Midsommar (2019)

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Ari Aster made tongue clicking a sound to shiver at in ‘Hereditary’ and now, a year on, he’s back with ‘hoohah’ sounds and a folk horror which trickles with apprehension throughoutIt’s an astonishingly well-crafted film but not one the Swedish tourist board will be advertising I’m sure.

After a family tragedy, Dani (Florence Pugh) tags along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his mates to a festival in Sweden. Every year they celebrate, but every 90 years the white-clad commune take part in their ancestral rites for 9 long days and all manner of oddities begin bearing down on Dani and co.

Flower power and the hippy culture has never looked so shocking, forget the free love message and buckle in for a truly barmy yet glorious horror. The white linen clothes, the old school wooden buildings and lush green pastures north of Stockholm present this film like some fresh haven of hell. ‘Midsommar’ enraptured me so much so that I never wanted it to end, there’s this pleasing detail in the shots and a halo of sunshine cast over the movie which bathes you in an otherworldly glow, albeit one that slowly racks up in gore and unease but you cannot look away.

Aster just fringed the surfaces of cult-like madness in the final stages of the brilliantly chilling ‘Hereditary’, but this time he goes all out, in building a world of dread which shouldn’t but does draw you in. The antics of the Swedish elders, the rules and the celebrations are bonkers but stuffed with an unsettling nastiness. Aster directs in a way with devilish delight that won’t be for everyones tastes but he concocts one of the strangest and sinister horrors and weirdly it’s a fun thing to watch.

It’s entrenched in the soundscape of the movie that the real disturbing factor lies. The sound design for this horror is pure class. The terror elevates like a prickling feel of discomfort on the back of your neck as you watch. Heavy breathing, wails, laughter and an orgy of panting are just some of the aural elements which fill the story with an unrelenting atmosphere of dread.

Florence Pugh is sheer brilliance in the film, she brings a lot to the table by reigning in with more reserved, quiet emotion; this sense of her troubled life and shaky romantic connection spilling over from time to time and when she does let rip or when matters do become alarming, you’re pelted over the head with her stunningly engrossing performance. Reynor is class at making you feel hypnotised, sucked into a landscape of crazy and his descent into exhaustion and induced terror are well played; as is the necessary lighter tone put into effect by the great Will Poulter.

‘Midsommar’ possesses this hazy, rippled feel and you will feel like you’re having a bad trip in the best possible way whilst watching the horror and comedy unfold. This is a distressing film swaddled in a warm glow which wraps around you like a vine and won’t let go.

8/10

 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

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Ugh, here we go again! A sequel/prequel to the fifth highest grossing film of 2008 is on our shores and with the success of the first ABBA inspired musical, I imagine this follow up will stay in those successful footsteps even if it is a lame rom-com story and does very little to dispel the notion that it’s a stonking great cash grab.

It’s been five years since Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) wedding and she’s now busy planning the reopening of her mum’s hotel. As the final preparations are under way, the story cuts back and forth between this and Donna (Lily James) back in 1979; just graduated and wanting to see the world. The film then follows her meeting Sophie’s trio of fathers and how her stay in Greece came to be.

Firstly, it’s not a major issue that the songs are relentless throughout but this musical almost shoehorns songs in that vaguely fit in with what’s going on during the narrative. I was listening to lyrics and some just don’t coincide with what’s been or is happening at all. Secondly, the film only just kicks off and we’re right into a song, I know it’s a musical but there’s something about the ‘Mamma Mia’ landscape that serves up a cringe aspect alongside the jovial antics, extremely evident in the graduation sequence and the Waterloo themed restaurant.

This film feels like it was battering me over the head with song after Swedish created song, that by the end I was involved and part of the music. It’s as if I was bombarded to say Thank You for the Music because it was incessant. It may have been the broken will but I have to say that the glittery disco themed Super Trouper number was an enjoyable blast, Mamma Mia itself is a fun listen/watch and Angel Eyes is sold nicely thanks to the power of the actors behind the song.

Ol Parker’s screenplay from a story by him, Catherine Johnson and Richard Curtis is a loosely veiled attempt at tying two stories together. The plot doesn’t do much to really make you care for Donna, she just seems like a young gal gallivanting and exploring what our planet has to offer, though she seems to know she belongs in Greece after only going to visit Paris. The hotel re-opening is a flimsy excuse to get the sprawling cast back together but amongst the less than inspired writing there are some funny moments. A sassy Greek lady, a goat chase and the terrific double act of Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are great highlights.

