This Is a Movie Review: Luca Guadagnino’s ‘Suspiria’ is So Baroque, Don’t Fix It

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CREDIT: Alessio Bolzoni; Courtesy of Amazon Studios

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Running Time: 152 Minutes

Rating: R for Imaginatively Bloody Violence and Witchcraft-Based Nudity

Release Date: October 26, 2018 (Limited)

I’ve seen the 1977 original Dario Argento-directed Suspiria, but I don’t remember much about it, other than the colors and the music. I also recall that the premise is that a young American ballet student arrives at a prestigious dance academy in Germany, where she discovers that the place is run by a coven of witches. That is the same setup for Luca Guadagnino’s remake, but in just about every other way, this is not a film that should feel compelled to call itself a remake. Let me jump in with my theory on proper remake strategy: a good remake can be based on a good or bad movie, but it must necessarily be significantly different enough from the original. Because if the original was bad, why would you want to do it over again? But if the original was good, it would be pointless to do it all over again, since the original still exists. The new Suspiria is certainly different enough, more inspired by than redoing the original. Although it is possible that it is recreating scenes that I forgot about, but if that is the case, that’s clearly not a problem.

Guadagnino is a master of baroque delights. From Dakota Johnson’s slithery dancing to an onslaught of bodily contortions and explosions, this is a mass feast of sensory awesomeness. I’m pretty sure that Thom Yorke’s score is also excellent, but I’ll have to listen again to make sure. As for any deeper themes – whether regarding feminism, power dynamics, or the like – there may be plenty to jump into there. Perhaps I will dig into it a month or a year from now. But it’s also possible there may not be any subtext at all. And that is just dandy in this case. Also, pay special attention to “Lutz Ebersdorf.” He’s going places.

Suspiria is Recommended If You Like: Suspiria (1977), Hausu, Hereditary

Grade: 4 out of 5 Leotards

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ Fits As Many Crazy Characters And Genre Twists as Possible Into a Quirky Hotel

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CREDIT: Kimberley French/Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth, Nick Offerman

Director: Drew Goddard

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for The Violence of Lawmen, Career Criminals, and Desperate People

Release Date: October 12, 2018

Drew Goddard has a thing for surveillance. His directorial debut, The Cabin in the Woods, was all about the pleasure and ritual of watching young people being ripped apart by monsters. That thematic concern was to be expected with Cabin, which deconstructed in one fell swoop all of horror cinema, a genre that more than any other grapples with voyeurism at its core. Bad Times at the El Royale, Goddard’s second film, is by contrast about a group of various strangers converging at one central location. This setup does not by definition invoke surveillance, but it is just as concerned about the watchers and the watched as Cabin is. Thus a series of question is raised: is Goddard watching all of us? Is he sounding the alarm about the nefarious forces that are watching us? Or does he take that nefariousness as a given, and is he then using cinema to process it?

The action becomes quickly pear-shaped at the titular hotel, which straddles the state line between California and Nevada, with their differing liquor and tax laws separated by the two halves of the establishment. It’s a novel premise that keeps you on your toes and alert for other oddities. The El Royale might be off the beaten path and have fallen on hard times, but it seems to serve as a beacon to folks with similarly dual natures. All who are getting ready to spend the night there – a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm), a priest (Jeff Bridges), a soul singer (Cynthia Erivo), a rude, mostly silent young woman (Dakota Johnson), and even the concierge (Lewis Pullman) – are much more than they initially appear to be. That is hardly surprising, given how over-the-top or opaque they are when we first meet them. Bad Times does not reinvent the wheel, but it never lets its hands off it.

That maximal level of control is essential to what Goddard is pulling off. Once again, he is in deconstructionist mode. This time he is taking on the subgenre of post-Tarantino, nonlinear crime flicks. Obviously this is much more specific than what Cabin was targeting, but there are still plenty of threads to pull at, and Goddard pulls at all of him. (In a way, this is not so much a deconstruction of Tarantino’s imitators as much as it is a reconstructed better version.) He sets out to examine how each character could have possibly gotten to this point, diving into as much backstory as possible. That formula makes for A WHOLE LOT of movie. What could have been an hour-and-a-half shootout is instead a nearly two-and-a-half-hour dissertation. It is worth consuming it all, but prepared to be exhausted immediately afterwards and to continue to digest it for days, or even weeks, later.

