Movie Review: Midsommar

Director Ari Aster certainly has a style he is going for based on his masterpiece debut last year with Hereditary and his latest project, Midsommar. I had high expectations due to his first film, becoming one of my favorite horror movies of all time. While the two films share a lot in common in themes and tone, this is a unique, artsy drama-thriller that misses a few beats, but nails its premise.

Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian’s (Jack Reynor) relationship is in turmoil, mostly because of her family drama putting too much stress on Christian. As a getaway, he decides to invite her on a trip to Sweden with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Mark (Will Poulter), and Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) who is the one to initiate the idea by wanting his friends to see a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a mid-summer festival that his family celebrates. The festivities turn out to be an ancient ritual that turns this vacation into a nightmare. A slow burn that never picks up the pace when things go dark while still keeping much of the impact with the grim twist of Sweden’s real mid-summer festivals.

The characters all satisfy their roles in the narrative, even all of the members of the Hårga cult feel fleshed out. Mark is certainly a highlight with his comedic relief, whether it is playing off of an ignorant American tourist or having genuine jokes. The real centerpiece of everything outside of the horrifying Pagan rituals comes from the rocky relationship between Christian and Dani. I felt the tension between the two during cold silences along with their happier moments that filled the air with their love for one another.

The acting, for the most part, is quite stellar. Pugh steals the show with her impressive display of raw emotions. The supporting friends are not given too much, but manage to do well in their scenes. The weakest link comes from Reynor, who feels flat in some of his line delivery. He saves much of his problematic performance by leaning on his costars to pick up after his mistakes.

Aster took inspirations across Europe to create this cult. The influences from Sweden are more peaceful with flower pickings and paintings, while the horror aspects come from a mix of other European Pagan history and the director/writer’s own twisted mind. With all of that research, the Hårga clan get the time and care to become believable.

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The film holds plenty of similarities as Hereditary like pacing, tone, and its focus on relationships. It is poignant about trauma, mental health, and the connections we hold with our friends, family, and significant other. However, the pacing here feels too slow compared to his previous endeavor. The other elements remain just as strong and in some cases, even more impactful.

A lot of stylistic choices are made in this artistic film. Whether that is cinematography, editing, or even world building, I don’t fully understand every decision, and that is okay, nobody is supposed to get everything in this horror flick. Everything feels like a purpose with its creative ideas and the bread crumbs about the twists to come along with developing its characters and lore.

The significant difference that separates Midsommar and its rivals in the genre comes from the daylight. Almost the entire film takes place in a beautiful village that houses Pelle’s family. Color pops from the bright sun and gives me a false sense of safety, it is a brilliant choice that feels refreshing for horror as it usually lacks any eye candy.

Enhancing the drama, suspense, and beauty is the music. From a grand orchestral score to the many folk songs played throughout, a lot of the emotions I felt through my viewing was elevated by the incredible tunes that highlight every moment.

Midsommar falls slightly short from my expectations due to Aster’s 2018 supernatural horror movie, but it rises above most releases this year. It is brilliant with fully realized ideas while delivering the best music and visual effects of the year so far. It lacks the right pacing, along with some unimpactful moments that should have been executed better. What falls short gets picked back up by the higher quality elements in this untraditional, psychedelic folk horror journey that left me uncomfortable for two and a half hours.

Score: 8/10

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Image via A24

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Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

Before going in: I will have a spoiler section after the initial review, so continue reading past my score to get some of my thoughts on the surprises that burst out of this movie.

Homecoming set the bar unbelievably high for the ultimate Spidey experience, but that team came together to elevate it in every aspect. The small adventure with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) facing against the Vulture (Michael Keaton) was the movie I always wanted from my favorite hero but going forward, I needed higher stakes. Far From Home delivers an impact that not only shapes the future of the web-slinger from Queens but paves the way for the next phase of the MCU. This is a true journey for Peter that soars above my expectations and every other standalone flick in this universe.

After a world-ending entity with a giant chin (John Brolin) snaps away all of life, you need a vacation. Peter heads to Europe with his class for a field trip. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) hijacks Peter’s relaxing time with his friends and his plans to ask out M.J. (Zendaya) to partner up with a new face, Quentin Beck AKA Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to defeat mythological creatures called the Elementals. While full of action with giant beasts, this monumental task gets trickier as the neighborhood friendly superhero must cope with the loss of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Director Jon Watts and his team of writers, Erik Sommers, and Chris McKenna, hit the right note to send off the third phase of the MCU and coming off of Endgame.

