Tag Archives: Dakota Johnson

TIFF19: The Friend

Matt (Casey Affleck) and Nicole (Dakota Johnson) have a marriage like any other, which is to say, to them it’s a truly unique love story that’s had highs and lows, good times and challenges. The ultimate challenge is, of course, Nicole’s terminal cancer. It’s the kind of challenge that makes you set aside the other troubles, all comparatively minor now, and concentrate on “a good death”, whatever that means, especially with two young daughters to be left behind.

friend_0HERO-e1567826414285Of course, life doesn’t pause for the dying. Laundry piles up, sandwiches need to be sliced diagonally, and so on.

Enter everyone’s mutual best friend Dane (Jason Segel), who keeps the house running as the matriarch lays dying. You would call Dane a lifesaver, except she dies in the end. She definitely dies in the end.

Dane quits his job and leaves his girlfriend in order to perform this rescue mission. What kind of man would do such a thing? You’ll enjoy finding out. There are a million films about dying mothers (we saw another just 18 hours later; dying mothers are a trope, nearly a life certainty, and a definite tear-jerker. But friends who will drop everything to truly be there in someone’s time of need – that’s a story.

The Friend is based on a true story, a grateful widower’s tribute to the man who held his life together even as it broke apart. The most interesting part of this story, to me, is that Dane is not himself removed from the grief. Doctors, nurses, palliative care workers – they’re all paid professionals. Which is not to say those people are not also sometimes angels, just that sometimes heroes don’t wear capes, and it’s nice to see a film about them for a change. It’s wonderful to explore Dane’ motivations and mourning, and Segel has proven himself just as adept at drama as he is at comedy.

Suspiria (2018)

I keep writing this and deleting this because it keeps sounding like I’m describing a nightmare rather than a movie. Which actually should tell you a lot about how much I enjoyed this film.

Suspiria is MEANT to be confrontational. It’s so emotionally and visually confronting I was simply overwhelmed, and got out my ironing board in order to deal. With a buffer of a white denim jacket and a bunch of iron-on patches (including a little gremlin named Gizmo, Wonder Woman, and IT’s Pennywise), I did my best to brave the onslaught.

Susie (Dakota Johnson) is an untrained dancer who arrives in Berlin hoping to be admitted to a venerated dance company run by the fearsome Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). Many scoff at her ambition (conceit?), but her audition dazzles the evaluators and just her luck – there’s a spot that’s opened up. Actually, that spot belonged to Patricia (Chloe Grace Moretz), who we saw crack up during the film’s opening scenes. She was paranoid, disturbed, certain that the academy was targeting her for some nefarious thing. And now she’s MIA.

And the thing is, something IS seriously afoot at the dance company. It seems to be a front for witchcraft; the instructors belong to a coven and the dancers are new recruits – either possible witches, or possible victims. Suspicion is met with violence, and the movie LOVES violence, embraces every and any excuse. Even the dance itself feels aggressive, but the gore is second to none. The narrative takes a back seat to the dedicated and repeated brutality, so you can either get in step with the stylized lunacy, or avoid it altogether. Attempting to fight your way through it is probably only going to result in a frustrating and disappointing (not to mention disgusting) cinematic experience.

Do I admire director Luca Guadagnino for swinging so big? Sure. But I don’t have to like it. I was oddly excited for this film because I tend to like a cinematic risk, but Suspiria (2018 edition) proved to be a test of my endurance, and beyond the limits of my patience. To be honest, I was half-lost just by the casting of Dakota Johnson alone. I realize her acting “pedigree” may impress some, but her parents (Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) aren’t known for being good in things so much as just for being in them. They’re famous, but not exactly lauded. And despite her celebrity parents, Dakota Johnson has still had to break her way in by getting naked (Fifty Shades of Indignity: the series) and has yet to make an impression on me as someone worth watching. Her blandness and blankness may have somewhat been the point in this, but I just don’t find her remotely compelling and I could equally be watching a rock or a potato or the space above her left shoulder and it would all shake out to about the same. Tilda Swinton is of course made for movies such as these, but she gets not one but 3 roles, and at least one of them is trash. Yes, makeup can do marvelous things. But even when Tilda Swinton is made up to look like an elderly man, it was still very obviously Tilda Swinton made up to look like an elderly man.

Did I enjoy Suspria? I did not. I think there’s some trick to melting into a movie like this, but to be honest, we struggled so much just to find the German to English captions, finding the trick and using the trick was clearly beyond us.

Bad Times at the El Royale

The title promises “bad times” and that’s exactly what this film delivers.  In saying that I am not criticizing Bad Times at the El Royale.  It’s a well-made variation on the multiple perspective crime genre (think Pulp Fiction) and it will keep you guessing until the end as each character is introduced and additional information is gained from each new perspective.  But while Quentin Tarantino mixed a fair bit of humour into Pulp Ficton’s dark brew, writer-director Drew Goddard’s El Royale is a long row of tequila shots without a chaser.  It starts slowly but even then, right from the start, the tense atmosphere tells you that a lot of bad shit is coming.

__5b18c1af51a71The main events in Bad Times at the El Royale unfold over the course of one rainy night on the Nevada-California border.  The El Royale is literally split in half by the state line, so the first challenge for each guest is to decide in which state they’d like to stay.  Unfortunately, things have gone downhill at the El Royale ever since it lost its Nevada gaming licence, so the hotel is essentially deserted.  Ringing the bell doesn’t summon the desk clerk; it takes several seconds of beating on the “staff only” door to wake him.  Once he’s up, the guests are able to check in – there are four at first, and two more will show up before the night is done.  Hardly any of the guests are what they seem, and only a couple of them will live long enough to check out in the morning.

While the movie doesn’t quite reach “classic” status, the solid premise and excellent cast still make this film worth watching.  It’s absolutely packed with talent, as demonstrated by the always-excellent Nick Offerman being relegated to a blink-and-you’ll-miss it role (though he does get to do some woodworking, of sorts, so that was probably reason enough for him to sign on).  Bad Times at the El Royale gave me a tense, suspenseful night chock full of hardboiled twists and turns, and that’s all I could have asked for before the sunrise.