MIDSOMMAR – movie review

MIDSOMMAR
A24
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Ari Aster
Screenwriter: Ari Aster
Cast: Florench Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, Will Poulter
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 7/1/19
Opens: July 3, 2019

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When you go to Europe on vacation, what do you expect to do? Take in the sights? Enjoy fine dining? Fishing and golfing and womanizing? Scuba-diving or mountain climbing? One thing is missing: the people who live there. Don’t you want to blend in with the locals, meet and chat with them, get invited to some of their social functions? If you don’t have family in France, Germany or Iceland, you are likely to gaze at some of the natives but unlikely to have conversations with them, and that may be the wise thing to do. After all, look what happens to a band of American graduate students who are invited by one of them, a Swedish-American, to travel to a remote rural area to observe some special festivities. When Pelle (Wilhelm Blomgren) suggests that his friends join him on a trip that bypasses Stockholm in favor of watching a nine-days’ festival that occurs that year, they go for it especially when Josh (William Jackson Harper) is doing his thesis about midsummer rituals for his Anthropology major.

“Midsommar,” which is writer-director Ari Aster’s second feature—his “Hereditary” dealing with dark secrets when the family matriarch passes away—finds Dani (Florence Pugh) in circumstances not unlike those of Toni Collette’s Annie in that first offering. Dani, who has a neurotic dependency relationship with Christian (Jack Reynor), is urged by his male friends to dump her, but instead, perhaps feeling sorry that Dani has just lost her sister and parents in a catastrophe, Christian makes the mistake that they all make in taking the trip. What they find among a large ensemble standing in for Pelle’s cousins and other relatives is an inbred community whose warm welcome of the Americans belies their intentions. Like the folks in Jordan Peele’s stunning horror picture “Get Out,” finding African-American boyfriends of young family member Rose Armitage embraced by a group of people who go overboard to show that like Joe Biden they don’t have a racist bone in their bodies, actually have sinister plans for the guys to whom they are introduced.

The extended (and this must be repeated) inbred family may remind old-timers here in America of Woodstock in mid-August 1969, with its hallucinogenic drugs, its nudity, its camaraderie, its peace-in-our-time atmosphere, one difference being that there, only two people died; one was run over by a tractor and another passed away on a drug overdose. You can’t blame the Yanks for thinking that the big bear kept in a small cage is an hallucination, but it has uses for the locals in white folksy costumes to celebrate an event that happens only every ninety-nine years.

Pawel Pogorzelski photographed the macabre party in the Hungarian countryside, taking a few startling close-ups when required, otherwise using a vivid imagination as when turning the Americans’ world literally upside down as they go well past the urban Stockholm landscape for the spacious family grounds. Production values are spot-on, and Aster’s solidly directed expansive action are big plusses. A sex scene involving a score of naked women cheering on one man’s performance in one moment will draw unintentional laughter from the audience, though one might surmise that this particular moment arises from the director’s sense of humor. A playful cinematography is marred by a convoluted plot, however, the editing taking a back seat to a chronological treatment of events though the visual effects department nicely projects a drug-fueled distortion of nature. Best of all, Florence Pugh turns in a dazzling performance in the key role, anchoring the show as a woman who opens on a mournful note, overly dependent on her boyfriend Christian, yet ending up having the authority of life or death.

147 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B

STOCKHOLM – movie review

STOCKHOLM
SGM and Dark Star
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Robert Budreau
Screenwriter: Robert Budreau, inspired by a 1974 New Yorker magazine article “The Bank Drama”
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Ethan Hawke, Mark Strong, Christopher Heyerdahl, Bea Santos, Thorbjørn Harr
Screened at: Tribeca, NYC, 3/15/19
Opens: April 12, 2019

Stockholm Movie Poster

If you’re American, you may have thought that the Patty Hearst case was the first time the concept of Stockholm Syndrome was used.
The most famous case of Stockholm Syndrome in America occurred in 1974 when Patricia Campbell Hearst was kidnapped by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which took her hostage to gain the release of some imprisoned members of the group. She bonded with her captors, called her granddad, William Randolph Hearst, a fascist, took up a machine gun and robbed businesses and made explosive devices, all allegedly in voluntary service to the SLA. However the first time the concept was used was in 1973 involving a hostage situation in the main bank of Stockholm, Sweden.

