Suspiria (1977) and Suspiria (2018)

Back-to-back reviews

Dakota Johnson (centre) and colleagues contort themselves in Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of Suspiria

I had been saving Dario Argento’s Suspiria for a special occasion, and that turned out to be the release of Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake. I watched the two films back-to-back: the 4K restored original at home and the remake at a packed CinemaCity Picturehouse preview screening. The film is officially released in UK cinemas today.

Jessica Harper in one of the many vibrant uses of lighting in Dario Argentino’s 1977 movie

Suspiria (1977)

The 1977 film was exactly what I expected, and I loved it. The vivid colour palette, especially the reds, and the striking use of lighting blew me away. The film’s score was a bonkers combination of synthesizers, greek and indian drums which will etch itself in my memory in exactly the same way that Cannibal Holocaust’s did. Some of it was ludicrously over-the-top, but it is a 70s Italian horror film after all.

The three irises: Delicate and dream-like paintings make some of the backdrops to the 1977 film

Jessica Harper was utterly convincing as Suzy Bannion — an American dancer going to study ballet in a German school where some gruesome murders have just been carried out. The film starts at a breakneck pace and does not relent all the way to the final reveal. The dialogue and special effects aren’t perfect, but the atmosphere and the scene-setting is as close as could be. I was left panting by the end.

Geometric shapes and pastel colours to create a convincingly surreal dance academy in Suspiria (1977)

The film’s twin stars of sound and colour complement each other perfectly, bringing a simple but highly effective hallucinatory quality to much of the film. The intensity always flirts with your limits, without ever crossing them. The result is a film which I enjoyed both casually and from a more artistic perspective, and one which I’m already itching to watch again.

Those Primary Colours

Suspiria (2018)

I thought the remake was just a bit bland, aside from Tilda Swinton’s great performances (her main one, the secret one, and the even-more-secret one) and some fantastic synchronous contortions in the numerous dance scenes. The director, Luca Guadagnino states that rather than a remake, it is a homage to a film he first watched as a boy. He wanted to pay tribute:

“To the incredible, powerful emotion I felt when I saw it”

Whilst impressive that he has sculpted his own original take on the 1977 screenplay, and it is a very different film, I didn’t feel the movie really was a simulacrum of the sentiments he describes. Suspiria (2018) just didn’t convince me in the same way that the original did, despite a morereal-world aesthetic.

The ballet scenes in Suspiria are finely choreographed

Everything is dulled down — the pace of the film, the colour palette, the soundtrack and the suspense. There were some dream sequences which were laboured and unconvincing. And for a film made in 2018, some of the CGI was worse than some of the cheesy grotesqueries of the original. This made a potentially nauseating early flourish of disfigurement not as realistic as it could have been, although a later fracture did get the cinema audience wincing.

Dakota Johnson stars as Susie Bannion in the 2018 remake of Suspiria

There are hints of some interesting themes, though. In particular, post-war guilt is treated in an interesting way which drew my attention throughout the film. There were also some nice metaphors about aspects of the human psyche. Maybe they were intended to be subtle, but I was just wishing for more of them.

The plot of the original is changed quite drastically, which isn’t a negative point per se. It was just frustrating that the original’s reveal was given away early in the first few minutes of the remake, and I felt this impacted on the movie’s suspense factor. Still, there were a couple of odd mysteries and surprises which almost made up for this…

“Lutz Ebersdorf” plays Dr Klemperer

It’s not a bad film, the dance choreography is bewitching at times, it just isn’t memorable enough compared to the original.

Final Rating:

Suspiria (1977): ****½

Suspiria (2018): **½

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Comics and Caius

Iron Man and Dr Doom reminisce in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Victor Von Doom bantering with Tony Stark in Tree Court, Gonville and Caius, Cambridge England. From Invincible Iron Man 13 (Marvel, 2016)

In fiction, Billionaire playboy industrialists are wont to lose sight of both their past and their future, with potentially devastating consequences. When Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man, is teleported (against his will) by reformed marvel villain Victor Von Doom, he finds himself standing in the Tree Court of Gonville and Caius College Cambridge.

Tree Court. CREDIT: Gonville and Caius College website

The former Caian then engages on a voyage of discovery from a past forgotten, dressed very casually as the sharply-attired Victor Von Doom (experimenting in heroism as the Infamous Iron Man) prompts a realignment of Tony’s moral compass.

Von Doom, himself expelled from State University in New York for performing unethical experiments, gives Stark a comprehensive tour around Cambridge. The industrialist returns to the MRC Laboratory where he had his first taste of research and academia prior to inheriting his father’s weapons-manufacturing business. He is in a contemplative mood throughout.

