The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“Because people connect the stories to themselves, I suppose. And we all love hearing about ourselves. So long as the people in the stories are us… but not us.”

[Thigpen]

The new Coen Brothers installment is another reminder that the brothers’ strengths are better left with the serious projects. And so with The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the quality is found in the silent moments of self-reflection found when comedy has taken for the night and the reality of still life leaves opportunity to contemplate our own demise. Something buried beneath the cheerful misgivings of the characters is profoundly absorbing: something that continues to resurface in what feels like an entangled cycle of moral tales and social critiques on the state of humanity. As Michael Koresky (Film Comment) rightly points out: “[w]ith their multi-part yarn The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, the Coen Brothers mosey on back to the Old West to survey the eternal disappointment that is man.”

I refuse to delve to deeply into the meaning of each story for this review as I intend to engage with the film moving forward in other ways.

And still, a word.

Beginning with the “Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” we find the threading in the grand design from the ebullient outlaw Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), dubbed a “misanthrope,” although according to him, a misunderstanding:  The Misanthrope? I don’t hate my fellow man. Even when he’s tiresome, surly, and cheats at poker. I figure that’s just the human materialHere, in these simple four words, we have a deep truth that mirrors the four words of Nietzsche: human, all too human. 

Next, “Near Algodones” – the bank robbing Cowboy (James Franco) overcome by the bullet proof ingenuity of the bank teller, finds himself a survivalist from man’s “justice,” only to return to the gallows of his eventual undoing in a strange state of indifferent fatalism with only the captivation of a pretty girl to inspire.

Next, in “Meal Ticket” – a piercing social commentary on the scales of Huxley’s great savage reserves, where humanity replaces the beauty of prose and poetry with a chicken doing math.

Next, the “All Gold Canyon” – an old man (Tom Waits) hunts for golden treasures, one hole at time, determined and unfettered by his age and the monotony of the chase to find “Mr.Pocket.” He overcomes the human material of another’s opportunism, leaving will bags of wealth and a melody to Mother Machree.

Next, “The Gal Who Got Rattled” – full of melodramatic and warming sentiments about the deterministic life of a young woman (Zoe Kazan) unsure of tomorrows promises and the prospect of marriage. Her own untimely demise pictures that theme of human material as our frailty, facing down fear, behaves in rash consequences even when after life’s moments of rest seem imminent.

And finally, an immensely competent finale in “The Moral Remains” – on their way to Fort Morgan, the bounty hunter (Jonjo O’Neill), bringing back a corpse, sings the tale about lost Molly from the Isle of Man (allusion to Ireland where his partner, Brendan Gleeson, is from) as the annoyed fundamentalist (Tyne Daly) struggles to read her Bible and the windbag trapper (Chelcie Ross) pretends not to be asleep. Here, we return to the great discussion underlying the entire film: people. The trapper says that all people are alike, the fundamentalist corrects him saying men are either upright or sinning, while the Frenchman (Saul Rubinek) describes the two as lucky or unlucky. The frenchman references poker in his almost nihilistic disposition on life, harking back to the first story after Buster Scruggs is forced to play the cards he was dealt because he already saw them (but see: “we must all play our own hand” – frenchman). When Scruggs refused, he overcame the determinancy of the poet in story three, who found his end by the cruelty of another and the coarse changing of times. As the frenchman and the fundamentalist begin to fight, the latter is sent into a spell of choking as the Coens seemingly distil the true nature of the coachman as DEATH, who waits for no man  policy.

I don’t know if people will like the film, but there is certainly something remarkable and hidden deep in the penumbras of each story.

RATING: B-

 

At Eternity’s Gate

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“Life’s not so bad after all. There are not only poison but also antidotes.” 

[Irving Stone]

Last year’s Loving Vincent is now given an earlier chapter from which the breadth of van Gogh’s troubled and mesmerizing lust for life can be probed and examined for our own benefits. His art has become college dorm kitsch, but it’s his psychological furniture that remains in tact as a penetrating seam of drive and breakdown. As Manohla Dargis (NEW YORK TIMES) puts well, a film defined by “the art with which he at once communes with the world and transcends it.”

Julian Schnabel’s At Eternity’s Gate, his first project in eight years, shows the method and the madness of a man on the outskirts of sanity seeking to memorialize his sight on canvas. A beautiful art film of loss and exploration with Willem Dafoe becoming lost in the character of van Gogh in one of his best roles to date. Kenneth Turan (LA TIMES) is right: “Dafoe’s work, the look in his searching, despairing eyes, feels beyond conventional acting, using intuition as well as technique to go deeply into the character, putting us in van Gogh’s presence.”

