Film Review: SUSPIRIA (USA/Italy 2018)

Suspiria Poster

A darkness swirls at the center of a world-renowned dance company, one that will engulf the artistic director, an ambitious young dancer, and a grieving psychotherapist. Some will succumb to the nightmare. Others will finally wake up.


Luca Guadagnino


Dario Argento (characters), Daria Nicolodi (characters) | 1 more credit »

What happened to good old fashioned subtlety?   And what happened to the maggots dropping from the ceiling of the boarding school?

SUSPIRIA 2018 is the curious remake of the 1977 Gallo horror classic by Dario Argento about a young girl entering a new ballet school, discovering it to be run by a coven of witches.  The director here is Luca Gaurdagnino who helmed the overrated CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, whose talent (or lack of) is more evidently displayed here.  

Jessica Harper who starred as the innocent girl in the original has a cameo in this updated version as the doctor’s wife who went missing during the war.  Dakota Johnson plays the lead role here with Tilda Swinton playing Madame Blanc and an elderly male doctor using heavy prosthetics.  

SUSPIRIA opens with words implying a long film (2 and a half hours) with 6 Acts and an epilogue.  The film is and feels lengthy.  It looks great, courtesy of cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom with haunting music by Thom Yorke who won an Award for it at the Venice International Film Festival.

SUSPIRIA is all looks but it is unfair to say all looks and no substance.  There is more plot than the original though the script is based on Argento’s screenplay.  The story is still set in a German dance school.  But the problem is that Guadagnino’ s storytelling technique appears not to be in use.  It was ok for his last film CALL ME BY YOUR NAME that worked on a weaker narrative, the beauty of the Italian countryside and first love.  In SUSPIRIA many scenes appear unconnected and after reading the story from the press notes, a lot of what transpires is not communicated to the audience.  The plot is made more complicated by its setting in 1977 with the politics of the Berlin Wall.

SUSPIRIA is a complete mess.  Take this scene near the end as a classic example.  The old doctor, Dr. Klemperer (played by Swinton herself)  and his lost wife (now re-untied and played by Jessica Harper) are out walking out in the snow before she disappears for no reason.  The doctor is then dragged into a building by two elderly women, screaming at the top of their lungs.  The doctor is supposed to be lured to the building by a witch disguising herself as the wife.  A huge witch ritual begins with no shortage of nudity (the sort with lots old old withering bodies, sagging breasts and drooping buttocks) but the type one does not want to witness.  Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton) is killed in this ritual or isn’t she?  – All too confusing.

Director Guadagnino has put too much effort and has obviously become too serious with the project.  The original SUSPIRIA was a slasher film, scary but fantastic cheesy entertainment that is on every horror fan’s list as a must-see.  Gaudagnino has definitely taken all the fun out of the horror classic.  This one is elaborate, creepy and disgusting for no reason it was meant to be this disgusting.  SUSPIRIA has so far got mixed reviews from critics, as most probably are unsure what to make out of this mess of a horror movie.  Argento’s SUSPIRIA was funny, clever and short.


Film Review: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (USA 2018) ***1/2

Bad Times at the El Royale Poster

Seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell.

From the music, songs and vintage cars, the film’s setting appears to be the 60’s – a time when political correctness are not in place.  This might explain the girl cat fight (for male chauvinist audiences to get off on) scene in the middle of the film – similar to the gypsy girl fight put on for the entertainment of 007 James Bond in Terence Young’s (Young a director who loves to put in cat fights in his films) FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

The film arrives with quite the bit of hype that anything can happen and the film is quite the mind-f***.  That said, audiences will be pleased to note that they will not be disappointed.

The film involves seven strangers, each with a secret to bury, who meet at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale of the film’s title, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one fateful night, everyone will have a last shot at redemption – before everything goes to hell.

The film begins with an unseen stranger renting a room at El Royale.  He removes the carpet and floorboards to hide a bag of loot before being blown (shot dead) away.  The film moves forwards 6 months with the arrival of the seven strangers.

