Director: Ari Aster
Midsommar is incredibly stronger than Ari Aster’s debut, Hereditary, even if critics were too focused on wanting to be obviously scared by horror that they missed noticing the more subtle way the genre can terrify you. Aster didn’t, and he didn’t listen to all the praise sent his way because of his first film either, didn’t sit back and imagine himself as some sort of wunderkind who could do no wrong. Instead, he went back to work, delved so much deeper, and gave us something amazing with his second attempt, something that shows a true talent and an impressive ability to cancel out the noise, focus on the art, and refuse to work on the surface where people are more comfortable. I think the opposite can be said about Jordan Peele; he took the surprising support from Get Out and made something worse in Us, making a film that he thought would please instead of something that had elevation. Midsommar rises so steeply it even makes us sick, but thrill seekers will only return for more, because you can’t get this high from just any movie.
Near the end of their rocky relationship, college girlfriend and boyfriend Dani and Christian head to Sweden with a group of Christian’s buddies to visit and observe a midsummer festival that promises to be fun, lavish, historic, and eye-opening. Dani has just suffered a personal tragedy, which has perhaps kept her and Christian together longer than is healthy; he can’t break up with her while she’s down. She tags along to Sweden, again, because he can’t say no, but it’s obvious the couple is drifting apart; Christian seems uninterested and Dani is just a hot mess, emotionally. What they’re about to encounter won’t help matters any, because it is also FUBAR, and perhaps deadly is strange, secret ways. The small festival they attend and research is held in a Swedish commune deep in the forest, where the rules of society do not bind, and the norms of human experience have no place. So begins a week of celebrating new life, but at a steep price, and it’s anyone’s guess who might make it home alive.
With Hereditary, Aster took a common horror theme and turned it on its head, forcing ghosts and satanic rituals and human hellscapes to fit into his mold, which is why so many critics stood up to applaud. With Midsommar, he does the same for the campy horror style, with friends going missing one by one, but he changes enough that you’d have to look hard to realize that’s what he pulled from, and by then you’re so invested you’re ready to proclaim him the god of all cinema in general. Midsommar is a unique take on paganism and isolationism, with so much else being said beneath the surface that it would take months to sort it all out. It’s a little less scary and/or gruesome than Hereditary, but it will still freak you out, and it draws the story out much more and much longer as well, forcing audiences to wait and work this time around instead of just experiencing. What succeeded most, and what helped the film to be something more than great, was Pugh & Reynor, the way they played off each other, the effortless way they conversed, the normal manner they behaved in extremely abnormal circumstances, like the proverbial frog in slowly boiling water. The action simply rose and rose, audiences were sucked further and further in, until it was too late to escape, and our lives would never be the same. I exaggerate to make a point, but Midsommar really is that intense, that special, not only the best horror flick of the year but perhaps the most spectacular movie of the season, with reasons hiding around every corner why it could legitimately be a multiple-Award contender.
I told my daughter the general plot of this movie, how it was a sci-fi/Western, space/frontier tale, and she said “hmm, that sounds like a cliche”, which is a bad sign for your film, if a 10-year-old can see the original painting behind the overlay a mile away out of the side of her eye. But what Prospect gets wrong in its recycling it gets right in its purity of genre, so the case could be argued either way, for blatant thievery or cinematic homage. What I think is inarguable is how the film succeeds at what it sets out to do, and how it could be seamlessly transported to the American West and we wouldn’t bat an eye. It works on those levels, it boasts a young rising star, and the story is solid enough to capture our imaginations, but perhaps without enough surprises waiting around corners; we know what’s coming next like we have a mirror on a stick covering all the angles.
In deep space, you work in order to pay your way, in order to eat, and you hope to one day have enough money to head out on your own, away from the loan sharks of interstellar travel and the mundane, gray existence pod living. Cee and her father Damon are prospectors, traveling on loan throughout space hoping to stumble upon a strike that will pay off their debts and set them free forever. The elusive prey; precious crystals that lie within living spore-like creatures on a forest moon that’s mostly already been stripped bare in the rush that has already come and gone. But Damon has an inside tip that the mother lode, a literal mother organism, has been found accidentally, and that he is needed to extract the gems. So down to the surface they go, where the very air is trying to kill you, treasure-hunters want what’s yours, and no one, literally no one, can be trusted.
Prospect is fine and fun and worth a shot, but it does hover around the central hub of its genre far too closely to be considered anything but ‘good’. It’s a sci-fi/Western like so many we’ve seen before, with low grade weapons, a frontier, shoot-outs, back-stabs, natives, and of course a lot of reaction without of ton of thinking. In that way it works, it honors the style, and it’s interesting enough, but those looking for a little more (or those you don’t already love this classic direction) aren’t really going to enjoy themselves. Thatcher is pretty great, maybe a star has been born, but Pascal mumbled too much, and Duplass just isn’t a good actor. The run time is short, the story is attention-grabbing, the details are original enough I guess, so there are positives if you dig a little deeper. But, on the surface, Prospect in only OK with moments of flash, not a constant bright spot that is easy to recommend.
