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In It: Chapter One, "The Losers Club," a group of outcast children banded together to defeat It, an evil force that plagues their town of Derry, Maine every 27 years.

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Daylight Slayings in "Midsommar": Ugly Americans Get Theirs

Hereditary writer/director Ari Aster goes to the next level with his daytime cult horror film.

Writer/director Ari Aster experienced a roller coaster of feedback after the release of his first feature film Hereditary.

At Sundance it was heralded as the scariest movie in years, but horror fans were surprised to find that it wasn't the typical gory slasher film. That reaction led defenders to include Hereditary in the category of "elevated horror." Now that "elevated horror" is a firmly established buzzword, not to mention the brand of horror A24 is well-known for, perhaps everyone will know what to expect from Aster's follow-up film, Midsommar.

Dani (Florence Pugh) suffers a family tragedy, and her emotionally distraught state leads her to become dependent on her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor). All of Christian's friends advise him to break it off, but instead he invites Dani on their summer trip to Sweden at Pelle's (Vilhelm Blomgren) remote commune, Harga.

Aster builds up the Americans' arrival and the commune's anticipation for the Attestupan ceremony, a momentous occasion they only have every 90 years. Bros like Mark (Will Poulter) mock their traditions, while we see hints of weirdness, like a woman trimming her bikini area and focus on her bleeding.

So the Americans are actually surprised when the Hargan ceremony eventually turns deadly, while we just wait for Dani and friends to realize exactly what they've gotten themselves into. Like Hostel, this film starts out as a romp before turning terrifying.

Indiana Jones' Temple of Doom's got nothing on the Attestupan in Midsommar. Aster lingers on gory shots, too, and not just once: He cuts back to the bloody aftermath and even creates dreamlike montages of carnage.

At this point, sensible audiences will think, "Why don't the Americans just leave?" Well, some try to. This isn't Harga's first rodeo, so they know how to deal with outsiders who witness their Attestupan. Christian and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are writing a thesis about the commune, so they use that to justify staying, and Dani is stuck with Christian. The shocking ceremony seems to only make the festival more enticing for Mark.

There is a sort of devilish fun to these ugly Americans thinking they can get away with desecrating sacred artifacts and photographing the evidence. There's even a sense of raunchy comedy to discussions of the commune's explicit traditions, which both break tension and misdirect the audience from other threats.

After all, once Dani, Christian, Mark, and Josh decide to stay, who are they to condemn the further traditions of Harga? Not that they could have easily escaped, but they didn't even try; so on some level they've implicitly condoned the commune's extreme acts. Most of the horror comes from the group's off-kilter, taboo-breaking acts. While they use psychedelic drugs and we see some CGI-enhanced trippy imagery, those aren't the most troubling images. Gory rituals and a suicide make human behavior the film's most disturbing aspect. Placed in the permanent daylight of Harga, Midsommar is an heir to The Shining for showing terror in broad daylight.

At 140 minutes, audiences may feel like they spent the whole summer in Harga, but the running time moves very quickly. The Harga tradition is riveting, and the Americans' drama is made compelling by the tense in-fighting between Dani, Christian, and Josh. Some of the awkward preamble of getting to Harga could be shorter, but once the friends arrive, the action doesn't stop.

Midsommar is a level above Hereditary. Hereditary had shocking gore that impacted the rest of the psychologically thrilling story, but there's even less of a supernatural element to Midsommar. Perhaps once Aster hooked up with A24, he realized that he didn't need to couch horror in the supernatural, so he created an unflinching look at the evil humans are capable of.


"Yesterday" Wastes The Beatles' Music with Rom-Com Tropes

All its troubles should have been fixed in rewrites.

Yesterday has a brilliant high concept premise for a movie, one that doesn't require big explosions or visual effects.

The idea is juicy enough to make it a must see. That's why it's so disappointing when Yesterday turns into a worse version of the same romantic comedy we've seen so many times before.

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician. His songs are only suited for pubs and boardwalks, and he's ready to give up on his rock n' roll dreams. But then, a worldwide blackout occurs and Jack is hit by a bus. He wakes up in the hospital and realizes that nobody else remembers The Beatles. Once he's checked and double checked to be sure he's the only one who remembers their songs, he starts playing them as his own.

This premise raises all sorts of interesting questions. If a different, non-white singer performed the same songs, would he be as successful as The Beatles? If The Beatles debuted now, would they still make it? And what's going to happen when Jack runs out of songs? The Beatles catalog is finite, after all.

But that's not the movie Yesterday wants to be. Jack keeps getting distracted from his ascending music career by his old manager and childhood friend Ellie (Lily James). Ellie has always been in love with Jack, and Jack never noticed. Now that he's finally successful, he only begins to realize he had something greater than fame and money all along, but let her slip through his fingers.

Okay, I guess that's sweet in theory, but it's not the movie the audience came to see. Coming from screenwriter Richard Curtis, it's appallingly pedestrian. The best that the writer of Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love, Actually could come up with was a take on the Friend Zone? Ellie says Jack "put her in the wrong column." I guess that's the classy British way of saying it.

