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.

4.5/10

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Victoria (2016)

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Hurrah, I have finally got around to seeing this film and by golly it didn’t disappoint after a near 8 month wait. The technical achievement itself is enough to love the movie but then you get an engaging story and deep performances to solidify this as a brilliant complex drama.

Leaving a club in Berlin is Victoria (Laia Costa) who winds up cycling home with a group of loud and rule-breaking men. There’s an immediate connection between her and Sonne (Frederick Lau) and a fun escapade onto an apartment roof furthers her unique night. However, Victoria ends up spending her time in a much more dangerous manner than she could expect as Sonne and his mates need to do something for a man named Andi.

Just having the idea of a continuous shot for an entire movie is brave but then to not only carry it out but do it very well is an astonishing feat. The one take movement of the movie certainly does a lot to help you step into the world of the film and become a voyeuristic character as the plot unfolds.

Sebastian Schipper directs with a confident touch, the way he commands for scenes to stay still and the camera rest as dialogue spills out are great moments to sit back, honestly after watching the whole thing it feels like you’ve been on a night out because you get so wrapped up in the story and Schipper ensures that the careful placements and movements of the camera aids this interesting immersive story. Obviously Sturla Brandth Grovlen deserves a continuous standing ovation for his stunning work on the continuous take.

Also, the lighting is incredible, whether strobe pulses in the club or natural lampposts at night, the wash of blues and yellows over a majority of scenes gives this film an impressive look that works over the gradually growing grittiness of the thriller narrative. The music too is well selected, drowning out diegetic sounds with a piano melody that raises chills and also connects nicely to the instrumental talents of Victoria.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and felt like I was there every step of the way. The one-take is masterful and it’s just so good that the writing of the story matched the clever way of telling it. My heart was sat in my mouth at one moment as Victoria tries starting a car, an empty car park filled with weapon wielding men is a kick-starter of tension and a soft lighted scene in a cafe is actually very romantic, cute and believably funny between a pair suddenly attracted to one another.

Laia Costa is a perfect vehicle to lead us around the unwinding plot. She delivers a wonderfully infectious smile but counter balances her energetic nature with a raw emotion that overflows with tears as she gets caught up in the world of Sonne and the others. Frederick Lau is so great, the way he tos and fros trying to be confident and then having nervous stalls in his mannerisms or speech is wonderful and together with Costa they run with the story like a new Bonnie and Clyde.

The one-take execution is phenomenal but you do forget that and become one with a detailed and impacting drama thriller which grips you by the collar and won’t shake you loose until the camera finally cuts to black.

8.5/10

Anthropoid (2016)

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Rattling along with uniformed bravado and tension, this is a neat WW2 film that does well in displaying the planning of such a powerful moment during the drama of the Nazi regime. It’s a building drama with a knack of being intense if not 100 percent solid.

Agents Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) make their way into Prague knowing they have an operation to proceed with. This is Operation Anthropoid; a taskto assassinate third highest ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. The two of them withhelp from the Czech Resistance plan their method of attack carefully for the 27th May 1942.

I must say first of all that though there is a great amount of costuming, location and accented detail throughout the first act, it does go by ever so slowly. In a good way it lets us as the audience have a chance to breathe in the dangerous war atmosphere and understand the character’s motivations but it almost drags with dialogue and the quite Hollywood style romantic subplots just don’t sit right.

Once the 60 minute hits though, the film shifts a gear. This is of course as we witness the assassination attempt on real life German horror figure Heydrich. The sequence we get could possibly be one of the best unnerving bouts of cinematic tension I’ve seen, it’s paced effectively, performed amazingly and with a gripping score on top, the scene becomes highly strung and appears like the massively important event in the war effort it was.

Sean Ellis directs the majority of this film in an engaging manner. He falls short of the authenticity from time to time or as said takes too long in the first act, but with the road side assassination sequence and the following aftermath we kick into an aggressive third act seeing the Gestapo and other officials hunt down the Czechoslovakian fighters. In a way the church violence and stand offs looks more entertaining than bloody, painful or uncomfortable, which perhaps it should have been instead, but all guns are literally blazing as we greatly see these brave soldiers defend themselves.

Jamie Dornan in the first thing I’ve seen him in, is a great role. He displays the shaky nerves of a Czech man constantly well but is still a dominant and capable hero wanting to fight back. Cillian Murphy is brilliant as he always is, playing the more forceful and thinking Slovak to Dornan’s Kubis. Toby Jones immerses himself also, as a possible fictional but still necessary uncle type role who leads the Resistance.

