Film Review: Suspiria (2018)

Also known as: Suspíria: A Dança do Medo (Brazil)
Release Date: September 1st, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Luca Guadangnino
Written by: David Kajganich
Based on: Suspiria by Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi
Music by: Thom Yorke
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Christine LeBoutte, Fabrizia Sacchi, Małgosia Bela, Jessica Harper, Chloë Grace Moretz

K Period Media, Frenesy Film Company, Videa, Mythology Entertainment, First Sun, Memo Films, Amazon Studios, 152 Minutes

Review:

“Movement is never mute. It is a language. It’s a series of energetic shapes written in the air like words forming sentences. Like poems. Like prayers.” – Madame Blanc

There had been rumors of a Suspiria remake for years. I never thought it would actually happen, as it was in developmental hell and it isn’t a film that needs to be remade. The original was unique, haunting, effective and super stylish. In fact, it’s one of my favorite films of all-time.

So I was definitely against the idea of a remake. In fact, in my original Suspiria review, I referred to the upcoming remake as “cinematic sacrilege”. But something changed when I saw the trailer for this film.

This was a motion picture that was drastically different and certainly appeared to be its own thing only vaguely inspired by its source material. I was intrigued and once I realized that it was directed by the very talented Luca Guadangnino, who most recently did the Oscar nominated Call Me by Your Name, I was even more intrigued.

Unfortunately, this didn’t get a theatrical release near me but knowing that it was distributed by Amazon Studios, I figured I could just wait until it was available for free with my Prime membership. Once it was, I wasted no time in checking the film out.

I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie and even though it isn’t on the level of the original, it exceeds it in some factors.

Primarily, the acting in this picture is utterly superb and it is only enhanced by Guadangnino’s direction. He was able to capture very intimate moments, without the support of dialogue, in a way that added a mystique to the haunted proceedings.

Guadangnino also didn’t take his style cues from Argento’s original, which is actually a very, very good thing. This version of Suspiria was incredibly visual and stylized but in a new and unique way. Instead of employing the intense vivid and contrasting colors of Argento’s patented giallo visual flair, the color palate here is more subdued, full of dark earth tones and a grittiness. However, Guadangnino does sprinkle in some giallo-esque highlights. I think it is clearly an homage to Argento but it is done so subtly that someone unfamiliar with the original picture will miss it.

I thought that both Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton really owned their roles in this film, especially Swinton who had to play triple duty where two of her characters presented real performance challenges. Also, I was really impressed with Mia Goth and her ability to truly wear dread on her face and in her body language.

While the score by Goblin is absent, like the lack of giallo visuals, it is a good thing here. This film’s score by Thom Yorke has real character and it works quite well with the narrative and visual tones. While it is very hard to top that Goblin score, what we get with this film fits pretty flawlessly. Trying to mimic the sounds that Goblin did in 1977 would most likely have been a distraction.

This film also benefits from using the old school method for building suspense. While the picture may feel slow at parts, there really isn’t a wasted moment and everything serves the purpose of adding layers towards the story’s big climax.

As far as the climax goes, it has a pretty shocking twist that almost adds a feeling of disorientation to a sequence that almost comes across as sensory overload. It’s a lot to bear in a film that crawls by at a relaxed pace but it’s is quite incredible when you get to this point in the film.

That being said, I thought that some of the stuff in the finale was a bit over the top and a bit cheesy. I don’t want to spoil anything by pointing out the details but the whole thing hits you in the face like a hammer and by this point, you are mentally spent and the grotesque and hokier bits are buried under the weight of the whole sequence.

And despite my reservations about a few things with that finale, it is that moment that really made this film work for me. It truly showcased that Guadangnino might have started with Argento’s premise but in the end, he crafted his own creation that was much more complex but emotionally and intellectually deeper than the original. That alone allows this motion picture to justify its existence.

I look at remakes like I look at cover songs: if an artist can improve on the source material in some way or present it differently but still well, then it serves a purpose.

