The Process of Grief (Midsommar, 2019)

Midsommar_PosterDani and Christian’s four year relationship is dying out, but neither has the strength  to end things, especially after Dani faces a horrifying tragedy. They are invited by a friend, Pelle, to visit his home land for a unique festival. Christian and Dani are joined by Josh and Mark and the five make their way to Sweden.

What seems to be a fun time of hallucinogenic experiences and communal partying, turns out to be a frightening series of trials.

Midsommar is the second film from Ari Aster. Hereditary was a masterpiece of dread and so the question became…could he manage it a second time?  Well…yeah. Right from the start, this film pummels the viewer with the pain and heartbreak Dani is having to confront.

When we arrive in the small and remote Swedish village, it seems almost mythically wholesome. Everyone is kind and friendly. They want to share their celebration. But as the film progresses, things begin to become unnerving and the film starts build the sense of dread.  The threat is real and horrifying.

The characters are compelling. This is due more to what we experience than what we learn about their background.  Really, the only Dani, Christian and Pelle get much history.  But William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter both turn in performances that allow you to care about what happens to them.

But Florence Pugh really shines as she runs the gamut of broken pain and grief and joys.

Visually, the film is gorgeous.  The setting really draws you in, even when you know something terrible is bound to happen.

Aster really has impressed me with both of his efforts and I look forward to his next exploration in horror.

 

My Favoritest Flicks of 2018

The movies I dug in 2018.

  1. Annihilation: A phenomenal feast for the eyes and mind…this quiet and slow burn body horror film drew me in from the first frame. Truly great and imaginative Sci-Fi.annihilation
  2. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse: Great characters, great story and some of the most inventive looking animation I have had the joy of soaking in, this film lives up to the hype. People are telling you it is that good because it is that good. I have seen it twice in the theaters. This is usually something I reserve for films I felt strongly (positive or negatively) about, but seem to be out of line with the majority. This time? It was all to just enjoy it all over again.  Sony has raised the bar with animation and super-hero movies in a single movie.spider-verse
  3. Sorry to Bother You: Boots Riley’s darkly hilarious satire of race and class starts out seemingly setting a high bar with its creative visual approach, only to take a totally bizarre out of left field twist. Brilliant and unexpected.
  4. Hereditary: Another slow burn film, this time in horror. Unflinching at times, much of the film explores grief and loss in the face of ongoing tragedy and questions the very nature of evil. at times, it seems to be maybe a film where we are watching a family collapse and lose it’s grip on reality…until maybe it is not.
  5. BLACKkKLANSMAN: While not a perfect film, it is one that manages to look at a moment of history and see it reflected in today.  The film is pretty blatant in this, sometimes to the point of seeming a little to on the nose.  But it is a funny, dramatic and engaging film with great performances.blackkklansman
  6. Black Panther: Ryan Coogler gave us one of Marvel’s strongest films to date. It carried through some of T’Challa’s lessons learned in Civil War and gave him an interesting challenge. The film effectively blended the super-hero and super-spy genres, with a great cast of characters I look forward to revisiting.
  7. Crazy Rich Asians: Like Black Panther, this was a film in part hyped up due to it being rare. The first Hollywood film with a pre-dominantly Asian cast in about 25 years. And so there was a real push to prove the masses would see the movie, as well as Asian Americans. Luckily, the film brought more than a need to succeed to the table. Sure, it is a pretty generic plot…but the jokes land more than they fail. The cast is terrific and engaging (and this being a Hollywood film, largely very attractive) and the film is entertaining.  Crazy_Rich_Asians
  8. Mission Impossible: Fallout: It is not often that a Franchise gets better with age, but Mission Impossible has managed to become more interesting as they go…starting around the third film. The core group of characters all have chemistry and the new additions are solid.Mission_Impossible_fallout_bathroom
  9. Avengers: Infinity War: This one was kind of a tough call. It is clearly a film that ended in the middle of the story.  And there are some good arguments against the film…but I still liked this one. The film balanced its various storylines quite effectively, the character interactions were, at times, golden. It had a villain with a terrible but identifiable plan. We will see if Endgame alters my feelings at all.
  10. Won’t You Be My Neighbor: Mister Rogers was a formative and unique part of the PBS landscape for generations. A challenge to colder views on masculinity that told children that they matter simply for who they were, Fred Rogers spoke to kids as people. He knew they had questions and needed answers, and that shielding them from some of the darker parts of our world was insufficient.  I miss Fred Rogers. I wish we had more men like him.
  11. Bumblebee: How the hell did a Transformers movie crack my top ten? The movie had a heart, some great human characters and well executed special effects.  A smaller cast of Transformers allowed for Bumblebee to shine.Bumblebee Trailer screen grab Credit: Paramount Pictures

 

My runners up? Ocean’s 8 was a terrific entry in the heist franchise. Aquaman was a fun film, but was edged out by Bumblebee. Teen Titans Go was fun, but it was largely cotton candy…and just cannot compete with Spider-Man. I enjoyed Ralph Breaks the Internet…it was cute. Ant-Man and the Wasp was a nice pallet cleanser after Infinity War.  For the most part, I enjoyed Solo and Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom. And I enjoyed the Incredibles 2, which was a decent follow up to the original.

well, Onward to 2019!!!

Family Drama (Hereditary, 2018)

hereditary_posterHereditary opens with a family preparing for a funeral. Annie’s mother has died. Much like Annie, the film feels…distant from this event. we learn that she was, in fact often struggling in their relationship.  And death has not changed that.

But things start to escalate as more tragedy hits and both Annie and her family seem to be coming apart at the seams.

Heredity is a horror movie that is very slow and deliberate. Other than a few “is there a ghost” style moments (odd reflections, flashing lights) it really feels like Hereditary is the exploration of a family that is being torn apart by a family history of unacknowledged mental illness.

Hereditary_still

 

Of course, the story is more than that. There is something darker lurking under the surface. Ari Aster (in his feature length debut as both a writer and director) moves the film at a very (deliberate) slow pace. He rarely relies on jarring us with a gruesome visual or jump scares (but there are a few). But it works so well. Hereditary is at times painful not through gore or shocking violence…but through it’s moments of emotional despair.

There is a scene at the dinner table that is both horrifying and heart wrenching.  And a lot of the emotional weight of the film comes from incredibly strong performances. Gabriel Byrne’s role as a father trying to keep his family imploding is wonderfully understated. He manages to remain sympathetic, even when he seems to be unable to support his belief in his wife’s lost grip on reality. Mary Shapiro is memorable as the young daughter (who was closest to Annie’s mother) who seems to be on the autism spectrum.

Toni Collette and Alex Wolff turn in terrific performances.  Collette’s Annie seems to distance herself from her family and the audience. But at at the same time, you get it. Her grief pours from the screen and washes over the audience.  And Wolff’s Peter is heart breaking to watch as he and his relationship with his mother seems to disintegrate before their eyes.

The horror of Hereditary is “can you trust the people who should care for you the most”? I mentioned that the film moves at a rather slow pace. And this really benefits the film. Pay attention. Listen in. Every little hint means something and rewards in the end.

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