For such a huge event in WW2 and the task they underwent, I feel ashamed I’d never heard of it in any capacity. This movie then is brilliant for shedding light on a group of men deserving of their place in the history books if not totally brilliant as a movie there’s enough tension to keep it respectable.

6.5/10

 

 

Race (2016)

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I’ve heard the name: Jesse Owens before, of course, but I didn’t know anything else about him apart from the fact he competed in Germany and was still treated badly upon his return home to the States. This biopic goes over the course of his journey in a great way to champion the brilliance of an athlete that I’m glad to know more about now.

Jesse Owens (Stephan James) manages to enrol in Ohio State University and there he grabs the eye of former athlete and coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Owens is a natural at running but must hone in on his starts, leading him to grow and get the chance to compete at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It’s not that simple though as the world is looking at Germany to clean it’s racist act and Owens becomes the centre of that issue.

Stephen Hopkins certainly shows a passion for his subject with this film. From 1933 to ’36 we see the life and times of Owens with a good eye. It may not always be directed as swiftly as Owens himself runs but there’s enough detail in here for the athletic/Olympic uninitiated like myself to mull over and find interesting. What Hopkins does well is build up to the Berlin games in an absorbing way, so when we finally reach the towering entrance of the stadium we feel both in awe and disgust at the right wing views of the organisers.

It’s certainly true to say that though the scenes away from the race track slow down the pace of this 134 minute movie, it opened my eyes to the dark choices made for America to keep in the Olympics. The U.S committees and shadowy snippets of propaganda motivations cast a necessary evil over the sporting feel of this biography feature. The end of the movie has the expected screen subtitles giving more information about the history, one fact about German athlete Carl ‘Luz’ Long is shocking but you’d expect nothing else sadly.

‘Race’ bursts into it’s stride in the moments before the Olympics begin. So as we see Jesse Owens deliberating over whether to take part, his qualifying day and the numerous moments we see Joseph Goebbels squirm because his games aren’t going the way he hoped, which brought me great satisfaction every time it shows his face in close up, dealing with the brilliance of Owens overshadowing his Nazi dreamt ceremony and idea that Aryan supremacy rang true. There isn’t exactly exhilaration to be had during the 1936 Olympics sequence but it does bring a sense of pride, even for a non American, the sight of Owens triumphing time and time again is a joy to behold for his sport, his country and his race.

Stephan James does a great deal to ensure this movie keeps interest from the start to the finishing line. He tears up the track and shuttles through the film with a passion and quiet heroism in his performance. Jason Sudeikis as a mostly comic actor does really well as the coach figure which I guess is made up for cinematic treatment, but it’s worthwhile as he and James do well together in that ‘sports movie coach/student’ cliché. Carice van Houten ditches the red hair and dons a German accent as propaganda director Leni Riefenstahl, who made the documentary ‘Olympia’. She plays the German motivated visionary well but shows another side when hearing the twisted ideals of Goebbels, who is captured in a seriously chilling light by Barnaby Metschurat, his mere presence evokes a cold wave of fear.

It’s not stunning or exactly thrilling, but the subject matter holds up to keep your interest peaked in what was definitely a shady part of world history mixed with the spectacle of the biggest sporting event. There’s more going on with Owens then there is about the race issues and politics of the time but this film has told me something and made me want to learn more.

7/10

Son of Saul (2015)

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You know a film hits hard when, as the credits come up the audience is left quiet and no-one wants to be that one to leave first. ‘Son of Saul’ is that film that deals with one of the most atrocious events in history and delivers a story in such a rewarding and powerful way.

1944 and we’re located in Auschwitz for a day and a half as we follow Saul (Geza Rohrig). He is a Hungarian man of Jewish faith and unfortunately he’s a victim as he is a Sonderkommando; who are people prisoners made to work for the German camps for fear of their own deaths. We follow Saul as he sees a dying boy and takes this body as his own son.

It’s so clear to see why this Hungarian drama won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s gripping, unsettling and it doesn’t let you go. The horrors of concentration camps are truly felt in this movie, the noises, the dirt, the bodies all come into the fold to get under your skin and make you understand in some very small way what atrocities happened then.

Laszlo Nemes is incredible because as a director this is his debut film. It’s unflinching and different because it doesn’t gloss over anything. In fact Nemes gives this story a uniquely personal touch as we mostly stay with Saul for the entire duration. There are a lot of extreme close ups and the frame ratio both create a gnawing claustrophobia that gives the camp a nasty enclosed sense through the screen.