Immediately the film takes care of a plot issue in a quirky, yet smart way of tackling how the snap and time travel of Endgame changes how the world works. A much-needed explanation clarifies why Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Peter, along with everyone else in their class, fit into their school after five years have passed and any age-related questions that were brought up after the world-saving snap. Watch it yourself, but I felt this was the right choice in handling some of the big questions when the two best friends reunited at the end of Thanos’ defeat.

Mysterio certainly takes a different role, but in a respectful manner that balances change and tradition for the iconic character. Gyllenhaal’s entry in this franchise has been a dream of mine, and like I knew it in my heart, he nails every beat. His chemistry with Holland shines in interviews, along with every scene they share in this story.

I had some concerns over the look of the Elementals from the trailers. The water creature looked perfectly fine since water usually does not get messed up by the VFX crew, but fire tends to look too fake. At times some of the melting metal looked off, but overall the flaming monster looks horrifyingly spectacular.

A heavy side plot involved Peter and M.J., which felt honest and fitting. Romantic subplots usually feel forced while taking away from the more exciting storylines. I had a smile through epic battles and seeing these two awkward teenagers interact. Zendaya and Holland have delightful chemistry that I can watch for hours.

The special effects along with the variety of new costumes, make this a far prettier film than Homecoming. While the first solo film with Holland’s Spidey was superb, it did not have too many stunning moments to look at except for his suit and Vulture. More color here gave this sequel a much-needed facelift while still balancing it out when needed. Not all of the CGI landed, but it excelled above its predecessor.

Traveling between different countries gave plenty of eye candy with some stunning sceneries. Seeing the Venice during an attack by destructive monsters or the nightlife of Paris generates a feeling unlike any other movie featuring the wall-crawling teenager. Changing locations kept the film fresh as the story progressed.

The way the tone was handled and balanced in Holland’s first standalone made it feel so worthy. The writing, along with the acting carries the drama, action, and comedy into higher places. One did not take away from the other. I managed to feel every emotion I wanted to feel when going into the theater.

I will say it here, this is the best adaption of Spider-Man to date, even beating its beloved, smaller outing. Watts and the writing team understand this character, and Tom Holland is Spider-Man. Some generic moments happen that was expected, but those Hollywood tropes don’t diminish what is so special about this send-off for the third phase.

Score: 10/10

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SPOILERS AFTER READING SECTION:

Mysterio’s twist from a seemingly new hero from another dimension to the villain I and many other fans knew from the first trailer.  Gyllenhaal’s performance and character arc sell it so well, until the big reveal. Him gaining the power of Tony’s army of drones by earning Peter’s trust smacked me in the face, despite being ready.

He is far from the special effects artist from the comics, but he earns this change. Like Thanos, he goes from goofy, yet iconic villain to someone more believable for an on-screen take. His motivations make sense while deviating from the sympathetic style that many of the magnificent baddies of the MCU have taken. Unlike Thanos or Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), he is diabolically manipulative, and I love him.

Every entry in the MCU has it’s after credits, sometimes things are a nice laugh before going home, while others mold the future. The first epilogue drastically changes what will happen going forward with Spider-Man. Beck had one final trick before his death by revealing Peter’s identity along with framing him for the drone attack in Europe. I lost it in my seat, and I am sure the elderly woman next to me was not happy about my language. Inching near Vulture’s identity reveal and some of the major twists in the ensemble adventures, this is arguably the biggest moment in the history of Marvel’s movie-making plans.

On top of that, J.K. Simmons reprises his role briefly as J. Jonah Jameson. The cameo topped off one of the most overwhelming scenes from any superhero flick.

The ending scene, once all of the credits rolled, reveals a fan theory that has been going on for years. The Skrull theory about Nick Fury is partially correct. The significant change is that the one-eyed mastermind is still around, just in space with other Skrulls. He is still the main man behind forming the Avengers and all of his other accomplishments but has taken a step back to have control from afar.

The twists and turns of this movie really made and ruined my nerdy life. I cannot wait for the future of this universe, especially for my favorite web-slinger.

Image via Marvel Studios/Columbia Pictures

Movie Review: Men in Black: International

Hollywood gets a lot of criticism over its obsession to milk a series for every penny. Men in Black: International feels like that ploy with its overly generic structure. An all-star cast cannot save this doozy of a spinoff.

