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

Midsommar Trailer Brings Us Ari Aster’s New Nightmare

So we have the official trailer for Ari Aster’s new film Midsommar, his follow-up to last year’s Hereditary, a film I felt was completely snubbed at the Academy Awards.

Midsommar’s trailer opens with Christian and Dani (played by Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh), a couple who are clearly going through a difficult time in their relationship. Christian is going to a strange festival in Sweden, one he didn’t tell his girlfriend about.

Christian’s friends don’t like Dani, saying she has problems and reminding him he’s been wanting out of the relationship. Christian, likely in a last-ditch effort to save the relationship, invites her to join him and his friends on the journey. While this is nothing new in the horror realm, it is highly relatable. So many of tend to think we can save the relationship with a crazy trip or gesture, but of course it doesn’t always work like that.

Early on in the trailer, it is clear to see that the direction and cinematography are going to be highlights of the film as we see some very interesting sequences like Dani running to the bathroom and leading her and us right on to the plane.

Ari Aster’s biggest strength as a storyteller seems to be his ability to take broken people and put them in situations without a clear-cut escape. He did it well with Hereditary, and I’m seeing a lot of shades of that in Dani and Christian’s relationship in Midsommar too. The only fault I’m potentially seeing, though, is Aster’s return to old-time ritual horror, and yes, Midsommar is a different film for a follow-up but there are similarities in the type of horror, and I was hoping for something drastically different.

That’s not to fault the trailer, which ensured me that I will be there for this on opening weekend. In fact, as the trailer unfolds, we get a sense that everything is not quite right here. At night, the sky is still sunny and blue, so there are elements of time out of whack here, an interesting idea. It seems on the surface that Aster’s previous film gave a sense of human causation behind its horror, whereas Midsommar steps right into the surreal and dreamlike, or nightmarish, perversion of what is normal.

As the story of the trailer unravels, it becomes clear that Aster is aiming bigger and bolder with this new film, and as long as it separates itself from his previous work. I absolutely adore Florence Pugh after Fighting with My Family, so it excites me that she is getting another headlining role here.

The trailer ends with a single line of dialogue that concerns me about the similarities with Hereditary. A character says, “I was most excited for you to come.” This line could lead us down a path of organized planned ritual surrounding a specific target, something that kind of happens in Hereditary.

Again, I’m really hoping that Midsommar forges a different path from its predecessor, just so that Ari Aster isn’t judged as a one-trick pony. I’d really like to see him swing for the fences on every film and keep challenging the assumed path like he did with Hereditary, but I’ll need to see more before I know for certain.

What did you think of the trailer for Midsommar? Are you planning on seeing Ari Aster’s new film? Let me know/drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

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Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger

165 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

 

It has been seven years since Transformers came out. I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing a review of the fourth film in this series, Transformers: Age of Extinction. This film is a bit of a departure in that it takes place five years after The Battle of Chicago, as it is referred to (which took place in Dark of the Moon) and features an entirely new cast of characters. Literally, nobody returns to this franchise for the fourth film except some of the voice actors for the Transformers.

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This installment introduces us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Ted 2), a novice inventor, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, TV’s Bates Motel, The Last Airbender). Cade is a picker who scavenges for parts to use in his various inventions. He and his assistant Lucas (T.J. Miller, Cloverfield, Big Hero 6) come across a truck in an old abandoned theater and take it home to discover it is Optimus Prime in hiding. A government official named Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, TV’s Cheers, The Expendables 3) has hired a human hitman (Titus Welliver, The Town, Promised Land) and a bounty hunter Decepticon named Lockdown to hunt down and destroy the remaining Transformers. Meanwhile, a big-time business named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) is developing new technology incorporating Autobot tech and using it to build his own Transformers.

The plot is at least a new direction for this series. I was getting tired of the limited character development of Shia LaBeouf. This film isn’t great, but it certainly epitomizes the Michael Bay promise: likable trash. I had a lot of fun watching this movie. It just felt newer, and it had a lot more in terms of acting prowess (from Wahlberg, Tucci, Grammer, and Miller). The plot runs on for damn near forever, but I’ve come to expect that from this series and I didn’t feel as restless as I had from the last few movies.

I also absolutely love the design of the new Transformers in this installment. Hound (voiced by John Goodman) is a new Autobot who plays off like an old army colonel. He is an absolutely fantastic and angry beast who actually transforms to have a cigar in his mouth, too. Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) is a samurai who has blades that come from his transformation into an Apache helicopter. The faces are so well-defined that this is the first Transformers movie where I know all the Transformers based on looks. These are different characters.

And then there’s Lockdown. This is a complex character who is joining the US government to take on the Autobots and also has plans of his own.

I enjoyed this movie more so than I thought, and perhaps that comes from hearing all these bad reviews coming out of this movie’s initial release. I guess I had my hopes down.

One major flaw came from Galvatron, who is one of the new lead villains, a man-made Decepticon who feels so underdeveloped that it becomes really tough to fear him.

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All in all, this was more fun than expected. Make sure you have a comfortable chair, because you will be here awhile, and non-Transformers fans need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

What did you think of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction? Did it transform into a masterpiece or did you “Roll Out” of the theater? Let me know!

 

For my review of Transformers, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, click here.

For my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, click here.

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