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Ari Aster Double Feature

Oh hey there, it’s been a while. I just wanted to talk about possibly one of my new favorite directors, Ari Aster, starting a blip with his 2018 feature debut, Hereditary. Mild spoilers ahoy!

Hereditary

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In terms of accolades, this film is probably the most underrated of 2018 next to Searching and Mandy (and probably Mute, but I haven’t seen it yet).

Halfway through the film Collette delivers a monologue that gives me chills every time – I was hoping that scene alone would gain some attention.

The beauty of this film as a horror piece is that you can’t tell if the chaos is grounded in the physical or the supernatural until the end. Even then either way can be arguable. Additionally I feel that every reaction to each terrible event is plausible, if not understandable.

Hereditary is a mental health awareness piece under the guise of supernatural thriller. Even Aster only considers it a drama. The tension is built up so beautifully, each extreme becomes an emotional crescendo. As creepy as it is, I love showing this movie to people so I can watch their reactions.  Both Collette and Alex Wolf have fantastic performances, so come for the drama, stay for the coming of great Paimon.

Hereditary-Charlie

We need to talk about Charlie.

After such a strong debut, sometimes a victory lap is in order.

 

Midsommar

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Midsommar begins with Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor), a one-sided toxic relationship held together by dependence and guilt. Things only get more awkward when Dani is reluctantly invited to what was originally intended to be a stag trip to Sweden with Christian’s friends.

The tension is palpable from the get-go, and things only get worse from there: their destination is within the Hårga – an isolated cult commune with little room for modern amenities. Luckily for our party, they are to witness a midsummer event that the Hårga only celebrate every 90 years. When this festival kicks off with a gruesome ättestupa ritual, our novice anthropologists realize that they probably should have picked a different topic of study.

Pagan-influenced bloodshed aside, the focus of this story is what happens when selfish individuals enter a community of selflessness. In the case of Dani and Christian, we’re dealing with extreme anxiety and utter idiocy, respectively. Dani has been through so much trauma, she is an emotional void of sorts, constantly on the verge of a breakdown. Christian is clearly painted as an assholish coward throughout – avoiding the inevitable with Dani as much as possible while mooching off of his friends.

In spite of her emotional condition, Dani proves to be open to new experiences, slowly warming up to the Hårga’s traditions. Because the events taking place, we as an audience cannot know what daily life is like, and really if they’re on psilocybin all the time or exclusively during festivals.

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I hope they’re high all the time, anyway.

Regardless, psilocybin is a psychedelic that makes one feel closer with nature as well as peers, so this commune in the middle of the wilderness is the ideal place to be on shrooms 24-7. In Dani’s case, when she’s isolated she’s left with hallucinations of her traumas, but when she’s with the Hårga, she has a sense of belonging – so when she finally genuinely smiles, you feel it. Christian’s experiences, however, are thwarted by skepticism and discomfort.

midsommar

At Pugh is really good at crying. Like, really good.

Midsommar is a love story in a way, in the sense of feeling connected with one another through experiences rather than expectations. But due to Dani’s impressionability, she is easily taken advantage of. It was almost reminiscent of The Witch when Pelle asks Dani regarding Christian, “does he feel like home?”

Despite the utter beauty of this undertaking, I keep ruminating on that Pelle claimed his parents were burned alive, implying they were previous tributes – but didn’t they say the ceremonies were every 90 years? I think it can be argued that due to the absolute communal nature of this, well, commune, through all the shared feelings and expressions, would it be so hard to believe that each elder could be called a parent? Or that past trauma is shared through generations to the point of being a constant. It’s fishing, but it’s possible. Or maybe 90 years isn’t literally 90 years. Or maybe I missed something? …Or maybe it’s just a plot hole.

Both films are unified in trauma and grief, with any hopes of closure dashed away before they can even be actualized. Additionally the idea that when one is vulnerable, any influence can be let in – both literally and figuratively. Cults also appear in both films, but they almost appear to be a backdrop for our protagonists – working behind the scenes while Annie and Dani slowly break from the inside out.

I’ve been going through Ari Aster’s short films, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

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Let Me Make You A Martyr

bBh3JFx6eRMEhLEQxCB48u-oE3wrJRO3TKkSIXKO_vYAfter a lifetime of neglect and abuse, Drew Glass (Niko Nicotera) returns home to wreak havoc upon his druglord father (Mark Boone Junior). But ol’ Larry catches wind of his boy’s scheme and calls in a hit (Marilyn Manson).

