Suspiria (Argento, 1977)

I’m into it. What an outrageously, bizarrely gorgeous movie. Schlocky ‘70s occult horror run through a technicolor prog rock prism of German Expressionism—the mind boggles! Why did Dario Argento make this! What the fuck! But since he has, it’s just gonna live forever in the minds of anyone who sees it, apparently. Added to some neon attic antechamber in our gothic heads. A horror film of the pulpy Italian giallo style, in English, set at a ballet school in Germany, in which our American heroine is menaced by evil dance witches. I mean, memorable.

Incidentally, I swear I saw an article header comparing this to Luca Guadagnino’s upcoming version (more on this in a mo) in which they said his was more immediately upfront about the fact that the school is run by evil dance witches. But I started watching this and within about a single minute the soundtrack was amazingly sing-hissing “WITCH!” at me in spare but regular intervals, so, no yeah I gotta say it’s pretty clear on the evil dance witches. Interestingly though, and this is a point on which I am led to believe Luca’s version will in fact differ, not a whole lot of dance actually going on at Argento’s Tanz Academy! Perhaps this is going to sound like someone who had a traumatizing yet formative experience with Black Swan—show of hands—but you give me ballet horror and I expect people’s bodies to be breaking. Turns out that’s not really the style of the gruesomeness here, it’s more great glugs of blood the color and thickness of candy apple red acrylic paint.

Suspiria is like a fairytale. Snow White or Bluebeard’s Wife sent off to a blood-colored mansion in the original Black Forest, the score full of eerie bell melodies and harsh whispering, plot stupid as hell but that’s not the point. It was too silly to be really terrifying, but it did scare me, in that way you’d get scared by things when you’re young. It almost felt like I was coming across indelible images that had marked me when I was a kid, some overtly frightening and others that had just unsettled and stuck with me the way things can. Like parts of old picturebooks you still remember.

Anyway I am very glad I’ve finally watched this. I’d been meaning to for years, since Bryan Fuller mentioned it as an influence on the highly visual and tonal way he built Hannibal (paint-as-blood to blood-as-paint is such a natural move). But yes, I finally sat down to see it because there’s a new Suspiria coming out I believe tomorrow. I don’t know what word Luca is using here, I don’t think it’s remake? Homage maybe? Haunting? What I do know is that it is going to be a TRIP, and that’s a Rock Fact.

A Star Is Born

Alright let’s go on a journey.

The trailer for A Star Is Born played everywhere before everything, and has also managed to roll up approximately a gazillion views online. This was mystifying to me as I thought it looked schmaltzy as hell, and yet the obsession was clearly genuine. I felt a little left out! Then the movie started playing in festivals, and soon after went into wide release, and I swear to god my entire film critic feed has talked about nearly nothing else since. This is when I moved crankily from confusion to resentment, because there was no way this movie was that good. But apparently I wasn’t going to be able to talk comparatively about this entire film season without seeing it, and unlike Three Billboards it didn’t sound like it was overtly racist (there is a Wise Down-home Black Character who just appears to literally pull a white man onto his feet, but y’know, Hollywood), so alright okay I’ll go.

Then one thing led to another, and I ended up having to wait a few weeks until I finally went to a showing with my sister this past weekend (the house was still PACKED) (my god this thing is POPULAR), and by this point, twist, I was really truly excited! I was finally seeing the hit of my Twitter dash! A woman in front of me turned around before it started to ask if this was A Star Is Born? — because we were at my beloved farm-to-table restaurant/movie theater that shows related old films beforehand instead of ads, adorable — and I explained to her how this latest is a remake of a remake of an adaptation, what was playing right now was the Judy Garland version, and with that interaction now this was like, MY movie.

It started and I was immediately happy. I was having a really great time. It wasn’t actually schmaltzy at all, it was just about feelings and music! Wonderful! Bradley Cooper is doing a great job! Lady Gaga is doing terrific, wow truly the star is born. She’s singing ‘La Vie En Rose’ at a drag bar, she’s singing ‘Shallow’ in a parking lot, “Jackson Maine” keeps getting tears in his eyes watching her and it’s so charming. His voice is so dumb, she’s so skeptical, what a delight. They get to that big concert moment from the trailer, you know it you’ve also seen it twenty times already, and my god if it doesn’t lose an inch of its power having been previewed. Tears just RUNNING down my cheeks, transcendent cinema, matchless magic, this is entertainment.

