Tilda Swinton

The Dead Don’t Die

13/07/19

Jim Jarmusch’s mumblecore zombie movie, The Dead Don’t Die (or Dawn of the Deadpan, as I like to think of it) is typically understated, the somnolent residents of Centreville downplaying the impending apocalypse even as it overwhelms them.

Bill Murray is the small town’s chief cop, Cliff Robertson, cheerfully supported by officers Ronnie and Mindy (Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny respectively). They’re an easy-going trio without much to tax them, apart from occasionally rebuking Hermit Bob (Tom Waits) for stealing Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi)’s hens.

True, strange things are certainly afoot: fracking has caused the earth to tilt on its access, blurring the lines between day and night; phones don’t work and TVs stutter; pets are missing all over town. But no one pays these things much heed – they shake their heads and carry on, with no real concern for where it might all lead…

The metaphor is hardly subtle. We’re all sleepwalking towards our own destruction, tutting and frowning about climate change and the rise of the far right. Jarmusch’s version of middle America (and, by extension, most of the western world) is not far from reality.

The zombies here (including, marvellously, Iggy Pop) are never really frightening. They’re not too dissimilar from the townsfolk they want to eat: shuffling in pursuit of banal and transient aims. “Wifi!” they moan, “Sweets! Chardonnay! Coffee!” They want what we want, and they move among us – and we won’t know until too late just how dangerous they (we) are. Sure, they’re bloody and hungry and the images are visceral, but it’s all very low-key and unremarked upon. The townsfolk never think to band together, to coordinate a response against their own demise. (Like I said, it’s not subtle.)

Having read several lacklustre reviews, I wasn’t expecting much from this. But I find myself really enjoying it – even the inconsistent post-modernism – largely because of its lugubrious tone. Sure, there are issues: Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton)’s story arc certainly jumps the shark (although Swinton is the luminous enigma you’d expect her to be) and the strand concerning three sweet inmates at the local juvenile detention centre leaves them, well… stranded. But it’s beautifully acted throughout, and – I think – a great addition to the zombie pantheon.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Advertisements

Suspiria

 

18/11/18

After the sublime Call Me By Your Name, director Luca Guadagnino could probably have made pretty much any film he wanted to. For some reason, he’s landed on a remake of Dario Argento’s 1977 giallo masterpiece, Suspiria. This is starting to feel like a trend. After Steve McQueen’s recent reinterpretation of Lynda La Plante’s Widows, I wonder what we can expect next? Guillermo Del Toro’s On the Buses, perhaps?

I’ll admit that I’ve long had a soft spot for the original Suspiria. I first saw it at a University film society in the early 1980s. (I wasn’t even a student there, but they had the full uncensored cut, so naturally I inveigled my way in!) I had, I suppose, been expecting just another slice n’ dicer and was quite blown away by what I saw on the screen. To me, it was an almost overwhelming onslaught of vibrant colour, copious bloodshed and histrionic terror, quite unlike any other horror movie I’d ever seen. One thing it most certainly wasn’t was pretentious. Sadly, I can’t say the same about this film, which is long and rambling and only occasionally fizzes into enough life to fully command my attention. It feels as though it’s a long-cherished dream project for Guadagnino, and the problem with such an undertaking is that, while the director knows exactly what he’s trying to say at any given moment, the audience is not always quite so lucky.

The story is broken up into six acts, and is set in a divided Germany in 1977, where the news is all about the the Baader-Meinhoff separatists and their exploits in Entebbe. Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), a student at a prestigious dance academy in West Berlin, comes seeking the help of elderly (and suspiciously latex-faced) psychiatrist Dr Joseph Klemperer, before running off into the night, leaving her journal for Klemperer to read. We then meet Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), who duly arrives at the self-same dance academy, eagerly looking to enrol. At her audition, she manages to catch the eye of influential dance tutor, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton), but not everything here is as it appears…

While Guadagnino certainly doesn’t stint on the bloodletting and the nudity, he does attempt to intellectualise what was once a very straightforward tale of witchcraft and demonic possession, pulling in strands of other – seemingly disparate – stories,  with the result that they feel clumsily crowbarred into the proceedings. There’s the aforementioned Red Army Faction, and also Dr Klemperer’s tragic history during the Second World War, which, if nothing else, gives Suspiria’s original star, Jessica Harper, a brief cameo. And sadly, the only dancing in evidence seems to consist of people writhing around on the floor without recourse to any music.

Of course, this being a Luca Guadagnino film, it’s not a total loss –  there’s a decent sense of foreboding throughout and some truly jarring bits of body horror – but with a punishing running time of two hours and thirty two minutes, this one is only for the hardiest viewers and those, like me, who can’t resist seeing how a brilliant original has been reinterpreted.

I have to say, my major feeling here is one of profound disappointment.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

Okja

10/07/17

This bizarre fantasy movie, helmed by Korean director Bong Joon-Ho (The Host, Snowpiercer), caused some controversy at Cannes earlier this year because, as a ‘Netfix Original,’ it had no theatrical release and was therefore ineligible to compete with its more traditional brethren. But the cinematic world is rapidly changing and however a film is released, it surely deserves proper consideration. Whatever – it’s now available for all Netflix subscribers to see whenever they want.

The titular heroine of the film is not a human character, but a pig – a genetically engineered ‘super pig’ – bigger than your average farmyard swine and designed especially to feed a rapidly burgeoning population. Okja is one of ten specially selected pigs, sent out to farms across the globe and left to mature for ten years, before being recalled to participate in a competition to decide which is the best specimen. The competition is the brainchild of Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), CEO of the Mirando corporation, and the competition merely a ruse to cloak the cold brutality of the operation with a cheesy PR campaign.

Okja lives on a remote farm in the mountains of South Korea, with Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn), a little girl who has come to regard the creature as a friend and equal. These early sequences are an unqualified delight. Okja is a superb CGI creation, beautifully realised amid lush mountain locations and sophisticated enough to challenge the best of Hollywood’s FX output. Okja and Mija live an idyllic existence until the arrival of a PR team from Mirando at the farm, led by the manic Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, a character apparently inspired by the late Johnny Morris). Before Mija knows what’s happening Okja has been pignapped and taken to Seoul, where (in the film’s standout sequence) she runs amok in a shopping arcade with Mija in hot pursuit.

Then a group of zany animal activists arrive on the scene led by Jay (Paul Dano) and suddenly the film isn’t quite so sure of itself. The main problem from  here is one of indecision about what the film is actually trying to be. What seems at first to be a charming, child-friendly concept rapidly turns into something much more controversial, replete with F-bombs, bloodshed and one scene so downright distressing it seems to have wandered in from an 18 certificate horror movie. Ultimately, this feels like a parable about the virtues of a vegetarian diet but, if that is the aim, it hasn’t been fully thought-through. Also, many of the film’s human protagonists have a tendency to come across as shrill caricatures (Gyllenhaal’s character, for example, a former animal lover driven to destroy everything he believes in, doesn’t really convince: there’s simply not enough evidence of any motivation here).

As the film thunders into its final strait it rallies somewhat, but the damage has already been done. Bong Joon-Ho is undoubtedly a gifted filmmaker but this falls somewhat short of his best efforts – nevertheless, it’s still a brave attempt to push the boundaries beyond the norm and is well worth checking out – if only  for those delightful early scenes.

Just don’t make the mistake of letting younger children watch it, unless you want tears before bedtime.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney