Sunday, 18 November 2018

Suspiria - Review

"When you dance the dance of another, you make yourself in the image of its creator"
It would be fair to say that fans of Suspiria may not initially recognise that film in Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino's remake/adaptation in "six acts and an epilogue"
Yes, it is set within a German ballet school which is run by a coven of witches, and the character names are the same, but that is where the similarities end.
Gone is the bold vivid colour palette, replaced with a more muted tone to keep in the 1973 Berlin setting. Instead of Goblin's Italian funk soundtrack, we have Thom Yorke picking up Jonny Greenwood's baton and moving into the film score business. And the iconic death sequences the original are annexed in favour of something else entirely... something that is too deliciously delirious to spoil.
Guadagnino's psychological fever dream is a completely different beast to Dario Argento's original 1977 Giallo horror film.
The story is set within the world of dance and Argento and Guadagnino's two version feel akin to two separate choreographers taking a different approach and adaptation to the text. Both are unique, wonderful pieces of work but also can exist within the same universe.
Similar to how directors will adapt Shakespeare into modern settings to give new historical context and show the universality of the stories, this version is set in Berlin 1976 at a time of a divided city, set for rebirth.
Where Argento's movie was frenetically paced, leaping straight into American Susie Bannion's arrival at the school followed by a horrific murder set piece, Guadagnino opts for the slow burn.
The film takes its time building its two central plots (Susie's meteoric rise to lead protagonist in the company and Dr. Josef Klemperer's search for Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), the girl Susie replaced) before dovetailing the two together in Acts V and VI which are some of the most spectacularly beautiful, terrifying and insane filmmaking you will see all year... and this is coming from someone who has seen Mandy.
Dakota Johnson, written off by many for starring in the awful 50 Shades films, proves that she is a fantastic actress who will likely follow the same career path as Kristen Stewart after Twilight (which the 50 Shades of Grey books were actually inspired by).
Her performance evokes memories of Natalie Portman in Black Swan as the physicality of the dance is easily matched by her emotional journey as she is pulled deeper and deeper into the conspiracy within the dance school. One that is orchestrated by her teacher and mentor Madame Blanc. Tilda Swinton is the perfect actress for a role like this (and potentially a few others). Her otherwordly appearance and ability to turn from warm to villainous on a dime is used to full effect. Plus the smouldering sexual tension between Swinton and Johnson towards the end is off the charts.
During one private lesson, Blanc tells Susie "There are two things that dance can never be again. Beautiful and cheerful. Today we break the nose of every beautiful thing"
Suspiria is certainly not cheerful and in the world of interpretive dance, there are many that will not like this interpretation of the material. But all art is subjective and while Guadagnino may break the beautiful face of Argento's Giallo classic, from the broken pulpy mess that remains he reaches in and moulds it into something even more beautiful. The same heart reborn with a new visage that is better than the original.

5 stars

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody - Review

For a band that broke the mold and refused to be pigeon-holed into one particular genre or musical style, it is disappointing to see that Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody is simply another musical biopic that features an incredible central performance that elevates it beyond its cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers screenplay just like many that have come before it e.g. Ray, Walk The Line.
It's certainly no Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. You might laugh but at least it knew that it was a comedy and it was okay when it made certain references and jokes.
In this film, when Freddie plays the opening notes of Bohemian Rhapsody on a piano and remarks "Think it could become something", you almost expect someone to turn to the camera and wink at the audience. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the scene where a record producer tells the band that "We need a song teenagers can bang their to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song" and the producer is played by Mike Myers (who brought Queen to the attention of a new generation by doing exactly that). There should have been a big arrow with Mike Myers pointing at him on screen, similar to Mark Hamill's appearance in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
The film takes time to explore the genesis of the band and how they would always do everything together when it came to the music. All opinions were valid and the finished product feels like a film that tried to appease too many people. It doesn't feel like the Freddie Mercury biopic that the project was initially going to be and instead you can see the fingerprints of Brian May and Roger Taylor all over it in the way that it repeatedly mentions May's work on Astrophysics and his PhDs and Taylor has made sure to showcase himself as a lothario.
Yet much like any of their live performances, the audience's attention is drawn to the Freddie Mercury whenever he is on screen and that is all down to Malek's performance where he simply becomes Freddie.
He perfectly captures the charismatic showman but also the troubled, mixed-up person who cannot truly be himself off the stage.
Yes, there are glimpses of his troubles and it doesn't exactly shy away from his sexuality but is hampered by the 12A certificate as exemplified in the scene where the band play Another One Bites The Dust superimposed over scenes of Mercury wandering around gay & S&M clubs bathed in red light. It looks for a moment like it could merge into a scene out of William Friedkin and Al Pacino's Cruising but never quite finds the mettle to go further.
Look, this reviewer knows more than anyone that any biopic will play it slightly fast and loose with the truth in order to tell the audience an entertaining story. It is the reason why all of these films have the following statement at the end of the credits "for dramatic effect"
However, there comes two points where selective use of the facts can impact a film.
1) The pedant in me will see a scene set in 1985 where Freddie is diagnosed with AIDS and they use Who Wants To Live Forever and think A - that is a bit on the nose and B - that song was not released until 1986 as part of the Highlander soundtrack.
2) When the story fudges the truth in order to elicit and manipulate an emotional reaction from the audience. This happens after Freddie and Queen end their estrangement (which never happened) and Freddie tells them of his diagnosis before their infamous Live Aid appearance because it didn't happen like this but is played out this way to heighten the emotion leading into this final performance.
Having said that, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to get up out of your seat and bang your head in the aisle of the cinema auditorium as the camera takes you right into Wembley Stadium for Live Aid and recreates one of the most iconic rock performances of all-time and showcase exactly why Queen were one of the best live bands and Freddie was, sorry Hugh, The Greatest Showman.

2 stars