Suspiria

RATING: [B-|🍅]

In the spirit of Halloween, I selected a host of scary films available to stream on Netflix + 1 via HBO & reviewed the recent Suspiria.


JENNIFER’S BODY (2009)

Add it to the list and well before the #MeToo movement began, this feminist new wave of resentment flick covers the bases that recent films like The Favourite, Revenge, Assassination Nation, and A Simple Favor exploit. Responding to toxic masculinity, Jennifer’s Body responds in kind with toxic femininity. Glorifying violence rooted in ressentiment and revenge: no longer looking merely towards survival, but reprisal. Diablo Cody, who wrote a solid script with Tullyremains an important female screenwriter with idiosyncratic dialogue on the tongue of Megan Fox reminiscent of Brink for sorority girls.

While the film lacks the usual depth and creative filmmaking that a higher rating would require, it has enough grasp and clairvoyance to appreciate its new resurgence in popularity.  I suspect given that the perfect storm of exposing men for being predators and the push for more female directors, this new wave feminist genre will become synonymous with Hollywood elites soon enough.

Karyn Kusama: remember the name.

jennifer

RATING: C+

THE CONJURING (2013)

A start to a promising universe (continued this year with The Nun) was this first installment of the Warren Family and their quest to uncover and banish the paranormal. One, a clairvoyant (Vera Farminga), who seems to get the short end of the stick every time due to her particular sensitivity to the demonic elements. Her husband (Patrick Wilson), a non-ordained exorcist who comes into his own purpose and vision in the end.

While I don’t pretend to enjoy these modern-day horror films as much as the classics for want of a full story and prolonged scenes of loud (and frankly mindless) noise making, I did enjoy The Conjuring for its attempt at creating a wider sense through which to view the genre. Some of the filming was exceptionally well done and the toy collection did wonders to suspend the audience into the hopes of future installments. I have not seen any more of these films, but from the way things look, this one was the only one worth watching.

Screen Shot 2018-10-26 at 3.52.47 AM.png

RATING: C+

THE INVITATION (2015)

As far as movies about cults go, this one falls along the middle shelves given its undeveloped back story, thriller tropes, and predictable outcome. That said, some well designed scenes and moving moments that make it worth the viewing experience. Director Karyn Kusama could have done with 30 more minutes to develop the story before that finale, which was quite good given the L.A. setting. I think most of us assume this kind of thing is likely to happen in Hollywood.

For better installments, check out: Martha Marcy May MarleneSound of My VoiceThe Endless.

And again, remember the name.

invitation

RATING: C+

THE NIGHTMARE (2015)

A tantalizingly impressive plot without the requisite carry-through. The idea of sleep paralysis — especially its psychological and religious components — deserves a full treatment. I’ve had a friend who maybe suffered the same and their fear was genuinely traumatizing. Adding the component of extra-dimensional vision is something that theologically makes sense and has been expressed by people regarding paths demons may take to manifest in our three-dimensional plane. This stuff is seriously frightening and the documentary only scratches the surface of what could otherwise be a horrifying viewer experience.

Nightmare

RATING: C+

TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

Despite the absence of any back story, this zombie thriller manages to do well what all films in this genre need to do: (1) identify the good and the bad guys, (2) paint the dire need for survival, and then (3) blast the audience with emotional chemotherapy until they reach the state of convalescence. Nothing makes The Walking Dead better than a sense of attachment and gratuitous loss you must have known was coming.

Train to Busan, with no apologies, runs through the sequence of events in the order that logic dictates without glamorizing too much any individual feat or person. Predictable sure, but for those who enjoy this genre, it’s a worthwhile installment.

(Also check out Cargo, which we reviewed favorably.)

