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: Pet Sematary [u]

Boring, yawn.  A story seed riddled with holes of both logic and execution.  On the other hand, I suppose if you’ve never seen a supernatural horror movie, you might be impressed.  I’ve seen one or two, so I’m not.  I can say I did like the cat, and I always enjoy John Lithgow — but boy he could be doing so much better stuff than this and I wish he would.  I think he should team up with Tim Robbins.

Upon watching this movie in Yuma, I had a note on convenience versus convention, but can’t remember it now.  I think both apply to Pet Sematary.  2/10

UPDATE 7/1/19: 2/10 is low.  It wasn’t that bad.  3/10

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

Halloween 2018: Sweet Dreams

This year’s Halloween is too cheesy, and with too many logic problems, to be scary.  There is a scant acknowledgment of its cheesy/B-movie nature, but that side is hardly embraced.  Worse, the first third is slow and bor-ing.  This 2018 redux is very poor at building any real tension.  I was concerned that watching it would give me nightmares: no need to worry about that here.

I’ve noticed so many of the mass-market horror/terror films lately are trying to be “scary” without having any cojones.  There’s a spate of timidity in these pictures.  Being little more scary than your local haunted house works great for kids, but lands like a dull thud for those of us who’ve already seen more than a couple slasher-hackers.

It would be so refreshing to sense in contemporary productions an appetite to push it to the edge.  That’s why films like Oldboy, Under the Skin, I Spit on Your Grave, A Clockwork Orange, and The Last House on the Left stand out so well.  And that’s why I’ll take a film like Straw Dogs that arguably goes too far over an anemic piece like Halloween.

Or, again, embrace the potential dark comic goldmine at your fingertips.  Think about the sheer glee of Natural Born Killers, Scream, or Mars Attacks!  Halloween 2018 does deliver a modicum of entertainment value, especially with the intro sequence and when that classic soundtrack plays, but this is a disappointing installment by the Blum House Boys.  4/10

Comparison Notes: other than those mentioned above: Alien, other Blum House films, the original Halloween, Movies that’ll get ya

Don’t go on the Slender Man diet

The biggest problem with Slender Man is that for large swathes not much happens, and when it does it’s rather gutless.  Adam Graham, Detroit News:

It doesn’t add up to much more than a shoulder shrug. Perhaps that’s one way to kill off Slender Man: make his story so dull that no one cares.

For what should be a zippy 93-minute film, it sure drags.  There is some minor entertainment value, and it’s certainly no worse than The Conjuring and its ilk that critics fell over each-other about.  This movie did instruct me on a fantastic instrumental track from 1971, “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic.  But there’s not a lot going on here.  Based on a web/urban legend, once again we see a failure to tap into readily available material, including its own poster.

I will say one thing: a movie like this makes you appreciate the genius of David Lynch all the more.  Funkadelic and the beginning third raise Slender Man to 4/10.

Comparison Notes: The Ring, The Blair Witch Project, The Visit, The Ruins

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!

Film Brief: Jigsaw

Jigsaw is a lot better than critics would lead you to think.  It’s one of those films with a huge disparity between the Rotten Tomatoes Audience & top critics scores (93% & 27%).

My issue was not that there was too much gore, but that there was not enough.  The camera cut away at the promised moments of maximum shocking graphic imagery.  The film was also hampered by a parallel, simple-simon story on the level of average TV fare.  But there’s still some fun, mostly in the first half.  4/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Cube