Suspiria – Film Review

The 1977 original Suspiria is hailed as a horror classic.  I think it’s outdated, disengaging and dull, however I was very keen to see the new reimagining of the story, for three reasons.  The first being because it’s directed by Luca Guadagnino, who due to his last film Call Me by Your Name, is now one of my favourite people working.  The second reason being Dakota Johnson, who is stunning in everything she pops up in, and deserves more credit on screen.  And the third reason being that the film has been marketed incredibly well, and since the first trailer I’ve been excited for its release.  The film on a basic level is about Susie Bannion (Johnson), an American who travels to Berlin to audition for an esteemed contemporary dance troop.  She gets in, because it’s clear that she’s a bit of a prodigy, and quickly she becomes the centre of the school, a school that is run by witches.   

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Where to even begin with this?  Actor, comedian and now podcaster (Films to be Buried With) Brett Goldstein tweeted after seeing the film that he found it strange that reviewers were giving it three stars.  He said that by the films design you could only give it a one, or a five, you either were amazed or repulsed.  As much as I like Brett, he’s wrong, the film is very meh, but I’m not sure it would even reach three stars for me.  Let’s start positively though, well to an extent anyway.  The film is very long, about 2 and a half hours, so it could probably lose a few scenes, but what I will say is that I was never bored.  Similar to the original, there’s a sense that something horrid is around the corner and it’s edging towards it.  It’s a slow advance, yet the story is intriguing enough to keep your attention.  What the film lacks however, is direction.  I’m still not sure what Guadagnino is trying to say with it all, and the only real (and thin) takeaway is that those responsible for the Holocaust should feel guilt, and those who weren’t shouldn’t?  This underlying theme isn’t fed badly into the film, and I disagree with the critics who say that it is, but it wasn’t effective.  Perhaps this was because the choices from the main character were so obtuse, and misdirecting.  Dakota Johnson plays her well, being both soft and intimidating in her face, and tough to decipher, which I liked, yet ultimately her character became pointless whilst being the main point of the film.  I’m aware that doesn’t make much sense, but this review may end up a bigger question mark than the movie.  And not an interesting question mark, more like watching my cat torture a mouse in front of me then him waiting to be applauded when the mouse is finally dead. 

Stylistically, the film is pretty dry.  Guadagnino has ditched the painted, florid beauty of Call Me by Your Name for a washed out, grim palette of greys and browns.  The original was all about striking imagery, and pop colours, whereas the new one is about the sadness of blandness.  There is some exceptions – the dance scenes were lovely to look at, and the highlight of the film, the gore and violence were beautifully putrid, and in the second to final act Guadagnino dives head first into some devilish imagery, which was entertaining.  That climatic satanic scene was actually really funny, and when I watch this film again in the comfort of my home, I won’t be afraid to laugh more at some of the ridiculous things that happen.  A strange stylistic choice was to cast Tilda Swinton in ‘at least’ two roles, one being an old German bloke in coats of make-up.  It’s obvious from the start that it’s a young actor in the role, but I had no idea that it was Swinton until my friend told me after the film, and it’s another ‘???’ moment.  I mean obviously Swinton is fucking great in the film, and the character was quite sympathetic to follow round, but Swinton playing the role added nothing, and meant nothing.  Her other character’s (Madame Blanc) relationship with Susie was a solid part of the film, so having her as the other part was unneeded.   

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The friend I went to see the film with said that he’s starting to like the film more, now he’s thought about it and read a bit on it.  I have no desire to think about it, because I don’t think the film is profound in any way, however I do want to watch it again, as it may be one of those where it takes repeat viewings to appreciate it.  And I do hope that I grow to enjoy it more, because the intentions of the filmmakers seem admirable.  It was just a bit empty, and lacking something.  Maybe if Thom Yorke had made a better soundtrack (other than one song) the spaces in between the film would have been better.  His efforts were totally disappointing, and so was the film.   

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

This is a tricky one, because you definitely get your money’s worth.  What I would say is that the film is hard, and gruesome, so general audiences might want to stay away, because nothing of substance comes from that unpleasantness.

