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.

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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

VOD Log: Three Identical Strangers

Reenactments in documentary film need to be done carefully without looking like a cheesy TV production — or omitted altogether.  Errol Morris set a standard for the former in The Thin Blue Line, and Ken Burns for the latter.  Three Identical Strangers misses the mark and would better have left them out.

Which points to the weakness in the film — I think better documentarians might have presented the material more poignantly.  Still, the content here is powerful and profound.  7/10; sandwich between Crazy Rich Asians and Thoroughbreds on the 2018 List.

Comparison Notes (all recommended and better): The aforementioned Thin Blue Line, Making a Murderer, The Civil War, Searching for Sugar Man

All I Asked was A Simple Favor

There’s a lot thrown into A Simple Favor, and, surprisingly, it all works.  It’s not exactly a juggling act, but lesser filmmakers have been stymied with this much story.  The filmmakers never revert to BS pseudocomplexity (yes, I just coined a new word) of garbagepieces (again) like The Girl on the Train, to which it has been compared.  Rather, the layers of A Simple Favor elevate it beyond a comparatively mono-dimensional film like Searching.

Not that this is high art.  A spirited, fun film, there are splish-splashes of hokeyness, especially at the end with a little hackneyed silliness — but then silliness is always just floating above, or below, the surface.  Makes sense given the farcical oeuvre of the director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy).  Point being, A Simple Favor did itself a favor by not taking itself so seriously — the death-blow of many films, the most prominent recent example being A Quiet Place.

Beyond all that, Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively are a sheer joy.  8/10

Comparison Notes: Gone Girl, The Gift, Prisoners, the aforementioned Searching, Gone (2012), A Simple Plan, Fargo

Who’s the Beast

Beast had me well intrigued for most of the going, but the final third was a muddling disappointment.  Or put another way, I liked this movie until I didn’t.  The concluding scenes are not so clever or original as I think the filmmakers, and most critics, believed them to be.  I will grant that the romance at the center is compelling.  A marginal thumbs-down; 5/10

Comparison Notes: the much to infinitely better: Lady Macbeth, Side Effects, Ex Machina, Under the Skin, Thelma, The Box

Wound Around a Phantom Thread

I still don’t know what Paul Thomas Anderson was thinking with Inherent Vice.  As I wrote at the time, that film was so out of character for PT Anderson as to be unrecognizable.  Phantom Thread represents, at least relatively speaking, a return to form.  I say relatively speaking, because unlike his past projects, I doubt that this film will stick with me over the years so strongly — but only time will tell I suppose.  The edginess of his earlier cinematic style seems missing, or at least transformed.

Still, Phantom Thread is a strong and lovely picture.  The RT consensus:

Phantom Thread‘s finely woven narrative is filled out nicely by humor, intoxicating romantic tension, and yet another impressively committed performance from Daniel Day-Lewis.

Day-Lewis’s foil, his co-star, was fantastic as well.  Katie Walsh:

Paul Thomas Anderson’s enigmatic romance “Phantom Thread” is a mystery. Not of the murder kind, but of the heart, posing questions of love, power and submission. The mystery? Who’s in control?

If you go in expecting a Daniel Day-Lewis movie, you’ll walk away with a Vicky Krieps movie, and we’re all the better for it. The Luxembourgian actress will sweep you off your feet.

Peter Travers:

It’s endlessly fascinating to watch the actor and artist behind the camera (sharers in the same creative obsession) negotiate a hard truce between art and life. Anderson is deliberate and cunning about revealing the secrets he’s sewn into the fabric of his spellbinder of a film. Taking full measure of Phantom Thread may require more than one viewing – a challenge any genuine movie lover will be eager to accept. Our advice for now: just sit back and behold.

Looking over all these reviews makes me think the film may stick with me more so than I am now thinking.  Certainly, the performances are absolutely riveting — perhaps more so than any picture of the last year.  For now, considered among the films of 2017: about on par with Lady Macbeth.  8/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Mother!, Punch-Drunk Love, Rebecca

Film Brief: Thelma

Not to be confused with Thelma and Louise.  It’s just Thelma here.

Knowing filmmaking locked onto a tight character-driven story kept me enrapt.

Note: Two Norwegian films within a month of one-another: what’s going on?  Is Norway the new France for film?

SPOILER ALERT:  I suggest watching only HALF of the trailer below.  It gives away too much.

