Midsommar (2019) (Ari Aster)
Managed to get under my skin by building an unsettling mood. The subject matter in the pre-credits sequence felt rehashy from Aster’s previous film Hereditary (2018).
Puts you in the shoes of the American guests and I had the feeling I was there at the Swedish camp with them. To be honest, a relief when was finally over, a harrowing watch. A feel-bad folk horror movie, not a personal favorite, though I appreciate when a filmmaker can bring out an impactful reaction. Many modern movies are forgettable but this one hit me hard. Whether I liked that reaction I’m still unsure about. Was I even supposed to enjoy spending time with the pagan cult? I assume the intension was to make an anti-cult movie in the vein of Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011).
A reviewer for USAtoday wrote: “What’s terrifying is how real this film feels” and was certainly more realistic than Hereditary. Florence Pugh is a rising star and delivers the best performance in the film. Not knowing Dani’s sister’s motivation adds to the eeriness and sense of being lost. The most powerful scene is when Dani screams with the group. You can kind of guess where the story is heading yet there are surprises along the way. Has been advertised as a horror movie that scares even though takes place in daylight, and having now seen it that is an accurate assessment.
I must have missed the mention of bipolar disorder when I watched. Apparently a character suffers from this and groups have raised concerns about the link between violence and mental illness.
I wonder how much sleep deprevasion from the daylight plus being in a communal bedroom with crying babies affected the characters’ decision making. Some took sleeping pills, others did not.
Metropolitan (1990) (Whit Stillman)
Debut feature by the American auteur. Set in New York amongst a group of upper-class college friends who are joined by an outsider. The strength of Metropolitan is the witty, rich, rewatchable dialogue. It feels like a labour of love. The performances and vocal deliveries are mostly deadpan, giving the impression of artificiality with the writer/director pulling the strings and the actors as puppets. The music and outfits are posh. The story may be satirizing the lifestyle but if so it’s done tastefully without making them into clowns. A group disbanding is something many experience when they are young.
The deadpan style is not dissimilar to other indie directors such as Hal Hartley, Wes Anderson and Aki Kaurismäki, although Stillman is arguably the most intellectual of these filmmakers.
Now I understand the name of Dan’s blog Public Transportation Snob, a quote from the movie.
Live in Concert: Richard Pryor (1979)
Listed as #1 on Rolling Stone’s top 25 Best Stand-Up Specials. Perhaps my expectations were too high. Not as funny as I had hoped. A few of the sketches, especially about the animals, brought a smile to my face, and the physical comedy is fun. A lot of profanity. Feels very personal as Pryor draws from his own life such as a heart attack, boxing, a funeral, beatings as a child, and so on. I guess it’s therapeutic for him (and the audience) to deal with these issues through comedy. By today’s standards it isn’t a groundbreaking show but back then the style was edgy and new.
An American Tail (1986) (Don Bluth)
Rewatch. The first film I remember watching in the cinema as a child. Was the highest-grossing non-Disney animated film at the time. The main characters are mice and cats. Clearly with kids in mind but has plenty of heart and beautiful animation. The song “There are no cats in America” is catchy. The weakness is the predictable story and naiveness of the Mousekewitz family. The title of the film and the names of the characters are sweet. The themes about prejudice, fighting for freedom, and hope are overused in Hollywood yet timeless. My favorite of the characters is probably Tiger voiced vividly by Dom DeLuise. Tiger sings the inspiring “A Duo” with the main character Fievel. Another stand out is “Somewhere Out There” which is sort of a sister song to the Wizard of Oz’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Several images will stay with me such as the devilish ocean, the moon, and the poster walking on the bridge.
Road to Perdition (2002) (Sam Mendes)
Takes place during the Great Depression. Nice cinematography which Conrad L. Hall won an oscar for. A decent watch although the characters are too bland and feel like gangster stereotypes. Based on a graphic novel and has been compared to a Greek tragedy because of the theme of fathers and sons. Basically a warning (see the title) about a life in crime.
The Leopard (1963) (Luchino Visconti)
Historical period drama which won the Palme d’Or in 1963. I’ve liked other Visconti films. The Leopard was too slow and lacking a compelling story. I guess I prefer his smaller productions such as White Nights (1957) and Obsession (1943).
Set in Sicily in 1860, we hear about relationship issues, political corruption, and more. The ballroom sequence looks impressive but ultimately overstays its welcome. There’s an attempt to juxtaposition the sadness of Lancaster’s character with the joy of the party but it felt contrived as Lancaster hadn’t looked despondent beforehand. There seemed to be a passing of the torch to the next generation (probably why he was sad) which I found pretty vague. An explanation of the title The Leopard tries to tie things up. I watched the three hour Italian-language version.
Arrival (2016) (Denis Villeneuve)
Isn’t as good as I remembered. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner play it well and the language aspects were handled believably. The slow build-up heading to the spacecraft becomes tedious rather than suspenseful, especially when you’ve seen it before and know what to expect. The last act does make you think about your own life but felt under-explored and ends just when it started getting psychologically and philosophically interesting.