Category : Book Review
Author: Tad Williams
Count this trilogy among the best fantasy epics of all time; George R.R. Martin does, it was an inspiration for his Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, of course, to you TV people who might not know the official name of his book franchise). Perhaps Williams’ greatest accomplishment with this franchise is its containment, because, although he has written more from this fictional world, this trilogy is a closed book, with one war, one hero, one mission, it’s just spread over three books, and that amount of self-editing is something we should be praising authors for so that they’ll do it much more. The magic of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is that, while it does focus in and refuses to get distracted, it’s also told from many points of view, has many characters to root for, and a myriad of complicated reasons to stay engaged and to, ultimately, fall in love.
Simon is a kitchen boy who lives in the great Hayholt castle at the center of Osten Ard, a land of kingdoms currently ruled by a High King named John, who has conquered fairly, treated his subjects well, and, on the eve of his inevitable death, is respected and renowned. As he dies, his sons argue over the throne; Elias is the elder and more militant and will become the overlord, while Josua is solemn, bookish, and won’t contest the succession, although he fears for his brother’s sanity and his rashness. The evil Pryrates has Elias’ ear and is known to dabble in dark arts, which soon becomes apparent when he makes allies with the undead Storm King, one of the immortal race who once ruled Osten Ard before mankind came with their iron weapons. Now, with the help of Simon, who finds himself at the middle of the swirl, and many loyal lords, who begin a quest for three legendary swords that just might turn the tide, Josua must pool all knowledge together to combat this rising threat, before darkness takes over the land and Pryrates, with Elias as his puppet, wins once and for all.
I read this trilogy in the 90s, probably right after the last book was written, and it had such an impact on my literary taste that I can’t put it into words; it was on a level with reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, or stumbling across Wheel of Time, franchises that are so amazing that they rise above everything else to live on a cloud by themselves, untouchable and magnificent. Perhaps this series isn’t quite as groundbreaking as Tolkien’s or Jordan’s, but Williams created something special here, and you should absolutely have it in your life if you’ve ever loved fantasy novels. It’s so smooth, so seamless, with multiple character viewpoints, multiple offshoot adventures, but all leading back to one climax, one place, one war, wrapped up so perfectly you’ll never read the like again. That’s something Wheel of Time was not able to do, pare down, so I applaud Williams for controlling himself, it makes a big difference. The three books are The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, and To Green Angel Tower, but they read as one large piece, not different stories, with flawed heroes and incredible villains sprinkled throughout who always have a fascinating part to play in the greater showcase. Simon is a classic but extremely well-written main contributor, the elf/dwarf/human balance is both cleverly & originally struck, and the action is brutal & adult without ever crossing over into graphic territory. This trio of books is simply a wonderful and entertaining set of gateways through the imagination of an author to a place that you’d swear was real and don’t ever want to leave; lucky for those of us who love it, we can revisit it any time.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks
For a movie about one man living on an island by himself and not speaking a whole lot, there’s a ton going on surrounding Cast Away, not least of which is the title; it’s not Castaway, it’s Cast Away, which implies much while saying little, and we could talk about possible meanings all day without ever getting to the film itself. Then there’s the technical side; all the dark scenes were shot in the day, the night was added in after, all the sound was taken out, artificial sound was added in after, the first part was shot a year before the second, the crew making another movie with Zemeckis while they waited for Hanks to lose weight; a ton going on, I’m telling you. Any film has a variety of details we don’t have to consider to enjoy our experience, but Cast Away seems to take the cake, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing; seeing it this time around I was distracted by the small pieces, rather then letting myself be entertained by the whole, which I think is the better way to watch.
Chuck Noland works for FedEx and preaches time; it runs the world, it never stops, we must manage it, don’t let it get ahead of you or boom the world has changed. He’s good at his job, flying around the world making sure packages get where they’re going on time, but it does put a damper on his social life, as his girlfriend will tell you. Kelly is a hard worker, has been married before, neither of them are getting any younger, and it’s time to think about tying the knot, if Chuck could be tied down for more than a day anywhere. It looks like a wedding might be planned soon, but first Chuck has one more flight to take, one that will alter the pattern of his life disastrously. His place crashes somewhere in the South Pacific, going down in a storm, with a search radius of thousands of miles for those frantically looking . He survives the wreck, only to be marooned on an island with no animal life or human contact, where he must come to terms with his new existence, or lose his mind waiting for rescue.
