Midsommar (2019)

Director: Ari Aster

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, Vilhelm Blomgren, William Jackson Harper, Will Poulter

Screenplay: Ari Aster

147 mins. Rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence and grisly images, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language.

 

Okay, I’m here to help. I’m here to protect you from possibly the worst marketing I’ve seen in a long time. Here it is: Midsommar isn’t a horror film. There, I said it.

Midsommar stars Florence Pugh (The Falling, Fighting with My Family) as Dani, a grieving girlfriend who is fighting off depression after a horrible tragedy. She joins boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor, Glassland, Kin) on a trip with him and his friends to Sweden to be a part of a mid-summer festival. Christian’s friends Josh (William Jackson Harper, Paterson, TV’s The Good Place) and Mark (Will Poulter, We’re the Millers, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) aren’t big fans of Dani, and they’ve been pushing Christian to break things off with her, but Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), who has family in the festival, welcomes her along. As the festival moves along, though, it becomes clear that this is more than Dani signed up for, and as the horrors unravel, she and the others find escape to be quite unlikely.

Midsommar’s biggest sin is its length. This movie is too damned long, and most of its horrific moments occur in the first hour. I struggled to get to the end. It’s also terribly marketed as a horror film, and it’s not one. Sure, there are horror elements to the film, some truly disturbing visuals, much like Guillermo del Toro’s gothic romance Crimson Peak, but the marketing sells it on the horror and it’s much more of a dark drama with some fantasy elements. If you go in expecting to be terrified, I don’t think you’ll get that. Director Ari Aster (Hereditary) said it himself a year ago, but every piece of marketing focuses on the phrase “Ari Aster’s New Nightmare,” something the film cannot reach.

The film has some truly striking visuals, though, and many of them stuck with me, as did the writing. When I looked back at the hints and foreshadowing in the film, much of it I didn’t catch until long after leaving the theater. It’s a cleverly-written screenplay that tackles some very difficult themes, and from that are some great performances from the cast, most notably Pugh. She’s damn incredible as Dani, a complete departure from her recent work in Fighting with My Family.

I will probably revisit Midsommar when it hits home video. For all my frustrations with its length, it has stuck in my head. I’m hearing rumors of an extended cut of the film, which I may try out in a more comfortable chair. For me, I was hoping for something that would scare me like Hereditary did. It wasn’t awful, but I was disappointed (and bored).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

The Shape of Water (2017)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

123 mins. Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.

 

Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is a director known for his visual flair and attention to detail, but he has yet to cross the barrier into household name. His newest film, The Shape of Water, is his most deeply personal and intimate. The film is garnering some critical and festival praise right now, but is that warranted? This writer has been excited for the film since early this year, and I was overjoyed to catch a screening of it earlier this week.

The film stars Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Godzilla) as Elisa Esposito, a mute woman who works overnights as a janitor for the Occam Aerospace Research Center. She is perhaps too curious to discover that a strange new asset has been delivered to the facility one night, a dangerous new creature discovered in South America. As the creature is unable to communicate with sound, he quickly takes to Elisa’s use of sign language as well as the gifts of boiled eggs she brings him. When Elisa learns what the creature’s handler, Strickland (Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), plans to do with him, she hatches a plan to save the amphibious being and, along the way, discovers that her affection for the creature has grown exponentially.

I’m going to say it right now: The Shape of Water is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The plot is familiar enough in its simplest terms, but del Toro proves yet again that isn’t the story you tell but rather how you tell it that makes a masterpiece, and this one might be the director’s best work to date. The story he tells is one of love, attraction, repression, and loneliness using the central relationship between Elisa and the amphibious creature, played brilliantly by del Toro favorite Doug Jones (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, TV’s Star Trek: Discovery).

While Elisa and the Creature are the central relationship of the film, the secondary relationships give a nice contrast, showing Elisa’s friendship with chatty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Divergent Series: Allegiant) and the tenderness of her friendship with neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins, The Visitor, LBJ). The web is stretched further to show the way that Zelda behaves toward her husband and also how Giles, a closeted homosexual, pursues an attraction in an era where repression has made him self-conscious and very lonely. Then, there’s the polarized opposition of Strickland’s family dynamic and the way he treats his colleagues, specifically Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg, A Serious Man, Arrival). The film’s near-constant unraveling of every relationship is fascinating and introspective in all the right ways.

The Shape of Water might be the best film I’ve seen this year. There’s a lot to unpack, and it feels like I need to see it again to fully connect to it, but the film, while a bit lengthy in its second act, is an exemplary look at love and attraction presented in its most unique fashion. This movie will challenge audiences and I hope you leave with as many questions as I did. That is, after all, the beauty in it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? What’s your favorite relationship in the film? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Preliminary Visual Effects Shortlist Revealed!