Stark is not alone. We all go through moments in life when we have to find ourselves again. Perhaps, whilst breathing in the pungent Wisteria flowers adorning the Tutorial Office of Caius, Tony reminisced about an age of innocence, before he had to make difficult decisions with world-changing implications.

The Tutorial Office covered in Wisteria

What is it about this quaint section of Gonville and Caius’ Tree Court which lends itself to a representation in the comics medium? It lacks the iconic postcard-selling grandeur King’s College Chapel or Trinity College’s Grand Court. This is a unique, Cinderella tower-like corner which can easily be missed when visiting Tree Court, famed primarily for the succession of unique hornbeams lining its avenue.

Hornbeams in Tree Court. CREDIT: Gonville and Caius College website

Perhaps, this specific corner of Tree Court simply evokes mystical connotations which are suitable for the illustrated word, and are a fitting place for Von Doom and Stark to do a tête-à-tête, and remember bygone times.

Whilst attending Caius, one wonders if Tony Stark spent any time talking to Professor Sir Stephen Hawking, who was based in Gonville and Caius for many decades and sadly passed away recently. Certainly, Professor Hawking’s advice about the nature of wormholes might have helped Stark in the first Avengers movie, which does not elaborate on how he managed to survive his experience.

A portrait of Professor Sir Stephen Hawking in the Dining Hall of Gonville and Caius College. CREDIT: University of Cambridge website

It is not only Marvel Comics which has set scenes in the Tree Court. The genre-breaking japanese manga “Pluto” also appears to use this corner in its story.

Tree Court, sans Wisteria. CREDIT: Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka

Despite being a story about androids, Pluto is arguably the most human of Japanese master storyteller Naoki Urasawa’s manga masterpieces, as he simultaneously builds upon and subverts Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy. Does this scene pay homage to famous Caians such as nuclear physicist and discoverer of the neutron Sir James Chadwick, Professor Sir Stephen Hawking or John Venn. Who knows?

Tree Court, circa 1870, CREDIT: Kimberly Blaker, New Boston Fine and Rare Books

Long may comics continue to include this mysterious corner in their illustrations.

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Tehran Taboo – Film Review

Tehran Taboo is released 5/10/2018 in UK Cinemas

Tehran Taboo, the debut film from Iranian writer-director Ali Soozandeh, is released today (5th October) in UK cinemas.  This rotoscope-animated film presents a hyper-stylised portrayal of Tehran with an emotional poignance that this technique of animation, when combined with an atmospheric and sometimes chilling soundtrack, can deliver in spades. Films like Waltz with Bashir, Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly have already experimented successfully with this method of drawing and colouring over material.  Indeed, it appears to be tailor-made for this film which could of course not be made, nor released, in the country in which it is set.

Before watching the film, I was very interested in the director’s quote:

“I get a lot of positive feedback from Iranians living in Iran. The feedback from Iranians living outside Iran is rather negative. They are usually angry with the film. Because the film damages the image we present of ourselves to the West.”

Pari

Perhaps this reflects the fact that life for many in Iran is riddled by contradictions and hypocrisies, and the hyper-real portrayal in this film packs a visceral punch for those who live in the country, whereas those who have left Iran may choose to default to a more rosy-tinted nostalgic view.

Tehran Taboo starts with a bang. Immediately, you can tell why this film could not be made in Iran, as a taxi driver who claims he is “not Bill Gates” haggles with prostitute Pari whilst her mute son Elias is chewing bubble gum in back seat of a taxi. This sets the stall for a murky, often shocking, noir exploration of the idiosyncrasies in contemporary Tehran through multiple strands. One of these is a  young musician’s quest to “fix the virginity” of a girl he had a one-night-stand with at one of Tehran’s notorious underground raves, a week before the woman is supposedly due to get married to a faceless thug.

There are moments of dark humour, such as the protagonists’ search for an artificial hymen:

“This is the original model, 100% Chinese.  You know it’s good because the Westerners copied it”

Elias

Later Elias provides a funny moment when asked if he knew sign language and proceeds to mimic a highly offensive gesture he had just seen some children do.   The mute boy is the only totally innocent character in film drowning in various shades of grey, quietly observing the Machiavellianism and the tragedy around him.  Conversely, one of the film’s antagonists is an adipose cleric who sets up an arrangement for Pari to provide him intimate favours in exchange for allowing her to divorce her drug-addicted husband.  Themes of patriarchy and societal misogyny permeate throughout a film in which every man and woman has to look out for themselves, and everything and anyone can be bargained for. The separate narrative threads become progressively entwined during the course of the film, and the tight structure calls to mind films such as Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros.

Rotoscoping seems to accentuate emotional moments, and facial expressions are highly framed, such that even the most nuanced of eyebrow raises become much more obvious.  One of the lead characters is portrayed by Arash Marandi, the go-to guy for genre-hopping films set in Iran but filmed abroad such as Iranian Vampire-Western “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and socio-political supernatural horror “Under the Shadow”.  In this film, his distinctive large and innocent eyes are emphasised to an aptly cartoonish intensity.