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RATING: C

THE WAILING (2016)

A slow, unnerving horror flick lodged in a little village in the mountains of South Korea, where an oafish detective (akin to Memories of Murder) has to solve the case of a mysterious disease and the dark forces causing trouble. Explaining the lush setting and title, Jonathan Romney (Film Comment) notes that it’s set on “a rural small town, Goksung—also the film’s Korean title, which apparently, by a play on the Chinese characters in which it is written, also means ‘the sound of weeping.’” And, there is plenty of that.

While the first half of the film takes time to develop, the reward is worth the wait as this isolated community is forced to resolve their mystery through ancient rituals and the biblical questions of ghosts clothed in flesh. Being a big fan of opening quotes, this one was fitting. Is the haunting for entertainment and what is the true significance of our encapsulated obsessions to still frame our manufactured happiness? Questions that rattle throughout the film while the undead take to human flesh like moths to the flame.

There is a rich underlining mystery to this film that horror fans will greatly appreciate, if they can stay awake. A religious element used well without the usual pretense of Hollywood’s two-fold narrative: proselytization or hypocrisy. While strangely worded, Simon Abrams (Roger Ebert) is right: “It may be impossible to turn off your brain while watching The Wailing, but that makes the film’s visceral charms that much more admirably vexing.” A highly watchable film and once again proof that finding cinema gold requires us to leave the comforts of our American homes.

Add Hong-jin Na to the other great contemporary Korean directors like Joon-ho Bong and Chan-wook Park.

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RATING: B-

VERÓNICA (2017)

Largely repetitive with some fine use of color and light, but depending too much on the usual tropes of horror films surrounding loud noise and scary imagery. Thin back story, but some unique uses of direction and visual effects. Still, it was well done and certainly an impressive installment from the [REC] director, Paco Plaza.

Most impressive was how much this film will likely generate an inquisitive mind. The real story that inspired Veronica is referred to as the “Vallecas Case” and dates back to 1991. While the facts of the case aren’t quite as spectacular as the events in Veronica, the police report contains evocative descriptions, calling it a “situation of mystery and rarity.”

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RATING:  C


BONUS

SUSPIRIA (2018)

A slow developing and rather promising display of indwelling evil with matriarchal violence set during a time where mankind could only be explained as setting the stage for a reenactment of Hell. Unnerving and unapologetic, Luca Guadagnino tackles the classic horror masterpiece of Dario Argento with competent shoulders despite that ending that could only be explained with Lana del Rey being given her first role as sound editor.

Between the incessant floor-mat arousing from Dakota Johnson, the incel witch community that scorns the likeness of white men (familiar?), and that coup de grace elimination round at the end that feels like a gamer gate’s wet dream, the film left the plot largely undeveloped and disappointingly so.  As Dana Stevens (Slate) wrote: “Suspiria is a meditation on the dangers of pedagogy and the perils of placing your art above all else, but it never quite fights its way to the surface.” A little more bed-side matter and psychiatric analysis instead of stills and dream-sequences would have done wonders even with plenty to appreciate. It wasn’t clear if Guadagnino was aiming for a film that took itself seriously, but towards the end he went for broke with some seriously stunning visuals matched by a few poor decisions that undid a lot of the antecedent credit accrued. This is not a genre that you can wing and Suspiria (2018) will not likely be a film horror fans return to every year.

That said, the film isn’t boring (as some say) and certainly better than most of the high-profile horror films of yet that repeat ad nauseam the same ol’trope-to-loud-noise fright ratio (e.g. A Quiet Place) that’s largely useless unless you watch it on the big screen. More in the style of The Witch and Hereditary driven by a “political subtext [that] never connects with the rest of the movie.” Had Suspiria ended like The Witch I would have given it a B.

It’s other major problem was the purpose of the political allusions. I was not the only one who noticed the missing link between the outside and insider world of the Music School. Adding to Alonso Duralde (The Wrap) is Manohla Dargis (New York Times), for example, who writes:

These allusions don’t amount to anything and come off like futile, nonsensical bids to explain the German setting. The school faces the Berlin Wall, as Guadagnino repeatedly reminds us, to no particular end. Like the references to Germany’s violent politics in the 1970s and the nods at Susie’s Mennonite background (which emerges in puzzle-like flashbacks), the wall is strictly ornamental, an emblem of meaning by (hoped for) association.