In the end, this is a motion picture that shocked and surprised me. While I still prefer the original, this remake is one of the absolute best horror films of the last decade.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Suspiria and it’s first sequel Inferno.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Release Date: April 22nd, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Ross Marquand, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Linda Cardellini, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Ty Simpkins, James D’Arcy, Ken Jeong, Yvette Nichole Brown

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 181 Minutes

Review:

“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me.” – Thanos

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

Here we are… the end.

Well, it’s the end of an era but not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although, this may be the end for me, as there isn’t much else I’m looking forward to from the MCU after Endgame. Granted, there hasn’t been much news on what’s coming next, either.

But anyway, how was this film? The big, badass finale to a 22 movie franchise?

It was good but it wasn’t anything close to stellar.

My biggest issue with it was that it was a pretty big clusterfuck that had too many parts to try and balance. Where the previous film Infinity War did that just fine, Endgame had so many more extra layers thrown on top of it that it was overkill. I mean every single character that had any sort of significant impact on MCU storylines over 22 films ended up shoehorned into this thing. Even Natalie Portman, who wanted nothing to do with these movies after being in two of them and dialing in a mediocre performance both times.

Also, the time travel element to the story did a bunch of things that didn’t make sense and they also pissed on Back to the Future because it’s easier to shit on a classic (and its fictitious application of quantum physics) than to actually write a coherent time travel story of your own. Endgame opted to go the lazy Doctor Who “timey wimey” route than to concern itself with paradoxes and all that other catastrophic nonsense. They even kill a version of a character from the past and it in no way effects the present version of that same character.

The big battle at the end was the most epic thing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done but what should have felt like Marvel’s version of The Return of the King felt more like Ready Player Two. It was a CGI shitfest and I’m not even sure how Spider-Man was web-swinging on a large, open battlefield where the only objects above him were fast moving spaceships going in the opposite of the direction he was swinging in. But whatever, physics is hard, brah.

I liked that this film gave us some closure for some major characters. Granted, I’m not all that happy with what that closure was but like Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., I’m also very, very tired of this franchise. I feel like Endgame really is a jumping off point for fans that have rode this train for 11 years that feel like they need a break. I feel like I need a break and even if my mind was made up before this film, Endgame really solidified it.

Although, I am a bit excited for whatever happens with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. As for the rest of the characters and their films, I don’t really care. I think I’m only really enthused about cosmic Marvel and not Earth Marvel, at this point.

Almost all of the acting was damn good, especially in regards to Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Brie Larson on the other hand is a fucking charisma vacuum and every time she was on screen, I felt like I was looking at a first time community theater actress trying to play Nurse Ratched. And the Justin Bieber makeover was terrible. That scene where she blew up the ship and floated there, victoriously, just made me yearn for someone, anyone else to be in that role. My brain immediately thought, “Man, imagine if that was Charlize Theron, the theater would’ve just erupted instead of everyone just sitting here sucking loudly on empty soda cups.” I’m not wrong, I rarely ever am.

Anyway, the movie was messy but it had some really good moments. But this isn’t a movie that can stand on its own. You need the previous 21 films for context or all of this would be lost on you. Sure, it’s emotional and some bits are powerful but without 11 years of context, the weight isn’t there. And I prefer to judge films on their own merits as a sole body of work and not as an episode of a TV show or a chapter in a book. But at the same time, there is no way you can recap everything before this, as this film series is now too damn big.

Well, it’s over I guess. In 2008, it was hard imagining this day. But here it is. And I’m tired.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Everything in the MCU before this film, as it all leads up to this one.

Film Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Release Date: February 6th, 2014 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson

American Empirical Pictures, Indian Paintbrush, Studio Babelsberg, Scott Rudin Productions, TSG Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 100 Minutes

the_grand_budapest_hotelReview:

The Grand Budapest Hotel did the unthinkable, it became the highest rated film on IMDb of Wes Anderson’s career, despite the director making countless classics before it. It cracked the top 200 films of all-time and currently sits at 204 on IMDb’s well-known and highly referenced Top 250 list. That’s pretty impressive considering The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Royal TenenbaumsRushmoreMoonrise Kingdom and others came out before it.

