Film Review: MIDSOMMAR (USA 2019) ***

Midsommar Poster
Trailer

A couple travels to Sweden to visit a rural hometown’s fabled mid-summer festival. What begins as an idyllic retreat quickly devolves into an increasingly violent and bizarre competition at the hands of a pagan cult.

Director:

Ari Aster

Writer:

Ari Aster

Writer/director Ari Aster’s follow up to the critically acclaimed and highly successful horror feature HEREDITARY is a sprawling 2 hour 20 minutes occasionally disorienting horror piece that at times forgets that it is a horror movie.

At the special pre-screening of MIDSOMMAR that was graced by the presence of director Aster and actor Jack Reyner, the director describes his film, and very accurately so, about a film on codependency.  It is a break-up story, as the audience also learns that the director himself was undergoing one when he wrote the script.  

At the Q & A, Aster, clearly jet lagged and understandably disoriented  kept beating about the bush when asked direct questions, often taking a full 5 minutes on a straightforward question.     This could be the reason his film stretched out to 140 minutes.  But to Aster’s credit, what the film company A24 planned as a straightforward slasher film set among a Swede cult has turned into something more relevant, human and believable.  Aster did a lot of research on European folklore and history culminating in what can be witnessed as a worthwhile effort.  Though set in Sweden, the film was shot in Budapest, Hungary for financial reasons.

MIDSOMMAR ends up as an engaging folk horror film that follows a group of friends who travel to Sweden for a festival that only occurs once every 90 years.  Christian (Jack Reyner) and Dani (Florence Pugh), a young American couple, are having trouble with their relationship.   The story points out that is a dysfunctional one that should not go on.  Dani is over possessive and Christian is not there for Dani when she needs him most, as when her parents and sister are killed from gas poisoning.  She follows Christian and his friends to a commune in Sweden where the relationship is further put to the test.  As the group stay on, weirder and weirder incidents take place that have to be seen to be believed.  Aster does an excellent build up.

The film is well shot with colourful exteriors – large field in Hungary standing in for Sweden with bright coloured huts of the commune.  The young actors Pugh and Reyner form good chemistry as the dysfunctional couple.  There is an emotional scene where Dani is laid across Christian’s lap crying, bawling her eyes out at the death of her family.  That image is reminiscent of he unforgettable image of the tortured couple in Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN.  But the scene is dark and one cannot see Christian crying as a result of Dani crying.  Actor Reyner during the Q & A confessed he cried as a result of Pugh’s emotional outburst.

Though the film is generally slow, it is even paced and is an absorbing watch.  There has not been such a slow moving film where time actually flies through the films running time.  Aster at the Q & A says that he has several scripts ready to be directed but none of them horror.  His HEREDITARY and MIDSOMMAR are marginally horror films, so nothing much will be changed.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vnghdsjmd0

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Film Review: YESTERDAY (UK 2019) ***

Yesterday Poster
Trailer

A struggling musician realizes he’s the only person on Earth who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate timeline where they never existed.

Director:

Danny Boyle

Writers:

Jack Barth (story by), Richard Curtis (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

News had it that Danny Boyle was so impressed with Richard Curtis’s script of the idea of a singer rising to fame performing the songs of The Beatles, these songs wiped out of the minds of everybody in the world except for him that he agreed to direct the film without a second thought.  Boyle has obviously not seen many French films like the one in which all the minds were similarly erased on the memory of the songs of French singer Johnny Halliday.  Coincidence maybe? Or plagiarized premise, it will be difficult to prove.  Still YESTERDAY has enough differences in the story to stand on its own.  And it is directed by well-respected Danny Boyle who made 28 DAYS LATER and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and his best film, TRAINSPOTTING.

Jack Malik (newcomer Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter from Clacton-on-Sea, England whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading.  He has the unfailing devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James) and his band. Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up with his guitar broken.  When his friends buy him a new one as a recovery preset, he sings to them the Beatles hit “Yesterday” only to find out that nobody else on Earth besides himself remember The Beatles.

With the assistance of his steel-hearted American agent, Debra, Jack rises to global fame by performing songs by the band. However, as his star rises, he risks losing Ellie — the one person who always believed in him.  The romance between him and Ellie makes the other part of the story.  Jack starts feeling guilty.  But director Boyle shows Jack’s guilt is fear of being caught rather than of theft of the Beatles’s songs, though he finally confesses at the end, something that goes against the trend of his behaviour.