Widows – Film Review

Steve McQueen’s 2011 film Shame is a personal favourite.  It does everything a great film should do – capture emotion on screen, and create emotion for those watching it.  His other films aren’t too shabby either, with Hunger (2008) being a true artistic vision of real story, and 12 Years a Slave (2013) a comprehensive cinematic experience of large themes.  He’s an elite director, with a wonderful eye for detail and a transcendent relationship with his actors.  Widows is a new step for him, a jump into the genre movie with the weight of expectation on his shoulders.

McQueen co-wrote the film with Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) and it stars just about anyone you can think of.  It’s an ensemble cast, with Viola Davis at the centre as the grieving wife of a criminal, played by Liam Neeson.  When gangster come politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) knocks on her door looking for the money her husband stole of him in his fatal heist, she has to band together the wives of the rest of her husband’s deceased crew, to pull off a job to pay Manning.  Set in contemporary Chicago, a political race is also mixed in there, with dodgy product of the system Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) going up against wildcard Manning.

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For a movie with a simple premise, there is a lot going on.  In the first hour I was wondering where all the threads would come together, and why there were so many players bouncing in and out scene by scene.  However all this mix and matching is entertaining, thanks to this incredible cast and quick pacing.  The movie races along, but McQueen gives each actor time to breathe.  Davis had the potential to be annoying in this role, but is measured enough to keep the film’s empathy balanced, rather than over the top.  Farrell is sleazy, but mostly pathetic and it was like watching a dog that had been run over most of the time.  Elizabeth Debicki is totally believable as the underdog, and the highlight of any of the actual heist stuff.  The standout by far is Daniel Kaluuya, who is absolutely terrifying, in a fun way, and his scenes probably took the shine off the rest of the movie.

After the first hour, the film gears towards the heist more, and this was a negative for me.  The least interesting thing about this film is the heist, because when it came down to it the stakes felt very low, and unimportant.  I would have been happy if the film got to the final act and the characters were like actually no we can’t pull this off, credits.  And I’m not saying the women weren’t convincing as capable of doing it, they were, but seeing them try and get on with their lives after losing their husbands was more intriguing.  So the film becomes a bit of a romp, which I’m fine with, because it was well directed, and exciting.  However the political games between poverty and the institutionalised, Kaluuya’s madness, and Debicki’s new means of income completely overshadowed the need for a final act robbery.

There is a real sense of place throughout the movie, and its greatest strength was its geography.  The best scene in the film is a shot from a car bonnet, where you can hear Mulligan (Colin Farrell) and his assistant (Molly Kunz) talking candidly in the back of the car, but you can’t see them.  It’s a single take where the car moves from the projects to the suburbs, and perfectly illustrates the contrast in wealth in such a short amount of distance.  And that idea of a decaying, façade-ridden city is the theme that worked the most.  McQueen and Flynn throw in added social issues towards the end of the movie, that didn’t have an impact because of their briefness.  There’s also a third act revelation that felt unneeded, and it made the final few moments unsatisfying for me.

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This is one of those films where there is a lot to talk about, which I like.  I understand why the majority of critics have applauded this film, it’s good and I enjoyed it.  There were a few things that didn’t sit right with me, and it’s a shame that the better parts of the film stayed in the background.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes.  In the end this movie is a solid cinema experience, for any mainstream audience, something I wouldn’t say for McQueen’s previous films.

The Wife – Film Review

The silly takeaway from this film is that winning the Nobel Prize for Literature seems pretty lame.  A life’s work given the greatest nod of approval is essentially a jet lag poisoned trip where you’re bothered by intruding sycophants the whole time.  That would be the silly take, but not a false one.  The Wife is directed by Bjorn L Runge, and is based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer.  It’s about, unsurprisingly, a wife, played by Glenn Close, who is questioning her life choices after her husband (Jonathan Pryce) wins the Nobel Prize for Literature.  They travel to Stockholm, so that he can receive the award, and with them is their son (Max Irons) – a struggling writer, living in his father’s shadow.  Creeping behind them, desperate to write the prize winners biography, is Christian Slater’s Nathaniel Bone, a man poking the fire for a story.