In similarity to ‘Birdman’ and The Revenant’, the style of this film is calm and unbroken. A lot of scenes are left uncut and the camera moves around the space letting the moments play out. Having people dying in the background or a character just staring silently for a long while really burrows into and makes what we see relentless, there is no escape like the victims of the German officers. We can of course never get close to feeling what they felt but this story does an unforgettable thing, as it throws us amongst the mud and fire of it all.

Nemes and Clara Royer both write this feature’s screenplay and it is heavy from start to finish. Just the beginning sees the mass and madness of people being queued into a building which you know can only end gravely. The script itself is less about the dialogue which means we never lose focus from the horrendous visuals. Any words spoken play an important part in the desperate rush for Saul to try and peacefully bury a boy or other characters sparking off an uprising to hopefully break free from their captors. A lot of the time we hear dialogue off screen whilst sitting on a close up, this whirls in your mind as you picture what is going on in the background.

Geza Rohrig is a quiet force for this film, not speaking much but staring or walking with a reserved and also tortured impression that is so human but also robotic. It’s a clever performance mixing the two as he comes across like a caring father figure but then he’s switched off, silent and programmed by evil men to carry out even more evil deeds. The cast of prisoners are all brilliant too in adding to the sprawl of visceral horrors.

This is a thoroughly deserving movie of its praise and award glory, a feat of war torn crime from supposed human beings that doesn’t let up and unnervingly almost never cuts/breaks away. It’s a difficult watch and extremely raw but it’s a serious topic and handled seriously by an impressive director to keep an eye on.

8/10

The Imitation Game (2014)

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Near outstanding in its biopic genre, this tale based on the true life of Alan Turing is headed by a faultless performance from man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch, and if nothing else, this movie sheds light on the story of a British figure a lot of people may know nothing about. The setting, look and substance work in cohorts to clearly mark this film as an Oscar contender, even if I do feel some aspects stopped it being as excellent as possible.

During WW2, Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) and his team at Bletchley Park are looking for top quality code breakers in the rush against time and loss, facing the onslaught of the Germans and their apparent impossible to break Enigma machine. Mathematician, computer scientist and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets the job and with a crack team including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) he struggles to prove his work right and keep an inner secret hidden.

I rather liked the non linear pattern this film displays. We start with a later Turing and from some moodier cell shots and narration we head back along his timeline. The film follows this suit and jumps back and forth between Alan’s time at school, his Bletchley days and his arrest in 1952. This style never feels scatter-shot and it makes the film far more interesting and different than a bland telling from start to finish. It keeps his tale fresh and parts of his life crash into later or earlier versions and work really well.

More than anything, I would recommend this film for the fascinating information it sheds on someone I knew next to nothing about. Honestly, Alan Turing is incredible and what he did was a heroic thing, with his team and his smart mind he saved millions of lives during World War 2 and the facts credited near the finale of the film really hit home what a tormented genius he was. It’s obviously a sad movie, what with Turing’s sexual orientation and the period he was alive in, prosecuting anyone who felt that way. Luckily, as it so easily could have, it never feels contrived or overly sentimental to garner Academy award attention, it fits perfectly with his fragile yet determined state to get his machine running.

It’s getting superb reviews and though I agree quite a lot, there are some fiddly moments that took me out of completely loving the film. The initial narrating works but then subsequent narrations start feeling like cliched biopic elements and having it like Turing is talking to the audience doesn’t feel overly right…I thought. Some moments of his life feel rushed, once the machine hits the jackpot it becomes very quick in the consequence of their actions. Also, his later life problems of medication and arrest feel glossed over, literally getting screen time for the last ten minutes or so. There are three main points to this film, the younger school days, Enigma days and persecution but the latter doesn’t get much of a spotlight serving only as a way for Turing to oddly spill his story to Rory Kinnear’s Detective Nock. The shots of tanks, planes or submarines look to polished with CGI that they don’t fit. I don’t think they were needed as the story of Turing is good enough, we’ve seen how bad the war looked and the grainy real documented shots of WW2 used do more than enough without adding extra effects.

Benedict Cumberbatch is magnificent. I must admit, in the dizzying amount of things he’s recently in or lined up to do, I was getting worried I’d grow tired of him being everywhere, but for now at least he’s safe. Alan Turing is a brave and intelligent man with more than enough grit for Cumberbatch to get his teeth into and boy does he ever. One scene as he faces his named machine at his home is a breakdown that really pushes you to the watery eye possibility. Keira Knightley is a good sidelined leading lady, she’s interesting to a degree but a tad wishy washy. The rest of the cast from Mark Strong through to Matthew Goode are a great ensemble that realise their characters while never distracting from the main event of Benedict’s Alan Turing.