I am not a fan of Boyle’s feel-good movies like this one or SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.  I prefer Boyle’s darker works.  As such, YESTERDAY’s best moments are those with Jack’s agent the over enthusiastic Debra, brilliantly played by Kate McKinnon.  She paints a darker side of the recording industry lampooning it occasionally.

The film is given a tremendous boost by the inclusion of singer Ed Sheeran, playing himself.  Shreeran discovers Jack and gets him to open for him on his Russian tour.  Sheeran has quite the large supporting role in the film so Sheeran fans should make it a point to catch the singer doing his sly acting bit.

One of the pleasures of watching YESTERDAY is to admire once again the genius of The Beatles as song after song of their hits are played.  Paul McCartney has a cameo in the film as does a fictitious John Lennon (with a look alike actor playing him).

But despite Boyle’s enthusiasm that shows throughout the film, the film is highly predictable, particularly the romance and the ending.  The humour with his family is also familiar fare.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HY0GBmOxyYY

Film Review: THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR (India/France/Belgium 2018) **

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Poster
Trailer

Ajatashatru Lavash Patel has lived all his life in a small Mumbai neighborhood tricking people with street magic and fakir stunts. He sets out on a journey to find his estranged father, but instead gets dragged on a never-ending adventure.

Director:

Ken Scott

Writers:

Romain Puértolas (screenplay), Luc Bossi (screenplay) | 3 more credits »

The term fakir is more unfamiliar to North Americans than say the British who likely termed the word since India was part of the British Empire.  The best example of a fakir, as often seen in British comics, is the Indian with turban blowing on a pipe with a snake rising to its music from a basket.  In the fantasy comedy THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR adapted from Puértolas’ novel “The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe,” that came out in 2014, the fakir is Aja (Dhanush), a magician who     performs magic tricks in crowd while pickpocketing unsuspecting watchers in the bustling city of Mumbai.  But he was son of a is ale mother who embarks on a journey to Paris in search of his father, after mummy passes away and yes, he has given away his sacred cow after seeking advice from her.  Any book with a title as odd as thine, must surely attract a lot of readers, but the title of the film has been toned down a little.

Quebecois director of crowd pleasing films like STARBUCK and THE GRAND SEDUCTION i an appropriate choice to heal this crowd please given his track record.

Any fantasy story with a message despite the fact that it is fictional fantasy requires some credibility int he story or the message will fail to come through.  It is unfortunately that the source material itself involves a journey of chance from one city to another all over the world but Scott’s direction does not help either.  He does not attempt to normalize any of the fantasy situations.  Even the main message of the film met through, through the protagonists’s mother in a photograph talking to him.  

The film on the positive side, contains an impressive list of international stars.  The lead himself (Dhanush) is a popular Bollywood actor though people outside India would likely not heard of him.  Thee is a complete Bollywood style dance midway during the film allowing him to strut hi Bollywood expertise.  Though the sequence is non-consequential to the story, it still makes one of the more entertaining moments in the film.  Berenice Bejo, the Argentine born French actress (star of her husband’s THE ARTIST, the Oscar Winner for Best Film) plays a movie star who befriends Aja as does Somolian Actor Barked Abdi (Academy Award nominee for Best Supporting Actor as one of the pirates in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) playing a Somolian refugee.  French actor Gerard Jugnot (almost unrecognizable sporting hair) as the cab driver cheated out of his cab fare by Aja.

THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR ends up feeling totally fake in its execution, message and entertainment.  But the film would be enjoyed by the lesser demand audience and the film did go on to win the Audience Award for Best Comedy at the Barcelona Sant-Jordi International Film Festival

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1WASu-s4eA

Film Review: PARIS IS BURNING (USA 1990) ***1/2

Paris Is Burning Poster
A chronicle of New York’s drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.

A gay friend of mine told me once.  When you have a group of gay males around a whole wardrobe of dresses and make-up, the inevitable happens.  They will dress up as women in the dresses, put on the makeup and do drag.  This explains the fascination of gays doing drag to the extent that for many, their entire lives as demonstrated in the film, depends on.

PARIS IS BURNING began as Livingston’s student film project that involved interviews with key figures in the ball world.   Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, Angie Xtravaganza, and Willi Ninja are a few of the interviewees.  These figures share experiences on their life stories, on gender roles, gay and ball subcultures. 

Ball is explained in the film as the event where drag queens compete.  Other terms like house, voguing, shade, reading and legendary are also amusingly explained.  Many of the contestants vying for trophies are representatives of houses that serve as their families, social groups and performance teams.  Some of those names include Extravaganza, St. Laurent and others.

