Halfway through this movie I became more interested in coming up with smart ass remarks about Ari Aster films than actually watching Midsommar so I think that says more than enough and yet, here we go. This film is like a guy took a film composition 101 class and then thought it was a profound concept to inject emotional trauma and relationship dynamics into an outre, horror framework. Midsommar wants to be incisive yet the film is really on the same level as most mainstream horror fare, its formalist rigor nothing more than a facade, a promise of something more which never comes to fruition. Sleek aesthetics can't cover-up the film's thin characterizations with Asher seemingly unwilling, or incapable, of spending the time necessary to establish characters which feel real. Instead the characters of Midsommar feel simply like props for the film's off-kilter imagery, a fact that really hurts the film given its desire to be about something more than gleeful macabre. Through thin characterizations which are crudely stated not organically revealed, the film's thematic intentions are also slight and underdeveloped, as Asher bluntly reveals the film's overarching themes in the prologue - grief, trauma and toxic relationships - only to then largely ignore them over the next 120 minutes before circling back around in the film's finale frame. Perhaps this would be largely my overarching criticism - the filmmakers want to have the best of both worlds yet there is an unwillingness to spend the necessary time on anything outside of aesthetic design. Midsommar feels vapid due to its disinterest in establishing emotional dynamics and fully-fledged characterizations, which leaves us with an overlong, self-indulgent film that says absolutely nothing, with the approach being the antitheses of something which is holistically realized. For my money, I wish the film would have gone pure satire or at least adhered more to the old-school, straightforward horror archetype, as I could see myself liking a self-aware, 100 minute version of this film which doesn't take itself too seriously. To the quips! This film is the material equivalent of the "oh, I get it" scenario in which someone explains the narrative or thematic intentions of the film to you when you tell them you thought it was bad. It feels almost like these A24 is producing films like this exclusively for the slick marketing campaign where transgressive imagery provides killer b-roll, with Midsommar being a film that is wholly uninteresting on nearly every level due primarily because it refuses to go all the way, in one direction or the the other, opting instead for this middle ground in which it insults your intelligence while it puts you to sleep.
Definitely the type of cinematic pastiche I can get behind, Begos doesn't just wear his influences on his sleeve, he violently expresses them with bluster and bravado. With Bliss, Begos draws heavily from works such as Abel Ferrara's The Addiction and Larry Fessenden's Habit, delivering a familiar yet transfixing descent into violence and madness. Those looking for subtext or meaning may be disappointed, as Begos intentions here never feel more than textual, the general conceit of the story being nothing more than a device of empowerment for the director - serving as a clean palette for which Begos can unleash his brand of unrestrained macabre.
Begos whole aesthetic and directorial sensibilities seem rooted in nostalgia for the film's he grew up on. His cinematic pastiche is precise and welcoming, with every one of his films to-date being a slight subversion or mutation of underseen or overlooked films from the past. With VFW, Begos delivers a violent, visceral lofi throwback of the siege film in which he employs a host of cinematic royalty to play out their heroic brand of machismo one last time with fervor and a sense of unadulterated fun which is palpable from start to finish. Bego's film's lean into their b-movie sensibilities with VFW being no exception. It's essentially the ultimate dad movie juxtaposed with punk rock cinema, as actors like Stephen Lang, Fred Williamson, and William Sadler play old ex-Vietnam vets whom through unforeseen circumstances find themselves in the fight of their lives with a violent gang of punks - their old VFW bar serving as the single location for this violent, lean piece of filmmaking. It's essentially the "I'm too old for this shit" motif played out over 90 minutes and it's glorious due primarily to Begos ability to deliver precisely what he promises, nothing more, nothing less.
In early work of maverick filmmaker Roland Klick, Jimmy Orpheus is a subversion of the typical love story, one in which Klick employs his soon-to-be signature anarchic style to evoke a poetic, singular construction of a familiar archetype - boy meets girl. Klick's film's always project a sense of rebelliousness, whether that be through formalism or structuralism, and given the intrinsic nature of Jimmy Orpheus, being one of his earlier works, the film exudes a sense of experimentation. Klick operates in a space which feels free of rules or pretense, his style coalescing well with its narrative of potential love between a dock worker and a prostitute. These professions are often regulated to the fringes of polite society, disassociated with the "purity" of love. Whether this is a bi-product of puritanical impulse, the ruling class, etc. seems not something Klick is interested in, instead highlighting the problem, placing no pretense on understanding why.
A precise, diabolical romp, one in which Joon-ho Bong's tonal mastery over narrative storytelling infused with socio-political commentary is thoroughly displayed. On-par with his superior earlier work, Parasite ability to exhibit the labyrinths which extreme wealth creates within the psyche of any individual who possesses it is probably the film's most singular and incisive observation, recognizing that it doesn't intrinsically come from malice or any nefarious nature but from implicit ignorance in regards to the systemic nature of repression. The pacing is exquisite and Bong's narrative designs masterfully subvert and engage the audience from start-to-finish with a critique of inequality and injustice which manages to oscillate between various tones with elegance, culminating with finale that lands towards melancholy. Offers what feels like a sardonic finale in response to the state of the world, one sculpted by social & financial capital which arguably distorts humanity's sense of empathy on a sociological level.