Molly (Tessa Thompson) spent her whole life tracking the Men in Black after witnessing their actions as a child. After 20 years, she finds the agency and easily and quickly gets hired. She tries to get in with Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) to partner up and learn the ropes, so the two team up with his brawns, despite getting put down by everyone, and her brains, even though she lies to people who easily eat up anything. A new threat emerges which breaches high levels of the organization.

The plot drunkenly stumbles with each step it takes. The beginning of the film makes no sense when two agents come to wipe the memory of Molly’s parents due to an alien in their home but never go in to investigate the pesty creature. The use of the neuralyzer is used too liberally and often loses its purpose in many aspects that break the fundamental rules of this agency’s secrecy.

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I will say, it was impressive that Mandeiya Flory, who played the child in Molly’s flashback, looked quite her adult costar, Thompson. The two actresses looking similar made for a smooth transition from the past to the present.

The A-class star power does not always save a movie, especially this one. Hemsworth, Thompson, their boss Agent High T (Liam Neeson), and their alien companion Pawny (Kumail Nanjani) cannot save this train wreck. Some of the dialogue is so poorly written that some of the line delivery feels flat. Most of the time, it feels like a generic, blockbuster comedy that usually falls on its face rather than making me laugh.

The characters have plenty of inconsistencies themselves. Agent H tells Thompson once they first meet that they work alone, but immediately changes his mind for the sake of moving the plot forward. Agent M is supposed to have all of the perfect traits from a fighter to a genius, yet she tends to play off the moment in hopes things work out annoyingly. The saving grace is their chemistry works, mostly due to their past work together in the MCU.

The alien designs have some throwbacks to the original trilogy while bringing in new faces. The designs look great, yet some of the CGI does not. I feel scaley or slimier creatures are harder to make more realistic. At times I was in pain to look at some of the poorly rendered characters, while others were tolerable, yet nothing incredible.

Another overly processed sequel that lacks any personality like most other films during the summer blockbuster frenzy. What should have happened was an adventure with two unlikely partners to form an expansion on the juicy universe while making it a fun sci-fi comedy; instead, International is dull and lacks any intelligence. This is not even streaming worthy on Netflix or Hulu once it is out of the theaters, save your own time by watching anything else.

Score: 2/10

Image via Sony Pictures

Movie Review: Ma

So much horror comes out, something needs to get people in their seats. Ma grabbed me by its intriguing trailer and casting Octavia Spencer as the psychotic Ma. That one casting choice ended up being the only substantial reasons to go to the theater, but this odd, B horror flick should be consumed on Netflix with some friends rather than spending money.

Maggie (Diane Silvers) and her mom Erica (Juliette Lewis) move back to Erica’s hometown after their financial situation goes down the drain. Maggie becomes friends with some party hungry students at her school who eventually find a nice older woman to buy them booze. After a few times of this, she invites the kids to party safely at her home, only to eventually discover how overly attached Ma has become.

As entertaining it is to watch, but there are seriously laughable problems. I will give a non-spoiler issue in the plot that happens right in the beginning to provide you with an idea for what’s to come. Maggie, a girl who lived in San Diego, moves to a small town where apparently has a big high school, something she was not used to participating in a large city in California.

On a deeper narrative problem, some of the murders by Ma can easily be tracked, yet nobody in this small town is aware of anything happening. So, here is a tip, commit murder in the non-gossipy towns with lazy police, according to Spencer’s crazy party addicted killer.

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Correct me if I am wrong readers, but I am sure we have all seen small budget horror flick on Netflix or any other streaming service. Get that in your mind and remember how awkward some of the acting and dialogue can be, and that is how this film is written. I don’t blame the cast for some flat line delivery because it feels like it was written by someone who clearly has no idea what young people find to be cool or fun, and it is hilariously painful.

Continuing on the writing, some levity got mingled in with the intensity. I laughed a few times due to the jokes the group of friends would say to one another, it reminded me of high school. At times, I was confused about whether or not I should laugh by its extensive awkwardness.

The chemistry between Maggie, Haley (McKaley Miller), Andy (Corey Fogelmanis), Chaz (Gianni Palo), and Darrell (Dante Brown) felt real despite some hiccups with odd choices of dialogue. Their friendship made each of them equal parts memorable and believable. Even how they interact with other characters like Erica and Ma works well, one of the few aspects of the film that had some quality.

