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

Race (2016)

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Director: Stephen Hopkins

Cast: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree, Jeremy Irons, Carice van Houten, William Hurt

Screenplay: Joe Shrapnel, Anna Waterhouse

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language.

 

Well, 2015 was an interesting year in film. But all years must come to an end, so today we look forward at 2016, starting with the Stephen Hopkins (TV’s House of Lies, Lost in Space) film, Race.

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Race is mostly a biographical film chronicling the career of Jesse Owens (Stephan James, Selma, Lost After Dark) leading up to his time in the 1936 Olympics in Germany and his battle to win the gold over Adolf Hitler’s Aryan athletes. The film also displays the work of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons, The Lion King, High-Rise) to come to a decision over whether it is worth it to travel to Germany in the first place.

First of all, I should point out how terrific the title is. Sure, a little on the head, but nonetheless effective.

Stephen Hopkins faces a difficult task with this film, and that task is to decide what his film is even about. He fails in this task. He wants to make a biopic of Jesse Owens, but he wants to make a historical drama focused on the 1936 Olympics, and he wants to touch on Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten, TV’s Game of Thrones, Black Book) and her quest to make a film on the Olympics from all its viewpoints. Sadly, while it is possible to do this in one film, it is unsuccessful in the attempt. For one thing, the very nature of the Jesse Owens part of the film dominates the far-too-much time spent on Brundage trying to keep the peace. The audience becomes fully aware very early on of the outcome but the film chooses to drag the plotline through to its conclusion at the loss of viewer engagement.

Stephan James does pretty solid work as Owens, and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s Saturday Night Live, We’re the Millers) gives an admirable attempt in breaking out of his comfort zone to portray Larry Snyder, Owens’ coach, while veterans Irons and William Hurt (Into the Wild, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them) feel wasted by an underdeveloped screenplay.

The film has its moments, particularly in the sequences where Owens is competing. While these sequences are very much what one would expect, it’s nice to see Hopkins commanding the screen if only occasionally.

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The pacing, though, is really where he loses us, focusing too much time on plot points that don’t add up to enough to maintain his momentum. Stephen Hopkins has given some truly great work to the genre field, but I feel like even he isn’t sure of himself here, and the work suffers from it. Race leaps into the air, reaching for greatness, but unlike its lead character, it comes up far too short.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Horrible Bosses (2011)

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Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx

Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

98 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.

 

I usually find one great comedy every year. 2011’s Horrible Bosses was a great comedy. My review for Horrible Bosses here.

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Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, TV’s Arrested Development, This is Where I Leave You) has been working his butt off for a promotion, but his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, TV’s House of Cards, American Beauty) seems not to notice or care. Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Lego Movie) is trying to be the best fiancé he can be, but his boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston, TV’s Friends, Cake) wants to ruin it be forcing Dale into a sexual relationship through blackmail. Then there’s Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers, Drinking Buddies), who is all set up to take over his boss’s position when he retires. Unfortunately, Kurt’s boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1) dies, and his son Bobby (Colin Farrell, Total Recall, Winter’s Tale) takes over instead. Now, these three have no choice but to get the help from Mothafucka Jones (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Annie) to kill their horrible bosses in this dark comedy gem.

I love this movie. Most films don’t try the black comedy anymore and even fewer actually succeed as perfectly as Horrible Bosses did. I also found the story to have plenty of twists and turns to it, enough so to keep me enthused even without the laughs, but then add in the genius of Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis as the everymen along with the strong performances of Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell as the “horrible bosses” and you have a great time at the movies. Director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief, Freakonomics) handles this crew nicely and gives each equal laughs and equal screentime to boot.

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All in all, you see a movie like Horrible Bosses for laughs, and it has plenty. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is about as close to genius comedy as one can get.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 14 – Leprechaun (1993)

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Director: Mark Jones

Cast: Warwick Davis, Jennifer Aniston, Ken Olandt, Mark Holton, Robert Gorman

Screenplay: Mark Jones

92 mins. Rated R for horror violence and language.