Aesthetically constructed and composed in a way which evokes the meandering, inscrutable idling of an upper class teenager, Martin Rejtman's Rapado is thematically ambiguous, expansive, yet ephemeral in detailing the odd exploits of its main protagonist. A story of class privilege and repression, despondence and intrigue, the film remains detached from any form of assessment or verdict on its character's intent, instead offering up a dead-pan story in which many forms of interpretation have credence. Intentions are unclear and curiosity abounds despite the slight nature of the film's overall narrative designs, as Rapado delivers an oddly vibrant experience in which the audience finds themselves along for a ride that feels completely unplanned or orchestrated, attached to the whims of a teenager whom is sent on a trail of uncertainly after the class-based space he inhabits is ruptured by an outside entity- the member of a different class.
A melancholic space odyssey of introspection and poetic resolve, James Gray's Ad Asta is a salient amalgamation of intimacy and spectacle in which the vastness of space serves as perfect setting for the film's ontological aspirations and existential designs. Ad Astra is a story about idolization and glorification in which the paternal relationship between father and son is used as a fulcrum thematically to explore the prescient question of existentialism - what in fact makes life worth living? The central protagonist of this story is a man whose followed in his father's footsteps, instilled with the same work ethic and rigor for perfection which made his father a legendary hero for all of mankind. These notions of bravery and sacrifice for the greater good left an impression on his son that is borderline celestial, driving this now adult man to pursue the same macro-level view of human progress intellectually, despite experiencing first-hand the emotional trauma and dehumanizing effect such pursuits can have on those one loves. Through this paternal relationship - one which leads our central protagonist down a path of internal conflict, confronted with harsh truths about this father he idolized - Ad Astra is revelatory, encapsulating the contentious aspects of intellectual pursuit and human progress, specifically passive reflection vs. aggressive notions of change. Through these notions of human and technological progress, space exploration, and the pursuit of extraterrestrial life, Ad Astra reveals the dehumanizing nature of such grand designs, showcasing how such perspectives breed detachment, with the precious nature of life itself becoming simply another piece of the puzzle, another cog in the machine of "progress". The facade of paternal perfection is juxtaposed with a the similar facade of grandiose notions of human progress, with Ad Astra being a beautiful reminder that the social - personal relationships and emotional connections of day-to-day life - is what makes life worth living.
Minimal, effective, and efficient, Alexandre Aja's ecological horror film is lean-and-mean, a motion picture which delivers precisely what it promises over 87 minute run-time: Tension, suspense, and a healthy dose of gnarly crocodile-induced macabre. With its general conceit, the filmmakers wisely avoid any sense of pretension or desire to deconstruct the genre, offering up instead an 87 minute high-concept horror film which understands what its audience wants from a killer crocodile movie - unadulterated, brutal fun.
Aptly infuriating, Manuscripts Don't Burn is precise and economical in its aesthetic design, featuring a style which largely adheres to ascetic sensibilities outside of a few carefully-curated moments of impressionism which astutely accentuate and evokes life under state-sanctioned repression. The film's poetic and quite genial style provides a strong, tactical juxtaposition with its narrative arch and thematic intentions, drawing a harsh and important dichotomy between 'the people' and 'the state', persuasively capturing how the state apparatus, by-nature, in the modern epoch obfuscates dissent though subversion and bifurcation of the people, with any and all who could be a threat to it's absolute, dogmatic authority suffering. A masterful work which exhibits the deterioration of morality under authoritative rule where freedom of expression and discourse are prohibited due to the threat they pose to power.
A strange and alluring film, Agusti Villaronga's Moon Child brings stylish exuberance and brooding atmospherics to its supernatural narrative designs with great results, early on. The plight of a young telekinetic child who finds himself adopted by a shadowy cult with ambiguous intentions, the opening act of Moon Child exudes intrigue and mystery, soon evolving into a prophetic archetype, one which unfortunately features a bit of the ole white savior motif. The general conceit combined with Villaronga's precise direction was extremely welcome to me at first - knowing nothing about this film going in and being quite found of Depalma's underrated The Fury - yet Moon Child fails where that film succeeds, struggling to maintain sustain itself over its two-hour running time. Being unsettled about what exactly is the root of the problem with Moon Child's back half, it feels rooted in self-indulgence, as the first half of the film's ambiguous nature and aesthetic precision become displaced in the second half, a displacement in which the film's engaging take on a somewhat familiar archetypal story vanishes. When the film's prophetic formalism takes control in the back half, Moon Child is stripped of its ambiguity which hurts the film significantly, playing out the tedious motions of its narrative designs while removing what makes the film quite transfixing in its first act - a foreboding sense of intrigue and the potential for a multitude of thematic readings which are waiting to be uncovered by those viewers who wish to look for a deeper meaning. Early on, I questioned if the film was a commentary about the heinous nature of eugenics, scientism, or central planning; this shadowy cult engaging in social engineering, hiding behind the veil of "science"! Yet again, once the film gets into its back-half prophetic narrative it becomes formulaic and less appealing which is unfortunate given the skill of the filmmakers involved.
Love of all things cinema brought me here.