And then, its hold on me gradually loosened. I found myself noticing that this movie is long. (It is long, this isn’t a fault it’s just not something you’re supposed to notice.) I was prodding a little at my own feelings like hey what’s going on. Remember, my memory said, when we thought this movie was probably overhyped? Oh. Yeah I remember now. And at the end, I do, here on the other side, think A Star Is Born is not in fact the savior of cinema/the year, as it has been praised all over the board. Because A Star Is Born is just (just*) a good emotional movie.

*Good emotional movies are hard to make! This is a great accomplishment by Bradley, made even more impressive with this being his first ever directing project. He makes some really smart choices about how to update the story into our times, from the music genres to the way it frames substance addiction. He does an excellent job with the depiction of his character, and still gives the movie to L. Gaga, like a gentleman (who knows what’s up).

But A Star Is Born (2018) is a simple picture. Honestly I think that’s a huge part of its appeal to a lot of people, something you can just sit back and watch as it takes you through its comfortable melodrama beats — kinda like Colette, which I loved. But by and large, I most like weirder fare. And I don’t mean that as a synonym for ambitious, because this movie is wildly ambitious, and that it achieves what it wants is remarkable and what will carry it through awards season. It’s just that when I look though at my personal on-going ranking of new releases I’ve seen so far this year, almost all of the mainstream ones are in the bottom half of my list, because I gotta live my truth. But for what it’s worth, this one does currently lead that section. Because as David Ehrlich put it, “A Star Is Born is an okay movie, but a bonafide, overdrive, war-time meme and music factory.” And listen — I value that.

A Ghost Story

I had wanted to see A Ghost Story because of my huge love for Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, with the same director and actors*. And because I knew the ghost in question is someone unjokingly just wearing a big heavily draped sheet and I am so into that. I chose October, because there’s a ghost. Even though I also knew that this movie isn’t really scary, per se. However, fascinatingly, while it’s definitely not the traditional horror scariness a ghost story may imply, what it does include is serious jump scares, way more jump scares than anything I’ve seen recently, until the next thing I watch probably (ho ho ho, stay tuned).

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that A Ghost Story is really unusual, and like usual I like unusualness a lot a lot. A friend who had recommended it to me said she thinks the script is probably less than eleven pages, and I believe she may be right! Love that. It’s composed of these long, loonng, steady quiet shots that just drift together, softly layering up like slow falling dead leaves. It’s floating, meditative, introspective, only sometimes what those shots are showing is just an open door in a dark house. For a long, loonng time. And then something unseen falls over, and I jolt. It’s like a new genre, like lullaby horror. Existential lullaby horror about grief, and time. Maybe mostly time. Or property? What is meant by something being haunted. Oh I don’t know. Maybe it’s just about Rooney Mara eating a pie for eight minutes. Frankly….

This is a really interesting movie qua movie, because it’s not a showcase for acting, it’s not a showcase for production design, it’s not actually a showcase for pie, and it’s not even a showcase for story, it’s just filmmaking. This is a Movie Object, and we really don’t run across these all that often. It’s a director’s project. This is David Lowery’s, who wanted to make a movie about a ghost.

*I really wish Casey Affleck would stop making work I like and putting me in this terrible position of disapproving of his personal choices so greatly but approving his movie choices so much

Attack the Block

“Inner City vs. Outer Space” is a great concept that also happens to be a great movie! And that was not guaranteed! But Joe Cornish is buds with the Cornetto trilogy guys, Edgar Wright also serving as a producer on Attack the Block, and this group loves Tropes, Jokes & Genre, but they also have a remarkably fine ear for genuinely observed human relationships woven in to the mayhem. This movie, which gladly presents itself as a sci-fi adventure slash social commentary comedy, honestly does more with its characters than a lot of movies that would call themselves character-driven. I was touched. I love that.

