Suspiria (2018)

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Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, ‘Call Me By Your Name’ director Luca Guadagnino’s homage to the 1977 ‘Suspiria’ is a film that has vastly polarised critics and audiences alike and is definitely an example of a weirdly hypnotising film, whether it be good or bad.

Dancer Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson) has always felt an urge to be where top choreographer Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is. This desire takes Susie to the Tanz Academy in Berlin where she quickly grows accustomed to the methods of Blanc and other madams and their front as a dance school slowly disappears to reveal them as a chorus of witches.

Off the bat I must admit I have not seen the Dario Argento original but shall definitely seek it out after watching…whatever this was. The whole look of this update doesn’t go down the usual glossier redo but keeps the film in bland, bleak tones of browns, greys and whites which makes the bursts of red all the more alarming. The entire feature has this odd pull; like it’s drawing you into a state of hypnosis which nicely mirrors the inexplicable connection Susie has always had with Madame Blanc.

Guadagnino utilises on some neat shots and clever style choices throughout this film. Whether the frame rate is slowed right down or cameras suddenly whip and zoom toward someone, there’s definitely a smart tactic made by the director in presenting this strange horror with a flair of confidence and compelling curiosity.

People will likely be talking about the near final scene for a while. A carnival of Dionysus proportions with a river of red is outlandish and mad. This creepy coven shows off a beastly display of blood and ritual that is so horrific and over the top that it’s very nearly unintentionally amusing. Better flashes of horror comes from a dance section with the ladies draped in ropes of red which is amazingly choreographed and an earlier back and forth rite of passage between a debut rehearsal and a victim trapped in her own freakish hall of mirrors. This moment is squeamish and damn effective.

‘Suspiria’ does have an abundance of flaws though, a major one lies with the screenwriter’s choice to present the narrative in a 1970’s setting with too much room spent on the aftermath of the Berlin divide and post-war anxieties and grief. This theme is fine but on the whole it drastically takes away from what could have been a more focused look at just the dance academy and its witches. Thom Yorke’s soundtrack provides a heavy dose of piano which adds to the mesmerising quality but often makes the movie like a lullaby to rest your eyelids to. Also, that carnival explosion of gore and coven craziness has a great sinister sound backing the visuals and then Yorke’s vocals come in again and make the whole thing feel dreamy and ridiculous.

Johnson definitely knocks back anyone who says she can’t act because her turn as Bannion is a fantastic journey of passion, training and a personal core of unsettling change to where she ends up. Swinton is as strangely alluring and magnetic as always, just the way she delivers her lines like a precise poet carries a maternal yet worrying edge. The likelihood is that she also plays two other characters and one is of an aged male doctor which further proves what a brilliant chameleon Swinton is as an actor.

‘Suspiria’ to the uninitiated really goes places you won’t expect and feels like a mysterious yet slow descent into hell. It’s often too drab and floaty but has great attacks of visual horror along the way.

5.5/10

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Entebbe (2018)

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Inspired by a true moment in history, this biographical thriller from Jose Padilha has some nicely executed tension in places and a bold choice of book-ended dancing but isn’t as thrilling as you’d expect it to be.

Set over one week in 1976, we see the planning and execution of Palestine ‘freedom fighters’ hijacking a plane and keeping the passengers hostage at an airport terminal in Entebbe, Uganda. Hoping to lead and show they’re not radicals or dangerous is Wilfried Bose (Daniel Bruhl) who doesn’t reckon on the Israeli government strategising a combat response to their demands.

Considering the events being shown to us are based on real life ones, the film never really lifts off and becomes as deeply tense as it would have been in that scenario for the captives. There are some brief elevations of tension that help keep some interest alive, but these are at the beginning and end of the film, which leaves a hefty middle portion to sit almost stale-like.

For a film that’s tackling events previously shown in other TV films, this one bravely includes a sequence to differentiate itself and stand apart. This is the opening dance number that then returns nearing the end and becomes a unique bookend for the movie, that I did find to work well. It mirrors the alarming nature of what is happening in Uganda and is exceptionally edited, giving the film a much needed sheen of atmospheric style.

More than anything, this is a movie that doesn’t just slow burn like great thrillers do, but just feels slow. Come day four and five, ‘Entebbe’ begins to lull and dare I say ache with boredom but does pick up its pace and as day six and seven roll around, the film had me more attuned and awake. There wasn’t much emotional attachment within the film and that’s maybe why the film feels slow, they try showing us a dancer and her soldier boyfriend but it comes to late to capture any connection to them and generally, there’s no one really to root for.