The tension and build up to the climax felt bumpy for the first twenty to thirty minutes. A choppy development of Maggie and her mom. Some cuts to scenes between the two threw me off by its rough transitions as the mother and daughter get established.

Ma’s motivations felt quite weak and generic. On top of not being sold on her driving murderous rage, the flashbacks to provide her generic backstory took far too long as it stumbles along to an underwhelming reveal.

Another summer horror film to wait to stream or never watch has arrived. The acting is well done, especially with Spencer, who is beyond creepy, but the poor execution of crafting a truly great villain ruins the experience. Wait for a night where you and buddies have nothing to do and have fun with this enjoyable below average thrill ride.

Score: 4/10

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Images via Blumhouse Productions

Movie Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

My childhood franchises were a tie. At one end, I was a die-hard fan of Scooby-Doo movies and the tv shows and at the other was the Godzilla movies. No matter how bad or good they got, I would watch either of those franchises. So, there I was at the theater last night watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a dumb, but a fun ride that kept me more entertained than the reboot while making me more frustrated at the same time.

Five years after the events at San Fransisco, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) revives a project her ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler), and she worked on called Orca, a device to communicate with Godzilla and the other Titans that have been discovered around the world. She goes off with her other scientists and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), to wake up a new monster they have nicknamed Mothra. During the awakening, ecoterrorist Jonah Alan (Charles Dance) captures the mother and daughter along with the Orca to wake up monsters around the world. Mark, the military, and other scientists come together to backup Godzilla to stop the world from ending by King Ghidorah and Rodan.

The science in a movie like this does not have to be based on anything real, but at the least have good enough writing to make sense. The most significant flaws in the 2014 film were its dumb, bland characters and a lack of suspension of disbelief to allow for me to believe in their made up science. King of the Monsters ramps up the stupidity of characters like Emma or throws out any logic to try and solve an issue that could have been done more intelligently.

The villain, Jonah, seems to have zero motivations. He is a plot device to make action happen for the sake of entertainment, which is done well despite that hurting the overall story.

Other characters like the range in quality, but nobody except for Madison and Dr. Rick Stanton (Bradley Whitford) is remotely likable. Everyone else is either too dumb or dull of a personality to care about. The redeeming aspect of everyone is the superb acting with Brown, Dance, Whitford, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, and many more stellar stars who manage to do a lot more than expected with such weak roles.

The saving grace comes from the action. The reboot had horrendous pacing by waiting to show Godzilla for roughly an hour. Instead, having a new director with a different vision, Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat), the film was able to focus on its main star, Godzilla and his costar Kaijus. The grand scale of destruction and chaos made for a far more enjoyable experience. The sequel does not mess around by having some of the most insane monster battles I have seen in years.

Another note taken from the reboot that was partially addressed comes from the visuals. The monsters look spectacular, but the color palette of the film needs work. At times, the blues, greens, and reds make for some of the most breathtaking shots of the year while other times the browns and blacks drown out so much more potential beauty.

The decline in the iconic Kaiju’s franchise makes King of the Monsters one of the best, which is both incredible and saddening. The script from Dougherty, Zach Shields, and Max Borenstein feels like a child’s dream Godzilla story by how each step became more illogical than the last. A fan like myself wants to see death and destruction, and I got it despite some Hollywood hero moments making my eyes roll.

If you see this movie, just survive the idiocy and enjoy the performances, action, and epic, cheesy soundtrack.

Score: 6/10

Images via Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: Brightburn

The superhero genre has plenty of gold to share with the world, but not enough of those movies do something radically different. Writers Brian and Mark Gunn, brothers of James Gunn from Guardians of the Galaxy fame, twist the iconic story of Superman into a slasher flick with plenty of gory kills and a refreshing take on the highly saturated genre. Super Myers may not soar like expected, but the film packs a punch.

After failing to have a baby, Tori (Elizabeth Banks) and Kyle Byers (David Denman) witness a spaceship crash behind their home to discover a baby. Their adopted alien son, Brandon (Jackson A. Dunn) comes off innocent until his 12th birthday where he starts to descend down a supervillain path. His parents must come to grip with the reality of the identity of the child they have been raising all these years. A compelling narrative that weaves together a family, supervillain, and slasher story into one in a fairly successful way, but plenty of generic beats get hit to downgrade the experience.