Anyway I’m very much looking forward to annoying a certain kind of person by classing this in with the new wave Kids On Bikes genre, wherein this absolutely stands alongside Stranger Things, and not just because the kids…are on bikes. Attack the Block is also Kids On Bikes because you’ve got a core group with few smaller associated or enemy gangs running parallel who fall in different age brackets (though all still “young”), and because it’s mostly boys who add in a couple girls later on, and because the central kids start out pretty terrible tbh but grow up over the course of an hour and a half. Also: falling into shouty tumults, makeshift backpack weaponry, and of course: WEIRD MONSTERS.

Honestly, a moment to spend on these loping Vantablack beasties with bio-electric blue chompers, because I love them. I love how simultaneously they look very silly and very cool and kinda cute and can absolutely rip a limb off on camera if they feel like it. I love that kids—spoiler—totally fucking die in this! Real stakes! And I love how that’s also partly a point on how the streets are real shit.

I would also like to spend a moment on baby John Boyega, who is such a star in this. You watch him just like, well that kid could anchor a franchise. And then he got one. Also, a lovely woman who looked familiar whom I now discover is Jodie Whittaker! Well look at that. Incidentally, alien monsters plus low rent London is a combination I don’t think I’ve seen since early New Who, and yeah that’s still real good.

Bad Times At the El Royale

ROCKETING up to take second place (for now) in my favorite movies I’ve watched so far this year, is the first place winner for best title of the year: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE.

Remember when you watched Slow West and were just like, fucking superb you funky little genre deconstruction? So, that, only this time it’s 1969 and a small group of mysterious strangers with dubiously legal motives are all checking into a once high rollin’, celebrity hidey-hole kind of hotel that is now straddling the line between kitschy and seedy, just as it physically straddles the line between the states of California and Nevada, and also probably Heaven and Hell, distinguishable mostly by a slightly different color scheme. Salvation is in the eye of the beholder, and Purgatory is an empty check-in desk. It’s Drew Goddard’s first feature The Cabin In the Woods meets Dante’s Divine Comedy, in an at turns popcorn-spillingly surprising and popcorn-munchingly meditative 2 hour 20 minute stage play in which this is the incredibly well deployed soundtrack I still wanna belt out at every minute.

It’s funny that last week I got into a philosophical conflict with a coworker buddy over what constitutes a spoiler, in general but specifically in relation to this movie, as even more than usual I absolutely will not tell you any of the specific things I loved about this, because the surprise of them is that good!! But I stand by my position that “I’ve heard it’s sorta like purgatory” is not a spoiler, it’s just relaying a critical interpretation. That’s the kind of thing I’ve seen in headlines of reviews, where you do not put spoilers, but where you would put something like, I don’t know, Venom is sorta like a buddy/romantic comedy, which I’ve also been seeing recently. Providing info on the overarching genre or lens is the pitch, not a mid-plot reveal (usually), the same way cast billing isn’t a spoiler (…usually).

But on that, such a high calibre ensemble here, including Tony-winning Cynthia Erivo (she’s the lead! the marketing has not made this clear!), Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, John Hamm, and of course: Shirtless Chris Hemsworth. Plus one bit part that I will tell you about even though it feels like one of the joys I’m closely guarding, because it’s the very opening scene and the very opening scene just cannot be a spoiler, it cannot: also featuring Nick Offerman, who spends the majority of his screen time in a hotel room shot like a diorama industriously prying up floorboards to bury a bag of money. Good Shit at the El Royale.

Colette

I’ve been going to movies by myself a lot here in Portland, and that is one of my sincerest pleasures so I don’t mind a bit. But now my bud Jonathan—actor, nerd, delight—has moved to town, and we are going to All The Films together, and when a shot reveals shirtless workers beautifully planing a floor in turn-of-the-century France we’re both minutely waving our hands and sotto warbling “Gustave Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers!”, which should give you a good indication of what we’re like at movies, and also what this movie is like! Colette! Fanciful gay Art History 101 biopic! The cinematic equivalent of curling up in a comfy chair in a silk bathrobe reading Tipping the Velvet! Jonathan, walking out of the theater: “Oh my god, I just had a wonderful time?” Me: “There is nothing wrong with a frothy, saucy picaresque.”

