Zen and The Art of Self-Defense

At the heart of The Art of Self-Defense is an old-hat plot, but the film is done in a mostly original and offbeat way, with just enough of my type of dark humor and quirky, unexpected moments to yield a solid entertainment.

A big plus for this movie is that at times it’s very insightful.  It’s central character is well thought out.  And it’s told in a smart way — an example of which follows past the spoiler alert.  The action that I am disclosing is not a critical plot point, so it’s not really much of a spoiler — but it does happen later in the film, which by itself necessitates a spoiler alert:


In the concluding period of the film, Sensei is shown cleaning the dojo — scrubbing the toilet, wiping down the mat, etc – menial work that should be below him, easily delegated to an underling.  This is an intelligent thing to include on its own — many lesser filmmakers would have left it out.  But what’s even smarter is that it’s shown toward the end of the picture.  Many, again, lesser filmmakers who might include this short sequence would be apt to place it earlier, say in the middle.  When you see that sequence, placed as it is in Self-Defense, you understand that this is a storyteller who knows what he’s doing.


At other times it’s not so smart, making obvious errors.  But that opening scene, in which he’s being mocked in French, establishes this movie above the fray.  7/10

Comparison Notes: Office Space, The Karate Kid, Fight Club, Sorry to Bother You, most superhero films

A Midsommar′s Day Dream

Swedish Tourism must be having fits over Midsommar.  It is absolutely going to increase visitation — but only of those the Swedes would rather stay away.  I wonder if a portion of the normal, sane tourists who might otherwise come may be scared off — or maybe just scared off from traveling north from Stockholm.

One of the strong points of Midsommar is a sense of authenticity:  that these type of festivals do exist, and that to a large extent the events depicted do in fact occur as shown — if not to the same extremes.  The dress, the dance, the food, the architecture and decor, even the tea they drink all feed into the sense that we are observing genuine Swedish custom.

* * *

Midsommar is completely compelling for 2 1/2 hours — which is not easy.  Never boring.  Not exactly edge-of-your-seat-Bound/Dead Calm riveting, but it has good rhythm and flow.  It does not fall into that too-common A24 trap of long, patient, dramatic pauses that drag to eons of nothingness.  Stuff definitely happens.

Writer/director Ari Aster had the same problem with Midsommar as he did with his first film, last year’s Hereditary: closing.  Luckily, with Midsommar, the closing issue is limited mostly to the conclusion, which I did not think befit the rest of the film — though most would think it quite satisfactory.  Not out-of-the-box enough for me.  With Hereditary, the problematic conclusion crept into the entire final third of the film.

I do give Aster credit for making a follow-up to Hereditary that in no way feels like a follow-up.  Midsommar has a completely different vibe to it than Hereditary, to the point you would never know they were both produced by the same man.  Indeed, Midsommar is full of original elements — a creative fire by Aster that never kindled in Hereditary.

There are a couple other small issues with Midsommar which may leave it short of being a “great film.” I’ve thought a lot about Mother! in relation to Midsommar.  And I think Mother! was, in its own very unique way, a “great film” — yet I only gave it a 7/10.  Any “great film” must be at least an 8.  So I am hereby updating Mother! to 8/10.  Since it was already at the top of 7’s in 2017, its rank on that year’s list is unchanged.

Back to Midsommar: it’s the best movie of the year so far, a sun-washed summer delight.  8/10

Comparison Notes: There’s comparison notes up the wazoo on this one: Ex Machina, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (I assume), Get Out, Dead Calm, Mother!, Annihilation, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Housemaid, La Cérémonie, Antichrist, The Ruins