From the beginning, Joan’s (Glenn Close) struggle is recognisable.  It’s a burning resentment that is not a new thing in her life, you can see it in her eyes.  And at first it’s a simple notion of being pushed to the background, seen as the leaning post for the genius husband.  It’s not jealousy, but melancholy for years spent being a crutch and a kiss on the cheek as she passes through the study.  This is what I was expecting for the rest of the film, and almost sitting in sympathy for Pryce’s character also.  He’s a brilliant writer, a proud father, and a loving husband – he shouldn’t feel guilt for his wife’s underlying un-fulfilment?  His level on the scumbag scale and the faults of the characters is something you should discover on your own, and the discoveries work.

Seldom do plot developments enhance the complexities of characters, however The Wife is a film where they do.  Suddenly the father/son relationship is in a far deeper mess – beyond seeking fatherly approval, or an attempt to disconnect nepotism.  So go see the film, and enjoy this weight of revelation that the director throws at you.  And Lunge is careful with his projectiles, holding them off until the right moment, coming as trebuchet rocks destroying a castle when they arrive.  The use of that purple metaphor is because the film certainly has its big moments – Oscar screams they could be described as.  Thankfully the performances are superb, and the explosions are engaging because of them.  What can I say about Glenn Close that hasn’t already been said?  This performance is a game of repulsively beautiful 3D chess, a jump on an elevator to different floors in Hotel Psyche.  To quote the film: “She brings out the stillness and the noise.”  The STILLNESS and the NOISE, the RISING ANXIETY and the VOMIT OF EMOTION.  She’s terrific, and when she takes best female actor at the Academy Awards I’ll be watching in glee.  Pryce tackles her well, and on a character level is not a serious match for the tranquillity of Joan, or his disturbed son – something Pryce nails, where he presents those sad inadequacies.  Special mention to Christian Slater, who was probably thrilled at the opportunity to do some actual acting, something he’s quite skilled at.

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So what comes of this slow rise to a satisfying denouement?  A nuanced experience, softly photographed and precisely written.  Screenwriter Jane Anderson converts the novel to be a full frontal message, which is impactful despite its lack of thematic ambiguity.  In fact, scratch that, the film manages to be both transparent and open-ended, due to a final interaction between Slater and Close.  If you can’t tell, I loved the movie, and connected to it a great deal.  The flashback scenes of young love, competitiveness, inefficiency and some hopelessness hit close to home, and give a sense to the history of the characters.  It’s one of those where the players have more to tell, and have more going on between the scenes that we never see.  Watch the film to see an attentive director capture the essence of human relationships through brilliant acting, and hopefully the film will stay with you when the point of the film becomes crystal clear.

 

Worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes, fuck Venom, and go to your smaller cinema and catch this before its run ends.

Follow me on Twitter: @insiderobbie

Hotel Artemis – Film Review

This film had a great trailer, a great cast, and a great concept, but is it another disappointment from this year? 

We’re in Los Angeles in 2028, and Jodie Foster runs the longstanding Hotel Artemis, a safe haven and hospital for criminals of all kinds (except paedophiles, serial killers and terrorists).  The city is barely surviving its worse ever riot, and when a bank robbery goes side-wards, Sterling K. Brown is forced to take himself and his brother to the Artemis.  They’re not the only visitors and are quickly tangled up in a whole mess of criminal plotting. 

Going into this film you can convince yourself that it’s going to be a simple thriller, and you would be wrong.  The film doesn’t revolve around one thing, one McGuffin, or one plot device.  There’s loads of them, and for the most of the film writer and director Drew Pearce is trying to set them up.  So that means quite a baggy middle, where your expecting cheap thrills but getting a lot of chatting, and emotion.  Thus, the film almost becomes a massive anti-climax, however thanks to a 94-minute run-time and some surprise ultra-gore the last 20 minutes are entertaining.  Which was a huge relief, because honestly I thought it was never going to get going. 

During that baggy middle there is a strong attempt for an emotional connection through the Jodie Foster character.  She’s likeable, and it’s nice to see Foster again, but her story was too familiar and predictable.  There’s a twist involving her past that wasn’t needed, and you don’t really care about her demons until the very end.  And fair enough to Pearce because it does get more touching as it goes on, it was just a bit dull?  A lot of the routes the film goes down were unoriginal, including some of the action, which lets the good concept down.  It’s like: here’s this exciting idea, about future criminal cultish stuff, but let’s just fill this world with things that everyone has seen in every crime movie ever.   