Let me get into the fantastic cast, which is huge.

In somewhat of a small role, never has F. Murray Abraham been better. That is a big statement to make, as he has been an actor featured in countless films over the last several decades but his ability to pull the filmgoer in, as he did, is a gift bestowed upon very few. This also brought out amazing performances by the rest of the cast, which isn’t just a who’s who of those cemented in Wes Anderson lore, it is a who’s who of Hollywood’s most talented crop.

You get Bill Murray in a small but amusing role, Jeff Goldblum and Willem Dafoe in an amazing sequence, Adrien Brody as a fantastic asshole, not to mention Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Mathieu Amalric and Tom Wilkinson.

The bulk of the acting duties are split between the pair of the spectacular Ralph Fiennes and his perfect sidekick Tony Revolori. Saoirse Ronan, who is becoming a favorite of mine, was near perfection as the apple of the young Revolori’s eye. Léa Seydoux also shows up and she is alluring as ever, even as a maid in the hotel.

As a director, Wes Anderson never disappoints, at least in my experiences with his work. This was another gem to add to his seemingly flawless resume but going beyond that, one could argue that this was Anderson’s magnum opus. The high accolades and ratings for this film probably reflect that.

With this picture, Anderson broke his own mold and took some chances that he never has before, which paid off tremendously. For instance, there was a level of violence in this film that one wouldn’t expect from him. Yet, such changes in Anderson’s narrative tone were only enhanced by his crisp and colorful style, thus bringing a new layer to his methodical visual technique that added some depth to his artistic repertoire.

Wes Anderson found a way to reinvent himself and still stay true to his craft and style, giving his few critics something new to chew on and dissect that should thwart the naysayers who relish in the countless parodies of Anderson’s work.

Not to say that I don’t enjoy the parodies myself but Anderson proved that his quirkiness and visual approach aren’t predictable and mundane but that they work exceptionally well and are still presented in new ways: refreshing and enjoyable as the first time one experienced his style. For a filmmaker with such a specific visual aesthetic, such a feat is unheard of after having this much longevity.

Film Review: Hail, Caesar! (2016)

Release Date: February 1st, 2016 (Regency Village Theater premiere)
Directed by: The Coen Brothers
Written by: The Coen Brothers
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Wayne Knight, Christopher Lambert, Fisher Stevens, Patrick Fischler, Clancy Brown, Robert Picardo, Dolph Lundgren, Michael Gambon, Peter Jason

Working Title Films, Mike Zoss Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

hail_caesarReview: 

The Coen Brothers always peak my interest when they have a new film coming out. Granted, I’m not a nut like the hardcore Coen loyalists but I am a legit ordained minister of Dudeism, a relgion based off of their film The Big Lebowski.

Hail, Caesar! is a motion picture littered with stars. For the most part, everyone other than Josh Brolin, Alden Ehrenreich and George Clooney feel like they are just glorified cameos. Ehrenreich isn’t even on the poster. But then you have Channing Tatum, Scarlett Johansson and Jonah Hill on it, while they are only in a handful of scenes.

The film is beautiful to look at but it is lacking in just about every other regard. Sure, the acting is top notch but when you have a cast full of talent like this, where most of them are limited to just a few scenes, they all probably had their best stuff because they weren’t bogged down by a rough shooting schedule and didn’t need to focus on anything longer than a few pages of dialogue, if that.

It is an enjoyable movie, don’t get me wrong, it just wasn’t as exciting or as interesting as it would lead you to believe. The introduction of Johansson’s character was magnificently shot and executed but I feel like her character was just brought into the film so that the Coen Brothers had a reason to create their own old school Hollywood synchronized swimming extravaganza. And I feel like that is the true purpose of this film, that the Coens wanted to try their hand at old school filmmaking techniques and to do it while working with all their friends.