The film is slow, but the subject matter and runtime lends support for the weary watchers. Depicting a complicated relationship with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac), who represents the vision of worldly success and a momentary respite for van Gogh’s loneliness. It shows the moving love between Vincent and his brother (Theo), who remains in the isles of history as the single voice of compassion and support for the brilliant painter. A brother’s keeper whose own capacity for sanity lends hope and family values to the story.

 

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While other projects have taken a more comprehensive look at the life of van Gogh, it is Schnabel, writes Peter Travers (ROLLING STONES), “who gets closest to his subject, which should be no surprise given his cinematic interest in artists and their process.” Content to focus on the workings in Arles and the drifting in-and-out of mental confusion, Schnabel  works through the life of van Gogh as the perennial chaser of visions running from his own ephemeral grounding on reality. As Dargis explains:

To howl at this or any of the other liberties that Schnabel takes in “At Eternity’s Gate,” though, is to miss the point: The movie is a freely subjective portrait of van Gogh by another artist trying to see, paint and feel as he did.

After all, Schnabel readily admit that there are “scenes that are just plain invented.” Regardless, the collaboration was brilliant, in no short supply of competence was the cinematography, set and costume design. And of course the fact the Schnabel is a painter who knows a little bit about the process. I love what Dafoe had to say to Alissa Wilkinson (VOX) about his working with him:

Basically, with the help of Julian, I started painting shoes. I started painting cypress trees. We looked at the Van Goghs. He taught me a different way of looking, a different way of seeing.

When you’re not trained, you really leap to identify things in paintings — we’re so ingrained, no matter what our education is, toward thinking about representation. We’re literal about things, not really looking deeply.

But to express something may mean making a painting that doesn’t look like exactly like what it “looks like.” So Julian taught me to paint lights.

The work came through in the end as the film paints through a man seeking consolation and the secret to what Irvin Stone called “the pattern of nature . . . woven into the design of life.” Between this film and Loving Vincent, the profound depth of sadness is immeasurably great and must be felt as we learn to grow in our own compassion for one another. Not since Mr. Turner have we seen another work as introspective and deserving of an audience, and while the writing and the narrative is thin and selecting (skips unapologetically much of van Gogh’s life), there is an indelible gift in the expertise of Schnabel as a painter to paint this work of art for us about a man who had no idea the impact he would make after his death.

RATING: B-

Debut Galore

Love After Love | Night Comes On

A Review of Two Debut Films from Russell Harbaugh and Jordana Spiro

Love After Love

A largely dull and ineffectual film about the process of grief and a seemingly endorsement of either open relationships or what is demonstrably an exercise in infidelity. Russell Harbaugh delivers this first project of his with gusto deserving of a Netflix premiere. We’ve seen these types of film over and over and Love After Love is the embodiment of redundancy in the American film canon. While the music, set design, and cinematography is a largely competent spread, the writing is mostly worthless.

The comedy is distant and at best droll. The emotions hovers around the surface without the requisite competence to delve deeper. The sexual proclivities of the characters are wanting and strangely reminiscent of other useless recent films like The Land of Steady Habits that seems to glamorize old-age singleness as an avenue for easy sex. Only (some) of the female characters posses any sense of stability and strength; the men remaining prodigal drunks with anger management issues and an incapacity for fidelity and nerves. It’s unclear what the purpose of this film was, but with a run-time of 91 minutes, it’s a benefit that the audience doesn’t have to waste much time inventing one.

With the explosion of available formats to publish films, more and more incompetent projects will be released and critics don’t seem to have any bearing on what is actually a worthwhile release. This one is an easy miss.

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RATING: C-

Night Comes On

Unlike Love After Love, this film has weight in its attempt to grapple with the struggle of low-income community members to survive the elements of their circumstances and return to a semblance of normality alongside those they love. A serious film about family – in all of its horror and happiness – having traces of other art films from this year, especially We Are Animals Madeline’s Madeline.

The film is about a young girl (Dominique Fishback – The Deuceout on parole, who seems set on the prospect of killing her father for killing her mother years back. She is irreparably changed by her attachment to her younger sister, becomes a role model, and overcomes anger in the midst of the uncertainty of returning to prison. 

