Film Features

Anne Hathaway's "Witches" Apology, and the Problem with Body Horror

Is it even possible to separate what is frightening and disturbing from what is harmful and offensive?

The Witches - Official Trailer

On Thursday Anne Hathaway took to Instagram to apologize for her role in the HBO Max original movieThe Witches and its depiction of the titular villains as having so-called "limb differences."

The movie is based on Roald Dahl's 1983 novel—which was previously adapted into the classic 1990 version of The Witches. It tells the story of a young boy who stumbles upon a convention of horrifying witches with the power to turn children into mice. Hathaway portrays their leader, the Grand High Witch—a role previously played by Anjelica Houston with sinister glee.
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Film Features

How A24 is Saving Movies

How the Small Distribution Company is Giving a Much Needed Voice to First-Time Directors


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My first proper date with my first ever girlfriend was to see Spring Breakers, the weirdest movie granted a wide theatrical release in 2013.

Directed by the mostly-underground Harmony Korrine, the film became notorious for James Franco's performance as Alien, an off-beat, very colorful gangster with a head covered in dreadlocks and an accent somewhere between a Tallahassee truck driver and Marcellus Wallace. I saw that movie in theatres. I didn't know it at the time, but the A24 Productions logo that kickstarted the experience would go on to become one of the most important symbols you could pin to a movie in the 2010's. It's since become a mark of excellence. Now, in 2020, you see a movie distributed by A24, and you know one thing: that movie will certainly be awesome, but might even be visionary, too. A24 is very quietly saving movies, and they're doing it by going against the most time-held and obvious of box office rules: They invest in uncertainties.

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Film Features

Why Tom Hooper Is the Defining Director of the 2010s

Love him or hate him, he is THE director of our generation.

Tom Hooper

Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock

"Find you a man who can do both."

A bit of advice that began life as a meme, became general relationship advice, and finally settled in the culture as an identifier of any multi-talented individual. "A man who can do both" is what this generation demands of its lovers and heroes alike. It is the embodying cry of a generation that was forced via technology to adapt to multiple circumstances, to code-switch at will between professional and text speak, to lead a meaningful life in the midst of unavoidably-publicized global crises and catastrophe. We "do both" by necessity. We have built our culture around "doing both." This duality is what made Tom Hooper the perfect director for these times.

While Tom Hooper's name isn't exactly among household names like Steven Spielberg, Greta Gerwig, or Quentin Tarantino, he has been putting out critically and commercially acclaimed work for the last decade, enough to vault him into the same category as the aforementioned by any metric. His 2010 film, The King's Speech, cleaned up at the Oscars. Nominated for an astounding 12 awards, it won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Colin Firth) and Best Screenplay. He followed that up in 2012 with the best version of Les Miserables ever put to film, an enormously expensive production in which the actors sung live during each take, something that was previously unheard of for a movie musical. He finished his winning streak with The Danish Girl in 2015, a tragically under-seen powerhouse film that showcased two little-known actors who would go on to win Oscars: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, the latter of whom won for Danish Girl.

Hooper became known in film circles for the performances he drew from his actors, his sweeping wide shots, his careful shot construction, and his intensely-purposeful plotting. He became quickly associated with other contemporary masters like Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher. After three consecutive films that garnered rave critical reviews and made their budgets back at the box office (Les Miserables made almost $500 million worldwide), the world waited with bated breath to see what Tom Hooper's next move would be. If you still hadn't heard of him after Danish Girl came out, you can be forgiven for your ignorance, because Hooper went into hibernation for the next four years. He emerged after all that time for one final masterwork, the film he is now most famous for, and the one he will undoubtedly be remembered for:


In an unbelievable turn of events, Tom Hooper, who a decade earlier owned the Oscars, tried his hand again at making musicals, adapting Andrew Lloyd Webber's surrealist broadway smash-hit for the screen. It did not turn out well.

Cats!, released just last December, was an expensive disaster for a multitude of reasons. It was critically panned. It lost $25 million dollars on an estimated $100 million-dollar budget, much of which was invested in special-effects like "Digital Fur Technology" (i.e. digitally covering every actor in fur so they appeared more convincingly like anthropomorphic cats than if they were to wear costumes). Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian Mckellen, British thespians of the highest-degree, shared scenes with Jason Derulo and Taylor Swift. But weird sometimes works. It just didn't work here.

