Tag Archives: Tilda Swinton

The Dead Don’t Die

14 Jun

‘The Dead Don’t Die’: Jarmusch wins with cast but loses a battle of wits against zombie genre

 

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After the subtly dark vampire satire “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2013), the prospect of witty, deadpan filmmaker Jim Jarmusch taking a shot at the zombie apocalypse seemed as plump and juicy as a pinned motorist under a flipped car struggling to get free before a lumbering herd of ravenous undead arrives. Truth be told, Jarmusch’s droll, genre-deconstructing zom-edy could have used a bit more meat on its hollow bones. As is, it reanimates plenty from George Romero’s canon of shambling-undead work, starting with the small-town setting of his seminal 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead,” a rural Pennsylvania podunk an hour or so from Pittsburgh. To give “The Dead Don’t Die” a bit of a nod-and-wink edge, Jarmusch also kicks down the fourth wall from time to time – mostly to humorous effect, but not always.

The major wins here come in a wide-ranging cast that includes Iggy Pop, Carol Kane, Danny Glover and Steve Buscemi in small, bloody bits: Pop as a punked-out zombie and Buscemi as a cantankerous Trump-esque supporter wearing a “Make America White Again” red hat snarling about invaders trespassing on his farm as he blasts apart undead heads with a shotgun.

The world-ending mayhem centers more around a should-have-been-retired gent by the name of Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray – I’m guessing the movie actor reference is intended), the sheriff of Centerville (pop. less than 800 at the start of the film, maybe more at the end if you add in the reanimated) and his deputies Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny). Even before the first innards are strewn about Centerville’s only diner Ronnie keeps remarking that the culprit is zombies, with the added refrain that “It’s not going to end well.” When pressed on how he’s so certain, Ronnie replies casually that he’s read the script. Yup, it’s that kind of flick. You may balk or embrace it. No matter. This is a Jarmusch film, and the dialogue is chewy and rich even in the gut-masticating jaws of death.

Why the dead get up and begin to munch on the living has something to do with polar fracking tossing the earth off its axis and a “fake news” coverup by big energy and complacent cable news stations – imagine that? As the hordes of decaying beloved erupt from their subterranean nests in a threat far more titillating than the reality, the film begins to stumble and list like one of its ghouls. Thankfully Tilda Swinton whooshes in as a newly transplanted mortician with a weird way of speaking (Scottish and proper) and means of making exact 90-degree angles when walking. She’s also in the elite class of Uma Thurman’s bride from the “Kill Bill” movies and Michonne from “The Walking Dead” when it comes to slicing and dicing with a samurai sword. Her elven embalmer has plenty of fun beheading the undead (there’s no gore, just black, dusty wisps), as do we with her, and then in the flash of her blade or an otherworldly light she’s taken from us, and the film’s soul is too.

Amid the disjointed olio there’s some nifty, witty play about kids of color in a detention facility getting the last laugh and the film’s titular theme song by a Johnny Cash-sounding Sturgill Simpson working its way into the plot, not to mention zombies clinging to old habits such as Wi-Fi, coffee and smartphones – though Jarmusch overuses the commercialism message from Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” as he runs out of ideas on where to go. Then things jump the headstone, mostly in the uninspired denouement, and there’s the scene when Ronnie drinks in the vision of a comely hipster from out of town (Selena Gomez) and remarks to Cliff that he knows she’s part Mexican because he has an affinity for Mexicans.It’s so random and, given politics these days, odd – it has no obvious payoff.

Shamble on, you silly ghouls.

Suspiria

12 Jan

‘Suspiria’: The 1970s are raised from the grave by a sophisticated crew who’ll make you wince

 

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“Suspiria,” the remake of Dario Argento’s cultish 1977 European gothic of the occult operating within secret passages of a German school of ballet gets handled with care and extra visceral crunch by fellow Italian Luca Guadagnino. Guadagnino, regarded for his nuanced takes on such critically well-received works as “Call Me by Your Name” and “A Bigger Splash,” delves into the moodiness of the horror genre with bloody aplomb. Here he and writer David Kajganich take it deeper than Argento did by adding human layers and deeper suspenseful intrigue – and by allowing Tilda Swinton to play multiple roles, including as an elder gentleman who has scenes of full-frontal nudity (no penile prosthetics were hurt in the making of this film).

The performances are spot on. Swinton, as usual, is all in. The setting is inspired as well: 1977, the same year Argento’s signature work made it onto screens, and in West Berlin against the backdrop of the Iron Curtain and Cold War, with the Red Army and Baader-Meinhof gang in full swing. Anyone can go missing at any time, and there’s myriad possible culprits, the least obvious being a coven of witches. We catch up with a harried young American named Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) who tells elderly physician Dr. Josef Klemperer (Swinton) that she’s pretty sure the ballet school she’s attending is run by witches. Shortly afterward, Patricia goes missing and Dr. Klemperer, wrestling with personal demons that root back to the Holocaust, begins to poke around and alert the police to strange doings. 

Meanwhile (and there is a lot here; the film is more than two and a half hours) the school receives a new American recruit who can dance like Salome, pleasing troupe grand dame Madame Blanc (a chain-smoking Swinton in her most recognizable countenance). New girl Susie (Dakota Johnson, fresh off “Bad Times at the El Royale”) is all alone in the world after “cutting ties” with her controlling Mennonite kin back in Ohio. Besides being a promising dancer, Susie may be the one to bear the great darkness of the coven’s ancestry. The mumbo-jumbo here doesn’t matter so much; Guadagnino’s “Suspiria” is more about ominous intrusions, eerie and immersive, and slow painful deaths that will make even the strongest wince while the ladies dishing out the meting from floors below cackle with glee. It’s an intoxicating brew right up to the gonzo Grand Guignol, when the use of red, gauzy filters help ameliorate the unrelenting gush of arterial spray. 

Guadagnino has said that he’s been wanting to make this “cover version” since he was 12. It’s unlikely that such a project ($20 million), even with such a cast and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke lending his talents, would ever gain a green light without such an accomplished auteur behind it. It doesn’t have the campy cult edge of Argento’s, but is a potent time capsule of an era that seems farther than it actually is. It’s also something of a feminist anthem. Those that run the Helena Markos School have absolute control of all within their cloistered realm. It’s a very safe place for a woman if you’re one of the indoctrinated, a chamber of horrors if you’re not. Men, for the most. are bothers, only worthy to serve as witness. It’s the mother here that’s all powerful – as with Argento, who capped “Suspiria” with “Inferno” in 1980 and 2007’s “Mother of Tears” (starring his now infamous daughter, Asia) and tagged the century-spanning witch-mythos “The Three Mothers” trilogy.

“Suspiria” is definitely not for all. Fans of Swinton, arthouse horror (think “The Witch” and “Heredity”) and the original will swoon. Those coming to see the film because of Guadagnino‘s earlier works will be in for a bloody shock.