Pari speaking to her neighbour Sara

The background art is detailed and atmospheric, from the vistas of the never-ending sprawl of Tehran, to the vehicles and alleyways which are explored through the multi-layered narrative.  They are also very authentic, impressive given that the film has been made abroad.  Even if the bleak narrative itself does not necessarily beg for repeat viewing, the detailed and intricate backgrounds which are a very realistic portrayal of today’s Tehran, do.

Overall, the film is a stark and pessimistic portrayal of Tehran itself, which provides fascinating viewing for even those who have never even heard of Jafar Panahi or Abbas Kiarostami, let alone seen their films. Certain aspects of the film are slightly outdated, such as the morality police, less prominent now than is portrayed in the movie.  At times, the pace of the film’s consecutive punches renders the viewer overwhelmed, and I was begging for a little respite towards the end.  

Nevertheless, it remains an apposite metaphor for the ongoing psychological corrosion in the city’s collective psyche.  The film may not quite get the traction required to deliver the social change which is the aim of the film’s creator, but it is another seed on top of a mountain waiting to be sown. We can only wonder what Ali Soozandeh will do next.

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Dr A.I. will see you now — The age of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare

Google DeepMind’s breakthrough might help save the sight of millions around the world.

Rutger Hauer playing Roy Batty in Blade Runner (1982). The Lead Replicant describing his life as both rain and tears flow down his face. Credit: Warner Bros

“I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe…”

Had he spent more time scrutinising millions of Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans rather than attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, perhaps Dr Roy Batty might have been the most eminent Medical Retina specialist of Ridley Scott’s fictional 2019.

Philip K. Dick’s dystopian vision was penned in 1968 and later adapted into a neo-noir masterpiece by Scott in 1982. The synthetic beings of his tale, outwardly identical to adult humans, have been created in order to replace humans in performing menial or undesirable jobs. Their only deficiencies seemingly being a lack of emotional range and a four-year life span. The themes of humanity and identity continue to resonate despite the decades which have passed since the short story was written.

We are still a long way from androids replacing any profession, let alone doctors or nurses. Nevertheless, a potentially monumental triumph in the application of AI technology in medicine has just materialised, the fruits of which might benefit millions worldwide.

Two London-based teams have collaborated to develop AI technology which can analyse OCT retinal scans and detect a number of eye conditions, then triage those patients who are in need of urgent care. Google’s DeepMind team, spearheaded by Jeffrey De Fauw, have applied a neural network learning system which matches highly experienced doctors and reduces sight loss by minimising the time between detection and treatment. This delay in referral for treatment still causes many people to go blind.

The potential AI-enhanced process to detect eye disease. Credit: DeepMind Health/Moorfields Eye Hospital

Pearse Keane, lead clinician for the project at Moorfields Eye Hospital, describes DeepMind’s algorithm:

“As good, or maybe even a little bit better, than world-leading consultant ophthalmologists at Moorfields in saying what is wrong in these OCT scans”

Artificial Brains — From Chess to Go

Google’s DeepMind, founded in 2010 in the UK and later acquired by Google, seeks to build powerful general-purpose learning algorithms and uncover the mystery of intelligence. Thus-far, its greatest tangible successes had been in defeating humans in games.

Perhaps its landmark gaming victory came in 2016 when DeepMind’s AlphaGo beat high-ranked Go player Lee Sedol 4–1 in a five-game match by using a supervised learning protocol, watching and analysing large numbers of games between humans. Despite the resounding triumph of machine over man in the ancient strategy board game, DeepMind has to thank its ancestor, IBM’s Deep Blue, for the first of such victories.

Garry Kasparov playing chess against IBM’s Deep Blue in 1997. Credit: Peter Morgan/Reuters

In 1996, world chess champion Garry Kasparov beat Deep Blue 4–2. One year later, Deep Blue came back for revenge and beet Kasparov 3½–2½. The message was clear, artificial intelligence was catching up the human intelligence. Yet Deep Blue’s algorithm depended on “brute computational force”, evaluating millions of positions. That works fine for chess, in which there are 20 possible opening moves. Go, a game originating in China almost 2500 years ago, has 361 possible opening moves on its 19×19 grid. It is so large that no AI can currently explore every possibility using Deep Blue’s “brute force” method.

LeeSeDol losing to DeepMind at Go. Credit: Korea Baduk/Reuters

DeepMind’s AlphaGo, on the other hand, works on a combination of different elements which are meant to mimic human decision-making. The algorithm was developed by DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis and consists of a number of phases which include supervised learning (being trained by analysing games between human experts), reinforcement learning (playing itself millions of times and maximising expected winning outcomes), “intuition” rollout policy (predicting how a human would play), Value network learning (quantifying the chances of success) and an algorithm which brings all these together called a “Monte Carlo tree search”.