 

It’s tough to place a film like Leprechaun. In one way, it’s far too childish to be scary. On another, there’s too much gore and horror for it to be a kid’s movie. So what exactly is it?

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Well, Leprechaun is a bit of an enigma. It’s the story of an evil little leprechaun (Warwick Davis, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Jack the Giant Slayer) who has his gold taken away from him and is willing to stop at nothing until he gets every piece of it back. The leprechaun is eventually trapped in a crate for several years until Tory Reding (Jennifer Aniston, TV’s Friends, We’re the Millers) and her father move in. Once he is free, he goes on a murderous rampage to get his gold back.

This film is stupid. Really stupid. It suffers from genre confusion. The original idea was for a scary kid’s movie which eventually evolved, thanks to studio heads, into a comedic yet more adult horror film, though it still doesn’t fit into either category. I find it tough to blame writer/director Mark Jones (Scorned, Rumpelstiltskin) as I’m sure he had little measure of success once his film was tampered with, but even so, the acting is horrid. Jennifer Aniston has never been an actress of particular depth, and I’ve never been truly impressed by her worth, and her first starring role is no exception. She is given a band of merry men who turn in wretched work and the entire film falls to Warwick Davis’ portrayal of the evil leprechaun. Now, Davis does fine work with this ultimately not scary role, but he just isn’t scary at all.

That’s what boggle me about this movie and, in fact, the entire series. Not one of them is scary. So why do we classify them as horror. Likely due to the gore factor, and the films do have that.

But, if there is a silver lining to this movie, and I think there is, it is that it is kind of fun to watch. This is usually my go-to for St. Paddy’s Day movies alongside The Boondock Saints and The Departed. It has a relatively odd premise played out to its lengths.

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And there is that line of bad movies. Some of the Leprechaun films (I’m looking at you Leprechaun 4: In Space) are so horrid that it is tough to sit through them. On the other hand, some are just goofy enough to be fun. On that line, Leprechaun does end up on the so-bad-it’s-good side more so than the take-me-out-to-the-pasture-and-shoot-me side. So for that, I give the film its rating.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

We’re the Millers (2013)

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Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Molly C. Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzman.

Screenplay: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, John Morris.

110 mins. Rated R for crude sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and brief graphic nudity.

We’re the Millers, Rawson Marshall Thurber’s newest release, finds an interesting concept with a broken wing, unable to fly as high as it should. We have a solid cast and a great plot, a perversion on the classic family road trip movie, but many of the jokes do not land as nicely as hoped.

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The story follows David Clark, a small-time drug dealer played by Jason Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses, Drinking Buddies) who finds himself in debt to his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms, The Hangover, TV’s The Office) and must smuggle a “smidge” of drugs across the border from Mexico to the U.S.A. in order to alleviate his troubles. So what does he do? He enlists a stripper (Jennifer Aniston, Wanderlust, TV’s Friends), a runaway (Emma Roberts, Aquamarine, American Horror Story: Coven), and a virgin who lives next door (Will Poulter, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and turns them into his fake family to look less conspicuous among the border-crossers. The idea sounds pretty good, right? The execution is where the film suffers. None of the jokes really come from the situation. Rather, the characters are written into ever-more-silly situations and the jokes spring up from that rather than pining the source plot for more hilarity.

The acting isn’t bad from anyone; far from it, the characters are all ably-performed. We get some good laughs from Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn, who play husband and wife RV-travelers Don and Edie Fitzgerald. The laughs in the movie are funny, true, but without any connection to the plot-line, the story unravels fairly quickly in the 3rd act, leading to a lackluster climax and a predictable denouement.

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This is a movie worth a viewing, yes, but it doesn’t have the lasting effect that I hoped for. There’s just too much goofiness to it which deters the viewers attention. Have a laugh, rent it, save some money.

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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