Let Me Make You A Martyr offers a mixed narrative on backwoods retribution and spiritual redemption. I guess?

What wants to be another No Country for Old Men turned out to be a poorly-paced thriller with very little payoff. Though Drew’s vigilante path had a promising premise, the execution felt too loose and frankly too convenient.

Nicotera and Boone are formidable in their roles, but that’s about it. Manson’s character, Pope, seems intriguing because he prowls like the shark in Jaws. It could also be argued that Pope’s a literal stand-in for Death: he’s starkly pale, dressed in black, and the only way to find him is by crossing a river after bargaining at the gate. If only his performance was as alluring. Additionally, the supporting cast leaves much to be desired.

It’s just not that good.

WYSHW: World’s Greatest Dad

Last Monday, August 11, the Internet exploded. Everyone all over social media began to scramble to answer one simple question – “is it true?” Sadly, yes. Robin Williams, beloved actor, comedian, and all around cool guy, took his life at the age of 63.

worlds-greatest-dadI don’t want to harp too much on this – after all, there’s not much left to say. In return, I’d rather celebrate this man’s legacy by talking about a lesser-known Williams film that’s all about, well, legacy: World’s Greatest Dad, directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite (which is also currently streaming).

I would like to start out saying that given the content of the film, I could see quite a few people getting upset about this one. So, take some time on this one.

Alright.

Why Juni, why!?

Why Juni, why!?

Lance Clayton (Williams) is a failed writer turned English teacher (aren’t they all), who is father to probably the worst teenage boy in existence, Kyle (Daryl Sabara). Okay, to be fair I say that sort of thing about a lot of teenagers, but we’re talking lord-god-king douchebag. One fateful day, Lance walks in to discover that Kyle accidentally killed himself in an act of autoerotic asphyxiation gone awry.

Crushed by his discovery and wishing to save his son (and more likely himself) from the embarrassment, Lance poses Kyle’s body as a suicide and writes a heartfelt note on his son’s behalf before calling the police. The note is later obtained and published in Lance’s/Kyle’s school newspaper, and Kyle soon becomes a posthumous icon for the students. Having finally been recognized for his writing, Lance decides to pen a journal under Kyle’s name, which soon becomes published as a national phenomenon.

Admittedly, this is a film about terrible people. Simultaneously, it’s a fantastic satire on the cult of celebrity. And again, I warn you (and as if you couldn’t tell by my little synopsis there), this movie is dark. Not to mention especially heartbreaking given the circumstances.

Though it’s been a couple years since I sat down and watched this movie, but one thing that stuck out in my head was how absurdly funny the whole thing was. That, and William’s incredible range on display. Despite being crass and about terrible people, World’s Greatest Dad is an unexpected gem worth checking out.

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Though he may be gone, his legacy of laughter will always remain in our hearts and minds. And with that, we will miss you.

Filth

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a misogynistic, alcoholic cokehead with a penchant for kinky sex and sick mind games. He’s also a police officer. Usually tormenting his friends and coworkers, he now focuses his energy on the chance at a promotion on the force, with only an unsolved murder standing in his way. Naturally, chaos ensues when the twisted web he weaves inevitably collapses on him, forcing Bruce to finally come to terms with himself.

Sort of.

Thank you.

Thank you.

This was probably one of the best McAvoy performances I’ve seen – he’s just this raw psychotic force, and you just love to hate this character. And then when those tender moments hit, they hit hard, but not in a way unbelievable for the character.

However regardless of the strong character study, Filth seems to be suffering from an identity crisis – most noticeably, throughout the film there are numerous references to A Clockwork Orange (with an explicit 2001: A Space Odyssey reference thrown in for good measure). What perplexes me about this choice is that though I appreciate a good reference, I really don’t understand why they chose to use them so continuously.

"Awake at last, yes?"

“Awake at last, yes?”

It’s neat for trivia and I suppose it helps frame Robertson’s mental frailty, but on the whole it feels like reference for the sake of reference – Alex DeLarge and Bruce Robertson are very different people, and both stories have very different commentaries (and it’s not like the film/book are on Robertson’s mind or in the background).

I mean, I guess some points could be argued, but I better stop myself from diving further into an infinite Kubrick loop. I bring this up because I feel by using these references so overtly, it draws away from the real originality (as if it already wasn’t fighting away from being another Trainspotting).