At least during its wide release, it didn't. Although still under a year old, Cats is gaining new life in a cult-film scene that includes movies such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Room. There is a growing contingent of the population interested in watching and re-watching the objectively awful CatsCatsfor the sake of its unintended hilarity and for how well it mixes with drugs or alcohol. This is the great coup of Tom Hooper. This is why he embodies this generation's defining decade better than any other director: he can do both.

Tom Hooper spent the better part of the 2010s proving he was a director of the highest caliber, who could create compelling films with varied budgets, varied casts, and in varied genres. Tom Hooper also spent the final month of the 2010s proving he could screw up almost every part of a film and still find success in it. There is an unprecedented and exciting element in his career. While it's not at all uncommon for acclaimed directors to make career missteps, none of his caliber has ever made such an appalling dud of a film after such a profound string of successes. Regardless of where his movies will eventually settle in cinematographic academia or how they will age, you can't look away from them. What does it say about his work that Cats is probably his best known film? But watch any of his three earlier hits, and one can see they're obvious masterpieces, smart and funny and often heartbreaking, well-acted and well-shot and well-written.

Defining this decade of film is a really heartening endeavor. Careers like Greta Gerwig's (Lady Bird, Little Women) and Ari Aster's (Hereditary, Midsommar) and Damian Chazelle's (Whiplash, La La Land) thundered to life. The masters like Tarantino (Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant) made some of their best work. Female directors were criminally under-utilized and under-recognized (only Gerwig was even nominated for Best Director this decade, joining only five women, ever), and perhaps that is the defining story of the decade.

But the defining director still must be decided, and Tom Hooper is the one with the most range, who created a classic Oscar darling, revolutionized movie-musicals, and crafted the next great midnight cult film. The defining director of the decade is the one who can and did do both. Tom Hooper may not be the best director, but his whiplashing career reflects the chaos of the 2010s, and the generation of millennials who claimed it as their own.

Fall has just begun, meaning Halloween is right around the corner. But something else is lurking around the corner too, and it's not pumpkin spice lattes...

Okay, it is pumpkin spice lattes.

But also, October is all about snuggling up under a blanket and streaming scary movies on Netflix. Unfortunately, Netflix's horror movie section is a minefield of hot garbage with a few spooky gems strewn amongst the trash. Luckily, we're here to guide you to the right choices. Think of this list kind of like your own personal Netflix Halloween Minesweeper.

The Conjuring

The Conjuring may have spawned an infinite number of mediocre sequels, but the original deserves all of its success. James Wan directs with subtlety, earning scares through well-crafted tension-building instead of cheap jump spooks.


Why "Crawl" Is a Better Summer Horror Movie than "Midsommar"

How is a horror movie about alligators better than Ari Aster's latest hit?

Paramount Pictures

Summer 2019's movie line-up has been seriously lacking, to put it nicely.

While endless sequels and prequels and reboots may be fine for getting butts in seats, it feels like we've been watching the same few movies again and again and again. This can be said for almost every genre currently hitting the big screen—except for horror. Yes, there's a lot of horror franchise shlock, too (Annabelle Gets a Boyfriend, or whatever it's called, stands in testament to that). But horror is also the only genre that's currently propping up fresh voices with visions of filmmaking that go beyond "and then we do a sequel."

This summer, two horror features in particular have stood out. The first is Midsommar, director Ari Aster's new movie, which came out hot on the heels of his terrifying 2018 debut, Hereditary. Midsommar is a folklore-steeped horror story centering on the interplay between personal trauma and cult rituals. The second is Alexandre Aja's Crawl, which is about a girl trying to escape a basement inhabited by two alligators. That's basically the whole plot.


It might seem strange to compare Midsommar to Crawl. At face-value, the two movies don't seem to have much in common besides their genres. One is a cerebral, imagery-laden, thematically dense, arthouse-oriented horror film. The other is just a movie about trying to get away from a gator. But both Aster and Aji direct their movies to a T, using everything in their wheelhouses to fulfill their visions and evoke the most tension possible in their audiences. And through this fundamental element of tension, by which horror movies live or die, Aji succeeds where Aster fails.

Midsommar is almost definitely the better film from a technical standpoint. The plot follows a group of American friends (mostly anthropology grad students) as they participate in a midsummer festival held by a cult-like Swedish commune. While he never outright explains their beliefs, Aster fills his sets with art and folklore and visual flourishes, all of which bring the commune to life. It feels like a real place where real Swedish cult-members live and operate according to established rules which, while unclear to us, are very clear to them.

