Tag Archives: B-Movie

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW – AMAZING FILMMAKING LET DOWN BY WEAK STORYTELLING!

MIDSOMMAR (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Written and directed by: Ari Aster

Produced by: Lars Knudsen, Patrik Andersson

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

Music: The Haxen Cloak

Cinematography: Pawel Pogorzelski

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Midsommar (2019), is ultra-talented filmmaker Ari Aster’s second feature film. His first Hereditary (2018), was two-thirds domestic horror masterpiece and one-third insane, symbolic, nonsensical and demonic denouement. Both films have a lot in common. Both have communes or cults at the centre led by strong matriarchal figures. Both find seemingly innocent characters suffering from grief being lured to a fateful demise. Both have incredibly rich visual systems full of striking imagery, sudden violence and mythological folklore. Both, especially Midsommar (2019), are overlong, pretentious and indulgent B-movie stories masquerading as art.

I have to say, and I am not coming from simply a mainstream perspective, Ari Aster is a film artist. However, unlike many great film artists he has, in my opinion, not managed to marry his vision with coherent and emotionally powerful storytelling. Midsommar, for example, takes an age to kick its narrative into gear and when it finally gets started it drags and drags and drags. How many long, drifting tracking master shots can you abide? How many drawn-out-so-pleased-with-myself takes do you have the patience for? Well, get a strong coffee because when the story cries out for pace, Aster puts the brakes on, marvelling in his own indulgent genius. I might add that a plethora of characters screaming and crying does not make good drama either, unless there is sufficient context.

The narrative is very simple. In a nutshell, it’s Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) meets British horror classic The Wicker Man (1973). Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper and Will Poulter are college students who take a summer break to experience a communal pageant in rural Sweden. While they are PHD students they are not particularly intelligent given the choices they make later in the film.

Moreover, aside from Pugh’s grief-stricken Dani, the script doesn’t particularly imbue them with much in the way of empathetic characterisation. Indeed, the film relies on Pugh’s dominant performance to create emotion for our protagonists. Aside from providing some comic relief there is no actual point to Will Poulter’s character at all. Lastly, there is some absolutely terrible dialogue throughout this film too.

As the film crawls along slowly, it’s reliant on the music to inform us we’re meant to be scared. Then when the gore does kick in during a particularly shocking ritual, I was almost falling asleep. Don’t get me wrong the production design is flawless with an amazing setting and incredible concepts from Aster. The death and torture scenes are particularly memorable. However, the overall pace and rhythm of the film is so bloody slow I just did not care about anyone by the end.

I don’t mind methodical films establishing dread and psychological fear, but I think Aster has been watching too many Kubrick films. Aster seems to believe slow equals art. What Kubrick did though was usually to have characters that were engaging. They may not have been likeable, but Kubrick’s characters hit you in the heart and mind. Not since The Blair Witch Project (1999) have I wanted such dumb characters (Pugh aside) to die so painfully in a horror film. Likewise, the characters in the Swedish commune are mere ciphers of Aster’s fantasy horror and two-dimensional at best.

Visually stunning Midsommar (2019), will no doubt impress critics and other reviewers. However, at nearly two-and-a-half hours it’s an indulgent-arty-collage-of-film-masquerading-as-therapy. The ending was so loopy that the audience I was with were laughing at how ridiculous it was. Perhaps that was the filmmakers’ aim, but I’m not so sure. Yes, I get that this is meant to be allegorical and symbolic about grief and guilt and religion and a relationship break-up and fate and cultural differences. Furthermore, I get the intellectual depth of the themes on show, but Aster tortures the audience as much as his characters. Mostly, it just doesn’t take so long to tell this kind of derivative narrative, however beautiful and artistic the film is presented.

Mark: 6 out of 11

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by:    Drew Goddard

Produced by: Drew Goddard, Jeremy Latcham

Written by: Drew Goddard

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

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Expectations are a fascinating thing. Based on the prior screenwriting work of Drew Goddard and his amazing debut feature film, the genre-bending horror film, Cabin in the Woods, I was really looking forward to this crime thriller. With a terrific cast of actors in place and an intriguing setting of a hotel split between the United States of Nevada and California there promised to be cinematic fireworks. There were indeed fireworks but, like fireworks, the film paints bright and pretty colours and bangs loudly in the sky yet somehow felt hollow afterwards. This comes from those darned expectations, I guess.

There are seven main characters in the film; all of whom have secrets to keep. They range from: John Hamm’s vacuum-cleaner salesman; Lewis Pullman’s hotel employee; Dakota Johnson’s mysterious femme fatale; Jeff Bridges’ shady priest; plus a couple of other devils who enliven proceedings later in the film. All the characters are seemingly unconnected but soon fate and fortune take hold as Goddard weaves his screenwriting magic. Before you know they are all at each other’s throats jousting verbally and physically; double and triple crossing, resorting often to extreme violence. What Goddard does superbly well is place these various characters in a form of narrative hell or purgatory. He looks into the heart of humanity and finds blood and darkness at every turn.

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Bad Times at the El Royale main strengths are the brilliant script, skilled cast and a wondrous production design. Indeed, the rich neon colours and lighting glow amidst with the foreboding darkness surrounding the hotel.  In terms of performance, Jeff Bridges is just great; in everything! Dakota Johnson and Cynthia Erivo also excel and breathe emotion into their archetypal characterisations. John Hamm is ever the solid player; but Chris Hemsworth’s grand entrance in the second act, almost steals the show with his messianic “Jim Morrison” grandstanding. All told the ensemble has a scream within the clever pyrotechnics of the screenplay.

Overall, Drew Goddard deserves praise for delivering a very sharp script. Structurally, we cleverly move back in time to fill in back-stories. Events are also from multiple perspectives heightening the twisting nature of the narrative. While mainly style over substance the film still manages to critique the racism of the late 1960s setting; satirises celebrity scandals, and also has a dig at religious cults. So, ultimately this is a satisfying B-movie-pulp-fiction-violent-extravaganza with twists and turns galore, that provides an entertaining blast in the noir night sky.                                                                                            

Mark: 8 out of 11 

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW – a tremendous B-movie-sci-fi-cult-classic!

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Music by: Jed Palmer

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

Edited by: Andy Canny

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For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.

I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.

Stem

Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.

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STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)