Bruhl is interesting in his role as someone wanting to fight against the powers of Israel and free his people, it also lets him briefly shine as he desperately hopes to step away from the expectations of society viewing the fact he’s German and taking prisoners, as the unfortunate parallels it has to WW2 Nazism, but it’s not his best performance by any stretch. Rosamund Pike is great in this, she has such expressive eyes which are full of guilt, sadness and ultimately, a realisation of the situation she’s ended up in. A scene with Pike at a payphone rings with softly powerful words and a simple yet effective static shot over this scene really hits home the problem Brigitte Kulhmann has gotten into.

The issue of the film is that there are no sides to take and the complexity of the still ongoing Palestine and Israel conflict; sees this film mired with frustrating emptiness, only briefly saved by some snippets of style and tension.

5.5/10

 

Hail, Caesar! (2016)

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I do enjoy the Coen Brothers work, but I can’t say I’m gushing over this latest picture. It’s fun in places and soars because of a fabulous cast but I felt it was perhaps scattered too much and bereft of a gripping plot.

We find ourselves in the 1950’s and mostly follow Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a Hollywood honcho who helps stars and productions keep good press. That could become tricky though as feature star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) gets kidnapped in the midst of filming a religious epic called ‘Hail, Caesar!’. A group calling themselves The Future want money for his release and so Mannix must try to get Whitlock back.

Joel and Ethan Coen direct and write this lark and do so with a clear fondness for the way movies come together. The laughs can be found as actors or directors guffaw over choices, most explicitly in the repetitive yet genius scene between Ralph Fiennes’ directing worry with Alden Ehrenreich’s cowboy icon of Hobie Doyle. The Coen’s flit between different sound stages letting us peek at differing productions which are amusing and interesting but this back and forth never gives the movie a sense of story or tension when there could have been. Without much of a plot this movie does look and sound more like a series of images to be loved by critics or classic film fanatics.

Roger Deakins, who really needs an Oscar by now, is on top form capturing wonder in this filmy feature. The glorious epic feel of the Romans sweeping through the screen or the synchronised swimmers gloriously twirling and floating around bombshell actress DeeAnna Moran played by bombshell actress Scarlett Johansson. It looks all the way through like a glorious picture of old, a love letter to the way movies used to be made.

The film did make me chuckle and grin but I never belted a laugh, and nor did many in the audience either, I feel this movie is more subdued and lacking of an engaging narrative than it should be. The angles it bounces off in become so many that characters are lost to minimal moments making them almost unnecessary. We see ideas skewed in from journalist stories, Capitalist thoughts, kidnap, pregnancy fixing, Communism and movie making that it doesn’t ever mesh, each point just hangs there never defined.

The characters are amusing though, their flourishes and their names being so wonderfully goofy and studio send ups. Thora/Thessaly Thacker, Burt Gurney and the winner – Laurence Laurentz. The dance number is toe-tappingly silly, Channing Tatum’s blonde flick and look backs are hilariously over the top and most character looks fall delightfully under the gormless idiot look that the Coen’s so brilliantly encapsulate in their writing. Only a shame that the characters aren’t backed up by a fun or rewarding plot.

Josh Brolin practically does everything as we see him do all the work, finding himself here there and everywhere trying to solve problems and ultimately bring back Baird. He is a straight man, not really demonstrating much comedy as George Clooney does that, going back to his ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ routine to play buffoonish and moronic. It’s not as good as that film or his performance in ‘Burn After Reading’ either but he is still having a ball. Alden Ehrenreich will be one to watch, he plays the singing Western star with such grounded believability that when he steps out of his comfort zone you feel for him, he ends up being the hero of the piece in my mind. Ralph Fiennes once again proves his unquestionable prowess for comic timing, in his two main scenes his face speaks volumes and his delivery adds even more. Scarlett Johansson pulls the cheesy starlet grin with no depth as the mermaid and then counters with a thick accent and a penchant for problems. Tilda Swinton fans get two for the price of one as she portrays twin journalists with a sense of striking fashion and similarly striking headlines. Frances McDormand is a smoking, scarf wearing editor that is merely a cameo but brings in one of the better moments as we see how well the Coen Bros can do dark material. Channing Tatum tap dances his way through as a sailor and more. Hail, Dumbledore! We even get Michael Gambon as a narrator just to make this whole thing more starry and more filmy filmy.

Flecks of brilliance and movie making behind the scenes comedy but a portion empty and flat for my liking. This Coen outing is boosted by a grand cast and a glowing adoration to movies of the golden era.