Budreau, whose “Born to Be Blue” about the reimagining of Chet Baker’s jazz comeback in the sixties, now departs wholly from that biographical subgenre to tackle what is unlikely the first case in which a hostage bonds with her captor, but is the first time that the “Syndrome” term was used. Ethan Hawke departs from his restrained performance as a minister grappling with despair in “First Reformed” to go over the top, and Noomi Rapace shucks her over the top performance as the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” to play a meek bank clerk. “Stockholm” is off and running when Lars Nystrom (Ethan Hawke) adjusts his fake, hippie-style hair, combs his mustache, strolls into Stockholm’s central bank, removes a machine gun from his duffel, fires a few shots at the ceiling, and give every impression that he’s out for money. He does ask for a million, but his real goal is to get the cops under chief Mattsson (Christopher Heyerdahl) to free his bank robbing pal Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) from jail.

As the two criminals settle in for what will be five days and the police occupy the second floor of the bank, Lars both terrorizes and comforts his two hostages, Claire (Bea Santos) and Bianca Lind (Noomi Rapace). As a wife and mother, Bianca would not seem the type of person who would be taken in by Lars, except that Lars is the kind of person that women say they’d like to have fun with but not marry, while Bianca’s husband Christopher Lind (Thorbjørn Harr) is the groomed, steady type, the marriageable kind, taking care of the two kids during the hostage crisis. In the film’s most absurd moment, when Christopher shows up at the bank to see what his wife is up to, Bianca patiently gives him a fish recipe so he can return home and feed himself and the little ones.

This is the kind of movie that may disappoint thrill seekers who think it will be another “Dog Day Afternoon,” but will encourage a potential audience interested in human psychology, particularly in the surprising ways that people can react when in a situation that should inspire nothing but terror. Ethan Hawke and Noomi Rapace play off each other, convincing us in the audience that in spite of all logic, they get to do some smooching as the crisis proceeds day by day.

Almost all action takes place inside the bank, which could allow for some playwright in the future to consider the plot for the legitimate stage. The inspiration for the movie came from a New Yorker magazine article called The Bank Drama published Nov. 25, 1974 about Jan-Erik Olsson’s takeover of Sveriges Kreditbank in Stockholm, where the hostage-taker and an accomplice held 4 hostages for 6 days in Aug. 1973.

92 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

 

BECOMING ASTRID – movie reveiw

BECOMING ASTRID (Unga Astrid)
 
Music Box Films
Reviewed for BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director:  Pernille Fischer Christensen,
Screenwriterd:  Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
Cast:  Alba August, Maria Bonnevie, Trine Dyrholm, Henrik Rafaelsen, Magnus Krepper, Björn Gustafsson
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 11/14/18
Opens: November 23, 2018
Unga Astrid Movie Poster
Pippi Långstrump, Pippi Longstocking as we know her here in America, is the principal character in a series of books translated into eighty-five languages.  The little girl is a red-head, unconventional, strong enough to lift and carry a horse with one arm.  She has contempt for adults for their pomposity and condescension (kutchi-koo, presumably, and “you look like your mother”).  Her sense of morality is as strong as her muscular arm, as she cannot tolerate a man’s beating his horse.  All this comes from being the daughter of a buccaneer captain, who provides her with a solid role model or inner and outer strength, the ability to tackle just about anything, including dedicating hours daily to cleaning a house and cooking.  It’s no wonder that the book series itself provides a terrific model for the readers the world over.  In fact, I would opine that if you find high-school students today who can barely read, who have no idea of emotions behind the words in a book, those youngsters probably did not have moms and dads to read stories as they tucked them into bed.  (I know this from personal experience with hundreds of such high-school boys and girls.)
Yet the words “Pippi Longstocking” gets nary a mention in a movie loosely based on the author’s early life.  Co-writer and director Pernille Fischer Christensen bookends her charmer of a movie with the author, now an elderly woman receiving sacks upon sacks of mail from youngsters everywhere, many of whom ask the key question, “How do you write so well about childhood when you’re are not yourself a child?  How can you write about PippI, monkey, horse, Tommy and Annika?  What comes across in “Becoming Astrid” is that by the time the movie wraps up, you have a good idea of the experiences she has from age 16 to about age 23, the hardships faced, all fueling her vivid imagination. Her books enjoy the popularity of those written by Theodor Seuss Geisel. She’s a Dr. Seuss on the loose. 