First to arrive is Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) entering the empty hotel foyer only to be greeted by vacuum cleaner salesman Sullivan (Jone Hamm) and backup Motown singer, Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo).  They are eventually greeted by the desk clerk, Miles (Lewis Pullman – yes, Bill Pullman’s son).  Later arrivals include a bad ass female, Emily (Dakota Johnson) with her even more bad ass sister (Cailee Spaeny) in tow.  Every person has a secret and no one is who he or she seems.  Father Flynn is no priest.  Sullivan is no vacuum cleaner salesman and Miles is no ordinary hotel clerk either.  One by one, the guests are done off, pretty much as in Agatha Christie’s TEN LITTLE INDIANS but with a difference.  This is a bad ass fucked up movie and be prepared to jump  out of your seats.  Not once but may times.  Director Godard, who also wrote the script ensures that there are lots of surprises around every corner.  So, be a little patient as the film has a bit of a slow start.

There are a few segments that could have been left out like the politically incorrect cat fight scene, without much change in the story.

All the actors appear to be having fun, hamming up their roles, especially THOR star Chris Hemsworth (a regular in Godard films) playing the villain, Billy Lee.

For a 60’s setting, the atmosphere is well created and believable.  All details from wardrobe, vintage cars to music are in order.

The film contains a good satisfactory ending where the deserving characters get to live and the bad ass guys get their come-uppance.  BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE should satisfy bad ass movie fans with bad ass entertainment, Tarantino/Rodriguez style.


Film Review: FIFTY SHADES FREED (UK 2018)

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Fifty Shades Freed Poster

Anastasia and Christian get married, but Jack Hyde continues to threaten their relationship.


James Foley


Niall Leonard (screenplay by), E.L. James (based on the novel by)


FIFTY SHADES FREED is the third film of the FIFTY SHADES franchise with the first two FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and FIFTY SHADES DARKER winning raspberry awards for worst film and worst acting for its actors.  FIFTY SHADES is likely the worst reviewed film franchise ever though the films have been Universal tons of cash.

The film clearly aims at a female audience.  Imagine the fantasy – Marriage to a wealthy husband with the perfect body, romantic wedding vows, a glamorous lifestyle and most of all, great sexy with S&M thrown in for good measure.

FIFTY SHADES FREED opens with what looks like the perfect wedding.  It is the marriage of Ana (Dakota Fanning) and billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan).  But the matrimonial noon is tested when Ana insists on ‘not being Mrs. Grey’.  She insists on keeping her maiden name, her job and dispenses with a wife’s household duties.  All this results in sexual punishment dished out by her husband.  Ana loves it and keeps going on till she eventually gets pregnant because she missed her shots.  The marriage is on the rocks.  The plot also invokes Ana’s ex-boss, Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) stalking her and wanting to punish her for what she has done to him, which is explained later on in the film.  That is pretty much the film.  Sex, sex, sex, get Ana’s stalker and would-be killer then the end.

FREED can stand on its own with audiences unfamiliar with the stories of the other two films.  Ana met Grey in the first film engaging in S&M sex.  The second film shows her being promised marriage by Grey while having trouble at work with her boss who turns up as the villain in FREED.

The sexual scenes are interesting but goes boring really quickly despite the two perfect bodies of the actors.  For what the script provides, Dakota Fanning does quite a good job at her performance, making the audience care for her despite her gong against all the hubby’s wishes.  Marcia Gay Harden has a small role as Christian’s adoptive mother, but her role is simply awful, involving her to hug the gorgeous Christian at one point in the film.  She looks as if she got a sexual turn on in the film when she holds on to him.

A few things that Universal Pictures got right with this sequel.  The budget is kept the same as the second film at $55 million with a shorter running length.  It is clear that the movie should still make money though expectedly less that the $580 million for the first and $300 million for the second.  At the film’s promo screening, one self touted critic remarked loudly that the film is shit and the editing is shit.  It is easy to condemn a film without giving clear examples.  The editing is actually half decent, especially the S&M scenes, keeping it fairly decent considering the film’s content.  Th car chases are also well cut with ok continuity.  

Having not seen the first two films, I actually enjoyed the tackiness of the film’s first 20 minutes, to see how much rubbish the audience can take in.  But tackiness or not, the film keeps repeating itself (example: the story’s silly excuses for Ana’s behaviour to keep getting sexually punished.)  The S&M are not really imaginative.  I am are everyone has seen a vibrating, dildos or handcuffs.  The film then resorts to ice-cream being slid on the naked bodies.  In Mike Leigh’s LIFE IS SWEET for example, he had a sexual bathroom scene with his two actors covered in chocolate. The film is noticeably drug free.  I am not advocating drug use, but this really stretches the film’s credibility.