At the same time, the world building in Midsommar overshadows a lot of the tension. For viewers, hints of the cult's more depraved rituals stand out amongst their artworks, so we understand early on that the cult is going to perform gruesome acts. Watching these acts, while certainly visually disturbing, loses a good deal of impact without the element of surprise. The situations on display are definitely tense for the characters involved, but the tension for the audience never feels strong enough.

This lack of tension, coupled with the protagonist's lackluster arc, results in a visually fascinating, incredibly well-acted movie that ultimate fails to resonate beyond its imagery.

crawl movieCrawlParamount Pictures

Like Midsommar, Crawl lays almost all of its cards on the table upfront. There's a huge hurricane in Florida. A college girl on swim team scholarship (her swimming ability is important) is trapped in a basement with her injured father. Two decent-sized gators block their way out, and the basement is slowly flooding. The premise is simple. The pieces are obvious. And yet, unlike Midsommar, we never really know what's going to happen.

It's hard to call Crawl a "good movie." The acting is serviceable, but the script's emotional beats are almost laughable. We don't even necessarily care about the characters. Still, Crawl feels relentless. Aji uses close-up shots of his characters to limit the scope of visibility. It may not sound like much, but knowing an alligator is in the room and capable of striking at any time creates a genuine, pervasive sense of dread. The gators don't need to be giant and smart or supernatural. They just need to be there.

As Crawl goes on, the tension only heightens. One bad situation leads to another, and as the water levels rise, it becomes clear that escaping the basement isn't enough. It's an incredible example of a simple horror premise that never deviates further than is necessary, but is executed with the exact level of precision necessary to make it tick.

Even though some of Crawl's thematic elements fall flat, it doesn't need them to succeed in the same way Midsommar does. Crawl's simplicity is scary enough on its own. Midsommar is certainly more ambitious, but that doesn't make it scarier and, arguably, it doesn't succeed at what it sets out to do nearly as well as Crawl. So unless a horror movie can skate by on horrific imagery alone, Crawl reigns supreme as the best horror movie of summer 2019.


Will Poulter of "Midsommar" Unpacks the Ugly American Tourist Trope

There's more to Poulter's ugly American tourist than comic relief.

Mark (Will Poulter) is having non of Harga's traditions in Midsommar

Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of A24

Will Poulter has done many different genres since his debut as a child Stallone fan in Son of Rambow.

He was in the YA franchise The Maze Runner, the good old American comedy We're the Millers, historical dramas The Revenant and Detroit, and the groundbreaking non-linear sci-fi of Black Mirror's Bandersnatch. He hasn't quite done horror before, although The Little Stranger has light horrific touches, and he was slated to play Pennywise in It before director Cary Fukunaga dropped out.

Midsommar is Will Poulter's first official horror movie. He plays Mark, a grad school student excited to join his friends on a summer trip to the remote Swedish town of Harga. Mark must be the class clown, because he certainly chimes in with quips. Hoping for a summer of taking mushrooms with his friends and British visitors Connie (Ellora Torchia) and Simon (Archie Madekew), Mark isn't quite ready for what happens in Harga.

Midsommar is from Ari Aster, writer/director of Hereditary, so you can bet the traditions of Harga aren't just a summer flight of whimsy. Their deadly ceremonies are especially hard on Dani (Florence Pugh), who was just coming along with her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) to get away from a family tragedy back home.

Poulter spoke with Popdust about the real roots of Mark's comic relief in Midsommar, which was actually filmed in Hungary to mimic Sweden's 24-hour summer days. Midsommar opens July 2.

Midsommar will poulterMark (Will Poulter) arrives in Harga with his friends Josh (William Jackson Harper), Dani (Florence Pugh) and Christian (Jack Reynor) Gabor Kotschy / A24

Will Poulter: I was just checking out the website. It's really cool.

Thank you, and I know you're on a schedule so I'll get right to it. Mark clearly has the best lines and the most laughs in Midsommar, but there's a lot more to him than comic relief, isn't there?

WP: I'd like to agree, only because I saw Mark as one of those characters; unfortunately, probably everyone knows a Mark or has interacted with a Mark. That sort of mean sense of humor actually speaks to a kind of internal insecurity and self-loathing. I think part of the reason Mark detracts so much from everything around him and other people around him is because he's insecure and not entirely confident in himself. So I thought that was interesting. It's probably fair to say he projects one thing and feels something very, very different inside.

I completely agree and I definitely know Marks. At the same time, does that comedy provide a misdirect from the horror, or even a release of tension?