The doc took 6 years or so in the making due to the difficulty of attaining funds.  Though the film is only 78 minutes, it had been cut from over 70 hours of footage material.

Director Livingston does not appear or speak during the film except for a few instances the she can be heard.

The film contains a very touching moment which is exploited for good use at the end of the film.  The scene has two kids, barely16 with their arms around each other in love, as if nothing else in the world matters.  It brings out what true innocent young love is.  And no one can take away that!

PARIS IS BURNING, a film well ahead of its time, got generally excellent reviews from critics when it first opened.  It also went on to win many film awards though it failed to get an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary which implies that certain topics were excluded in the Academy’ choice of films nominated. 

The film has got a 2K restoration and opens just in time for Pride Toronto.  The film is just as timely then as is now.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78TAbjx43rk

 

Film Review: ANNABELLA COMES HOME (USA 2019)

Annabelle Comes Home Poster
Trailer

While babysitting the daughter of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a teenager and her friend unknowingly awaken an evil spirit trapped in a doll.

Director:

Gary Dauberman

Writers:

James Wan (story by), Gary Dauberman

There is one rule in the horror book that should never be broken.  There must be deaths.  In ANABELLE COMES HOME, no one dies.  The rule is broken in one of the worst horror films or films in general to open in 2019.  It is senseless, overlong, boring and downright silly.

ANNABELLE COMES HOME is the third instalment of the ANNABELLE  franchise, a spin off fro the Conjuring movies.  The first was terrible, the second not bad and this one back to terrible.  It is the second film with the theme of a demon doll to open this month after last week’s more fun CHILD’S PLAY.  Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) the main character of the film is clear to point out the difference.  Annabelle is not a doll that is possessed, but a portal through which demons can enter the human world.  He also claims that possession can only take place in living things therefore putting CHILD’S PLAY down.  To add on: “Isabelle is the devil.”

Determined to keep Annabelle from wreaking more havoc, demonologists Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren Vera Farminga) bring the possessed doll to the locked artifacts room in their home, placing her “safely” behind sacred glass and enlisting a priest’s holy blessing.  But an unholy night of horror awaits as Annabelle awakens the evil spirits in the room, who all set their sights on a new target—the Warrens’ ten-year old daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), and her friends, babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and Daniela (Katie Sarife), the troubled one guilt ridden of having killed her father in a car accident.

Director Gary Fauberman directs from the script (if one can call it that) he co-wrote with James Wan.  The film begins with Ed and Lorraine Warren who bring the audience to date of the doll and how they lock it up safely.  The couple has three scenes – the locking of the doll, the stranded car and the end.  Other than that, they disappear for the rest of the film.

The film has the typical scares found in a horror film like sudden appearance of objects or loud sounds (telephone ringing) and other assorted false alarms.  These go on throughout the entire film regardless of where the story is leading, escalating to a meaningless climax.  Too much of the same thing leads to monotony which is exactly what happens in this otherwise extremely slow paced film.

To Dauberman’s credit, his time lapse mirror segment is worth mentioning.  In it, the girl glares at her reflection in the mirror.  The reflection in the mirror occurs a few seconds in the future.  For example, she sees a falling in he mirror just before it actually falls.  Though this has noting to do whatsoever with the plot, it is quite the creepy and inventive device.

Forget the ANNABELLE and CONJURING franchise.  It is time to have the series locked up for they do no-one any good.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCxm7cTpBAs

Film Review: NIGHTMARE CINEMA (USA 2018) ***

Nightmare Cinema Poster
Trailer

Five strangers converge at a haunted movie theater owned by The Projectionist (Mickey Rourke). Once inside, the audience members witness a series of screenings that shows them their deepest fears and darkest secrets over five tales.

NIGHTMARE CINEMA is a horror anthology, something quite common in horror flicks of the past and re-appearing now again with 5 stories.  The common thread is the cinema theatre where several characters converge only to watch their scariest nightmares on screen.  The theatre owner is the projectionist (Mickey Rourke) who is as scary as the nightmares.

The first story is THE THING IN THE WOODS directed by Alejandro Brugues.  There appears to be a serial killer nicknamed the welder who is doing away with a group of teens.  There is a reason the welder is carrying on these violent killings which is revealed later as the thing in the woods.  This episode is passable at best and works like a slasher film with lots of blood, gore and flying body parts.