Bad Times at the El Royale is Recommended If You Like: The Hateful Eight, Agatha Christie Mysteries, The Cabin in the Woods, Classic Rock and R&B

Grade: 4 out of 5 Room Keys

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ is Just as Boring as Its Predecessors, But More Histrionic and Pointless

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Max Martini, Brant Daugherty, Arielle Kebbel, Fay Masterson, Luke Grimes, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Marcia Gay Harden, Tyler Hoechlin, Hiro Kanagawa

Director: James Foley

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for The Usual T&A, Sometimes Involving Ice Cream, Plus a Climactic Gunshot

Release Date: February 9, 2018

Fifty Shades Freed is just as boring as the rest of the Grey/Steele saga, and the whole S&M hook has ceased to be a big deal ever since the first entry was released. It’s not like it was ever that big a deal in the first place, though enough people were titillated by the promise of transgression to result in a phenomenon. But now that the aftershocks are nowhere near as explosive, what is the point? With Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) comfortably married, the whole frisson of inappropriateness is eliminated, and all Fifty Shades Freed has to fall back on is a fairly boilerplate tale of revenge and kidnapping.

The troubles that apparently drive the action involve Ana’s former boss Jack (Eric Johnson), who blames her for his firing, so he resorts to stalking to exact his revenge. There is never any tension that suggests that Jack will not be dispatched by the end or that it makes it thrilling at all in the moment. From a narrative standpoint, it exists, I guess, so that Christian can save Ana, thus solving any and all current and future marital troubles. Because the thing is, the struggles between the two of them have little to do with the parameters of their kinkiness and everything to do with emotional maturity or lack thereof. Christian is overly controlling and protective, and hilariously unprepared for the prospect of being a father. I worry about the long-term viability of this union, not because a possibility for abuse, but rather because any fundamental compatibility is just not there, and the shallow picture-perfect ending cannot convince me otherwise.

While the sex scenes are essentially window-dressing at this point, they are still the main attraction (along with the luxury travel porn). There is certainly some excitement to being in a crowded theater as the camera almost zooms in on a hardcore reveal. But if you are going to venture out to see this sort of action instead of pulling it up on your computer, there ought to be some romance leading up to it. But the two leads have just never managed to summon any significant chemistry.  Johnson is perpetually unsure what kind of movie she is in, alternating playing it straight with occasionally venturing a mildly subversive line reading that would fit a version of this movie that makes fun of itself. Dornan, meanwhile, sleepwalks through the whole thing. Arielle Kebbel, as an architect who gets a little too flirty with Christian, is the only one to zero in on a satisfyingly campy tone, but she is barely utilized. All this confusion is inherent to a traditional center attempting to be transgressive.

Fifty Shades Freed is Recommended If You Like: Porn Minus the Romance, Melodramatic Revenge Plots

Grade: 1.5 out of 5 Boobs in Boobland

SNL Recap February 28, 2015: Dakota Johnson/Alabama Shakes

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SNL: Dakota Johnson, Alabama Shakes, Kenan Thompson (CREDIT: YouTube Screenshot)

This review was originally posted on Starpulse in March 2015.

“SNL” returned to its regularly scheduled time slot after its 40th anniversary and … this episode did not feel like the comedown show after a big special so much as it felt like the type of episode that follow the ones that preceded it.  Fresh off the record-breaking box-office of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” Dakota Johnson stopped by to host for the first time, on a series that is still strongly favoring original material, and at its best when that material gets weird (which usually happens with the pre-recorded shorts).  Johnson brought a surprising and surprisingly effective mellow charm that made her disappear into a lot of her roles, making an impression in how much she did not make an impression.  Meanwhile, Alabama Shakes made their case for why they should be the musical guest every week.

Giuliani, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance – What started as a fairly standard current affairs cold opening surprised and delighted by turning into a pastiche of this year’s Best Picture Oscar winner.  Portraying Rudy Giuliani’s comments about the president as a hubristic comeback attempt a la Riggan Thomson in “Birdman” was not a comparison that a lot of people have been making.  Taran Killam really bit into the opportunity (quite literally, what with all that jowl movement) to do the double impression of Giuliani-as-Michael Keaton.  There were not really any laugh-out-loud moments, but this bit still absolutely killed, as it captured the energy and original spirit of the source material. B+

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