutes, because they’re living in a world where nobody cares that a man is beating up a child for laughs. Then there’s the big climactic loss, but that’s not where the end is, because everyone else — even rich Matt Old — has to lose something before we’re done. Beautiful tragedy.
4/16/2023: Pillow Talk (1959): **1/2
“Oh,” I said, “I really enjoyed Down With Love. And I’ve watched a lot of grim movies this week. And I really should watch one of the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies before they leave the Criterion Channel.”
It’s not so much that it’s painfully dated, because context matters, but that felt a lot like watching Doris Day and Rock Hudson being stars and I like them both more when they’re acting.
4/16/2023: White Material (2009): ****1/2
Hazy, fuzzy, both in cinematography and in theme. Denis is never one to tell you what her films are about; dig it out for yourself. The masterful thing about her direction and Hupper’s performance is that Maria Vial‘s colonialist position is perfectly clear and that neither woman tells you how to feel about it.
4/16/2023: The Stone Tape (1972): ***1/2
Genuinely chilling. The loud brashness of the 1970s tech geeks is a nice counterpart to the horror generated by sounds locked in stone.