Lily James is superb, she gives the background of Meryl Streep’s character such radiating presence. She may fall in and out of beds but she has such a bubbly performance throughout this film that you can’t help but like her and James’ infectious smile even made this cynical chap less so. Seyfried is a class act, she’s always reliable for musical features and her talented vocals do this film wonders amongst the likes of some less than gifted singers elsewhere in the cast. She manages to be expressive and likable in a role that sees her bridging gaps between the past and present. The ‘singing’ and dad-dancing of Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard is awkward but highly amusing. Cher rocks up like this wicked west persona; the helicopter and her introductory music add to this oncoming doom but she does little in the film and reveals a name before singing that song which is an eye roll AND sigh if ever there was one but it’s Cher, I can’t say anything bad, can I!?

This sun-drenched film arriving 10 years after the original didn’t need to arrive at all, it’s not a fascinating story and the cringe is most certainly real but it’s a carefree bop that knows what it is; a summery feel good distraction that will have die-hard ABBA fans singing in the cinemas and calling out for the inevitable singalong versions.

5.5/10

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

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After missing out upon it’s initial release, awards hopeful ‘Call Me by Your Name’ returned to a cinema near me and though I liked the sun-drenched aesthetic, music and performances, I didn’t find myself captivated by the plot in any way.

In 1983, an American grad student called Oliver (Armie Hammer), spends 6 weeks of his summer at the Perlman residence to help with his paperwork. Seventeen year old Elio (Timothee Chalamet) begins seeing this outside figure as a nuisance but it moves forward to secretive hang outs and a blossoming first love for him to ride the highs and lows of.

Luca Guadagnino’s directive stamp on this is pretty stunning, The Great Beauty of an undisclosed Italian location is as ripe as a peach for beautiful moments. Sayombhu Mudkeeprom works with the director to create shots that are filled with yellow rays and highlight the glory of both Italy and this summer love. Closing Guadagnino’s ‘Desire’ trilogy, this is definitely a glorious and interesting melancholic yarn being spun; it’s without a doubt a much more engaging movie than ‘A Bigger Splash’, but again it’s a release that suffers with length.

I must admit I did in fact get quite bored during the late stages of the second half. In the first part, the setting, characters and music all get introduced very well but as the private romance begins, the film started waning and stretched almost into boredom for me, where I was just waiting for the obvious moment when the two would go their separate ways.

The main reason I feel like the later scenes distanced me, is because I never ever bought into their relationship. It’s meant to be this beautiful spark of mutual attraction but I didn’t once believe they loved each other. It felt like Elio was a kid infatuated and Oliver was taking on a summer fling; which makes the consequent second half and their sad parting…well not very sad at all. The story didn’t resonate with me in the way I expected it would, considering all the astounding reviews it’s been collecting recently. I in no way disliked the film, I just started tiring by the end and wouldn’t recommend it outright.

I did thoroughly enjoy the score, almost wrapping me up into the lush scenery of the film. A piano heavy backdrop of music works well in both providing a nice lullaby tone and mirroring the pianist skills of Elio himself. Sufjan Stevens gifts the movie three songs and Mystery of Love; which is in contention for an Academy Award, is like some calm water gently soaking over you as you listen. The song perfectly compliments the look and tone of the film.

Chalamet is a wonderful presence, at times presenting himself wrapped round Oliver, like the curved statues spoken of as displaying desire. He brings this quiet teen intellect to the character but you can see there’s a nervous unknowing to how his narrative plays out, which is quite fascinating to watch. Hammer possesses this goofy charm throughout the picture, a serene confidence to his character and the eventual relationship. It’s definitely one of his finer turns and I’m sold on his dance moves which are care free and delightful. Michael Stuhlbarg is in this and it’s a wonder, no, a crying shame that he hasn’t been up for a major award yet, because he most often is the best quality in a production, and in this he provides good touches of humour, believable dad advice and a calming aspect to run with the general calmness of the story.

‘Call Me by Your Name’ is an assured sweet film about the ride of first love and it’s summer tinged backdrop is a wonderful look to bolster the vivid exploration of Elio’s crush. I just wasn’t as taken by the story itself that’s all.

7/10