Mystery

Midsommar

First Hit: Early on, I was hopeful and interested, but as the story moved along it failed to deliver intrigue and died an unhappy but amusing unintended death.

While watching the film, the approach of the story reminded me of “Get Out” in that people are brought to a place unsuspecting of the weird darkness that is ready to befall them. But more like "Us,” Jordan Peele’s follow-up film, this story fails by being too overt and complicated in its presentation.

At the beginning of the film, I thought the scenes were exciting and created a hopeful promise of a good story. Many of these scenes, were well depicted, including Dani (Florence Pugh) panicking because her bi-polar sister wasn’t responding to Dani’s emails and that her parents not answering their phone. She did a great job of depicting insecurity and panic.

Looking for support, she calls her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor), but gets little relief from her fears, because of the tone tenor of his voice while attempting to support her tells a different story. We understand that he’s disengaged and tired of her insecurities.

When Dani learns her sister has killed herself and her parents, Christian does what he can to support her, but we all know, he’s doing it out of guilt and now barely cares about any future with Dani.

Christian likes hanging out with his friends, Josh (William Jackson Harper), Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), and Mark (Will Poulter) who are encouraging him to find another girlfriend because Dani’s too clingy.

These set-up scenes are excellent and made me wonder where this story was headed.

During a group conversation with his buddies, Christian reluctantly tells his friends that he’s invited Dani on their group trip to Sweden to meet Pelle’s family and experience the Midsommar celebration.

The reluctance and inability of Christian to communicate with Dani, and with his friends about Dani, is part of the slow burn that develops in Dani that is key to actions later in the film.

Heading into Pelle’s communal family compound, the audience notices the welcoming nature of this group, but also there’s a hint of darkness in the interactions between the outsiders and the communal group.

Then the story really starts to dive into weirdness. Along with another outside couple, Connie and Simon (Ellora Torchia and Archie Madekwe respectively), we get a sense that these outsiders were brought here for another reason (hence the reference to “Get Out”).

There are overtly graphic deaths that are meant to be honorable in their execution as this commune believes that at age 72 you’ve served and it’s time to leave. When I say overtly graphic, I mean this. They are not easy to watch and not for the faint of heart.

But this is just part of the weirdness of this story, and by the time it is clear what is going on, the story was both comical and poorly conceived.

Pugh was strong. Her ability to be needy, vulnerable, and edgy was very good. Reynor was excellent at being a guilt-ridden boyfriend. Harper was one of the more clearly defined characters and brought a saneness to this story. Poulter is always good at being the goofy, slightly outrageous, obnoxious character. In this film, he carries on this role. Blomgren was outstanding as the commune member who gently supports Dani through her transition. Madekwe was sufficiently outraged bordering on too much at the demonstration of the deaths of two older people. Torchia was good in her minor role as Simon’s finance. Ari Aster wrote the screenplay and directed this film. The story felt overly complicated and seemed to get confused with itself. For instance, there is this scene when Pelle says this event only happens every ninety years, but what part is annual and what part is every ninety years? When do the other old people pass, annually? What parts are every ninety years, and what parts are annual? I didn’t understand the meaning of talking about this ninety-year sacred event. There were moments in which the direction was clearly impactful and engaging, while other sections pushed the story more than required to make the point or that the parts didn’t quite make sense.

Overall: This film was too long and uneven its storytelling.

The Souvenir

First Hit: A languid slow-paced film that bordered on torturous to watch.

This is either a good film about how a bad relationship can screw up your life, or it’s a bad film about how long the audience can watch someone live with their poor choices.

After seeing this film, I decided to peek at what some other reviewers said about this film. I’m surprised at how many reviewers liked this film when, while watching it, I wanted to get up and leave at least three times.

I believe I understood the point of the film; when someone is in love, that love can seep into, and drastically affect, every part of their life. My issue is why did this supposedly smart woman stay with this drug-laden man.

Here we have Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), a budding young filmmaker, being allowed to become a student in a prestigious film school. The scenes during class sessions are mostly long and uninformative, unlike the underlying philosophy espoused by the instructors. This film wouldn’t have passed the instructor’s criteria.

At one point after Julie explains her film’s subject, the interviewers state that it is usually better to make a film about topics the director has some experience and knowledge about. It’s obvious Julie knew little or nothing about her subject of a boy losing a parent they love.

Julie’s family is wealthy. Her mom Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) and father live life well on a large English country estate. But the scenes where Julie asks for money are incredibly disheartening and remind me of someone entitled and never really having worked for a living.

Julie meets an older man, Anthony (Tom Burke), who is supposed to be a diplomat, but we never really know for whom or what. He doesn’t want to be questioned about anything. This set-up allows him far too much freedom to not share where he goes and what he’s doing. The reality is that he’s addicted to heroin and when he’s out he out scoring drugs.

Although he’s always dressed nicely, he never pays for anything, and watching Julie ever reaching for her purse made me ill. His arrogance and air of superiority were not attractive, and I don’t know what Julie saw in him. These scenes were often followed up by another plea, by Julie, for money from her mom. When he robs Julie’s apartment, the act was only believable from an addicts point of view. Her response was almost benign.

I never saw or felt much chemistry between Julie and Anthony and saw no reason for them being together, except he needed her money to pay for his habit. Just like when two of her film friends come over for dinner, and the man says to Julie when Anthony leaves the room; I don’t understand you two, how do you handle him being drugged all the time? Julie has no response and the shock on her face would make you believe she will pursue this with Anthony, but she doesn’t, she just goes along for the ride.