8/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Donnie Darko, Sleeping Beauty, The Craft; Not recommended: Ich Seh Ich SehThe Square, Raw.  A number of similarities exist between Raw and Thelma.  Thelma is the right way to do it.

Film Brief: The Square

The Square is interesting, perhaps, but more so self-important.  Pretentious even.  It is ultimately a small movie, and I’m not talking budget.  I didn’t hate it, but there’s too much nonsense and weak elements masquerading as something bigger — a veil I saw right through.  4/10

 

 

 

PS: The fact that so many critics thought The Square better than director Ruben Östlund’s previous work Force Majeure lays bare why I write a movie blog.  A lesser critic called The Square “Smart, Sharp.”  I got news for you: I’m smarter than you, and I say The Square was not smart.  The ape-man finale that you thought was so clever was ridiculously untenable.

A Double-Splish, A Bigger Splash

Top: “A Bigger Splash” by David Hockney; Bottom: A Bigger Splash, currently in theaters

There will be two “Bigger Splash” movies this year.  One of them is a documentary on David Hockney, the great Los Angeles-based artist.

The movie A Bigger Splash takes on a theme I’ve seen in a few indies lately: that of vacations going south.  Force MajeureThe Two Faces of January, and The Loneliest Planet are examples of this concept in recent years.  Terror flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or Hostel also technically fall under this category, though we’re talking there about a very different type of film, obviously.  It’s a great storytelling tool because it allows ordinary people to be placed out of their element, out of their comfort zone.  Vacations allow ordinary people to face extraordinary circumstances.

A Bigger Splash - text block

 

Force Majeure was the best at this, in the psychological drama side of the bucket.  One of the problems with A Bigger Splash is that it is not completely confident of what it is trying to be.  As a psycho-sexual drama, it had me pretty well gripped for about the first three-quarters, at which point it took the inevitable turn as given away in the trailer — and suddenly became a completely different and much more mundane picture.  Because of this, I was going to render a marginal thumbs-up, but the film did stick around in my head just long enough for a 7/10.

Comparison Notes: besides the films mentioned above, Swimming Pool (2003) — one of those movies I’ll have to see again to post on; La Cérémonie (highly recommended)

A Foreign Affliction: Ich Seh Ich Seh

Goodnight Mommy - poster

Ich Seh Ich Seh, marketed in English as Goodnight Mommy, is a captivating little Austrian psychological drama.  Though being marketed as a horror film, it is hardly anything of the sort.  It does a great job of throwing us in this intriguing world, a house set amongst nature.  Makes me want to visit Austria immediately!  And it does a good job building its story of two boys suspicious of their mother and her odd behavior.

But I don’t like it when a movie — in its final three minutes — yells out to the audience: “Ha Ha!  We got you!  We were lying the whole time!”  Oh yea, you got me.  Boy was I a fool to believe the entire movie up to that point.  Silly me.

Goodnight Mommy - text block215px-Uninvitedposter

 

 

And when the entire film is based on that lie, then the entire film collapses upon its revelation.  Something else – another lie, but a tiny white lie compared to the big one at the end: This film’s title is Ich Seh Ich Seh (English: I See I See).  Nowhere in the film is it titled Goodnight Mommy — so if you’re going to sell it like that, then put it in the movie.  Otherwise just translate the title, which is much more relevant to the film’s content.  A marginal thumbs-down because of the cop-out ending; 5/10

Comparison Notes (both recommended, and both much better than Ich Seh Ich Seh): Secret Window, The Uninvited

Indie Log: Compliance

Compliance - poster large

Amy Biancolli, sfgate.com:

Some films are harder to watch than others – not because they’re bad, which makes for a different sort of painful viewing, but because they touch on areas of such profound moral discomfort that the mere act of watching makes us feel complicit. We feel like gutless witnesses to a crime.

What’s happening here should be transparent to anyone watching almost from the start, but the point is that it’s anything but obvious to the people involved.  You might be struck with an air of incredulity, but the events depicted Compliance - text blockhappened almost exactly as shown.  And though we may know what’s going on here, we don’t have any idea how far it will go.

While watching, the scope of Compliance seems to ride too much a singular note — but that note is persistent, unrelenting, and very creepy.  It’s a small movie, but boy it got under my skin.  If you want to get to some very disturbing places, this movie is for you.   7/10

Availability: Netflix & iTunes.