Tag Archives: Hereditary

Midsommar

5 Jul

‘Midsommar’: Hands-on anthropology studies reveal how dark it can get under midnight sun

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As a kid I went to this Danish town north of Los Angeles called Solvang where it was Christmas year-round and the waffles were extra large and strangely exotic, and everyone dressed like they were from “The Sound of Music.” I tell you this because Solvang reminds me so much of the Swedish commune where four Americans wind up for a nine-day fertility festival “Midsommar,” the thrilling new chiller from Ari Aster. Everything so old school Lapland you half expect to see the Ricola folk or Max Von Sydow among the elders welcoming the group.

Two of the four Americans dropping in – Josh (William Jackson Harper, TV’s “The Good Place”) and Christian (Jack Reynor, the poor person’s Chris Platt) – are anthropology grad students, and the midnight sun rites are fodder for their theses. It helps that stateside buddy Pelle (Vilhelm Blongren) is from the remote village that feels like pieces borrowed from the sets of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” and Robert Egger’s “The Witch” with a bit of Ikea retrofitting tossed in. Rounding out the U.S. crew is loudmouth Mark (Will Poulter, the dirty cop in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Detroit”) and Dani (Florence Pugh, “Lady Macbeth”), Christian’s girlfriend and a tag-along whom the other lads in the posse aren’t so keen about.

The film begins and ends with Dani. There’s a prolonged opening about her clinginess to Christian, her bipolar sister and a family tragedy that would send anyone to therapy in double time– a hauntingly fraught meander worthy of Paul Thomas Anderson. Once up in the Swedish enclave, Dani freaks out on organic hallucinogens, Pelle clearly has eyes for her and the age-old cult ordains her as the dark horse in the May Queen dance-off.

Early on in the anthropological exploration—which doesn’t feel so scientific or methodical—we get a glimmer into just how dark this eternal summer day can get. Once you’re 72 in the commune, you’re ready for renewal, which has something to do with a swan dive onto a stone pallet or a wedding reception line of celebrants wielding a medieval mallet. It’s not easy to drink in, but it’s when Aster – who played on audiences’ sense of comfort and composure with the equally grim “Hereditary” – lets us know shit just got real. The American scholars, as smart as the allegedly are, don’t take note of such omens, even as their ranks thin. But when things begin to feel a bit “Wicker Man” predictable, Aster focuses on the fractured dynamic between Christian and Dani, and the choices the characters make are telling.

The final scene, just as with the reveal of the fate of Dani’s family, is gorgeously framed and flawlessly choreographed. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, to be sure, but Aster has again put a new, gory bow on a genre we know too well. If you can make it to the end, you’ll walk out on edge and agape.

Stella’s Last Weekend

26 Oct

‘Stella’s Last Weekend’: Home for a dog’s day, but brothers’ love triangle is more interesting

 

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Opening this week exclusively at “bargain deal” Apple Cinemas in Fresh Pond is “Stella’s Last Weekend,” a curio of a movie that, while not exactly fully formed for the big screen, keeps the viewer involved throughout. The “Stella” of the title isn’t anyone as rich as Tennessee Williams’ delusional grand dame, but a furry four-legged beast and perhaps the most regal and kind entity drawing oxygen in the film. Stella’s a squat, salt-and-pepper pit bull mix with a tumor large enough to ensure she won’t make it through the weekend. The growth’s been known about for some time and Stella, as we’re told over and over, has been such an integral part of the family that there’s going to be a weekend passing party for her. That’s why Jack (Nat Wolff) returns home from college. On the way back to Queens he spies a comely young woman across the subway platform (Paulina Singer). They make brief yet intense eye contact – and that’s it, neither acts; only regrets. Until Violet shows up at Jack’s door for a date with his younger brother Oliver (Nat’s real-life bro, Alex).

A love triangle blooms, with Violet seeming attracted to both and conflicted, but that’s the least intriguing aspect of “Stella’s Last Weekend.” What’s more interesting, in a sadistic, train wreck sort of a way, is the lads’ antagonistic relationship with their mom’s live-in beau, Ron (Nick Sandow) making fun of his combover and asking pointed questions about their mom in the “sack.” These testosterone-propelled puppies when in pack mode are hyenas, soliciting random senior women on the street for sex advice and so bold as to drop the B-word at a formal affair. They’re loose, shaggy-headed dudes, and you get their pent-up sexual energy, but in motion they’re class clowns. Thankfully, the script – written and directed by ubiquitous TV actress Polly Draper (“Thirtysomething” and “The Good Wife”), who plays mom and is the Wolff brothers’ mom in real life – imbues the boys with vulnerabilities and injects moments of doubt and reflection. It’s in these moments that the film finds a pulse and Draper, as the slightly progressive, neo-hippie Sally, brings a matronly gel to the all-too male homestead.

Draper and her sons were also all part of Nickelodeon TV show “The Naked Brothers Band” back when Nat and Alex Wolff were tweens. Since then, Alex played Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in “Patriots Day” and an incarnation of the dark prince in “Hereditary.” He’s not given as much to work with emotionally as his brother, but the actors find a nice, brotherly balance when the film’s not playing for sitcom-esque laughs. Singer’s fine too, but like Alex Wolff, her performance feels less finely tuned. Smartly, the film makes nothing of the fact that Violet’s black (and the boys are white). It’s there on the screen, but it’s not. Throughout it all Stella breathes heavily and looks occasionally sad. The five-second cutaways to her heavy weariness carry the most weight, but no one on screen seems to notice. Like Stella, we observe and shake our head at the silly human folly unfolding before our eyes.