Same from Christy Lemire (Roger Ebert):

The problem is that while “Suspiria” has a vivid and specific sense of place, it also strives to exist in the outside world with a larger historical context in a way that never connects.

And those are just the few I read. To me a good script is like a heart chamber web that has a central running narrative and connective tissue that pump blood into the center. Suspiria, at times, felt like it was hemorrhaging. There was one fitting corollary between the internal vs. external conflict. As Lemire explains: Berlin was “a city split in two, struggling to reestablish itself post-Nazism, but still being torn apart by attacks from the leftist Baader-Meinhof Group.” So, too, was there an internal, you can say, almost Papal conflict with the politics of the theatre although some scenes (e.g. suicide) made little sense to me.

Tilda Swinton is brilliant, as can be expected, and Johnson has some moments of true potential, if that. The dance sequences and the simmering and boiling of tempo was at times very effective. I didn’t have a huge problem with the costumes, as absurd as they were, and the dance sequence built well what was seemingly a crescendo that went flaccid. It felt at times, Guadagnino’s direction got in the way of choreographer Damiel Jalet’s creative vision.

A good try, but no Dario.

Suspiria

RATING: B-

 

La Forêt

RATING: [C-|👎]

As is the nature of Netflix Originals, Delinda Jacobs’s The Forest is a French crime mini-series that feels like a completion project ripping off the creative works of better filmmakers. An unfulfilled esoteric narrative filmed in the beautiful northern forests of France hints at some rooted mystery just around the corner until you turn that bend and realize that the writers had nothing better to offer.

The series traces an all too familiar plot of a small town murder mystery where everyone and no one is a suspect and things are strangely appearing that end up rooted in a mundane explanation. A wild card village citizen who decides to commit her independent spirit to solving the mystery, while finding her own familial story in the process. Sexual tension across the board. Cops being largely useless and seemingly easy to lie to. A saddening demonstration of the corruption of the youth in no small measure due to the lax sexual expectation placed on children (especially French society). Generally unlikable people across the board with alot of warm bodies who do little else than walk around. A melancholy developing dynamic between the town-folks with liars and thieves handing out plot hole fixers.

The show comes nowhere near to a creative development worth watching past the first three episodes. Where a mini-series is supposed to develop and introduce layers to the complex web of fine-tuned writing, The Forest is an exercise in futility comparable to watching hamsters running theirs wheels. weaving narrative that attempts to overlap with the plot-murder that takes an all too familiar feel-good dive into a family  melodrama. And in the end, an immesely boring villain that makes it oh so much easier to appreciate how perfectly casted Glenn Fleshler was in True Detective.

For people who really like crime dramas, it’s not the worst thing in the world, and certainly after Dark, I wish that Netflix had more foreign crime dramas, but much better crime shows exist* for you to waste your time here unless you’ve seen them all.

RATING: C-


*  Here are 5:

  1. The Fall
  2. Mindhunter
  3. Dark
  4. Broadchurch
  5. Luther

And if you can get you hands on True Detective (season one), that is the place to start.

Miloš Forman

#FormanChallenge

“[Y]ou will be surprised how many people are more comfortable to live in the zoo, because you get your piece of fruit every day.”


In celebration of the life of Miloš Forman, who died in April at the age of 86, we decided to invest our time and money in the month of May to watching some of his lesser known works and seeing if we can find some gems in the rubble. Most people are aware of his big four (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s NestAmadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon), but we wanted to dig deeper into his other features as a tribute to his life and to add layers to the claim of the Village Voice, when it wrote: “Watch his movies today — any of his movies, really — and you’ll see an artist contending with the sheer terrifying messiness of a world where people refuse to be held down.”