Ellie is right when she tells Jack he had 20 years to make his move. Ellie has a life that doesn't involve him, has other romantic prospects, and most importantly, Jack is bad for her. At this point, he's actively sabotaging her healthy adulthood. The film should be on Ellie's side, but its sympathies are misplaced with Jack.

If it feels like I'm spending too much of the Yesterday review discussing the romantic subplot, I assure you I'm giving it as much attention as the movie gives it. The fun world building of "what if the Beatles didn't exist?" only appears in hints. Sure, scenes of Jack trying to explain The Beatles to his friends are funny, and Jack and Ellie recording songs in a do-it-yourself studio is fun. But revelations of other things that no longer exist are worth exploring further than the movie does. One trivial example is that, in this world, James Corden interviews one guest at a time. Apparently, if The Beatles never existed, James Corden never did his three guests on the couch schtick either. More likely, the film couldn't afford two other celebrities for the scene.

There are hints that Jack feels guilty about plagiarism, but they're only suggested through Patel's performance, as it's not explicit in the movie. The script only implies that he's afraid of getting caught, that there may be people who know his secret. He does forget some of the lyrics, which is a worthwhile plot point. As famous as The Beatles are, Jack probably wouldn't have an encyclopedic memory of their lyrics. He also tries to throw his original songs in the mix, and of course they pale in comparison to The Beatles. That, too, could have been a worthwhile crux of the story. Would he be happy enough being famous because of other people's songs if he still couldn't get any love for his true art?

But Yesterday wastes most of its time on rom-com shenanigans, right down to chasing Ellie to the train station before she leaves. And the film really wants Rocky (Joel Fry), Jack's incompetent roadie friend, to be endearing comic relief. I'm sure Fry is talented, but he deserves better than being forced to be a version of Rhys Ifans in Notting Hill. The movie focuses on Rocky's bumbling instead of interesting Beatles-centric material.

Richard Curtis writes great romances, but he shouldn't have tried to shoehorn one into a completely different concept. Director Danny Boyle can also do romantic or whimsical tales. as he shown with Slumdog Millionaire and Millions. Frankly, the romance subplot is probably more out of place in Yesterday than it would have been in Boyle's darker previous movies like Trainspotting or 127 Hours. Finally, based on the film's loud, bombastic renditions of The Beatles songs, I think it's safe to say Jack's versions would not have become timeless classics like those of of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

Annabelle got her own movie after debuting as the monster of The Conjuring.

Annabelle Comes Home may as well be The Conjuring 2.5 for how deeply it ties in with the story of the Warrens, but that's not to take anything away from Annabelle or the women who face her. Annabelle Comes Home is Annabelle's triumphant homecoming and a guaranteed summer scare.

Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) recover the Annabelle doll from the Perrons (from The Conjuring), and they lock Annabelle up in their artifact room. One year later, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) babysits Judy Warren (McKenna Grace) while Ed and Lorraine are out overnight. Mary Ellen's friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) snoops around the artifact room and messes with Annabelle, initiating a night of terror for the three young women.

Gary Dauberman unleashes a lot of new tricks to scare you and the on-screen heroines in his directorial debut. His toolbox of scares includes new tricks with light and shadows, antics with old typewriters (I guess they were modern typewriters, since this is set in the '70s), and even freaky board games. Dauberman also uses the familiar "monster pops up in the dark" and "dragging the heroine across the floor" tropes. If it ain't broke, right?

The Conjuring movies work because they are more than just scary, but some of the spinoffs haven't measured up, because they're just scare machines without any heart. Annabelle Comes Home has an advantage since it's dealing with the Warrens, the center of The Conjuring movies. There's a lot of history already established in two Conjuring films, but Judy Warren, the youngest of the family, is a clean slate. Exploring what it's like to be a kid growing up with famous parents (or infamous depending on how the neighbors see them) would be compelling even outside a horror movie.

The new characters are compelling, too. Daniela may seem like a troublemaker, but when she's alone, the movie reveals she has a sincere reason for breaking and entering. Mary Ellen exudes the kindness and compassion of a caretaker, the sort of pure nurturing you'd need in your corner when facing malevolent spirits. It's really empowering to see three women under 20 stand up to monsters. Sure, "the final girl" has always been a staple of horror movies, but it felt special to relate to a trio and not just wait for two of them to die.

The very nature of the plot, that the Warrens hire a babysitter for the night, makes it apparent that Ed and Lorraine will only be at the beginning and end of the movie. Otherwise, it really would just be The Conjuring 3. The Warrens' presence makes really strong bookends to Annabelle Comes Home. They're great parents, which empowers Judy to be independent. When they drive by a cemetery in the beginning and all the spirits talk to Lorraine, you get the sense that she probably deals with this all the time. After all, with great power comes great responsibility, and there are a lot of spirits who need her help and others who aren't interested in cooperation with humans.