Like Blindspottingthis film demonstrates deep elements of the plight of those struggling to return to the normalcy of society and a lesson for all to tread lightly on judging others when their circumstances have become indelibly rooted in their DNA. While the film judged objectively is not a masterwork deserving of its high-praise from critics (RT: 100%), it remains an important film reminiscent of better early works from Coogler with Fruitvale Station & Jenkins with Moonlight. While Jordana Spiro has much to prove, this film is a promising starting place for a seemingly able director/writer.

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RATING: C

The Haunting of Hill House

RATING: [B-|🍅]

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

[C.G. Jung]

Without diving too deeply into the specifics of the show, I offer a few quick comments for those considering watching The Haunting of Hill House. 

Mike Flanagan has been no stranger to Netflix and good reviews, with Hush (directed and wrote |RT: 92%), Gerald’s Game (directed and wrote|RT: 90%), & Before I Wake (wrote|RT: 62%) currently available to stream. With Hill House, he makes an indelible mark on the horror genre where the efficacy of the mini-series, consistently advocated on this page, shows itself a formidable force for sucking in the audience into what they know will be a manageable weekend binge. When it comes to the horror genre, writing is the missing element that directors need to embrace even if the audience is satisfied with cheap thrills. The reason for this is because horror taps into the visceral ethos of the human experience as it mines the depths of fear and anticipation in a way that suspends the audiences capacity to think outside themselves and force the memory of death on their being. To say this another way, horror, written well, can force us to confront the phrase Memento Mori (“be mindful of death”) and the psychological threat of our eventual undoing. Our minds, like our bodies, appear resilient, but with every foreign attack we can either develop the antifragile state of Nassim Taleb or become a slave to a fearful state of existence that has plagued our college campuses (see this and this).

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I say all this because Hill House shows glimmers of this throughout. Not only through a craftsmanship of directing (especially that Episode 6), but also through its complex storyboard editing and temporal shifts that invoke the appreciation of the psychological elements of mental breakdown in a completed cycle. We cannot see our own undoing or creation tomorrow, but we can certainly reflect on our potential for either today. Hill House is most scary when it delves into the theology of mental collapse and reminds us of our frail natures.

That said, much of the show strikes parallels with the writing of Jung, and it was here that Flanagan missed an immense opportunity to delve deeply into the psychology of the unconscious and the psychiatry of dreams and religion. Certainly the series is full of obvious plagiarisms from The Conjuring, Babadook, and that Westworld opening rip (that must have been pre-approved or a lawsuit is coming). Some of the writing is abysmal, saying too much and not enough when the plot is begging for clarity or silence. This is part and parcel the problem with American cinema, though. No one seems to be reading anymore and films are becoming little more than the routine small talk that is little else but noise pollution. The ending is disappointing, although many will find it exactly what they hoped for after the nine episodes of emotional disturbances.

There is much to discuss in the series and I encourage people not to simply be satisfied with the obvious entertainment, but use it as an opportunity for introspection.

RATING: B-

Burning (Boening)

RATING: [B|🍅]

“December came, and with it the end of fall, and the morning air turned cold. No change in the barns, just white frost covering their roofs. The world moved on as always.”

[Haruki Murakami]

Mood altering and possessive, here in the long-awaited work of Lee Chang-Dong is a mystery stuck at the borders of “passive martyrs and agents of triumph” (Film Comment Magazine). A mesmerizing work of isolation and attachment — the inconsolable reality that we are creatures left alone even in the midst of company.   As the “dance of the Great hunger” to Miles Davis emerges at the border of a society driven by repression and another by existentialism, we find a female form extending herself to the sun setting colors of a dying cosmic phenomenon in the airing spaces of her consolation. Chang-Dong explains the scene well: “I chose to set it at dusk, between day and night. That as well as the location just on the border reflects the mystery of this movie, the uncertain line between truth and lies, the real and the false.” As Sheila O’Malley (Roger Ebert) explains well: “a world of fluctuating and amorphous borders, invisible yet pressing in on the characters.”

Ben (Steven Yeun) is the embodiment of the Great Gatsby lost generation of wealth shrouded by mystery and terror. As Murakami (Barn Burning) described him: “young man who’s a riddle . . . you have no idea what he does, really, but he never seems to be hurting for money.” Peter Debruge (Variety) is probably wrong that the film’s success “will depend largely on one’s capacity to identify with the unspoken but strongly conveyed sense of jealousy and frustration its lower-class protagonist feels, coupled with a need to impose some sense of order on events beyond our control.” To me, the heart of the film is the social dynamic and mystery surrounding Yeun’s almost sociopathic lethargy. Like Jep in the Sorrentino’s masterpiece (The Great Beauty), it almost feels like Yeun has covered the basis of worldly sought impulses and instead of cynicism and retreat, he turns to a more sinister form of stimulation.