I liked, almost loved, Cast Away when I first saw it what seems like too many years ago, but this time around I was distracted by the periphery, and I wouldn’t recommend letting that happen to you. There are a lot of continuity errors, there’s a lot that’s not real, the run time is a bit too long, with too much cheese at beginning and end, and it isn’t a perfect film in a perfect package; I think that reveals itself if you look too closely. But that’s not to say you have to. It’s alright to watch Cast Away with an eye only on Tom Hanks, because he is the best part by a mile, it’s not even close. I guess Wilson is a close second, but he’s a volleyball, so. The music is solid, the loneliness is palpable, the transformation is impressive, but Hanks is the only real reason to tune in, and that’s enough for me. He is so incredible, can command a scene as long as he chooses too, and I’d watch him do anything, even talk to himself. No, I kid, Cast Away is superb, if not quite as top-of-the-list as I once thought.
Director: Don Michael Paul
DMP is a director who likes doing remakes, which is an obvious red flag, or, more specifically, an indicator that he’s a no-talent ass clown. That’s a movie reference more than a direct insult, I don’t know the guy, but his filmography speaks for itself, and what it’s saying ain’t pretty. It’s no surprise that Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell in complete garbage, as are the others in a franchise that started out so strong, but marched forward with lackluster cash grabs that aren’t even worth our notice. Well, I noticed this “film”, thought it might be halfway fun, but boy was I wrong; it’s about as fun as a drill bit to the ear canal.
Graboids have resurfaced, literally, but this time it’s way up north, where supposedly it’s too cold for them to live. But living they sure are, and killing they will soon be, unless someone can put a stop to this newest infestation. Who ya gonna call when you need to destroy a batch of giant underground death grubs? Burt Gummer, that’s who; he brought the firepower the first time around and he’s been fighting evil worms ever since, so he’s the man for the job. Burt and his son Travis head to the Canadian Arctic to stop the Graboids from making a buffet out of a research center, and good luck to all in not getting swallowed whole.
It’s bad, it’s really bad, it’s “I feel myself dying by the second” bad. The first is iconic, the rest have been ridiculous, and I’m not sure why I decided to check in on this latest other than perhaps a masochistic tendency to watch b-level creature features, but boy did I get more than I bargained for. It is Jamie Kennedy after all, the worst actor in the history of anything, so that’s no surprise, but I think the lack of literally anything resembling entertainment was. A Cold Day in Hell is so utterly awful you can’t believe your eyes, but it just keeps happening, and eventually you realize that you really are dead and haven’t gone to heaven. The abysmal acting, the insane plot, the static locale, the “action”; it’s gross on so many levels, and that’s no pun on the lead actor’s name, that’s just the best word to describe this disgusting situation.
Director: Ron Underwood
Tremors was Ron Underwood’s first/only good film, it was all downhill from there, which, I guess, is what happens when you peak too early with what hilariously wouldn’t be too hyperbolic to call a perfect movie. The fact that it happens to be about giant, flesh-eating, underground slugs not withstanding, Tremors is perfection wrapped in a 90-minute bubble, a project completely independent from reality and genre that somehow works magnificently, despite all odds. I dug it when I was younger, I dig it to this day, and watching it again only cements that it is heedlessly excellent in so many ways, often because it doesn’t care, often because it seems to get the smallest details right when others would have just skimmed over the minutiae. This wacky sci-fi/horror/comedy really makes you wonder how much luck is involved in getting it right, since not many have been this unqualified and yet this brilliant.
In Perfection, Nevada, the lives of the town’s 14 residents are about to become anything but perfect, and they’ll be lucky to leave with their lives intact. Two local handymen named Val & Earl stumble upon a series of gruesome murders, starting with Edgar treed up an electric pole, and continuing with Old Fred buried up to his neck in the sand. It’s a long way to the next human habitation, so no help is coming, and it quickly gets much worse; this is no human killer on the loose, this is something much more …natural. Something, or some things, are underground and eating people, tracking them by their sound on the surface. Val & Earl are unlikely heroes, but they must lead the resistance against the “Graboids” and help the townsfolk to safety, with the aid of the much smarter Rhonda, a grad student who is in the wrong place at the awfully wrong time.
It’s just that Tremors is amazing, and I’m not sure how we can continue watching movies knowing that entertainment topped out and has been failing to live up to a 90s flick ever since. I jest, but this movie really is that tight, with a story, characters, and action that exist on a closed set and are independently awesome. They would go on to make a series, but those all sucked of course; there’s no improving on what worked so well the first time around. Our lead dudes are funny, fumbling, but somehow lovable, and it’s amusing to watch Kevin Bacon in this way. The rest of the actors are just background really, but they do no harm, even Reba McEntire, who couldn’t act if her red hair and country twang depended on it. No one needed to act in this film though, it was the perfect little skit, with surprisingly good physical effects and realistic fantasy, an all-around applaudable cult classic that never loses it appeal.