Additionally, where we saw footage of films within the movie, they never really looked like pictures from 1951, where this is set. The films, even if they were black and white, were too sharp and too clean. The typefaces used looked out of place and not of that era.

There was just too much going on in the movie. I know that the plot is about Brolin’s Eddie Mannix and how he has to manage all these Hollywood superstars. However, it would have been a more interesting movie had it really just focused on one of his situations. Sure, the others could have been included but too much time was given to things that distracted from the narrative. The only real interesting plot thread was Clooney’s Baird Whitlock being kidnapped and held for ransom by communist writers. In fact, I adored the dialogue in those scenes between Clooney and the commies.

Hail, Caesar! is fun, to an extent. It just feels very empty and although it created a world that truly feels lived in, it didn’t explore it deeply enough.

Film Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

Release Date: October 13th, 2016 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Scott Derrickson
Written by: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill
Based on: Doctor Strange by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 115 Minutes

doctor-strangeReview:

I kind of lost faith in Marvel Studios awhile ago. It has been some time since I’ve truly enjoyed a Marvel picture from the Disney side of things. Although, growing up, Doctor Strange was one of my favorite comic books because it was so different than the other Marvel titles. So there was a part of me that was somewhat excited to finally see Marvel’s Sorcerer Supreme on the big screen.

I’m just going to put it out there, this was my favorite Marvel film after Guardians of the Galaxy. I guess the main reason was because it was so different, like Guardians, and it wasn’t a cookie cutter origin story like all the other Avengers’ first movies. Sure, it is an origin story but it isn’t bogged down in that and it moves past it pretty quickly. I think the film benefits from the passage of time being fairly ambiguous.

This is also one of the most visually stunning motion pictures I have ever seen on the big screen. It doesn’t have the enormous scale of Guardians of the Galaxy but the magical realms are just so interesting and vivid. Doctor Strange is definitely a movie that should be seen on the big screen.

Benedict Cumberbatch was pretty much perfect for the role of Dr. Stephen Strange. And since Strange was originally modeled after the great Vincent Price, maybe Cumberbatch could start a side gig of playing Price’s roles in remakes of some of his classics. Just a thought.

Mads Mikkelsen is an actor I always enjoy to see but I do feel like he was somewhat wasted in the film. And really, this is my only gripe with Doctor Strange. His character, the main villain of the story, just feels thin and should have been developed much more. He’s essentially just an evil force of nature who was a great student of the light that was tempted by the dark side. Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is pretty much any Sith from Star Wars but a lot less interesting.

Some people have a problem with Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, who in the comics is an old Asian dude. I didn’t take issue with it and I thought she did a good job with the role. Was it accurate to the comics? No. But Baron Mordo also isn’t black but no one seems to care about that. Why? It really isn’t that important. The next thing these “purists” will do is start complaining that the new Ghostbusters are all ladies. Oh, wait…

Speaking of Mordo, Chiwetel Ejiofor served the role well. Although, I thought his slip into villainy was almost too quick and easy. He was the Ancient One’s second-in-command and he turned his back on the order because of stubbornness that he should have probably been able to get past if he was a master sorcerer with extreme discipline. He didn’t even take a second to process it or talk about it, he just walked away, offended and sad, ignoring his own advice throughout the entire film: “forget everything you think you know.”

In the end though, no one was as awesome as Wong.

Doctor Strange also boasts one of the most impressive and interesting scores in the Marvel film franchise.

The film also isn’t drawn out to eye-rolling lengths and is thankfully, just under two-hours. I swear, Captain America: Civil War felt like a four-part miniseries I was forced to watch in one sitting.

And there are a few other things I could talk about but I don’t want to spoil too much of the film, even though film reviews by their very nature are spoilers.

Doctor Strange is a well-acted and well-directed comic book movie. It flows really well and it is great eye candy. It is one of the best Marvel outings, ever. I hope the future films in the franchise take their cues from this film and from Guardians of the Galaxy because Marvel tends to give us their best when they aren’t following a specific formula.