Lee Jong-Su is the striving romantic who falls along the wayside in search for the purpose in his passions. “[H]azy . . . with strange relationships, missing figures, blank spaces,” a likely embodiment of a lost youth movement in the Korean milieu.

Jong-seo Jeon is the prisoner of her own magic, slowly unpeeling the tangerine of her mind, hoping that the audience remains suspended to the reality that the tangerine was never there. The sensation the Murakami describes in describing the Tangerine Peeling is the sensation you get watching Burning:

. . . if you see it with your own eyes for ten or twenty minutes (almost without thinking, she kept on performing it) gradually the sense of reality is sucked right out of everything around you.

Persistent in its drawing, the film lends the audience a little slack before returning to its proverbial gallows for the finishing blow. The ending is rich with ambiguity and yet there remains a sense that ambiguity is the only form of catharsis that the character inhabit. A sobering piece of self-reflection with cultural education and rich, depth and beauty becoming of the source material (Faulkner, Murakami).

For all of its strengths, the ending fell daftly out of sync with the pacing established. Scott Marks (San Diego Reader) really nails this: “for a film that tires so hard to subvert standard methods of storytelling, the action that climaxes the film comes as a cheat, a commercial concession of the lowest order.” Indeed, the anticipation of some semblance of resolution after indicative strokes of suspicion would have been best left alone given the alternative. As such, I agree with Anthony Lane (New Yorker): “I would have lopped off the final scene, which I simply didn’t believe in, and which, if anything, resolves too much.”

Remarking well on the state and quality of contemporary Korean cinema as a product of “operatic violence,” “relentless momentum,” and “exposing social ills and critiquing inequalities,” Inkoo Kang (Slate) describes Burning with fine precision: “unsettlingly tense for much of its runtime, but its greatest accomplishment is its portrait of youthful alienation, and what can happen when individuals are unable to ever connect.” As more and more filmmakers run the gauntlet of fear in losing the audience with films that run over two-hours, this year has some glimpses of promise with Roma, First Man, and Burning that the quality of longer films is worth the few moments of testing the audience’s patience. If these films get rewarded, others will follow suit and hopefully we too can restore the semblance of movie watching purity that we desperately need in our world of insatiable materialism, hi-tech distractions, and mindless entertainment consumption.

Burning is a rare film that has an indelible cover of magic that haunts you long after you leave the theatre. Andrew Chan (Film Comment: PRINT) describes the qualities of Lee Chang-Dong craftsmanship in creating “melodramas with sharp teeth and irresistible momentum.” In short, a director worth the investment.

RATING: B

Support the Girls

RATING: [C+|👎]

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”

[Orson Welles]

A grounded and humanistic film about the gender dynamics in the food industry where women seek to find a home amidst a world of predators and creeps — or, as one critic put it: “stealth feminism in a sexist sports bar.” The mature follow-up to Waiting… , director Andrew Bujalski finds Regina Hall an inspirational force majeure in managing a sports bar while keeping it together while keeping the girls together. David Sims (The Atlantic) is right: “Support the Girls somehow manages to do it all, and in the form of a breezy, heartwarming workplace comedy to boot. There won’t be another film like it this year.”

While the film is based on bland, situational humor, there is also something surreal and worldly about this film with its raw documentarian emotion as it depicts the banal consequences of everyday life from the incorrigible public. The cross-sectional look into the last bastion of authentic customer service that has become a manufactured pretense to avoid legal liability. As Johnny Oleksinski (NY POST) puts well: “you come for the cheeky title and stay for the relevant, empathetic story about working-class women.” Or as Manohla Dargis (NY TIMES) writes, Bujalski “sees these women, and invites you to see them, too.”

While the film does not excel any anything, it offers a teachable moment for men to be better keepers of their sisters and for women to continue investing in themselves with a pure heart and compassion for all. There is an almost Christian ethos lodged deep in the realization of the films underlying narrative that speaks to the value of friendship over money or vocation. While largely forgettable, the film’s humanity is intoxicating.

RATING: C+

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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-