Colette is just so easy to watch, it brings everything right to youColette is graciously laying out a tray of powdering pastries in front of you going “Here I brought these for you!” and you’re like “Thank you I asked for these!” Om nom nomnomnom, delicious. This is a funny queer Belle Époque romp stuffed with salons and pantomime and overworked, unhinged authors, and that is what it is going to BE. At one point Dominic West performs some sort of spoken word rap on top of a table and is joined by a line of can-can dancers while Kiera Knightly makes eyes at a lady wearing trousers, who gets away with it because she’s nobility descended from Empress Joséphine. Just, fantastic, pile it on I love this.

Watching this reminded me of how I felt watching Ocean’s 8, because they’re both movies dyed in the wool with a type of simplified, ‘yeah babe!’ feminism. Sure there’s nothing exactly groundbreaking or sophisticated or interesting in its own rights about the politics this movie presents*, but you know what it’s a hellscape out there right now, and it can be real nice to escape into the kind of theater experience where lovely bold Colette smarting at her boisterous blowhard husband about how he’s hiding her artistic light under a misogynist bushel is presented like an old melodrama warmly inviting you to boo and hiss at the villain. I will, thank u for this opportunity. I have no problem with movies that just do loops on basic pot-boiler gender decency; they have their own stabilizing place in the march of progress, and are a relaxing reprieve from how I still have to watch so many new releases slightly on guard for blows from the pervasive, unthinking sexism that has dominated cinema for ages.

(*Except for something behind-the-scenes that I’ve been telling everyone about because you wouldn’t know and that’s what’s so novel and great about it: Colette, directed by a gay man from a script he co-wrote with his late husband, cast a trans actor in just a regular ol’ male-presenting role. Colette!)

The Killing Of a Sacred Deer

Maybe taste is comparison. Watch that then this, use the accumulated experiences to plot a hit from palpable to miss. I liked The Lobster a hell of a lot. “Yes,” was what I had to say about that. Then I watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and I’m Eleanor Shellstrop standing in a field realizing “Oh! This is the yes!”

I’m trying to figure out how to come at this and yeah maybe just stick with comparing, why not. Colin Farrell is better in The Lobster. We knew Collin Farrell’s got it, we all saw In Bruges, and he’s just phenomenal in The Lobster, nearly reaches Rachel Weisz’s level and that is SCOPE. But The Killing of a Sacred Deer doesn’t need that Collin Farrell, because it has Barry Keoghan. Not to relitigate 2017 (always to relitigate 2017), but Barry Keoghan not being nominated or frankly winning Best Supporting Actor is an affront. Barry Keoghan in this movie is the most alarming person I have ever seen. I do not know how to describe what fuckening obscurely panic-inducing thing he’s doing because it’s not on the level of any of the usual tics people use to convey creepy weirdo menace, no Barry’s out here making choices that seemingly no human being has ever made before, because every second he’s on screen it’s like my whole brain is trying to somersault out of this situation because it just can’t deal.

You know something of that kind of disorientation if you’ve seen The Lobster, because it had it too in its ways — that thing where no part of the tone is where you expect it to be, so nothing makes sense on some intrinsic level. My reaction to it is to laugh or shriek, sometimes both. The Lobster was laugh and The Killing of a Sacred Deer shriek, but wait for it because get this: I found The Lobster much much harder to watch, and just basically scarier and more gruesome. Yes, even with everything that happens in this one! I wonder if it has to do with the story’s reference point, which steps ever more forward as the movie goes on, and was a very satisfying & thrilling revelation for me that I am not about to take away from you.

But yeah, I think having this eventually overt story declaration allows The Killing of a Sacred Deer to be primarily a (distinctly unhinged) version of something, and worry less about its Ideas. The Lobster definitely has more to say, probably has more meaning or what have you, but The Killing of a Sacred Deer does not have its drifting structural problems and is overall more proficiently scripted dark ass fun. Yes I dared say fun!

Oh and everyone still delivers all their lines in that stilted deadpan and it’s JUST as glorious. I think this is my ASMR.