Yeah, that's interesting. Potentially, it's funny because I feel like he exists in a friendship group with people who are far more analytical and really just smarter, who all have an appreciation for culture variations far more than he does. So it's weird, because it kind of creates a sense of weakness. I think that his defenses are up from the beginning, and he's never going to assimilate to any of their practices or the Hargan way of life. He's just immediately dismissive of all of it, so that means that he's never really at risk of being lured in. At the same time, he's so busy not taking any of it seriously and laughing at it all, or making fun of it I should say, that he doesn't ever see that there is something more sinister going on. He just thinks it's all very, very weird, but weird in a kind of funny way as opposed to weird in a sinister way, if that makes sense. Potentially, it can contribute to a false sense of security for the audience, but I think that much of the experience is aligned with what Dani is going through.

Midsommar will poulterMaybe don't eat what the Hargans are serving you. Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of A24

So how does Mark justify staying after it turns deadly? Christian (Jack Reynor) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are staying for their thesis, but what makes Mark stay?

WP: Well, after Connie and Simon, the story that they are encouraged to believe by the Hargans is that Connie and Simon left. I think Mark genuinely lacks the level of perception or observation to be able to ever really bring that into question. I think he just sort of buys that. That's also because I think, in my mind, Mark always thought the Brits were a little bit weird. Obviously, that's kind of fun to play in a sense because I know British people can be weird or what the British idiosyncrasies are that might lead an American person to think that a Brit is odd. So in my mind, Mark always thought Connie and Simon were a bit weird. When Connie and Simon left, he didn't question that. So really, it doesn't turn deadly before it turns deadly for Mark in my mind.

I know you've turned down horror movies like It in the past, that director Andy Muschietti said you disengaged from playing a dark and terrifying character. Did you find during Midsommar you had to stay in a dark psychological place for months?

WP: Respectfully, my reasoning for not doing It wasn't necessarily solely because of the psychological impact it might have on me. I think that was certainly a consideration in whether I was going to do it or not. But, I think playing a character who didn't really allow for the, as I say, sinister elements of what you see on screen to permeate through his consciousness and just remain a detractor of it all meant that I didn't necessarily have to go to a dark place with this one. Certainly, watching the movie, I appreciate how dark it is and also how dark it was at times for many of my co-actors.

I think the darkest thing that I explored with Mark is this idea of being a really self-loathing and insecure individual and that manifesting itself as mean jokes and detracting comments [about] the people around you. There's something very dark about that to me and also something very real and authentic. I think that's due to the strength of Ari's work as a writer/director. Everything that is disturbing and sinister on screen has a very real, organic, and/or human explanation. A lot of the terrible things you see in this movie are motivated by human instincts. There are no real science fictional elements. Even when things get really trippy and seemingly science-fictional, it can be explained by the fact that mushrooms have been taken or certain herbs have been ingested or one's own mind has turned on them. The really cool thing about this film is that authenticity runs through it like veins.

Was it really light out all night?

WP: Because we were in Hungary, it wasn't quite, but I went to Sweden this time last year for midsummer to research the project. It was sunny for about 19, 20 hours of the day which is kind of crazy and unique, unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. I've actually been to Iceland and experienced pretty extreme levels of daylight, but this is the most I'd ever experienced. It was good to get a sense of what a real midsummer tradition is like.

PD: Was the dinner scene very carefully choreographed so everyone sits down and picks up their forks on cue?

WP: Oh yeah. I think that shot alone or that setup rather took several hours. It was a long day trying to get that right.

Midsommar will poulterDinner in Harga Photo by Merie Weismiller Wallace, Courtesy of A24

Did you stay in an American accent on Midsommar like you have for other films?

WP: Oh man, you are so well-researched. That's amazing that you know that. Yeah, I did on this. I didn't when I came back to the hotel or whatever, but when I was on set I did. It's just one less thing for me to have to think about. I find [when] transitioning out of my natural accent into the American accent, I'm liable to make mistakes in transition. It's just one of those things that makes it easier for me. Then I think being around other American voices, like William Jackson Harper's for example, it just helps me improve my own. And obviously other members of the crew, like Ari himself. When it came to being off set, I dropped it because it's one of those accents now that I hope I'm growing more comfortable with. Whereas, if it had been a more challenging accent like, say, an Irish accent, which is what I did when I did Glassland with Jack Reynor, actually, I [find] myself having to stay in it the whole time just because it was so challenging. I couldn't really afford to go back into my English accent and risk slipping up when it came to trying to change back into the Irish one.