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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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

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Lumos! The second part of the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series has arrived but does the sequel light up the Wizarding World or is it a Boggart best left in the cupboard?

After the events in New York, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is forbidden to travel out of the UK. Upon finding out both Credence (Ezra Miller) and Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) are in Paris, the kindly Hufflepuff must try to get to France. However, the dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) has escaped from lock-up and is calling on magic folk to take a stand against the powers that tell them they should hide their true selves from Muggles.

So, the biggest problem that lies within J.K. Rowling’s second screenplay is the muddled mess of differing narratives. The first film may not have been outstanding but it carried a simple enough premise with a third act that became a lumbering CGI mess, yet on the whole it was good to follow. However, this movie seems so preoccupied with the setting up of another three films to come, that it never has a breath to focus on a story or character and they eventually become confused and tiresome to keep up with.

Another issue with ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald’ is how distinctly lacking of magical charm it is. The wonderful thing about the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise; however fuelled by nostalgia they may be, is that they possessed a great level of delight and engaging dazzle. It has only been two films and already this part of the Wizarding World has lost its spark, with a story empty of wonder and severely low on coherent adventure for the family to enjoy.

In the grand scheme of things and considering we’re laboured with another trio of Scamander led movies, there may be a great plan concocted by the author of the Potter books but at the moment it feels like it’s a series stuffing way too many Augrey eggs in its basket. There are a couple of entertaining moments and a few of the creatures are well designed, as are the brilliant costumes from previous Oscar winner Colleen Atwood but aside from some solid production, the movie doesn’t seem to know what it is and good luck if the audience is meant to either.

Eddie Redmayne is coasting on auto-pilot as the nearly annoyingly prim and goody two shoes Newt. Katherine Waterston and Ezra Miller get little time to make an impact amongst the zig-zagging of plot-lines. Alison Sudol gets to explore Queenie a touch more which is nice and the newcomer presence of Jude Law as a young Albus Dumbledore is fine enough, he’s got the charisma necessary but feels like he’s rooted at exposition checkpoints for the story. Johnny Depp has the snarl but still should have been recast and now, for worse we’re stuck with him.

There are some flashy visuals and it isn’t terrible but it feels dead behind the eyes. You can’t repel the feeling that this has already become a cheap and hollow shiny cash-grab that the greediest Niffler would love to pocket.

5.5/10

 

Outlaw King (2018)

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“The English are coming…” and so is Chris Pine adopting a Scottish lilt as the lead in Netflix’s latest original feature. As has often been the case, the streaming giant’s release of originals have been hit or miss, so with director of ‘Hell or High Water’ behind this historical drama, which side does this one fall on?

1304 and Scotland hope that Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the King of England can help them select a new successor but instead he takes control of their country. It isn’t long until Robert Bruce (Pine) starts mastering a revolt against the English but with only some men willing to stand with him against a might army, it could prove to be a difficult task.

It is true to say that this is a film that takes a while to get into the sword swing of things but the final 20 minutes make up for a so-so opening 30 minutes. The introductions to Bruce, Edward, the Prince of Wales and other characters are explained in little detail adding no weighted history to a movie clearly happy to be more loosely based on fact than providing rich interest to its audience.

Along the way of rebellion, there are some odd camera shots where they enhance and zoom into certain scenes which just felt off; especially for the period of this story. They felt too modern, too stylish for the context but Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography makes up for these minor quibbles. He’s most definitely a DoP who knows how to capture the gritty dramatics of tension and conflict, from ‘The Hurt Locker’ to ‘Detroit’, this recent offering is no exception as the soiled lands of English’s northern neighbours carry a grounded beauty.

As mentioned, the last spell of this film whacks with medieval carnage, a bold and exhilarating melee of mud and blood which sees the possible hope of Bruce and his Scots carrying out a clever plan. Throughout the film there are a number of other mini battles where daggers and swords provide plenty of maroon-soaked damage and director David Mackenzie doesn’t hide away from the brutality of the actions of these men. ‘Outlaw King’ proudly wears its macho quality but it’s devoid of major heart and would be more memorable on a big screen, left to Netflix it serves as a forgettable distraction.

One of the four top Hollywood Chris sports a crown and beard as Robert the Bruce and his accent is good, which is always nice compared to some Americans trying to don accents from our side of the pond. Pine ensures there’s an honesty and swagger to his performance which helps to keep us on side with his plight. The strongest most memorable turns come from Aaron Taylor-Johnson; as a ballsy, aggressive man desiring his home back and Florence Pugh who is sworn to marriage with Robert but isn’t simply left as the dull wife indoors. Pugh carries likeability and emotion as Elizabeth.