 

On location in Jordan, Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon, in THE MARTIAN.

Hey everyone, the 88th Academy Awards list of films to be nominated for Best Visual Effects has been narrowed down to twenty for the Academy to officially nominate. Here they are:

 

Ant-Man

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Bridge of Spies

Chappie

Everest

Ex Machina

Furious Seven

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

In the Heart of the Sea

Jupiter Ascending

Jurassic World

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

The Revenant

Spectre

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Terminator Genisys

Tomorrowland

The Walk

 

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What do you think? Me personally, I believe that the frontrunners here are obviously the soon-to-be-seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road, which I saw earlier this year and should almost guarantee a win for the perfect blending of practical effects and minor digital retouching.

What films do I expect to not see on the final ballot? Chappie, Everest, Terminator Genisys, and Tomorrowland as well as Furious Seven. They just won’t be able to convince the academy that they are worthy of the final five.

It also remains to be seen if the upcoming releases for In the Heart of the Sea and The Revenant will gain any recognition once the films bow later this month.

The process of selecting nominees is a larger one than most would know, as the list will be further thinned to 10 and then each finalist will be able to vie for the role one last time.

Many have pointed out the biggest films missing including Cinderella, Crimson Peak, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and San Andreas.

The most recent winners of the award are Interstellar, Gravity, and Life of Pi.

I don’t know about you, but I am marking my calendar for January 14th when we will get the final list of nominations and begin death-racing toward the February 28th-dated awards ceremony.

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So kids, what do you think? Which films do you expect to see on the final ballot and what are some other films you saw from this year with impressive visual effects? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 11 – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)

dontbeafraidofthedark2010a

Director: Troy Nixey

Cast: Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce, Bailee Madison, Jack Thompson, Alan Dale, Garry McDonald, Julia Blake

Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Matthew Robbins

99 mins. Rated R for violence and terror.

 

When an incredibly talented director decides to take on a remake, it is interesting. When he decides to take on a horror remake, it is even more so. When he decides to remake a 1970s made-for-television horror movie, it is about all I need to want more. That’s what Guillermo del Toro set his mind to for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, which tells the story of Kim (Katie Holmes, Batman Begins, The Giver) and Alex (Guy Pearce, Memento, The Rover) a couple who makes their life on flipping homes. When they get their hands on the home of Emerson Blackwood (Garry McDonald, TV’s Offspring, Moulin Rouge!), they cannot wait to spruce it up with their unique alterations. Alex’s daughter Sally (Bailee Madison, Just Go With It, Parental Guidance) harbors ill feelings against Kim for “replacing” her mother, and soon she discovers a basement inhabited by small creatures with ties to ancient and modern-day myth. Harris (Jack Thompson, Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones, Bonnie & Clyde) and Mrs. Underhill (Julia Blake, TV’s Bed of Roses, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), employees of Alex, do not want harm for the girl and know a lot more than they are letting on, but all that Alex is worried about is impressing Charles Jacoby (Alan Dale, TV’s Dominion, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), who has influence with a famous design and architecture magazine. When the creatures’ motives become clear, however, Sally knows that she must do whatever she can to stop them.

dontbeafraidofthedark2010b

This is all typical fare director and screenwriter Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak), so maybe that explains why he passed off directorial duties to newcomer Troy Nixey. Del Toro merely scripted the story with writer Matthew Robbins.

Now, this movie isn’t all that bad. It just isn’t all that good, either. It falls under the realm of simply existing for a while and then dropping off into obscurity, much like the film it is based on. I do like the idea of del Toro choosing a relatively unknown film to remake. I think there is far more potential to a project, with less expectations of comparison.

There isn’t anything wrong with the performances, except for Katie Holmes, who seems to have given up on even trying since making the biggest mistake of her career by passing on The Dark Knight.

Troy Nixey can handle the piece with some result to it, but ultimately the film feels like it is dragging. Part of that can be that the creatures resemble ones that Guillermo del Toro has dealt with before, and they feel boring. Even the effects are pretty good, but the creatures aren’t really anything new, and therein lies the fault. The whole film feels like we have seen it before, even for those of us who hadn’t heard of the obscure original film.

Would the film have been any different under the grasp of del Toro? I’d like to think so. I’m at the point with his work enough to the point that I will head to the theater just because his name is on the credits for a particular film. His influence seems to suggest better work than this.

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I feel like this film is one you can see if you want, but you don’t have to. Nobody is forcing you, and if they are, then their motives would be somewhat questionable.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

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