On rewatch I knew the twist but the opening scene still made no sense as takes place before she even visits the spacecraft. Perhaps the prologue is not meant to literally happen before the arrival but simply be a teaser of later events in the film. Kind of a modern Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (documentary) (2005) (Martin Scorsese)
There’s a dispute over who discovered Bob Dylan, was it John Hammond at CBS or Artie Mogull who claims he made the singer popular. Albert Grossman is said to have brought Dylan’s music to a wider audience.
A story about Dylan stealing Woody Guthrie records and the owner coming after him has an almost mythical quality.
The funniest scene has Dylan rearranging Pet Shop signs into nonsense and I also realized the opening sequence from the Watchmen movie was ripped off from this documentary.
Joan Baez talks about a night when a motel wouldn’t give Dylan a room because he looked scruffy and she persuaded them to let him stay which Baez argues led that night to him writing “When the Ship Comes In” about an injustice.
Goes into the political relevance of songs like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” which some linked to atomic rain and in Dylan’s own words is about something bad is going to happen.
“Only a Pawn in their Game” could be interpreted as a song for the civil rights movement and the killing of Medgar Evers.
Dylan is perceived as a leftwing folk singer in the vein of Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie, carrying on their tradition. But he’s a contradictory man in the 1960s, saying in an interview all his songs are protest sings while also a discomfort with being boxed in as a topical political voice in his speech at the Tom Paine award ceremony.
Climate Change – The Facts (2019) (60 min BBC documentary)
Narrated by David Attenborough, the focus is CO2 and global warming. Nearly a third of CO2 admissions are caused by deforestation, fields used for cattle or clearing rainforests to make room for huge palm oil plantations. Palm oil is in many products we buy (margarine, bread, soaps, shampoo, chocolates, ice cream).
Provides disturbing predictions. Methan gas can cause an acceleration of global warming as it’s 21x more powerful than CO2 (this is one of the so-called ”tipping points”). There are tons of frozen lakes in the arctic which could release methan if they melt. But not all bad news, Iceland have one of the world’s first carbon collectors.
Sea level has risen by about 20cm in the last 100 years which so far affects Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Jean Charles, Louisiana in the US which loses a football field every 45 min and citizens become so-called climate refugees. By end of 21st century our planet will potentially be between 3-6 degrees warmer. 600 million live in costal areas that are less than 10m above sea level. If we don’t do anything, we could be looking at 80cm to 1m rise of sea level.
James Hansen warned Congress in 1988 that he was 99% sure the increase in carbondioxid had led to warmer temperatures than any time in measured history. The fossil fuel companies for oil and gas are some of the most profitable businesses in human history and didn’t want a change.
How we can make a difference in our own lives:
-Eat everything we buy, less waste.
-Avoid air-freighted food which is 100x more impactful to climate change than putting it on a boat.
-Insulate our homes which wastes less heat.
-Reduce meat and dairy consumption, especially beef and lamb.
Stranger Things, season 3 (2019) (Duffer brothers)
Episode 1 started out very dark but the mood soon brightens. The third season has a few of these tonal shifts, in another moment a group are mowed down with a machine gun, the next the teenagers are listening to music in a car.
The bickering between Steve and Robin (you can buy the above outfits) worked so well. New or expanded characters in season 3 include Priah Ferguson(she has a bunch of funny lines) and Maya Hawke (I didn’t know Ethan Hawke and Urma Thurman’s had a daughter, her voice is similar to Thurman’s).
We see the gang sneaking into the cinema and the radio transmission stuff was entertaining. Sweet that Dustin has a girlfriend off screen. Hopper the sheriff I found annoying in the home dispute with Eleven and Mike but once Hopper goes on the adventure with Joyce I was hooked. Will is dealing with his friends maturing while he still enjoys kid’s games, the sadness of leaving your childhood behind is affecting but gets a bit forgotten about by the final episodes. Billy is admired by the pool by the females and he is given a more substantial role than before. Surprised Cary Elwes was the major although the creators have picked actors from iconic 80s movies before such as Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine and Sean Astin.
Hopper’s letter in the final episode is really moving and that is my favorite scene. Steve and Dustin reuniting (they became friends in S2) is heart-warming and funny. The quintessential 80s moments are Steve and Dustin spying in the mall with Things Can Only Get Better by Howard Jones (1985) on the loud speaker, and the upbeat/synthy Starcourt and Madonna’s Material Girl used when Eleven and Max have fun in the mall’s shopping area. All in all, season 3 is light-hearted, enjoyable escapism.
Killing Michael Jackson (2019) (45 min documentary)
Documentary that revisits the final days of the pop singers life, with new interviews of the three detectives who were involved in the initial investigation. The blame for his death is not limited to only the doctor, the singer was secretly taking other drugs while on propofol and crucially did not inform his doctor about this. Doctor Conrad Murray also behaved irresponsibly by not having a defibrillator at the house, not dialling 911 immediately, and using propofol outside a hospital environment. Doesn’t go into the suicide theory.
What do you think? As always, comments are welcome