Overall, I felt that Filth was a raunchy good time, despite the identity crisis. Sure it gets really dark fairly quickly, but that’s what I expected, and wanted. After seeing this movie, I actually want to read the book. So I say come for the McAvoy and stay for the ride.

Final Grade: A-

American Hustle

American Hustle is the sort of true story of the ABSCAM operation that went down in the late 1970s, as told from the perspectives of the con artists brought in by the FBI to aid in the sting. Rather than your typical dramatic biopic, we’re given more of a caricatured portrayal of a time and place, crafting an experience that is not only fun and flashy, but also touches on real-life drama without going too over-the-top. It’s actually pretty impressive.

It's all so mesmerizingly shiny.

It’s all so mesmerizingly shiny.

When dealing with a cast of this magnitude, it’s really hard to pinpoint which star shines the brightest, especially given the fact that the entire leading cast (sans Jeremy Renner) has been nominated for an Oscar. Many would argue Christian Bale chews the most scenery out of the bunch: Irving Rosenfeld comes off as a cartoonish, sweet-talking buffoon, but he’s actually portrayed with a great deal of depth and charisma. Personally, I feel as if everyone did a wonderful job…except that lady playing Bradley Cooper’s fiancé. She only had one line, and she delivered it as flatly as possible (I’d link a clip if I could). Did anyone else notice her? Regardless, I won’t let that ruin my good time.

Half the budget was justifiably spent on boob-tape.

Half of the budget was justifiably spent on boob tape.

At first I was a little concerned about the portrayal of the ladies in this film, considering the male focus as well as the power-struggle theme. At first they seem typically shallow and manipulative, and especially in Rosalyn’s (Jennifer Lawrence) case, stereotypically crazy. Then you have to remember, these are meant to be caricatures of actual people – these people are bold and flashy and act accordingly. However, with the every instance of garish insanity, there is heart behind the performance – as only Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence can deliver.

American Hustle is incredibly solid film. Any worry that these stars would outshine each other is quickly effaced while they play off of each other splendidly. On the whole it’s just a really good time – the costumes and sets are fantastic, and the soundtrack and score could not have been better. Would I call it “mind-blowing?” No, not particularly. But is it worth checking out? Absolutely.

Final Grade: A

This is the Way the World Ends

Where to begin...

Where to begin…

Personally, I feel as if cult classic Donnie Darko has received more than enough recognition as that, a cult classic. Not that it doesn’t deserve it. However, I feel that its all-grown-up cousin film Southland Tales deserves similar cult status. Much like Darko, we’re dealing with the time paradoxes and end of the world – only this time with sex, drugs, and government conspiracies.

After twin nuclear attacks in Texas in 2005, the country has fallen into disarray, and World War III has begun. Our story focuses on three men: an actor, Boxer Santaros (Dwayne Johnson) and identical twins Roland and Ronald Taverner (Sean William Scott) and their collision between government agencies, neo-Marxist groups, and a new energy source known as Fluid Karma – thanks to an ex-porn star called Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar). Confused? That’s okay, because we have reciting vet Justin Timberlake to talk us through everything by means of allegory.

"Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted."

“Scientists are saying the future is going to be far more futuristic than they originally predicted.”

It’s understandable that a film like this can easily fly over a person’s head. It even took me a couple of watches just to get the full picture. This does not mean that I wasn’t the least bit entertained. The performances are earnest as well as over-the-top, creating caricatures of everyday media icons while simultaneously mocking the infotainment industry of our time. On the other hand, some of the situations and dialogue are just too ludicrous – but that’s okay! We’re given a reality that allows us to accept these things. I mean, we’re dealing with the end of the world here – I think a little suspension of disbelief is not too much to ask.

As mentioned, there is a massive ensemble of actors in this picture, and about twice as many cameos – many are beloved SNL alumni. Even Frank the Bunny makes a couple appearances. Additionally, these performances are equally matched by fantastic videography and a score by Moby, creating a most electric atmosphere for this confusion and chaos.

Southland Tales did not receive much recognition…or positive reviews for that matter, but I believe that there’s some sort of oddball charm to this feature. It may not capture the youthful, withdrawn nature of Donnie Darko, but it also doesn’t deserve to be held back by such a comparison. A genuine sci-fi for our time, complete with Orwellian undertones, Southland Tales is a cult classic waiting to happen. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.