(Google Play Streaming, December 2019) As someone who doesn’t like slasher movies and isn’t always convinced by giallo, I still found quite a bit to like in Dario Argento’s original 1977 Suspiria but wasn’t too sure how to approach Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake. As it turns out, it looks as if Guadagnino didn’t know either, because there are very few commonalities between the two movies besides the titles and premise of a young dancer joining a foreign dance company that secretly hides a convent of witches. Whereas the original’s best trait was its exuberant use of colour, this remake takes place in 1977 wintertime Berlin, with a corresponding muted quasi-monochrome colour palette. The camera is shy, the style restrained, the music almost forgettable … leading us to wonder why we’re watching this Suspiria. While the film eventually does work itself up to two frantic sequences (a superbly edited dance sequence in which the protagonist psychically inflicts grotesque contortions and physical harm to another dancer, and a conclusion featuring the highest number of exploding heads since the Kingsman finale), much of the movie is slow-moving dullness, even though there is an interesting plot once you cut away the extraneous material that bloats this film up to two hours and a half. Writer-director Guadagnino is clearly enjoying his own games here (what with Tilda Swinton playing three characters, including some you’ll never guess without reading about the film) but it remains to be seen whether the audience will follow—I thought that the 1977 Berlin framing device was near-useless even in its Nazi-of-course thematic implications. Refocus on the snappy retelling of a dancer infiltrating a coven and maybe we’d have something more attuned to my own preferences. Fortunately, I don’t get to decide how movies are made—but I do get to decide my own reaction to it, and I choose to be disappointed by this Suspiria “remake.” The high points of the film and slightly more interesting take on “innocent thrown to the witches” premise ensure that it’s certainly not a wasted opportunity, but it’s not the film that it could have been.
(On Cable TV, July 2018) I’m not that fond of the whole summer-of-personal-growth subgenre, and so there are definite limits to how much I can like Call Me by Your Name. This being said, much of the film’s first half is remarkably successful at making us enjoy a summer European holiday in picturesque settings, with bright people enjoying each other’s company. It’s a really interesting atmosphere, and it does much to compensate for the film’s slow pace—in fact, the pacing is part of the film’s charm. Then the plot takes over and the film becomes substantially less interesting, although director Luca Guadagnino does have a good eye in executing a rather good script from veteran screenwriter James Ivory. Pacing and subject matter means that Call Me by Your Name is almost by design an actor’s showcase, with Timothy Chalamet establishing himself in a single film as a young actor to watch. I’m not that comfortable with the romance, although my discomfort has more to do with the maturity difference between the leads. Still, the film wraps up with a decently wistful last five minutes (featuring what may be the most open-minded father in the history of cinema). Call Me by Your Name is clearly designed for another kind of audience, but I liked it more than I thought, and actually quite enjoyed moments of it, even if more as a travelogue than a romance.