We offer our brief takes on what we saw.


Loves of a Blonde (1965) – in the #MeToo generation, this film does the job of reinforcing the stereotype that men are predators and women are naive: ironically The Academy decided to reward this film with an Oscar nomination. How times have changed.

Loves of a Blonde

[👎]


The Firemen’s Ball (1967) – an idiotic and perhaps fitting social commentary for today on the destructive forces happening outside while men behave likes boys in the comfort of human nature.

Ho¯Ì, m· panenko!

[👎]


Hair (1979) – a fun, energetic musical with a stranger love triangle that makes the unintelligible ending blend well with the general seriousness of the film.

Hair

[👎]


Ragtime (1981) – a fine opening to a decade that Forman would come to direct (I think) his finest work in Amadeus (1984) and the one gem we found during this challenge with Valmont. And yet, the unfolding of events, while relevant to our current landscape of racial tension, finds less concern for intelligibility and more to teach the seeming lesson that no good deed goes unpunished.

Ragtime

[👎]


Valmont (1989) – a squalid, finely acted performance (esp. Annette Bening) in an immensely competent script by great Jean-Claude Carriere that nears the beautiful production and costume design in Amadeus. Here, in Forman’s continuing and strange, seemingly obsession with men as predators, is a film to be in conversation with the likes of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Scorsese’s Age of Innocence. A character study in Meg Tilly that prefigured Rebecca Hall in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008). Needless to say, many of the critics hated the film, but I find some relief that Roger Ebert saw what I saw.

valmont

[🍅]


When I was asked to direct One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), my friends warned me not to go anywhere near it. The story is so American, they argued, that I, an immigrant fresh off the boat, could not do it justice. They were surprised when I explained why I wanted to make the film. To me it was not just literature but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.

Signature

(1932-2018)

Jóhann Jóhannsson

“Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.”

“Life is for the living.
Death is for the dead.
Let life be like music.
And death a note unsaid.”


Langston Hughes

For those of us who spend entirely too much time alone in study will understand the gravity of friendship that music has on forming fond memories and stimulating the imagination. In my own private space, I’ve come to befriend the sound of a man who passed away at age 48 on Saturday and the sense of that future emptiness is palpable. Perhaps it is appropriate that he was signed on to score the upcoming HBO and Sky miniseries “Chernobyl” given my own near death experience being born in that region.

According to The Post, his body was discovered in his Berlin apartment. Cause of death remains unknown. With his seeming plans to use his music from Mother! and his pending work on Mary Magdelene, I can only fear the worse.

In honor of  Jóhann Jóhannsson, I offer two things.

First, is a paragraph from the book I was reading when I came to know of his death, a deeply relevant and sobering reflection on the state of our existence and the imposing prospect of Death that our memories desperately seek to avoid: “if that fear becomes conscious of itself, it becomes anguish, the perpetual climate of the lucid man ‘in whom existence is concentrated.'”

It comes from an essay by Albert Camus called The Myth of Sisyphus.

Now the main thing is done, I hold certain facts from which I cannot separate. What I know, what is certain, what I cannot deny, what I cannot reject—this is what counts. I can negate everything of that part of me that lives on vague nostalgias, except this desire for unity, this longing to solve, this need for clarity and cohesion. I can refute everything in this world surrounding me that offends or enraptures me, except this chaos, this sovereign chance and this divine equivalence which springs from anarchy. I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it. But I know that I do not know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it. What can a meaning outside my condition mean to me? I can understand only in human terms. What I touch, what resists me—that is what I understand. And these two certainties—my appetite for the absolute and for unity and the impossibility of reducing this world to a rational and reasonable principle—I also know that I cannot reconcile them. What other truth can I admit without lying, without bringing in a hope I lack and which means nothing within the limits of my condition?

The second is a playlist that I’ve created in the last three days, listening to his body of work, in honor of his memory, including some of my favorite compositions that have kept me company.

 

You will be missed.