6.5/10

Annie (2014)

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A film remake so abysmally bad, it pains to see a talented collection of actors performing in this cringe fest. It’s not even understandable why it needed to be made, apart from monetary gain, the original 1982 version is a classic and if a new generation should see the musical then they can just watch that, instead of sitting through nearly 2 hours of horrendous tech obsessed plot mixed with songs that never sound great.

This retelling finds Annie Bennett (Quvenzhane Wallis) as a foster kid in Harlem. She has a note leading her to hope her parents may return to a corner restaurant but for now she’s stuck under the care of drunk Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). That is until she literally bumps into mobile phone emperor Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) who uses this meeting as a chance to raise his profile as candidate for mayor. As Annie steps into a richer more luxurious world, will her parents finally reveal themselves and does Will see her as more than just a political tool?

The songs in this are so badly done that every time a new one starts to kick in, you groan and hope to high heaven that it’s over quickly, which for a musical is clearly not a good sign. Even the popular ones like ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life’ are poorly executed that there’s no magic or sadness in the former or fun in the latter. To be honest the foster girls are so small in number that Miss Hannigan doesn’t really have her work cut out like the 80’s Hannigan and the minimal amount make the hard-knock life number really weak as there’s no strong chorus of girls to give it more oomph.

Rose Byrne and Cameron Diaz jump into songs without much warning and both struggle to sound right, notes being dull and pitchy. Jamie Foxx of course comes from a RnB background so when he does sing a couple of times, he does possess some soul, but his unbearably cheesy arm extensions and the city is mine/yours song feel like a head palm moment. There’s no wonder in the music and the constant hard percussion beats used as non-diagetic sounds between songs gets really irritating really fast.

The entire mobile tech subplot of Stacks’ character is so clawing at material idealism and trying to set it up as a media obsessed world but it becomes badly executed when phones and social media outlets save the day when Annie is being driven away from the city. It’s actually laughably bad at how much Instagram or twitter pave the golden path of heroism in seeing the titular girl in trouble. Also however much Will Stacks’ pad looks very very cool, chic and impressive, it doesn’t retain the same wow factor the posh clean mansion of the original film, also for liking to live alone why does Will need a spare bedroom in his place, darn tootin’ it’s lucky he saved Annie!

The major problem with this film, aside from all the others, is in it’s overload of skin crawling cuteness, it’s packed with sickly images and the way it’s shot, performed and carried out doesn’t give the film any edge, threat or style. The ’82 film however felt dark and grimy, you felt for Annie as an orphan and the railway bridge spectacle of the original is something that will forever stick in my mind as a brilliant and worrying moment, this film had none of that.

To begrudgingly head over to the positives, Wallis and her singing of ‘Opportunity’ is the stand out performance, here we finally get to see the potential of Annie and the hope that this film has a twinkling beautiful scene before it all crumbles into the final act of the movie. Wallis in general is one of the only good things as she strives to keep her big haired head up against the tide of problems. The movie within the movie is also a fun great thing, if only because it gives us some famous cameos to giggle at.

Cameron Diaz is a terrible Colleen Hannigan, her squints, smirks and attempts at being the nasty inebriated foster carer are awful, her rendition of ‘Little Girls’ is atrocious and throughout you just somehow hope that Carol Burnett would step in and no-one would blink an eye because it would be a welcome change. Jamie Foxx tries his best but his character is forced and predictable that even his smooth nature can’t save the day. Quvenzhane Wallis is a special talent and it’s a huge shame that after ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ she’s dropped to such a naff film. She has her strong shining spots in being street smart, smiley and quick witted but you never feel for her because she can hold her own, the vulnerable disability they give feels like such a distasteful add on to try and give her something to weaken her. Bobby Cannavale is slimy and slick in equal measure but doesn’t have much to do in terms of challenging him coasting through a kids movie. Rose Byrne is beautiful, glamorous but serves no great character purpose other than to bond with Annie and be fond of Stacks. It’s a consensus of mine that the majority of this cast can and have done so much better, so apart from cashing in their appearance fee I don’t know why they’d do this picture.

There’s no engaging ideas, tension or earworm song/dance numbers here to entice new waves of children or keep fans of the original happy. It’s just bland, pathetic and Bad with a capital B, the sun will never come out for Annie in this film as it’s shoved behind a cloud of media calculation, severe lack of energy and pointless hip-hop styled remakes. Watch the original folks.

3.5/10