The Age of Scans

A practitioner performing an OCT scan. Credit: Moorfields Eye Hospital

It’s all very good to beat humans at chess or Go, but what about diagnosing diseases? To find a real-world application for the human-like decision making used by DeepMind’s AlphaGo, the team at the company’s Health division looked at Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scans. This is a form of three-dimensional eye imaging which slices the retina into different layers, first introduced over two decades ago. OCT machines have come a long way since their inception and have become increasingly complex in how data is generated and presented. Nevertheless, they are used routinely by eye doctors to diagnose diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

The publication of the work from DeepMind and Moorfields Eye Hospital in Nature this week states categorically that the algorithm performed as well as two leading retina specialists in analysing OCT scans and grading the urgency of a referral for management, with an error rate of only 5.5%. This was despite the algorithm not having access to some extra information, such as patient records, that the doctors had. The algorithm was used on two different types of OCT machines, and was also able to give confidence ratings based on aspects of the scans which it considered suggestive for diagnosis. Importantly, not a single urgent case was missed from the 14,884 scans used in the study.

Real-world application

This is just the first stage of research, although Dr Keane is confident that a final product is not too far away. DeepMind and Moorfields now need to run clinical trials of their OCT system so that doctors have the chance to test it. Mustafa Suleyman, DeepMind co-founder hopes that:

“when this is ready for deployment, which will be several years away, it will end up impacting 300,000 patients per year”

The team hopes that regulators approve a final product based on the immediate tangible benefits of a reduction in time and manpower needed to manually inspect scans, make diagnoses and refer for treatment.

Practical Benefits in the Developing World

PeekVision is a smartphone suite and includes an adapter called Peek Retina which allows the retina to be viewed with a smartphone. Credit: PeekVision.org

AI-powered screening can have an enormous impact in hard-to-reach areas. The ubiquity of smartphones around the world makes adding a portable camera and creating an image acquisition system simple and inexpensive. Already, companies such as UK-based Peek Vision have introduced camera adapters which allow high-quality images to be obtained easily and then analysed remotely.

Companies such as California-based Compact Imaging are currently working to make small form-factor multiple reference OCT (MR-OCT) available for smartphones and wearable technologies. The combination of these compact devices and AI-powered screening software could bridge geographical and economic chasms for many of the 285 million people worldwide living with some form of sight loss.

Sight loss around the world. Credit: DeepMind Health/Moorfields Eye Hospital

Artificial Intelligence elsewhere in health

These developments can act as a blueprint for the development of artificial intelligence elsewhere. DeepMind is currently doing research with University College London to assess whether AI can tell the difference between cancer and healthy tissue in CT and MRI scans. It is also working with Imperial College London to assess whether AI can interpret mammograms and improve accuracy in breast cancer screening.

In all these cases, the most practical benefit of using AI to screen for disease is one of resources — doctors’ time would be freed to spend more time with individual patients, and more time working on and providing treatments.

Pitfalls in AI’s Future

“I did everything, everything you ever asked! I created the perfect system” Clu in Tron Legacy (2010). Credit: Disney

Back to the realms of fiction, where accounts of AI are often littered with depictions of ever-evolving intelligences which strive to be perfect, such as Marvel’s Ultron or Tron’s Clu. These AIs struggle to balance a “human” rationalisation of ethics with the necessity to achieve their goal, with Earth-threatening consequences.

Though we are far from apocalypse scenarios, DeepMind itself has already been embroiled in controversy when it emerged that 1.6 million patient data records had not been adequately safeguarded when shared between London’s Royal Free Hospital and DeepMind. Data sharing agreements between the two had to be rewritten and DeepMind has also created an “Ethics & Society” group to maintain the ethical standards of AI, and ensure that social good is prioritised during the fast-moving evolution of these technologies.

Clearly, there may be obstacles ahead that no one can predict. DeepMind’s co-founder Mustafa Suleyman highlights the extent of the challenge:

“It won’t be easy: the technology sector often falls into reductionist ways of thinking, replacing complex value judgments with a focus on simple metrics that can be tracked and optimised over time….

Getting these things right is not purely a matter of having good intentions. We need to do the hard, practical and messy work of finding out what ethical AI really means.”

A future with everything to play for

Nevertheless, Suleyman describes a future which, with the right guidance, could be aided immensely by artificial intelligence when aligned with human values:

“If we manage to get AI to work for people and the planet, then the effects could be transformational. Right now, there’s everything to play for.”

A future, potentially, riding on AI. Credit: Luca D’Urbino
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