So whilst this may not be a film that really captures your attention, it’s got a strong cast and an excellent final set-piece which keeps this Netflix Original from being one to skip over.

6.5/10

Wildlife (2018)

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‘Wildlife’ marks the directorial debut for actor Paul Dano and what an assured, quality debut it is. Dano and his partner; fellow actor and screenwriter Zoe Kazan, have joined as a force of talent to script this film, which delves into a family through beautiful crisis.

In Montana of 1960, Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) has to find a new job and gets one working away from home, to control the fires in some mountains. Jeannette (Carey Mulligan) finds work of her own and it’s during this time when their son Joe (Ed Oxenbould) has to become the man of the house and witness a shift in his parent’s relationship.

Paul Dano had stated that he always knew he wanted to make films about families and this is a look at one that disintegrates whilst you helplessly watch. Based on a 1990 novel of the same name, his screenplay was looked over by ‘Ruby Sparks’ writer and playwright Zoe Kazan who then helped as joint screenwriter and, together the pair have really nailed down on the personal, unflinching state of separation, explored through the 14 year old eyes of Joe, yet blisteringly sold by Mulligan’s performance.

It isn’t long until the strains of Jerry and Jeannette’s marriage take hold and once this happens the cracks can do little but get larger and larger. Through this slow-motion descent, Carey Mulligan trembles, spills tears and explodes with her affecting portrayal of a mother always asking what her son thinks and slowly taking her own route at whatever cost. She provides a fantastically haunting, mesmerising performance.

The cinematography from Diego Garcia is similarly mesmerising in a haunted, stunning way. Just from the opening shot, which sets the scene for it being a movie about house and home and the dysfunction that can happen within. Then you see the lovely bliss of this town and its peaked background reflecting the story of their apparently blissful marriage clouding over like the fire and smoke which is raging close by.

Dano and Kazan have ensured there’s a quiet burning which runs through the narrative, carrying a simmer of unease. You never truly know if something will boil over and on the occasion it might, the atmosphere slams with such a ferocity of family heartbreak, none more powerful than the silent and final image of this film. Paul Dano himself has seamlessly carried his remarkable magnetic talent from in front of the camera and neatly placed that skill behind it, ensuring there’s no need for showy tension to make a weighty drama and that’s what makes this film all the more important and brilliant.

‘Wildlife‘ is a carefully written work of art with its power buried from the inside out. As it slowly leaks out, the audience are in for a film that feels like theatre, this scenario of a family breakdown gorgeously acted by Mulligan and Gyllenhaal and wonderfully sold from Oxenbould’s Joe, as he and we too, can’t help but face this happen.

8/10

 

Overlord (2018)

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Now this may not be the fourth instalment in the ‘Cloverfield’ world as people had speculated when word got around that J.J Abrams was behind this feature, but that’s truly for the best because this is a stonking great stand-alone movie that blows the roof off with tremendous energy and B-movie revelry.

It’s the day before D-Day and a squadron have orders to reach a church in a French village and destroy a German planted radio tower. A few of the men survive and band together, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) heads out and on his wanderings he uncovers a deadly secret concocted by a sinister doctor, who is carrying out a series of tests to produce a serum which could gift the Nazis some soldiers that can’t die.

This is only the second full length film to come from Australian director Julius Avery but it’s a blistering delight. The first steps of ‘Overlord’ are much more gripping and dramatic than you’d expect. The whole WW2 angle and the mission that these soldiers are given are dealt with by Avery with fantastic explosions of fear stemming from German-occupied France and amongst this you can find some softer moments in the script as the comradery grows and the humour rounds out the edges.

What works so well is the way the movie sort of reveals its true intentions as a zombie film, at first glance a spectator who’d seen no trailer, poster or any information would see the first half an hour as a solid war movie and it is. There is great mystery building amongst the horrors of this occupation, which culminates in a horror of a very different kind.

Once the gritty style of the war moves into the more gross out zombie-horror section you can expect large dollops of bloody prosthetics and gory VFX that might not shock but it certainly grabs the attention and pulls you into this extremely visceral genre piece. It is true to say that along the way the characters we follow are two-dimensional and their journeys are fairly predictable but these paper thin characteristics aren’t trying and in fact, the poor decision making and off character choices are very much the bread and butter of horrors so it can be forgiven.

There is a huge amount of fun to be had whilst watching ‘Overlord’, the entire feature may be brash but it’s brilliantly enjoyable and it feels like some science fuelled nightmare with moody Call of Duty visuals and twisted nastiness to boot.