The second entitled MIRARE directed by Joe Dante is the second best of the lot as it involves besides the horror, paranoia.  The theme has been done before – where the plastic surgeon is not what he seems.  A young bride disfigured from a car accident is convinced by her fiancé to undergo plastic surgery for the wedding.  Upon recovery, she discovers other disfigured bodies in the hospital besides hers.

The third of the anthology MASHIT (the name of a spirit) has the most promise but unfortunately is the most muddled of the lot.  Perhaps Japanese director Ryūhei Kitamur is working in unfamiliar territory here.  A priest and a nun has a sexual relationship amidst some possession that is taking place with the children under their care.  One suicide leads to another.  A young girl is currently under prey but tuns out that it is her mother who is possessed.  

The next one, THIS WAY TO EGRESS, directed by David Slade where everyone speaks with a British accent involves a woman visiting a doctor after things get weirder and weirder with her.  She wonders if she is crazy but is ushered out the door by the doctor without the answer.  This one has the best cinematography and excellent disgusting looking production sets, black and white with interiors all seemingly covered in blood.   Everything looks very sinister as the woman keeps asking strangers (with faceless features) if they have seen her children.  The ending is a tad of a disappointment given the tense buildup.

The best is reserved for the last and indeed, the last episode DEAD directed by Mick Garris (who also directed the inter-joining projectionist parts) is an excellent horror piece combining a return from the dead and slasher scenarios.  After performing his concert piece, a boy and his parents are attacked while in their car in the parking lot.  The parents are killed while the boy survives a bullet wound.  Things get complicated in hospital recovery where the boy’s mother appears and ask him to cross to other side, the side of death.

Though a bit inconsistent, the horror anthology works, bringing back memories of those old anthology classics like TALE FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).  The anthology ends up a mixed bag of tricks – some good and some bad segments.  For horror fans, NIGHTMARE CINEMA should still satisfy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3STondh5fE0

Film Review: CHILD’S PLAY (USA 2019) ***1/2

Child's Play Poster
Trailer

A mother gives her 13-year-old son a toy doll for his birthday, unaware of its more sinister nature.

Director:

Lars Klevberg

Writers:

Tyler Burton Smith (screenplay by), Don Mancini (based on characters created by)

After a number of sequels, the original 1988 horror classic CHILD’S PLAY gets a reboot with the same title following a high tech doll that rejects its programming and becomes self aware. 

Director Lars Olevberg and the script by Tyler Burton Smith play it smart by combining the elements of camp and horror in what turns out to be a fast-moving totally entertaining reboot.  The film proves tat camp and scares can work extremely well together.  CHILD’S PLAY delivers what is expected and more.

The film opens in Kaslan Industry’s Vietnam factory that makes these big tech dolls.  A Vietnamese worker goofs off and is slapped awake by his supervisor.  Angrily, he removes all the doll’s control inhibition functions on the chip before inserting it into the doll.  It is comical to see see and hear Vietnamese in a horror film done tongue-in-cheek and it works.  The doll is eventually sold in the States but the customer returns this defective doll to a Zed-Mart worker, who is a single mother (Aubrey Plaza).  Instead of returning the doll to the factory gives, she gives it as a birthday person to her son, Andy.  This is when the trouble starts.  Chucky, the doll starts having a life of his own and in his desperation of keeping Andy as a friend, does away with those that annoy Andy beginning with the family cat.

Director Olevberg does not skimp on the blood and gore as in the lawnmower scene.  But the segment can be taken tongue-in-cheek as in the one whee the kids are laughing out loud as bodies are being dismembered, while watching THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE on the television.  There is a hidden message here in how Americans, typically American kids have been dis-sanitized from violence in films.

More camp comes in the form of the excellent ‘Buddi’ theme song, which is also played for laughs during the film’s closing credits.  Chucky also has dialogue “Are we having fun yet?” or “Is it time to play again?” to creep audiences out.

Aubrey Plaza is one of the funniest actresses around who frequently inhabits roles of loose women as evident in THE NUNS and BAD GRANDPA.  In CHILD’S PLAY, she plays a young single mother (who in he own words had a fertile sweet sixteen) has a kid who also catches her making out when entering the apartment one day.  Gabriel Bateman is also excellent as Andy Barclay the son, but one would think they would have got a younger actor to play the part.  This Andy looks too old to be receiving a toy doll for his birthday, though it may be argued that this one has all the modern controls to turn on the stereo etc.

It is coincidental that TOY STORY 4 also opens this week both with the boy also called Andy.  These are two films about toys – one for family and the other for horror fans, which make the perfect counter-programming market strategy.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeHNLikDiVw