‘Emma.’ is Stylish, Bighearted, and Eager to Get Love Right

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CREDIT: Box Hill Films/Focus Features

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth, Miranda Hart, Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Rupert Graves, Gemma Whelan, Amber Anderson, Tanya Reynolds, Connor Swindells

Director: Autumn de Wilde

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: PG for A Butt

Release Date: February 21, 2020 (Limited)/Expands March 6, 2020

In the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s meddling matchmaker, there are two moments that happen back to back in a pair of private quarters which really represent the power of this version. First we see Emma Woodhouse’s longtime companion and confidant George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) being dressed by his servant. The sequence begins with him stripped down to his birthday suit, giving us a quick peek at his bare behind. Once he is all set to o, it cuts to Ms. Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) receiving the final touches from her help, and while we do not get a full au naturel view of her, she does take a moment to hike up her dress and pose while placing her hands at her side. Taken together, it is marvelously striking how rarely we get to see bare legs like these in a literary English period piece, especially in one that is so otherwise bright and bold in its costume decisions, what with its feathers in caps and a mustard-yellow trench coat.

It makes sense that we get such a peek into private spaces, considering how much first-time director Autumn de Wilde has chosen to emphasize the vulnerability at the core of this story. It is no big surprise to see Flynn as Knightley cut to the emotional core of any conflict, but you might be taken aback by just how much we get to see his beloved open up as well. Emma presents herself as a know-it-all, but when she realizes that she may have screwed up, her worry about catastrophe is devastating (so much so that her nose starts bleeding at one point). Taylor-Joy and her big, expressive eyes are quite the casting coup here. There’s no way for her to fully hide what she’s feeling. When she discovers how badly she insults Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), and how wrong she’s steered her friend Harriet (Mia Goth), and how much she’s offended Knightley, the tears come flowing as she confronts the fear that she may have made herself the biggest pariah around.

One of the biggest themes of any version of Emma is the power in allowing people to fix their mistakes. In this Emma., when those re-dos occur, the characters have big smiles on their faces, and I bet you will, too. It’s a lovely adaptation, and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s a story I was already intimately familiar with, and yet it has somehow awoken previously undiscovered sections of my heart and subconscious.

Emma. is Recommended If You Like: Wit mixed with tears

Grade: 4 out of 5 Love Matches

Super-Duper Movie Review: High Life

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At the beginning of High Life, I was inspired to be wonderstruck by the cosmos, asking the eternal questions like, “How vast is the vastness of space?” and “What existed before existence?” These queries are terrifying in their unanswerability, but also comforting in how they remind us that the construct of the universe is so much bigger than everything we know. But then the rest of High Life is just about living and getting on. And that’s all well and good, and it’s worth exploring that routine in outer space, whether or not it’s populated by convicted criminals. It’s an unstructured viewing experience, and you’ll struggle to care if you’re not especially tuned in to director Claire Denis’ wavelength, though you might occasionally be thrilled by the daring approach. I appreciate High Life for staking out a unique place in cinema, but I don’t particularly ever want to experience it again (at least not most of it).

I give High Life A Medium Lack of Gravity.

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: A Cure for Wellness

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This review was originally published on News Cult in February 2017.

Starring: Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth

Director: Gore Verbinski

Running Time: 146 Minutes

Rating: R for Doing Everything It Can to Get Under Your Skin

Release Date: February 17, 2017

A Cure for Wellness is the type of movie I would like to rate 5/5 on the strength of its ambition and singularity of vision but that I must admit its reach exceeds its grasp. It feels like the film that director Gore Verbinski (The RingRangoPirates of the Caribbean) has been waiting his whole career to make. Verbinski has been behind enough hits to have sufficient cachet for a risk here and there, but how he ever convinced a major studio to produce something as dark, disturbing, and inscrutable as Wellness is could prove to be one of the great mysteries in the annals of cinema history.

The whole affair starts out sufficiently intriguing and easy-enough-to-follow: rising financial executive Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) has been sent to the Swiss Alps to retrieve his CEO, who seems to have lost his mind while staying at a resort with a cult-ish devotion among its clientele. He hot dogs his way into the place, expecting to be in and out in time to catch the red-eye back to New York, but a freak accident results in his unwittingly becoming a patient himself. In a way, this is a long, fantastical PSA about the importance of wearing your seat belt.

Lockhart does manage to get in touch fairly quickly with his CEO, who goes on one of those rants about how it is really the world that is sick but then violently shifts to amenability towards going home. Ultimately, though, the status quo stays in place. This elliptical encounter sets the tone for the whole plot.

A Cure for Wellness sets itself up as a classic gothic European castle mystery with a 21st century anarchic twist. There are movies that have strange elements just for strangeness’ sake, but in this case there appear to be more concrete purposes. What is the motivation of chillingly cool and collected facility director (Jason Isaacs)? Who is this girl (Mia Goth) who is so much younger than all the other residents, and why does she receive preferential treatment? What is the deal with the eels? For the most part, each of these questions is sufficiently answered, but the twists may be too unnecessarily stomach-churning for some viewers. Also, the resolution is painfully stretched out – Lockhart is given an absurd number of opportunities to dish out his revenge.

If nothing else, this exercise in ghastliness is worth it for the beautiful cinematography courtesy of Bojan Bazelli. The days are perpetually cloudy, making for a striking mix of drab, foreboding, and sublime. Tableaux are carefully, lovingly designed – an overhead view of water aerobics may be the shot of the year. This is the world in a microcosm, as argued by A Cure for Wellness: ugly, breathtaking, and irrevocably tied to the past.

A Cure for Wellness is Recommended If You Like: The pop philosophy of Fight Club, the creepy crawlies of Slither (2006), the nasty secrets of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Grade: 3 out of 5 Suspect Diagnoses