Director: Edward Zwick
Except for a little wobble by Matthew Broderick’s acting and our present knowledge that James Horner would go on to recycle this music a dozen times, Glory is a perfect film, full of energy and history in a manner that will sweep you off your feet and leave you breathless. It’s a true story, an important story, and one that is told flawlessly from start to finish, with letters that are in museums today, reenactments of significant battles, sets & costumes that are superb down to the smallest detail, and somehow all that history is wrapped up in the loving arms of high drama and real emotion. The actors capture the magnitude of this tale and bring it directly into our hearts in such a fashion that we don’t even know that we’re bowled over until it’s happened, and by then it’s too late to throw up walls; we’re already exposed, changed, and eventually grateful.
The Civil War rages on and the bloodbath that is Antietam gives Lincoln the victory he needs in order to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves of the United States. Of course, Antietam was a stalemate, the South wouldn’t comply with the order, and the War will continue as usual, but the fires of freedom had been lit, and events would burn forward from this point into the fiery haze of future history. One major change that came from Emancipation was mounting support for an all-black regiment from the North, with white officers in charge and ex-slaves flocking to join, to fight for a country that was fighting for them. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry would enter the War Between the States and show themselves to be among the bravest fighters in the land, enduring not only enemy fire but racism and degradation from their own brothers in arms. Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th would make their mark at the Battle of Fort Wagner, with the eyes of a nation, and of generations to come, upon them.
Glory is so powerful that they now refer to the 54th as the Glory Regiment, and you can feel that honor and that intensity throughout the film, that’s what makes it so special. It’s a true story that is part of our American fabric, and to bring it alive this way and this skillfully is a feat that we can’t applaud enough. Zwick might be a little cheesy, but he knew what he was doing, he knew how to sell this tale, and he got the right cast to pull off the telling. Broderick is probably the weakest link, but he’s so young and likeable that you root for him, which is exactly what the character demands, so it works. Of course, our main attention should be pointed toward Washington (who won an Oscar), Freeman (who is purely amazing in everything), and Andre Braugher (who often steals the show). The rest of the team is rounded out nicely by Cary Elwes, Jihmi Kennedy, Bob Gunton, and Cliff De Young, a great supporting crew who see the movie through. By the end, you will be drained and then filled back up again, a process that you’ll want to repeat over and over again, if it means watching one of the strongest offerings cinema has ever given us, which is exactly how Glory ought to be described.
Director: Dylan Brown
The minute I realized that Wonder Park was a Nickelodeon movie was when it all immediately made sense, like “Oh right, that’s why it wasn’t good.” Nick barely makes movies at all, and they’re mostly based on TV shows, so it’s no wonder its foray into unknown territory was both a copy off of what has worked for other studios and a failure to craft something moderately watchable. Wonder Park isn’t terrible, it’s fun for the kids in your family, the animation is cool, but that’s about it, that’s where the positives end, and adults will NOT be happy that they came along for this ride. It’s mostly off the rails thematically and phoned in performance-wise, which is a terrible combination, and reason enough to just not mention it to your children, in case they want to put you through it.
June is a very special, imaginative, creative, STEM-y little girl, and her parents just adore that about her. They encourage her building, her tinkering, her make believe, even going so far as to let her build a miniature amusement park all throughout their home, which is very cool (and very unrealistic). But June’s creativity comes to a screeching halt when her mom gets sick, and the park is packed up in boxes, along with all June’s favorite stuffies, animals she’s always considered to be much more than toys. Putting all that behind her, June heads to Math Camp, but accidentally stumbles upon a real version of what she’s been imagining all this time on the way. Apparently she dreamed the kooky carnival into existence, but it’s now falling into decay, as a Darkness threatens to pull it apart piece by piece. Can June save the park? Can she find the fervor once more? And, more importantly, can she remember what it’s like to be happy?
If this plot sounds at all like Inside Out then, bingo, you realized the movie that they copied, and it wasn’t very circumspect. You’ve got the special girl, she’s feeling sad and shutting down, so her imaginary place is shutting down one section at a time, and she’s gotta realize it’s OK to feel, even when those feelings are scary, so she can save herself (and her funny characters) from complete obliteration. It’s a pretty straight forward steal, so bad on Nickelodeon, but really, did you expect great things from that company? They couldn’t produce much more than a cool-looking set here, with some good graphics and some cute moments, but nothing worth writing home about. I liked the beginning, and the end was pleasant too, but all the middle sucked; I think I blame the actors. Their voice overs were horrible, so bad, like they cared not at all, and god were they all unfunny to the max: Mila Kunis, Jennifer Garner, Matthew Broderick, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, John Oliver. That was the worst part, when they spoke, but when they didn’t speak the action was extremely overstimulating and nonsensical, so lose/lose. The only way you can win is to not watch; put it on for the kids some night, let them enjoy it, because they should, but leave the rest of us out of it.