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Thankfully Pearce elevates his weak writing with some competent film-making.  The action isn’t shot amazingly, but it’s exciting enough.  Pearce uses violence well – it’s extremely strong and used in short bursts.  I was also a fan of the films look, especially when it changes its colour palette towards the end.  The characters are fun and well played.  Goldblum in anything is great, Charlie Day was very funny and Dave Bautista continues to impress.  Some critics have called the film lacklustre, and I would disagree with that because of how enjoyable little individual moments were. I was a bit confused by the films messages, and the film gets caught between being political and silly so who knows what they’re trying to say.  Overall the film is likeable, short and full of watchable people. 

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

Yes! 

Sicario 2: Soldado – Film Review

I never bought into the hype of the first Sicario, and saw it as a well-directed thriller with a strong central performance from Emily Blunt.  Did it need a sequel?  Probably not but there’s certainly stories to be found on the drug cartel and the Mexican border. 

Josh Brolin reprises his role as federal agent Matt Graver, and is tasked to start a drug war on the border in attempt to stop the cartels trafficking terrorists across to the US.  He’s given license by the US government to use any means necessary so he enlists the help of shady operative Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro).  

The plot may seem a bit convoluted, silly and backwards, because it is.  Many critics have cited the film as right-wing propaganda, which I don’t think it entirely is, but it definitely stretches some racial political narratives to get the ball rolling.  And that makes the whole movie a bit uneasy, because spoiler alert, the film kicks off with a terrorist attack in a supermarket.  An attack that has no basis in reality, and pretty separate from the rest of the film.  So, what was the point exactly?  Other than to create some form of ultimate baddie and an excuse for some dirty tactics and killing later on.  It felt unneeded.  That aside the plot ends up properly straightforward, though quite irritating.  There are several moments that have no meaning, as the guys pulling the strings keep going back on themselves.  It was frustrating because the film lost all its narrative direction, with the constant starting and stopping. 

Despite this director Stefano Sollima does a good job of copying Denis Villeneuve’s style from the first movie, keeping the action sharp and subdued.  The action is thrilling and a nice break from the plot nonsense.  It’s a gritty movie, with a lot of death, which I wasn’t a massive fan of, but it’s directed well enough to make it pass.  Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro are fine in the major roles, however they are playing very uninteresting characters.  They are bad guys, and seem to have no redeemable qualities so I didn’t care about them in the slightest.  Even the attempt to give Alejandro (Del Toro) depth didn’t land, because of how astronomically menacing he is.  The emotional connect with cartel boss daughter Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner) was there for a brief moment, but wasn’t written with much detail.  It’s amazing that this was penned by Taylor Sheridan, who I like, because the script lacked any sort of weight.   

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I don’t think the film is offensive because it’s obvious that everyone in the film are bad people, doing bad things and nothing is justified as a necessary evil.  However, the film didn’t have the good and idealistic Emily Blunt character to balance it out, or for a reason to be bothered, so it ended up being very dull.  Yet dull doesn’t mean boring, and the film wasn’t boring.  It has a few exciting scenes, and it’s patiently shot and acted.   

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket? 

No, let a whole new host of people make a drug cartel movie that has a point to it. 

Hereditary – Film Review

Boy was I excited to see this one.  Horror films are the greatest genre when done right, and this film has been praised almost across the board from critics.  The trailer was incredibly enticing, and I entered the cinema anxiously, worrying about how much the film would scare me.  How disappointed was I?

Toni Collette stars as Annie, a miniatures artist, whose mother has just passed away.  Her husband and two children (one a young teenager, one an old teenager) are dealing with the death in their own ways, however in their mourning something more sinister appears to be going on.

This is a classic case of great form not equating to a great film.  On a technical level this film is outstanding, with perfect cinematography, tight writing, and high class performances.  However the film struggles to find a hook or a point of interest by the time it’s done.  And this was properly disappointing because I got about two thirds of the way through and was thinking: this is good, but this is it isn’t it – nothing more is coming.  There was no ‘grab you by the throat’ plot point, and ultimately the film lacked meaning.