Child actors can be a huge hit or a miss. While many of the supporting kids did not add much to the overall story, especially towards the final act, the little screen time was impressive. Besides Dunn, the only person to get any larger scenes around his age was Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter) who was a classmate that Brandon started to develop feelings towards. The adults did an outstanding job, but the young actors and actresses deserved more room to shine.

To no surprise, Banks is stellar with her performance along with her costars who bring together a wonderful family bond. Denman and Banks have a chemistry that feels like they have had a long history together. In both the brightest and darkest moments of this horrifying journey, the family dynamic between the three is flawlessly executed. I was floored how Dunn can snap from deep emotion to a soulless killer in an instant.

The caped murderer theme works, but I felt it needed some tweaking. The balance between supervillain and horror film felt unbalanced. The scarier aspects felt typical with some creative moments that needed to be exercised more often. Brandon’s arc as he discovers and learns about his powers were given little screen time, but every second was utilized to not waste the hour and a half runtime. The last act loses some of Brandon’s supervillain narrative except for a goofy scene during the beginning credits.

Some techniques with lighting and camera work were a sweet treat that I did not expect. The red to symbolize Brandon’s dark alter ego was masterfully placed to make for some disturbingly pretty shots. Plus one death scene has a unique take on how to shoot a character’s perspective before their demise, so keep an eye out for that even if you easily squirm.

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The deaths were satisfyingly brutal, but not enough was done. A murderous superpowered child should get a higher body count, especially with the short runtime. For gore fans, this is for you, but I felt I needed more to take care of my appetite for blood on the big screen.

I felt the inexperience from the Gunn brothers, and director David Yarovesky hurt the quality when this comic inspired horror flick should have been far better, but for younger filmmakers, they did impress with what they accomplished. Something felt missing from the plot to give it that extra nightmarish punch to the gut that sticks with him after viewing. Brightburn has excellent performances with some imaginative ideas, but it needed an extra push to be more original as a whole.

Score: 7/10

Images via Sony Pictures Releasing

Movie Review: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Initially, I was hesitant when the first chapter of the John Wick series came out, but like many people, after seeing the film, I was blown away by the superb choreography. The second came, and I thought no way lightning could strike twice, yet it did. Now with the third entry, I have to say while it continues the same level of beautiful shots and some of the best action in the genre, some elements miss the target for an enjoyable, yet unsatisfying experience.

Leading right off of Chapter 2, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) finds himself desperately trying to survive against Winston’s (Ian McShane) $14 million target that has been painted on his back. Every hitman wants that money, and John needs to tie up loose ends to stop the call for his head. A story that starts off riveting, and ends on a note that left me hungry for more.

The draw to Reeves’ action trilogy is the mind-blowingly crafted fight scenes. The classic style the series has brought to the table continues to drop my jaw while delivering plenty of new ideas. Besides the typical kung fu and gun-fu, there is dog-fu, motorcycle-fu, and horse-fu.

A flow goes to the series, which is crucial to their quality. Combat feels fluid as the story weaves itself in and out. For the first half, this is an easy ace, but the second gets a little sloppy. Instead of rounding out on a third movie, the story gets too big for its foundation and starts to crumble in some areas. The wrong beats get hit, and the experience gets disrupted.

I have found a distinctive tone in these movies. It is serious and thoughtful, yet a touch of dark humor with a side of cheesiness allows for it to give that wink to the audience to let everyone know that a dog avenging hitman is not too deep. Parabellum gets weird with some of its humor that feels out of place, like a different personality that I have not come to known through the previous two entries.

Eccentric characters continue to fill this world. McShane’s performance as Winston continues to steal every scene that features him. Laurence Fishburne’s Bowery King truly is a king with his intense charisma. New faces like the badass Sofia (Halle Berry) and the mysterious advocate for the hitman organization the High Table, The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) moves the narrative in exciting directions. While Zero (Mark Dacascos) feels out of place by being too cheesy and having off comedic timing.

The lighting and cinematography still shatter my expectations. The vibrant lights consume the night in New York and other destinations in a spectacular way. While the action feels like music with its rhythm, the visual components feel like a masterfully crafted painting.

Parabellum has its issues but shoots down any of its competition in the world of gunfights and martial arts. While this continues to be my favorite action series, I feel let down by later parts of the film. A stylistic, yet underwhelming introduction felt like a warning that this would not meet my skyscraper-high expectations. Still, I cannot hate on a movie with this cast, action, and the several good boys who fight for justice and belly rubs.

Score: 7/10

Image via Summit Entertainment