Ms. Christensen may be best known for “A Soap,” hardly as conventional a movie as her latest, as the 2006 film deals with the relationship of the owner of a beauty clinic and a transgender woman.  Now she takes a break and goes conventional, tackling her subject in strict chronological order from ages sixteen to about twenty-three.  That should appear to a wider audience rather than the small arthouse crowd that indies often have to accept.  Not that this is a sentimental, Hallmark-type film, considering what happens to the principal subject, Astrid Lindgren (Alba August), despite spending her youthful days with religious parents Marie (Trine Dyrholm) and Samuel (Magnus Krepper) and listening to Sunday sermons of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Under Erik Molberg Hansen’s lensing, we get the feel of the life in a small farming village in the Sweden of the twenties where Astrid begins to display the unconventional behavior of her favorite character Pippi.  Bored with the Saturday night dancing and from the exhausting work on the small farm, she is discovered by Reinhold (Henrik Rafaelsen), a newspaper editor who has read some of her essays and hires her to intern on the paper.  Instead of settling for routine, she branches out with articles of her own and falls under the influence of fashion magazines.  She has the barber cut her braids and becomes a thoroughly modern Astrid.

The editor becomes more than a boss, falling in love with her despite an age difference of some twenty years, and gets her pregnant despite his promise to be careful.  Abortion in freewheeling Sweden did not become legal until 1938, leaving the young woman without quite the dilemma.  To avoid the censure of her whole family by the locals, she goes to Copenhagen by train where she lucks out by finding one Marie (Trine Dyrholm), who takes care of the babies of women like Astrid.  Though Astrid could take the easy way out by accepting the father’s marriage proposal, she refuses his entreaties and develops the strength that even nowadays could label her a liberated woman.

It’s not that anyone who makes strong choices is able to write children’s books.  The problems faced by Astrid might appear resolved, as she had the option of leaving Lasse, the child—played by Sigrid af Ekström at three weeks of age, Ludvig V Görensson at six months, and an already accomplished performer, Marius Damslev, at three years.  None of these experiences really explain how the woman who would become Astrid Lindberg became such a popular writer, so maybe we should forget about Pippi Longstocking and not worry about the fictional changes the director and writers make.  This is an involving enough tale brought nicely up to date as in 1987, Astrid (Maria Fahl Vikander) makes room in her home for the sacks of mail from appreciative kids whose missives are in plain envelopes and in sturdy wrappings alike.  Those of us born before the digital revolution might wonder whether such hero worship of a writer of children’s books could ever come to pass in 2018.  But take a look at any Barnes and Noble store, go to the children’s section, and you’ll find young mothers sitting on the carpet with their small fry as though they are monitor-hating intellectuals who keep reading and books alive in the marvelous sci-fi picture “Fahrenheit 451.”  In Swedish and Danish with English subtitles.

123 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

THE SACRIFICE – movie reveiw

THE SACRIFICE

Kino Classics from Kino Lorber – new 4K restoration
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Andre Tartovsky
Screenwriter:  Andre Tartovsky
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Production Design: Anna Asp
Costumes: Inger Pehrsson
Editing: Andrei Tarkovsky, Michal Leszczylowski
Cast:  Erland Josephson, Susan Fleetwood, Allan Edwall, Guorún Gísladóttir, Sven Wollter, Valérie Mairesse, Filippa Franzén, Tommy Kjellqvist
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/17/18
Opens: For complete schedule download https://KinoLorber.com/Film/TheSacrifice.  Blu-Ray and DVD available from Kino Lorber.