A thoroughly thoughtful and smart film with one of the acting roles of the year. It may not be as daring as it could have been and certain moments felt lost in amongst it all but it cannot be said that this film does not inform and thrill.

7.5/10

Fury (2014)

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This World War Two effort is gritty, brutal and deals with the tense confinement and microcosm of a tank in such a dramatic way. The ending may be slightly twee and Hollywood as an American film about Americans and it’s grander desires of storming out a thoughtful award hitter may be lost to bullet fire and explosions but it works so well in visualising the awful horrors of war.

In the latter stages of WW2, American Allies are pushing forward into Nazi occupied Germany and amongst one division is a fighting brotherhood led by Don Collier (Brad Pitt). His crew consist of religious gunner Boyd (Shia LeBeouf), driver Trini or ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena), gun loader and nut Grady (Jon Bernthal) and petrified typist-now driver Norman (Logan Lerman). As they capture towns, drink, argue, shoot enemies and try to hold ground at a crossroads they become a family in the last ditch attempts to halt or slow down the Germans.

The cinematography of these raging battles by Roman Vasyanov is astounding. The muddy fields, ripped roads and shelled towns are seen in such beautiful yet devastating frames that you can’t evade how shocking the horrors of this war was. It’s images that really bring in the toll of the war efforts and from dirty faces to bloody bodies you see the huge aftermath of the fighting. The locations feel grimy and real, every little detail makes you feel as if you’re there amongst the terror of the Second World War. The way the final scenario of their battered tank at the crossroads is filmed is so effective in building tension and elevating the comradely spirit in what could be their final hours together. Their tank ‘Fury’ is a beast of a machine that tears scarily and majestically through Vasyanov’s and David Ayer’s work.

David Ayer directs this feature with his speciality of translating masculinity and war to the big screen. There is a hell of a lot of loud whistling bombs and gun fire but it’s necessary and he never makes the action sequences get tiresome. Each one seems to come with a different take to make you think how each battle for real life people in that war could never expect anything. Treacherous, nervous times for all that enlisted and Ayer captures that human emotion even when the men are trying to be strong, you believe it’s the best job they ever had, they’re now accustomed to the consequences of war. The moments away from cannons and grenades are in no way boring though as we grow to these men as squabbling drunk fools to lethal and loyal friends.

Threading through all this raw depiction of WW2 is the paternal development between Don and Norman. It can feel a little strained to get an emotional side of things going but after a while you cannot help but attach yourself to Norman as he grows in confidence against people he’d never expected to face in a vehicle he’d never desired to get in. Don is in ways a father figure to all his men but he truly becomes that helpful persona in dealing with Norman’s nerves. It’s a nice human connection to counter balance the visceral extremities of war.

Steven Price is on fine form in charge of music here. I had no idea it was him involved until the credits rolled but after his aural splendour on ‘Gravity’ he’s back with class for this movie. Marching chants blend with unnerving sounds and percussion to rack up the tension in the latter stages of the film concerning the predicament of their stuck tank. There is a hollow like echo and choir whisper to quite a few of the songs that mix in with shocks of backing music to amp up suspense and the deadly trials of war even in it’s closing stages.

In the mix of this very dark affecting showcase of war are some brilliant acting performances. Brad Pitt leads the troop with his usual charisma, flair and macho know-how but you can sense his fear and trepidation as men die around him leaving their tank and squad alone. The decisions are resting with him and shows his at times, fracturing leadership with comfort. Logan Lerman is the biggest emotional weight amongst the men in his vulnerability and innocence, it’s a great journey for him as he makes Norman come to life in the rise from inexperience to all out confidence. Shia LeBeouf is truly great, quiet but domineering in the background and wow does he have the knack for harrowing animal cries when coping with someones death. Michael Pena provides a rarer moment of big laughs when entering the once relaxed cozy setting of a German home with hat and cane. Jon Bernthal is like the rabid dog who you have to grow to love and he plays that with unshakable quality. The entire cast sell a dining table scene with tension and awkward unease making it stand out as one of the favourite parts of the film.

I’d not be too drawn back in saying this film doesn’t have huge mind to its work though. It is brutally thumping and one of the more gritty, dark better war movies I’ve seen but intelligence of a moral/message seems to be looked over to leave us seeing men ridden into the ground or shot in the face.

Exquisitely shot and realism of detail makes the battleground of war-torn Germany feel awesomely real, a tense, juggernaut ride with enough loud noises to leave you forgetting true heart is left behind at the tank’s hatch.

7.5/10