<b>'Midsommar' rolls out a floral carpet that is anything but welcoming</b>

In "Midsommar," American graduate students go to a country retreat in Sweden that is not what it seems. | Photo by A24

In "Midsommar," writer-director Ari Aster doesn't want to scare you with cheap special effects. He wants to unnerve you with psychological terror.

Aster gained attention in 2018 with "Hereditary," his first feature, an exercise in horror that I admired until the gory lunacy at the end.

His goal with "Midsommar" is to make you unsteady by dropping hints that something truly evil is going to happen, and it's a long, 140-minutes to a payoff that is more a twist on Roman Polanski's masterwork, "Rosemary's Baby," then it is a bloodthirsty killer in the woods unleashed.

Dani (Florence Pugh), a college psychology student has lost her sister and parents in a terrifying incident, which we experience. Her relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is fragmenting. She accepts an offer to join him on a trip to a commune in northern Sweden where the sun doesn't set and where his graduate student friend Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren) was raised. Two other buddies are also going. It's an opportunity for them to experience some colorful folk lore.

A traditional Swedish midsummer celebration is being held. The cult-like group of folks living in a large field surrounded by woods and jagged cliffs wear festive white robes, with needlepoint piping, and flowers in their hair. Entry to a building on the grounds is forbidden. A bear sits quietly in a cage.

Life during this unique vacation is fine for the Americans until everything wicked this way comes. The nightmare is subtle, until it's not. The elderly in the commune are culled like smashed pumpkins. A Maypole dance leads to a newly crowned queen. One of the American lads is chosen to have sex with a woman, surrounded by naked chanting females. Be cautious about inhaling the steam from a potion or eating the Swedish pot pie. It could be your final chance at lovemaking.

I haven't scratched the surface of what fully happens in "Midsommar." Scenes are burnished with a white glow from the endless sun. I never felt its length, although it definitely could have been tighter. It's an unsettling movie with an allure that some will find hard to resist.


How different would the world be if the Beatles never existed? That's the premise of this enjoyable, albeit imperfect film. It wears its heart on its sleeve.

Jack Malik (Hamish Patel, a very good singer, but a bland actor) is a struggling songwriter in England. His manager, childhood friend Ellie (a lovely Lily Collins), is a schoolteacher.

After an electrical blackout affects everybody on Earth, Jack, who banged his head, discovers that only he remembers the Beatles. He begins performing their songs, claiming that he wrote them. A record demo left with a music producer leads to a television appearance, which leads to singer Ed Sheehan (weakly playing himself) inviting Jack to sing at Moscow concert with him.

Ellie can't go; therefore, Jack's goofy roadie friend Rocky (a delightful Joel Fry) travels with him. Owing to the fact that the Beatles songs are instant hits, Jack is then signed by Sheeran's aggressive agent, Debra Hammer (a brilliant Kate McKinnon), and he becomes globally famous. What could go wrong?

"Yesterday," directed by Danny Boyle and written by Richard Curtis, falters when the love story between Jack and Ellie gets bogged down in two scenes that are overlong and hamper the narrative.

At times, Hamish is lifeless, but when he sings the Beatles' songs accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, the movie soars.

I watched the film mostly with a smile, and laughed aloud at McKinnon's fresh satirical chatter about the music industry. Unfortunately, Boyle and Curtis never answer the key question: "What would rock and roll music (and the world) have been like without the Beatles?

Only Jack knows their work. For everyone else, they never existed, but nothing in society has changed. "Yesterday" entertains; however, it lacks what's necessary to connect its theoretical dots.

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME - This motion picture edition of Spider-Man is the final movie in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe adventures featuring the spidery comic book hero. Fans will find all the necessary boxes ticked and their enjoyment should be at maximum satisfaction.

Spider-Man started oh so many years ago as a shy, skinny kid with a crush on a girl and a spider bite that causes him to do fun superhero things. However, everything's amped up, as we've long ago left the concept of an awkward American schoolboy finding new strengths.

Visually, and costume-wise, this edition is like an "Iron Man" sequel (with hints of "Transformers"). As expected, there's an epic extended battle, the kind that controls films like this. The story is convoluted.

Peter Parker takes a break from fighting dastardly demons and participates in a school trip to Europe, including magical Venice. He's compelled to go head-to-head against a villain, with more nastiness on the way.

There is good news. "Spider-Man: Far From Home," directed by Jon Watts and written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, is breezier than usual. It's a bright-eyed adventure that offers some moviegoing pleasures, especially regarding frisky Tom Holland as Spider-Man. He creates an enjoyable hero to whom older kids can relate.

If comic book movies are not your cup of tea, then this may not be something of which you'll want to partake.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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