8/10

Juliet, Naked (2018)

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‘Juliet, Naked’ premiered in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival and it couldn’t be more of a Sundance flick; the charming aspects and the unlikely romance are right in the wheelhouse of indie darlings and on the most part, this Jesse Peretz feature works thanks to the effortless matching of its lead actors.

Annie Platt (Rose Byrne) is stuck in a seaside town thanks to boyfriend Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd), some of her resentment is due to her job but some boils down to Duncan’s love of a rock star named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), whose music Annie finds intolerable. One day she receives an email from the mysterious musician himself and they begin a 100/1 relationship.

Throughout this darling song of a movie there are a rare couple of comedic moments and though it’s not as outright funny as certain scenes had room to be, what works much better are the dramatic notes that are lyrically added to the appealing narrative. This is a film, almost like a melodic tale of love and regrets, parenting and loneliness and these themes are handled in a great heart-felt manner.

When you have source material from Nick Hornby; novelist of High Fidelity and About a Boy and screenwriter of ‘Brooklyn’ then you know to expect a romantic tale with plenty to say and thematic weight to keep the characters going to their end goals. This adaptation from the 2009 book of the same name works in the sense that you feel a faint smile on your face appear as you watch the relationship of Tucker and Annie grow. The warming sensation of a feel-good film can’t be beaten.

Here is perhaps where I am being critically unfair but the similarly driven ‘Hearts Beat Loud’, also premiering at the same Sundance, managed to capture a great mix of light comedy, fantastic songs, romance and family emotion whereas this more recent release doesn’t quite. There’s something not entirely perfect about this film which I felt the Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons music based movie reached closer to.

Rose Byrne is utterly sensational as Annie; the emotive range is great and she really makes us like her character. She lovingly handles every beat of the journey Annie goes on and the way she performs the disappointments of her life and love for 15 years are really believable. Ethan Hawke as this apparently seminal music star, gives grit and reflective thought to a man clearly unused to the extended family he has and the role as a father he’s meant to live up to. The moments between him and Byrne, whether through email voice-over or in person are touching and yes that word again, charming.

So whilst ‘Juliet, Naked’ might not be as endearing as other rom-coms, there’s a strong character duo to watch and the bittersweet indie aspect of their connection more than make up for the likelihood of its forgettable nature.

6.5/10

Widows (2018)

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Steve McQueen is certainly an influential figure, his tiny collection of works being as powerful as a director with numerous features. This 2018 release sees the British director slightly move away from drama as he presents audiences with a smart heist thriller.

After Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson) and his crew end up dead following an attempt to steal millions of dollars, their widows are left facing a dangerous choice. Harry’s wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is threatened by the man whose money was lost and she has a month to pay that cash back. Instead of sitting by, she stands up for the count and receives help from two of the other women, as they plan their own score.

With McQueen and novelist Gillian Flynn behind the screenplay you’d be correct in expecting a slick thriller with turns and the pair of them do incorporate some riveting unexpected curves into the narrative. That is not the be all and end all though, they’re not going down the easier route of just creating a twisty thriller for the sake of it, it’s 100% clear that Flynn and McQueen are interested in the characters and their motivations.

On reflection, there are times when you wonder why the three other ladies are sticking with Veronica but this is just a mere fraction of a niggle that is swiftly lost once the plan takes shape. As the latter stages of the film arrive and their heist takes flight, then you’re in for one hell of a ride; a brilliant burst of tense thriller perfection that latches on and won’t let go.

The characters are what keep the tension ticking, even if Veronica feels like the most fleshed out. The other three widows and a driver are less focused on but they provide a good dose of feminine smarts, will, vulnerability and engrossing power to keep us connected to their predicaments. It could be that I was expecting more, but the story amongst the character work, isn’t as magnetic as I’d hoped but there is plenty of style to make for a worthy movie.

Veronica Rawlins is so damn captivating and that’s down in most part to the dominating talents of Viola Davis. She is formidable as this broken yet unbreakable female force. Elizabeth Debicki and Michelle Rodriguez are strong too but aspects of their characters feel off, down to the development in the plot not their acting. There a couple of brilliantly heated scenes between the reliable Colin Farrell and the great Robert Duvall. Daniel Kaluuya is incredible as a wholly mean, unpredictable presence, he sells this vicious streak with masterful skill, making Jatemme Manning someone to truly fear.

‘Widows’ is perhaps not as tight knit all the way through as it could have been but the final parts are filled with adrenaline and dynamic tension. Women are in it together and they definitely have the balls to pull off a watchable thriller.

7/10