Focusing on the positives though, it is an expertly crafted couple of hours.  The film is beautifully shot, with Wes Anderson esque framing, and low key natural lighting.  It parallels stylistically between Annie’s miniature models and reality well, and the opening shot (an example of this) is sublime.  The acting is top draw – Collette is brutally engaging as a very emotive and often deranged mother.  There is a moment where she lists all the crazy things that have happened in her family, and is so captivating because of her delivery.  Milly Shapiro and Alex Wolff are brilliant as the children; Wolff in particular is starting to impress me with his range of teenage sadness (Patriots Day).  I was also a fan of the quieter father role, played by Gabriel Byrne as he effectively becomes the only hero of the film.  These actors in the drama are what the film gets right, over the horror stuff.

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However not that all of the horror stuff doesn’t work.  In fact a lot of it is unnerving, and spooky.  One scene involving a séance was the only real scene that got me on edge, but overall the film made me uncomfortable (in a good way) throughout.  It was a little lacklustre at times that’s all, and even though the themes of the film work, (mental health issues passed down through a family like a curse), they could have been delivered with more vigour.  And they could have unpicked more things that they set up, because without spoiling anything, I got the feeling there is a much more interesting road this film could have gone down.  If you’re into slow burn horror movies, you’ll enjoy this, but you might not love it like some critics do.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

Yes!

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Film Review

Something that Infinity War showed me was that a massive blockbuster franchise can be interesting, and can get me excited for what’s coming next.  I enjoyed The Last Jedi but it made me pretty much stop caring about what was coming next in the Star Wars universe – it made me stop caring.  There seems nowhere to go in the saga, and the spin-offs are looking backwards.  They are looking backwards at a character whose main attraction is their mystery, and seedy past.  Han Solo is one of the great movie characters, so why ruin it by explaining it all?  So it’s taken me a while to catch this, but now I have, not all of my worries came true.

One of the positives I’ve heard people say about this film is that it is fun, and I’d have to agree with that!  Yet it’s not out and out silly fun, and handles the tone well.  It’s fun where Rogue One sometimes wasn’t, and serious where sometimes The Last Jedi was too zany.  However I’m not going to only compare it to other Star Wars movies, because actually the film felt the most separate from the main saga – for the first time!  Even though it revolves around an iconic character of the franchise, the content was distant to the usual space opera affair.  It really does have a criminal and dirty aesthetic, away from the melodramatic Sci-Fi stuff which at times was bleak but I liked because it was consistent right the way through.  The film starts grey and ends grey.

All credit to Ron Howard for steering this ship into a more than competent directorial effort.  He was cited as a safe pair of hands, but the film actually has a lot of style.  The action sequences were exciting, cohesive and well put together.  I was a massive fan of how mechanical the film was; with everything having a meaning and a purpose.  Okay so the characters have got to get to a planet to get a thingy?  There’s a special route to the planet though, and we have to fix something so that we can carry the thingy.  This made the usual bore of the same plot more engaging, because it felt grounded in its problem solving.  It’s quite muted visually, which allowed the flair to come from the acting performances.  And I wasn’t expecting much.  Alden Ehrenreich was weird casting, but honestly I thought he nailed.  He’s given the odd bad line, and occasionally makes out of place decisions as Solo, however his imitation of Han is great.  Emilia Clarke on the other hand is a bit of a snooze, though her fraudulent acting doesn’t crumble the entire movie.  Paul Bettany is of course the best part of the film, with his villain being the perfect mix of polite and evil – he was probably more inspired as a baddie than Darth Vader to be honest.

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Not sure I could ask more than what the film gave me.  It’s the first modern Star Wars film that didn’t feel too long, and each set piece was a blast.  The range of minor characters were good company – Lando (Donald Glover) and Beckett (Woody Harrelson) both charming.  Unfortunately the film lacks any form of true empathy, and any emotion presented felt forced, with any quieter dialogue coming across as phony.  I’m still waiting for another “I love you.” “I know,” moment.   Despite this I’m thankful that the film didn’t bludgeon the Han Solo character, and worked as a snappy adventure film.

 

Is it worth the price of a cinema ticket?

I was planning on saying NO whether the film was good or not, simply because the only way to gear Disney into new characters and stories is if these back story films stop making money.