James Foley takes over the director’s reins.  Foley has directed decent films in the past, the most notable being Mamet’s GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.  FIFTY SHADES FREED is obviously not one of them. Foley goes for empty glossiness.  Though the film has a slick look, there is no substance and the polished exterior fades fast.


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Happy Birthday: Dakota Johnson

dakotajohnson.jpgDakota Johnson

Born: October 4, 1989 in Austin, Texas, USA

[on why she chose to be an actress] I felt so much when I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, I felt everything. I didn’t understand [myself], I was so happy yet so angry and sad. That was the point when I realized that I needed to tell stories and make characters come alive and I needed to make people cry, and make people angry, and make people happy, and make them laugh.

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Movie Review: A BIGGER SPLASH. Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes

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abiggersplash.jpgA BIGGER SPLASH (Italy/France 2015) ***
Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Luca Guadagnino’s new film after his acclaimed hit I AM LOVE is based on the 1969 Jacques Deray sex/murder flick LA PISCINE (THE SWIMMING POOL). The title A BIGGER SPLASH could mean that this film is a more modern take of the then subtle thriller, this one louder and with more sex, nudity and verbal intercourse. To be fair, both films are quite good. A BIGGER SPLASH should be examined on its own, despite the initial bad reviews it received after the Venice Film Festival premiere last year.

The story is updated and the famous Alain Delon role is now undertaken by newly popular hunk, the Belgian Mattias Schoenaerts who plays a character called Paul de Smedt. (Delon played a character called Jean-Paul.) Oddly the other three characters, Paul’s lover, Marianne (Tilda Swinton), his best friend, Harry (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson) all retain their same names.

When the film opens, there is a shot of nude figure by the swimming pool. Rock legend Marianne Lane is recuperating from a throat operation on the volcanic island of Pantelleria with her partner Paul when iconoclast record producer and old flame Harry unexpectedly arrives with his daughter Penelope in tow. One can tell immediately that sex is going to be exchanged between different partners. And it happens as predicted.

The four characters (in the menage a quatre), are not particularly likeable personalities. Marianne can be considered a queen bitch, full of herself and served sexually by meek Paul which the audience will likely have no patience with, especially when he is subtly seduced by Penelope. Penelope is a spoilt rich kid. Harry is the most dislikable of the 4, being loud, offensive and abusive when he wants. On the other hand, these four are performed by 4 of filmdom’s top stars. Oscar Winner Tilda Swinton – I would see her in anything and she is always good in any film. She makes gargling sexy in the bedroom scene. Schoenaerts is now hot property after RUST AND BONE and DISORDER, proving himself apt in roles of brooding, sexy men. Fiennes and Johnson are also excellent to watch – especially them inhabiting horrid personalities.

Intriguing as the story is, the film could be shortened from its lengthy 2 hours. Two characters Mireille (Aurore Clement) and Sylvie (Lily McMenamy), Harry’s friends who show up invited by Harry could have been eliminated from the film without much effect. There is also a sudden shock in the plot at the film’s end when the chief Carabiniere announces the death of 7 Tunisian immigrants. One can only guess the purpose of this revelation as it is never made clear. It is likely that Guadagnino wishes to state that the problems of the rich, white elite are not the only problems faced by the police. The dead 7 make A BIGGER SPLASH. The snakes writhing by the pool probably is a metaphor for something else in the story.

Music and sound are appropriately used. The clanging sound invoking menace is one example. In another scene, Harry teases his listeners (and the audience) to identify “What is it? the drumming sound from a record he plays that turns out to be the banging of trash cans. The end credits Rolling Stones song “Emotional Rescue” is also suitably chosen.

The action slowly but surely unfolds in two hours of subtle sexual pleasure. Nudity, both male and female are abundant. Writer/director Guadagnino never makes it clear at the end what really happened between Penelope and Paul. It really does not matter in the long run, which makes all the guessing so neat.

A BIGGER SPLASH marks the return of the sexy moody thriller genre that was so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Hope the film will make a return (I will refrain from using the obvious pun) to of more films in this genre.


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