Movies reviewed this week: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, Desperately Seeking Susan, Mean Streets, El Topo, It Always Rains on Sunday, The Seven Year Itch, Obsession, Wild Style, and Hunger.
7/31/2023: Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994): ***1/2
Alan Rudolph loves jazz and sadness, huh?
8/1/2023: Desperately Seeking Susan (1985): ***1/2
It’s quite good as a screwball comedy, with a glorious cast. As a snapshot of 80s hip New York, you couldn’t ask for much more. What I found really interesting, though, was the place of this movie in the yuppie-in-hell mini genre. See also After Hours, Something Wild, and Into the Night.
Cause nobody ever mentions it in relation to those three! (Wikipedia does. I exaggerate a bit.) It’s firmly in the same genre, except that the femme fatale role is split between Madonna and Aidan Quinn. I kind of like it better this way; Rosanna Arquette is less the goofball lured by sex and more of an independent agent. The romance is a side effect instead of a trigger.
The opening sets the stage, making it clear that Arquette and Madonna are mirrors by cutting between the two. By the end when we finally see them in the same place, they’re visually similar as well. The hip downtown world isn’t totally alien after all: just a mirror image, evoked again by the mirrors of the stage magician.
8/3/2023: Mean Streets (1973): ****
The jittery energy of this thing! Give me a time machine so I can see what Scorsese would have done if he’d never gotten a Steadicam. The handheld camera in this brings a fierce vitality to even the mundane shots of De Niro’s Johnny walking down the unlit street.
It’s brash, too. Dropping the needle on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” as the lighting goes red in the strip club and Johnny walks in? So on the nose.
De Niro and Keitel are relentlessly small time. Keitel’s Charlie is just smart enough to know it, but not smart enough to know how to escape. Religious masochism and picking fights won’t help, but he convinces himself they will.
Scorsese gets better at his craft pretty quickly. It’s still a blast watching him figure it out in real time.
8/4/2023: El Topo (1970): ***1/2
It’s pinned down by the 1970s like a bug pinned to a dusty canvas. The power of the symbolism doesn’t fade; the philosophical framework does. Jodorowsky is flat out sprinting to escape the chains of conventional society, which is itself stomach-churningly depicted in the final act of the movie. He just doesn’t quite realize that he’s still stuck in a paradigm centered around masculine violence; he cannot conceive of a transformation that doesn’t inherently involve destruction. He knows he needs to destroy his ego, but that destruction comes at the barrel of a gun. No room for peace here.
In a way, I enjoyed this movie on a metatextual level; I was fascinated by the blind spots in the midst of masterful symbolism.
He means so well, both as a director and as a character, but the woman still can’t bring forth life until he’s forced himself on her. The violence is a choice in that infamous scene; there’s no doubt she’d have accepted him if he’d asked. That’s not just the clear corruption of the fictional character, that’s an authorial choice.
Even as the Holy Fool, he can’t help but pick up the gun again. 70s occultism was, as it were, a trip.
“I am God.”
“I am not a god. I am a man.”
8/5/2023: It Always Rains on Sunday (1947): ****
Elegantly interconnected movie that uses a handful of side stories to amplify and reflect the central noiresque tragedy. I am becoming more convinced that British noir was the precursor to kitchen sink dramas; this one is mostly concerned with how the working classes of Bethnal Green sustain themselves in the face of hardship.
The desperation is palpable throughout. This isn’t a movie full of visual fireworks, but the chase scene through the train yard is chilling. The men are dwarfed by the trains and machinery; the moment when Tommy Swann gives up is apocalyptic.
8/5/2023: The Seven Year Itch (1955): ***1/2
Billy Wilder was enough of a cynic for me to assume that he knew Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) was an asshole; it’s a hilarious performance that takes on another layer that way. The women are the only people worth cheering in this.
I think Wilder and screenwriter George Axelrod were correct when they say the MPAA Code cut the heart out of the film. It’s better if Sherman has something to really feel guilty about, and it’s better if Sherman’s behavior is worse. Monroe’s savvy approach to playing dumb keeps the film funny, though.
Love those Saul Bass titles!
8/6/2023: Obsession (1949): ***1/2
Nothing like a pitch black noir to warm my heart, and unlike some of the other films in the Criterion Channel’s British Noir collection, this one isn’t a social drama at all. It doesn’t have anything kind to say about the upper classes, but it’s not a social drama. It’s just a story about a psychiatrist whose wife cheats on him and his somewhat over-enthusiastic revenge.
The cynical bite is delicious. I liked the grim recognition of growing American power. It’s the topic of conversation in clubs, Dr. Riordan’s wife’s lover is an American. Even Monty the dog knows what side his bread is buttered on. The mystery’s solution relies too heavily on random luck, and the third act dragged a bit; it’s still a ton of fun.
8/6/2023: Wild Style (1982): ***1/2
The concert at the end just gets more and more exuberant past the point where you think it’s got to end. Lee Quiñones loves it so much he has to go all the way to the top of the ampitheater to celebrate. Particular love for the guys in top hats during the credits.
8/6/2023: Hunger (2008): ****1/2
The contrast between the rectilinear concrete of the prison and the fragile curves of the human body is everything here. Contrast is everything here. The film opens with the sedate suburban life of Raymond Lohan, which is our contrast with the Maze prison. The famous 10+ minute shot with Bobby Sands talking with the priest stands in contrast to the less heralded long shot of guards beating prisoners.
Once McQueen establishes his contrasts, he blurs the borders between them. Violence invades the quiet nursing home. Sands, of course, participates both in conversation and violence, and is willing to use violence as much as he suffers from it.
This film isn’t making political statements, it’s making statements about people. One of those statements is that our borders are fluid and permeable.