Four movies. One book. No answers…
July 7: Midsommar (Theatre)
Ari Aster knows how to hurt you.
Hereditary, Aster’s feature directorial debut, is what I consider to be the perfect horror movie, and you can check out my review from a few weeks back for some elaboration. Midsommar is left in the somewhat unenviable position of following up a masterpiece, and my expectations were astronomical. I’m good at not factoring expectations into my enjoyment, but when there are so many parallels to draw between the two movies it was hard to avoid.
Midsommar, another atmospheric horror movie about family, is incredible in every way except for its narrative. This has left me constantly wondering, can I look past the weak plot and structure and love Midsommar? I can’t. Movies don’t have to have a plot, as a couple other movies this week prove, but when your movie is two and a half hours, there has to be something to keep me more engaged and invested. The characters are great for the most part, but that can only carry a movie for so long. Much of Midsommar involves Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, and their arguably superfluous friends progressively getting more and more unsettled by a Swedish traditional ceremony over the course of a few days. There’s never much of a question of whether or not the Swedes are gonna turn murder-cult; Midsommar doesn’t really try to hide it, but the narrative never goes much further. There’s some incredible body horror to draw me back in every once in a while, but every long, atmospheric shot of an idyllic Swedish landscape made me feel like 30 minutes could be cut out extremely easily. Yeah, I know, I was talking last week about how much I love long shots of nothing. You gotta remember that my enjoyment of Refn is inexplicable and follows no rules.
As much as I adore the horrible gruesome body horror and perfect set design, Florence Pugh is the best part of the entire film. The first two minutes is pretty much just her talking on the phone, and she made me care about this character and her problems before we’re halfway through the prologue. A heartbreaking tragedy happens about seven minutes in, and the devastation felt like there had already been 90 minutes of development. In fact, I think those first seven minutes would make for a brilliant depressing short film. The plot peaks there, but Florence Pugh remains the heart of Midsommar for its entirety.
Despite a weaker story and some convoluted metaphors, Aster remains one of the most fascinating directors to watch in the coming years. He recently said that he’d like to do a straight up comedy and will take a break from horror, and though I’d love to see more horror from him, I’ll be glad to see anything that comes from Aster’s twisted mind. Find more ways to hurt me, Ari.
July 9: Burning (Netflix)
One of the great things about foreign films is that I only ever hear about – and therefore see – the great ones. Burning had people talking all year last year, and it getting snubbed at the Oscars only made me want to see it even more; I try to do the opposite of what those dolts do. Okay fine, Cold War was great and I’m glad Pawlikowski got a directing nod, but I’m still salty about everything else.
Burning is a movie with a first act the length of what some would consider an entire movie. It’s slow, oh it’s slow, but every second of glacial setup is necessary for piecing together whatever happens at the end. On a surface level, Burning is about a love triangle and a man corrupted by jealousy. If you want it to be, it’s also about a psychopathic serial killer who murders a new woman every couple months. It could also be about a wealthy man who entertains himself by helping down on their luck women reintegrate themselves every couple months. Or if you want to take it really, really literally, it could be about a man who burns down greenhouses every couple months, and another guy who’s really bad at finding burned down greenhouses. However you want to interpret the events, it’s a fascinating experience that questions what elements a film has to have. The ambiguity of the ending is jarring, but the social commentary about wealth distribution in Korea is clear enough that you’ll likely get something out of it no matter what.
July 11: Kicking and Screaming (Netflix)
Not to be confused with Kicking & Screaming, of course. That’s a Will Ferrell movie about kids playing soccer, not a movie about a bunch of white guys in university asking each other whether they beat off today. This is Noah Baumbach’s first film, and while other filmmakers sometimes need a few films to get a grasp on their own style, Baumbach perfects it on his first try and never really tries to do much else. He creates impeccably written characters and shows you them as they go about their days with no narrative urgency whatsoever. It’s a formula that won’t appeal to people who require any kind of plot, but his way of showing you a window into his characters’ lives is second to none. He also manages to get incredible performances out of everyone, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of most of the cast. It’s a tossup between this and The Squid and the Whale for best Baumbach, but everything I’ve seen so far from him has been fantastic.
July 11: Caddyshack (Amazon Prime Video)
Do I get to rip this movie apart? Am I allowed to if I didn’t grow up quoting every line like my father did, and if you’re around my age, your father probably did too? Well, I’m gonna try to be as gentle as I can, since I know this movie holds a special place in the hearts of many.
Caddyshack is an absolute fucking disaster.
But is it funny? For sure, at some points. Bill Murray is hilarious in the first half, and Rodney Dangerfield has by far the best scenes in the movie. Some stuff works, a lot of stuff doesn’t, but that’s not the biggest problem with Caddyshack. No, the problem is that the movie makes no goddamn sense. This right here is by far the most incomprehensibly structured movie I’ve ever seen. It seems to be a theme this week to have movies without a plot, though Caddyshack takes an entirely different approach and decides that it wants a plot in one scene, then abandons any inkling of one in the next, then backtracks and bafflingly gives us a 100% serious scene about an unplanned pregnancy, then we’re right back to the slapstick. The last 15 minutes or so backloads nearly all of the plot, seemingly just so they could justify calling this a movie instead of a series of somewhat related vignettes, and it ends with a cacophony of explosions. It has absolutely no clue what it wants to be, and that makes it both hilarious and fascinating to look back on. How did someone greenlight this script? It’s bloody expensive, let alone indecipherable! There’s a scene where an entire regata’s worth of boats gets destroyed and it has no bearing on the plot whatsoever! And a studio allowed it! What was happening in Hollywood studios in the 80s?! Oh right, drugs. Lots of drugs. It all makes sense now.
July 11: The Lost Man (Book)
Book! It’s a book! Last week I made a shoutout to books, now one is here in the blog! It was meant to be! I don’t know how to write book reviews though so bear with me.
The Lost Man by Jane Harper is a murder mystery, but it’s more about its characters and setting than actually solving the murder. Deep in the Australian outback, a man is found dead in the middle of nowhere, and his two brothers are trying to piece together what happened. Harper has mastered the art of slowly dripping information into her chapters, never leaving you bored, but never telling you anything other than what she wants you to know. The only problem I had was that my brain can’t seem to do a good Australian accent, so everyone’s dialogue ended up defaulting to Canadian. Or Irish, for some reason. But it’s a book, what more could you want? Books are great!
That intro is a play on the tagline for The Lost Man, but you read books, I’m sure you already knew that. We had a plotless week, and that may have given this post an aimless feel. I’m gonna pretend that was intentional. This week’s shoutout goes to… a million dollars? I mean, I used my shoutout for books last week and ended up with one this week, I’m hoping that’ll happen again?