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Entries in Dakota Johnson (2)

Thursday
Oct112018

SUSPIRIA

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Lutz Ebersdorf, Angela Winkler, Ingrid Caven, Elena Fokina, Sylvie Testud, Renée Soutendijk, Chloë Grace Moretz and Jessica Harper.
Writer: David Kajganich.
Director: Luca Guadagnino

Rating: ★★ ½

When is a horror movie not a horror movie? When does a remake like Suspiria, a new spin on the defining film of the ‘giallo’ horror sub-genre, forego the right to label itself a ‘horror remake’?  Technically it is, of course (or more precisely a ‘homage’, in the words of director Luca Guadagnino), but it is a horror film that doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in being a ‘horror’ film at all.

Released in 1977, Italian filmmaker Dario Argento's surreal original employed primary hues and arch melodrama to tell the tale of an American ballet dancer (Jessica Harper, stunt cameo-ing in the remake) who lands a prized spot at a German ballet school, only to discover it’s a front for a witch’s coven. It is rated highly by 70s Euro-horror buffs for it’s florid palette, painterly composition and gruesome deaths; a film that, if not quite the masterpiece of psychological terror its lavish praising suggests, is certainly a work rich in it’s own sense of style, builds and maintains a disconcerting sense of bewilderment, and delivers some legitimate frights.

Luca Guadagnino’s version is set in 1977, providing the director with a historical and political backdrop for him to return to for no discernable reason, involving the Baader Meinhoff terrorism group’s seizing of an airliner. The American ballet dancer, Susie Bannion, is reimagined as Dakota Johnson, playing younger than the young woman she played in the first Fifty Shades of Grey film nearly four years ago; she’s miscast and not entirely convincing as a dancer (a double is used with little regard for continuity), but she is relatable most of the time as the audience conduit.

Overseeing the German dance studio is Madame Blanc, played by Tilda Swinton, a woman (and actress, one senses) who inspires awe and fear amongst the young dance troupe and faculty alike. She warms to Susie, occasionally at the expense of classmates who are prone to unexplained absences or worst (the film’s first big character demise is a showstopper), and is soon grooming her for more than just lead leggie in a preposterous end-of-year modern-dance spectacle. Swinton has a ball, probably; she gets to also play the film’s primary male character, a psychiatrist named ‘Josef Klemperer’, and a putrid, evil enchantress, both under pounds of prosthetic make-up.


In 2017, Guadagnino directed one of the year’s most beautiful films, Call Me By Your Name; in 2018, he’s directed one of the ugliest. Drawing upon the grim aesthetics of 70s German auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the Italian bathes his angular beauties in at least fifty different shades of grey, a swell as muted browns and purples. It may be deliberate, in that it allows for some nightmarish flourishes of colour at all-too-rare intervals, but it bogs down with a dour drabness a narrative that is already ponderous.

There is satisfaction to be had in watching Guadagnino work gender-specific dynamics with his all-female cast (which includes a terrific Mia Goth and a barely-registering Chloe Grace Moretz); matriarchal dominance, the shifting of a generational hierarchy, maternal legacy and alpha-female predatory tactics make for drama that occasionally compels. One scene sums up the film's attitude to men and what constitutes manhood; a bewitched detective is stripped and humiliated, with Susie looking on covertly. 

However, the director (working from David Kajganich screenplay, adapted from the original’s script) never finds an ounce of menace, a modicum of foreboding; there is ultimately fountains of blood, but it will all seem too little too late for even the most patient horror hound. Guadagnino’s intent may have been to pay homage, and there is skill and ambition to burn, yet all that emerges is an admirable if ultimately unnecessary horror remake.

Thursday
Feb122015

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Jennifer Ehle, Eloise Mumford, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Max Martini, Rita Ora and Marcia Gay Harden.
Writer: Kelly Marcel; based upon the novel by E.L. James.
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson.

Rating: 3/5

There is hardcore porn to be had in Sam Taylor-Johnson’s much-hyped adaptation of the E.L. James publishing behemoth, just not the kind that went down in the saucy pages of the authoress’ lit-phenomenon. What the bigscreen visualisation lacks in graphic sexual detail, it more than makes up for in lavishly shiny materialism; Fifty Shades of Grey is wealth-porn, of the most base and immoral kind.

We meet our heroine, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) as she nears the end of her English Literature course. The buttoned-up, tightly-wound wall flower has paid her own way through college, her middle-class upbringing a normal one steeped in a solid work ethic and positive maternal figure (Jennifer Ehle). Stepping up to help her sick roomie BFF Kate (Eloise Mumford), Anastasia agrees to interview the enigmatic socialite Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), a chiselled-jaw millionaire telcom exec, and an oddly defined attraction forms between them.

‘Ana’ learns very early on that Christian is a psychologically damaged individual who will offer no long-term, emotionally stable co-existence. Yet she indulges herself in her own fantasy life, embracing the opulence of his 1% lifestyle. That comes at a price – she must adhere to his demands of male-dominant sexual submissiveness. Whether in his lean, muscly embrace or, as the ‘relationship’ progresses, chained to his dungeon wall taking a gentle flogging, she smiles and gasps and moans, like a soft-core B-movie queen. Yet her most heartfelt sensations stem from those breathless, pulse-quickening first glimpses of his helicopter, collection of cars or shimmering steel-and-glass apartment.

The actors have an ambiguous, edgy chemistry that serves the film well. Johnson grows into her character convincingly as the narrative progresses, bravely baring all when required to do so; Dornan plays Christian with an icy stare and rigid formality, reflecting the character’s need to be in total control. British director Taylor-Johnson’s last foray into cinematic sexuality was a short segment in 2006’s very ‘European’ anthology, Destricted, in which a young hunk pleasures himself to climax in the desert. Her latest take on the ‘alpha-male’ archetype is not too dissimilar; Christian is also a bit of a wanker, surrounded by a barren, lifeless landscape, in this case the shiny boardrooms and penthouses of an appropriately grey Seattle.

Over an hour in, we get the first glimpse of how close the film will align itself to the books stark intimacy. But, barring one spontaneous bedroom bout of highly-energised action, the overly-choreographed raunch is mildly titillating at best; the baring of bottoms and boobs with the occasional glimpse of down-there hair is played with an earnestness that gets a bit giggly at times. The decision to launch the film internationally at the Berlinale may backfire, with continental audiences bound to roll their eyes at the exaggerated sexual melodrama played out in Christian’s ‘playroom’. Thankfully, scripter Kelly Marcel mostly reins in the florid ridiculousness of the novel’s ripe dialogue, yet somehow let Christian’s plaintive cry, “I’m fifty shades of f**ked-up” slip through.

The most lasting impression is the nonchalance with which the production refuses to acknowledge the arrogance of the rich in this post-GFC world; when Anastasia asks Christian about his conglomerate’s philanthropic endeavours, he states without irony, “It’s good for business”. Seamus McGarvey’s glistening cinematography and David Wasco’s extravagant production design celebrates the excesses of the rich like few films have dared to in recent years. This is a world that recalls the ‘Greed is Good’ mantra of 80’s yuppiedom; an America that has cast aside the ‘all for one’ goodwill of post 9-11 western society and rediscovered the tenets of the ‘Me Generation’. There are thematic echoes of American Psycho and Bonfire of The Vanities, but not a drop of those much finer works’ knowing, satirical skewering of gaudy wealth.

It may be perfectly sufficient that, above all else, Fifty Shades of Grey captures the shallow essence of its source material. It is an indulgent guilty-pleasure of no consequence whatsoever, preferring to forego the deeper ramifications of a dark sexual lifestyle in favour of a franchise-starting origin story.