There are long scenes where nothing happens and no setup too long, languid scenes to gain insight into the characters, let alone the film. The multiple shots of the four trees with a voice-over worked once, but that’s it.

Byrne has an attractive and unusual look, like her mom, but her actions in this role seemed juxtaposed to what I sense to be an intelligent person. This is either poor acting or weak script and direction. Burke was an excellent addict, and his behavior of using his system of excuses was typical addict oriented. Swinton was superb as Julie’s mom. Being her real mom probably helped. Joanna Hogg wrote and directed this film.

Overall: Despite reviews saying that Joanna is in charge of her craft, I can only say this film was uninteresting and forgetful.

The Intruder

First Hit: A day after watching this movie, I’ve forgotten almost everything about it.

A good film has you remember something about it, the next day, next week, next month, and next year. This film barely made it to the next day. A movie like “Wait Until Dark,” which might be categorized as the same genre, is still is with me today, and I saw it in 1967.

The idea of this film is; a couple decides to buy a country home in Napa Valley, fix it up, and hopefully raise a family in their new home. The house they fall in love with is owned by a man who claims his wife died about two years ago from cancer and it’s time for him to move on and live in Florida with his daughter. But, with any good horror mystery, there is a wrinkle in the idyllic story.

Here we have Annie and Scott Russell (Megan Good and Michael Ealy respectively), having had success, wanting to move from a condo in San Francisco to a home in Napa Valley. The home Annie falls in love with is owned by Charlie Peck (Dennis Quaid).

The faults started early for me. The looks and quick switches in attitude by Peck made him a creepy suspect too soon. He didn’t sell the story of his wife dying of cancer well enough. That is what disappointed me about this film. It telegraphed too loud and too early the player's positions in this film.

Annie, on her part, was too trusting too early and in apparent situations where caution would be the by-word, she wasn’t. Scott was on edge too early as well. His mistrust and skittishness seemed a little too fabricated.

Anyway, after buying the house, Peck keeps showing up at Russell’s home, mowing the lawn, yelling at people installing a security system, and trying to be helpful. He isn’t, and the creepiness oozes from his eyes and a fake smile.

The story unfolds as one might imagine, but the over crafting from the beginning led to an apparent predictable ending. Additionally, I live in the San Francisco Bay area I’m surprised that Scott, as a high-level advertising executive, would consider making a daily commute from Napa to San Francisco. It might have been better if they had moved to Mill Valley, Fairfax, or other Marin County areas, than Napa. I couldn’t get around the commute as being something viable.

Ealy was OK as Scott. However, his suspicions were telegraphed too early in the film. Good was acceptable as Annie. Her naivety towards Peck by not seeing his obvious behavior flaws was not believable. As a for instance, note the scene when she invites him in to share the pizza he delivers to her, dumb. Quaid overacted the part, but I did think his evil grin was well done. He sort of had a “Chuckie” look to him. Joseph Sikora as Scott’s close friend Mike was reasonable in his role as up and coming young, robust and rich guy. Alvina August was acceptable as Mike’s girlfriend who put up with Mike’s posturing. David Loughery wrote a good script, but it was the direction by Deon Taylor that failed to make the story memorable. He didn’t get much out of his actors and sided on overacting to make this film.

Overall: This film is totally forgettable and not worth seeing.

Greta

First Hit: The story portrayed here was poorly constructed and did not keep me engaged.

The plot is about a Greta (Isabelle Huppert), an older lonely woman who plays the piano looking for companionship. To find it, she leaves purses with a few objects in them on the New York Subway, one being her ID. Her hopes are someone will notice and return the handbags.

We are introduced to Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young waitress who has recently lost her mother to cancer. She’s living with her best friend Erica Penn (Maika Monroe). While coming home one evening, Francis found a purse on the subway. Finding the ID, Frances finds Greta’s home and returns the handbag.

They strike up a friendship based on that they’ve lost loved ones; Greta her husband and Frances, her mother. However, it becomes obsessive on Greta’s part, and the creepiness begins after their first meeting. Greta’s weirdness of Frances’ time and attention hits a high mark when Frances finds additional purses, like the one she returned. The gig is up.

Figuring out that Greta does this to entrap young women, she also realizes that these women, including her, are replacements for her daughter whom Greta says is living in France. But is she?

As the story unfolds, Greta’s behavior becomes more obsessive and creepy. Finally, she drugs Frances and locks her up.

The story continues to unfold from here and how it ends is only slightly surprising.

The best part of the film was the quality of the cinematography and sets. Greta’s home had a beautiful quality, including its own creepiness. The apartment where Frances and Erica lived was perfectly modern for two young women. However, the story and film felt pushed through and forced.

Huppert was, at times, excellent in her expressions, but overdone as the story unfolded. Moretz was good, she carried the naivety of her role well enough, but again it was the story and direction that made all of it not work. Monroe was good as the roommate, and her final scenes were excellent. However, during the movie the story just guided her to be more flighty than needed. Ray Wright and Neil Jordan wrote a mixed-up script that created an overemphasis on the creepiness of the character. Jordan didn’t help matters with the direction because the creepiness was overdone.

Overall: This story didn’t quite work.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.