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

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Film Brief: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

The Last Black Man in San Francisco got to me very mildly on an emotional level — a pretty good accomplishment considering there’s almost no story.  And besides having very little story, it’s not as beautiful as it’s made out to be, and definitely not exultant.  If you’re looking for a movie which continues to surprise and delight you, this is not it.

David Lynch tells budding filmmakers to put down an idea on an index card, then another, then another.  When you have seventy of those, you have a movie.  I think Last Black Man had maybe five tops.  4/10

Comparison Notes: House of Sand and Fog, The Pursuit of Happyness, Fruitvale Station, 99 Homes, Do The Right Thing, Everything Must Go (Will Ferrell), All is Lost

Sci-Fi Gone Awry: High Life

Perhaps I was too harsh with Pet Sematary.  High Life is even more boring, because little story ever existed.  Worse, it is riddled with logic and execution holes — like a leading actor who looks exactly the same from one scene to the next when you later realize he is, in fact, 15 years older.  I’ve seen this before.  Pro tip for directors: people don’t look exactly the same 15 years later, unless agelessness is part of the Sci Fi at play — which it distinctly is not here.  The logic issues go way beyond that, but it’s not worth the effort to delineate them.

High Life is so idiotic, so insipid it makes a movie like Raw look brilliant by comparison.  It’s an embarrassment to good science fiction, a slap in the face to the entire genre. I think there was a small seed of an interesting idea which had nothing to do with space travel, but boy was it muddled to nothingness.  2/10

Comparison Notes (all much better; most recommended): Cube, Snowpiercer, Moon, Passengers, Ex Machina, The Box, Blindness, Under the Skin, The Skin I Live In, Holy Motors

VOD Log: The Blackcoat’s Daughter

By far the best thing about The Blackcoat’s Daughter, which I heard about during a brief theatrical appearance while I was in Grand Junction in 2017, is the poster above.

Haphazard nonsense mixed together by time shifts and flashbacks do not a good movie make.  The Blackcoat’s Daughter serves as another case in point for the weakness of nonlinear storytelling.  That weakness, more often than not: a very skimpy story at the film’s heart.

A CASE IN POINT FOR THE WEAKNESS OF NONLINEAR STORYTELLING

Lynch talked about the “language of cinema” — but in Lynch’s case, that language still paints a beautiful story.  Lesser filmmakers, with little tale to tell, attempt to rely on that language, broken though it may be, to stand on its own.  To compensate for lack of story.  So I keep beating the drum: without the spine of story, no movie can stand.

Add The Blackcoat’s Daughter to the growing list of A24 films heavy on atmospherics, good acting, and little else.  I admit it did mostly hold my attention; there were stretches of the film that were compelling in that what’s-going-to-happen-next kind of way — again, the formula of many A24 releases.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended, and considerably better): Thelma, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Uninvited, Hereditary, The Shining, I Spit on Your Grave

Film Brief: Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade is simultaneously potent and pedestrian.  At times both the story and the script seemed forced, as if I could feel the writers working away.  It’s not boring, though, and bonus! — an A24 film that both excludes the square frame and includes credits!  7/10

Comparison Notes: Lady Bird, Men, Women & Children, The Ruins (jk), Superbad, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Hereditary Encumbrances

You go into Hereditary thinking it’ll be some sort of wonderful all-out creepfest.  There is a definite creepiness factor, but the film morphs into yet another fairly conventional haunted house/haunted spirit flick.  For all of its careful consideration of factors such as visual design, Hereditary pays much less attention to presenting a strong compelling story.

Which is not to say it’s not compelling.  Certainly not boring.  But if you remove the miniatures, I doubt I’d recommend.  An absent starting title for no reason doesn’t help.  At least A24 didn’t revert back to the square frame on this one.

I’ve largely forgotten about this movie already, but in its immediate wake it did get under my skin a bit.  So — a begrudging 7/10.

Comparison Notes: Thelma, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell, and others in my Spirit” post, Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, Psycho, The Ring, Cube, Mother!