Movies reviewed this week: Possession, Something in the Dirt, Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming, Wild Strawberries, Anatomy of a Murder, The Endless, Resolution, Night of the Living Dead, and Mangrove.
10/23/2023: Possession (1981): ****
I walked out of the theater completely unsure. Probably still am. It kind of kills me to feel that way, given the clear depths of pain that fueled this — Zulawski’s divorce, and wherever Adjani and Neill went to find those insane performances. I didn’t connect to this while I was watching it, excepting the shock at the very end, but I will be thinking about it for a while.
I’m going to advance this theory: the scariest thing in the world is surrendering yourself. Particularly to someone else’s possession. By the end, we have the sublimated versions of Adjani and Neill, who have become something neither of them really are in order to stay together.
It’s a repellent movie because it’s unflinching. I didn’t enjoy it, I just respect it. Zulawski really rips away any ability to make up pretty stories. He wasn’t satisfied with those performances, or with the claustrophobic, relentless cinematography. He needed literal blood and horror to capture the pain of a marriage ending.
Prompt: 1 film that was released during a year we were both 10 years old
10/26/2023: Something in the Dirt (2022): ****
Well hey, that’s the pandemic movie I’ve been hoping for. It was obviously shot during the pandemic, low budget and using Benson’s own apartment as a set. More than that, though: it’s about that need for connection so many of us felt in the worst of those months. Remember those weird videos of deserted downtowns? The raw isolation?
This is a movie about two people with very little in common except the need to have anything at all in common. They get obsessed because that’s better than admitting they’ve got fucked up, empty lives. John needs the world to end because he can’t be the only one going nowhere. Levi needs meaning because otherwise there’s no redeeming his multiple fuckups.
It’s pandemic obsession. Me, I started watching a lot of movies.
Then Moorhead and Benson layer a bunch of cryptic stuff on top. I’d like to believe some of it is real, but fairly late in the game there’s a whole scene which is absolutely meant to show that the two leads are deeply unreliable narrators. Plus the movie we watch is also the documentary they were trying to make, talking head confessionals and all. So I could say that we know something was really going on in that apartment because it’s a Moorhead and Benson movie and they make genre movies — which is exactly the kind of meta analysis they invite with all the movie’s layers of lies and truths.
Man, I wanna go back and watch the first scene again to see if it could be a recreation that Levi and John filmed for their documentary.
Progress: 31/31, and what a good movie to end on
Prompt: five films from Moorhead and Benson (et al.)
10/27/2023: Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming (1970): ***
This is an extremely average 1970s spaghetti Western until Sartana pulls out his trick pipe organ at the end and then it’s perfect for a good ten minutes. The relentless backstabbing was way more complex than I felt like keeping up with, but the movie didn’t seem to suffer much from my lack of care.
Manassas Jim is an excellent name for a villain.
10/27/2023: Wild Strawberries (1957): *****
Bergman and Gunnar Fischer build these incredibly solid-feeling black and white images on the screen, which somehow serve as the baseline for a film about inaccurate memories and regret. You can feel the reality of Professor Borg’s study, and of his car. You can also feel the reality of his memories of his childhood summer home. The incongruity creates the dramatic tension which fuels everything.
Because those memories — they can’t be accurate. They’re so stylized. The twins speak in effortless unison, while Sigfrid is a stereotypical cad. Everyone is dialed up to a comic degree. Isak Borg’s memory tells him what he wants to hear; Bergman makes that perfectly clear even earlier, when Marianne corrects him on a painful conversation.
So Borg’s memories are incongruous, since he’ll happily lie to himself for the sake of happiness. (His own, at least.) When he remembers something clearly, like his marriage, he avoids talking about it.
That tension is accentuated by all the fascinating choices Bergman makes. Bibi Andersson’s double role speaks to Borg’s yearning for the past; it also highlights his willingness to deceive himself. Does Sara look like Sara, or does he just want to think she does? The dreams are likewise woven into this fabric, as they’re the only times Borg can really tell himself the truth.
The closing scene is tender. It’s also bittersweet. The children do, after all, leave Professor Borg in the end. There’s a declaration of love in their wake. Everyone knows it’s a whimsical fantasy.
10/28/2023: Anatomy of a Murder (1959): ****
Jimmy Stewart is at his best when there’s an undercurrent of darkness in his performance. His performance as a shades of grey lawyer has that. Meanwhile, Lee Remick and Ben Gazzara are telling a story about a failed marriage in the background, and George C. Scott is turning in his first brave performance as a prosecuting attorney who knows when he’s beaten. It’s a great watch.
I’m unsure how Preminger got away with making something so aware of the hypocrisy of contemporary social mores. Glad he did, though.
10/28/2023: The Endless (2017): ***1/2
It’s really enjoyable when all the lore gets laid out and clarified but I gotta admit I was wistful for that ambiguous note that ended Resolution. Still a very satisfying, well-constructed movie. And Moorhead & Benson can in fact act; their characters aren’t at all like their characters in Something in the Dirt.
10/28/2023: Resolution (2012): ****
That’s right, kids, just let that metatextual creepiness flow. As my wife and I work through the Moorhead & Benson oeuvre, I’ve realized that Spring was an outlier. Uneasy male friendship is their sweet spot. When they’re on their game, it’s pretty damned sweet.
Like Something in the Dirt, this movie is about two men who maybe shouldn’t try and be friends. To be fair, Chris already knows that. Michael’s sublimated need to give his sell-out life more meaning is more than enough for both of them. He ought to be leaving that shack they’re in when the menaces are only human, well before the strangeness settles in. Moorhead & Benson make it pretty believable that he doesn’t; who would Michael feel superior to if Chris wasn’t around?
The pacing of the secrets is superb. The big moment at the end is earned, and it isn’t overplayed. It’s a lazy Saturday morning around here, so we’re just gonna roll right into The Endless now. We want to know how the story ends.
10/29/2023: Night of the Living Dead (1968): ****1/2
This raised two questions for me. First, how did we all forget the perfect zombie balance point between runners and mindless shamblers? Tool using zombies are the best. Second, was Duane Jones the great lost actor of the 70s? It’s possible.
Romero did so much with what he had. That credits sequence, staged as photos until the fire is lit, is just elegant.
10/29/2023: Mangrove (2020): ****
McQueen’s movies are always so grounded. In Mangrove, he takes the time to establish the community around the titular restaurant, showing the multiple ways in which communities find significance. I loved the way some Notting Hill residents decided the area was their new home, and some didn’t, and either decision seemed resonable. The sense of place is extraordinary.
Two sequences to that end: first, the opening, with graffiti ranging from “Eat the rich” to “Powell for P.M.” Second, the montages at the center of the courtroom sequences, from the table full of evidence and posters to the concrete bulk of the Westway motorway. (That last was England’s shot at paving over minority neighborhoods.) Both of these sequences further ground the movie, bringing a documentary sensibility which it firmly deserves.
Any number of list makers might want to update their lists of the ten best courtroom dramas.