The Doomsday clock is ticking and while it ticks, the world remains whole, if deeply fragmented.  Now at two minutes to midnight, or is it three? No matter.  You cannot blame everything on President Trump.  John F. Kennedy moved the minute ever-so-close in the early sixties by challenging the Soviet Union on the high seas but the only bang we heard was from Khruschev’s shoes.  Now, though, with climate change competing with nuclear weapons as the ultimate globe-buster, we need something, but what do we need?  Is it more spiritualism?  More home town religion? A different President and a more flexible Congress?  Who knows?  Maybe Andre Tartovsky can clue us in as he has already done with his final film “The Sacrifice,” which he wrote and directed while dying from lung cancer.  Facing imminent death and the loss of everything, Tartovsky, an expat Russian filming in Swedish with the Ingmar Bergman’s favorite lenser Sven Nykvist, Tartovsky unfolds a drama with no music on the soundtrack save for a Bach aria, a quick melody on the flute, a movie devoid of humor, unless you get your funny-bone tickled by watching a grown man having sex with a witch.

Is that what we need?  Sex with a good witch to end the Iran crisis, the North Korea crisis, the Russia crisis?  Apparently the technique worked then, in 1985 which is the time period of the film, as the world survived thanks, perhaps, to the machinations a small group of neurotic Swedes which included not only the sex (we don’t see much of that since the film is rated PG but don’t even think of taking your eight-year-old to see it) but a sacrifice made by the principal character. Alexander (Erland Josephson), in a Faustian bargain with God, agrees to give up everything, his house and all his possessions if the Almighty would save his loved ones.

The plot, though, takes a back seat to D.P. Nykvist’s capture of the bleak landscape of rural Sweden, here a Baltic island, a scene that makes the viewer understand instantly while Northern Europeans flock to sunny Spain whenever they get a chance.  As the DVD from Kino Classics states, the film evokes an “arresting palette of luminous grays washing over the bleak landscape.”  Characters are shot at first from a distance as in the absorbing opening scene featuring Alexander, a philosopher and critic undergoing a mid-life crisis as anyone living with his neurotic friends and family might.  With his six-year-old mute Little Man in tow, he converses with Otto (Allan Edwall), a dour part-time postman and former history teacher.   Even before the thunder erupts and military jets zoom over the remote island, the two despair.

Aside from the Bach aria, the picture is highbrow, throwing names around like Nietzsche, Gandhi and Jesus while capturing close-ups of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Adoration of Three Kings,” which causes the postman fear.   And about the other neurotics: Alexander’s wife Adelaide (Susan Fleetwood) delivers a monologue to which some in the audience will relate, “I have loved one man and married another,” implying that Victor (Allan Edwall), a doctor, is having an affair with her but wants to chuck it all for a post in Australia “to get away from all of you.”

The postman, a bit of a mystic, sees that a Maria (Guarún Gísladóttir), a weird housemaid, is a witch and directs Alexander to bike out to her digs.  And what woman can resist a seduction that promises salvation for the world if she would “lie” with the rich man?  Well, he doesn’t exactly reveal her importance yet, delivering an impassioned monologue about how, in trying to bring order to his mother’s garden, he has destroyed natural beauty.  To restore the natural order, you’ve got to see the real fire that forms a dramatic conclusion to the film.  (In the Kino Lorber DVD we learn something quite interesting about the filming of this fire.)

Message alert: Science is destroying the world!  And this movie was made before young people became addicted to the soul-crushing technology of the iPhone!

Stay with it.  If you’re into Ingmar Bergman, you’ll have no trouble doing so.  This is not middle-brown Woody Allen entertainment but a thoughtful tale with imagery superimposed on and even more important than dialogue.  See it on the big screen as it has been updated to a new 4K restoration to play in several cities.  The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Rated PG.  146 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B
Technical – B+

Overall – B