Dauberman definitely took what he knows about the Warrens and used it to amplify this latest Annabelle story. Die-hard fans of the real-life Warrens may catch some Easter eggs, while people who only know the Warrens through The Conjuring films will learn more about their history. That depth makes Annabelle Comes Home the most haunting Annabelle yet. Perhaps, Annabelle Comes Home will encourage research into the real Ed and Lorraine Warren, but even if it doesn't make you do homework, Annabelle Comes Home is the scariest toy story of the year.

Netflix binge-watchers have gotten to know Charlie Barnett quite well this year.

Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City just debuted, marking Barnett's third show on the streaming service. He also surprised fans of Russian Doll when he appeared as a second time looper with Natasha Lyonne, and he'll appear in the upcoming season of You.

Popdust spoke with Barnett by phone before the premiere of Tales of the City. The drama explores the lives of characters in San Francisco, including Ben (Barnett) and his partner Michael (Murray Bartlett). Netflix also just announced that Russian Doll will return for a second season, news that Barnett was waiting for at the time of our talk. Stream all three series on Netflix now.

What has this year been like for you with You, Russian Doll, and now Tales of the City all coming out?

Charlie Barnett: I mean, it's incredible first and foremost. I'm incredibly thankful and honored and feel like I'm getting an opportunity to play different and diverse characters, which is a dream for any actor. I've seen the community support me now, and I'm excited to see where it all goes and start maybe creating my own stuff. It seems like it's a new world out there of celebration of the artist. So I'm really happy to see a lot of people's arts surging.

What kind of community support?

CB: So many communities. My own intimate family and my friends. My loved ones from Juilliard, from classmates to teachers and professors. Then it expands on even to the world of theater in New York and the world of film and television in Los Angeles. Going into casting rooms, it's a different kind of presence when I think people know your work a little more and trust you a little bit. It's kind of funny to see how different the energy is. I'm just honored to be feeling it and hope that I can do service.

Are fans recognizing you now?

CB: It's funny, I've always had a weird balance with that. I was on Chicago Fire for four years, and that was a very big show. We were in Chicago, so within Chicago, we were recognized all the time. It was really fun, but I noticed even there [for] a lot of people, it takes people a couple seconds. I think I look very different, or maybe it's just because my energy is so different from the -characters I play, but people don't really recognize me. Or if they do, it takes a couple double-takes. and then I've usually walked on by. Every now and then I get somebody and I'm really awkward. I stutter and I stumble over my words, but I really like to have conversations one-on-one with people more than group panels or any of that junk. When a fan stops me and we get to talk, I feel like most of the time I'm the one talking their ear off and they just want to get away. So I still enjoy it.

Who is Ben, your character on Tales of the City?

CB: I hate to kind of diminish him to something as just an extension of his love, but he's a solid partner. I think the audience is really going to take notice of him and him traversing through this relationship with Michael. So I reflected on him so much as this strong partner and how he finds his identity and allows his own voice to be a part of this relationship and how he also comes to balance with what Michael's world is and what he is entering into, which is so encapsulating and amazing. Ben has hard points with it and a lot of acceptance to it, as well.

Was Ben a character from the book?

CB: Ben is a character from the book, and funnily enough, Ben is loosely based off of Armistead's partner. His partner's white and I'm black, so that was a big running joke, because we're both lovers and sweethearts. But he is a really, genuinely incredible person as well, so it was great to have him on set and to kind of reflect on. We created a friendship out of it, which was really nice.

What challenges are coming for Ben and Michael?

CB: It's hard to sum up as relationship angst, but it is. There's a lot of partnership battles. I think, funnily enough for Ben, I don't believe that the age is a really big issue, but it is for Michael. So that's another major figuring out point for the two of them. The history that Michael has been through with his struggle with HIV and AIDS—the community and going through the loss of more than half of his community. It's such a big reflection point for a couple of episodes. So it's a lot of young meets old, two lovers trying to figure it out, and I think a new person finding his footing or his space within this beautiful and incredible family, which is the home of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis).

Ben and Michael are exploring the possibility of having unprotected sex. Is that an issue lots of couples with one HIV positive partner deal with?

CB: Oh, absolutely. Straight, gay, both. There's always ramifications to taking that kind of step with your partner. Specifically with Michael; he's positive, and it's got to be a conversation that both people come to and find a place that they're both comfortable and feel safe and able to explore, because sex can be incredible. It shouldn't ever have to be limited. I don't want to give anything away, because it is definitely a plot point. It's more of a challenge, I will say; this comes back to the generation gap. A younger LGBTQ community has come up in a new wave of PrEP. There's a variety of different kinds, but it's definitely created a different kind of conversation with HIV/AIDS for a younger generation. Hopefully not to be forgotten is the struggle that came before, but for someone like Michael who saw it and lived it, there's definitely a fear and a guilt I think.

How different was San Francisco to Chicago?

CB: Every city is so different. I love them both. I hate the expense of San Francisco. I can put that down in writing, but San Francisco is such a rich, incredible city. They're both cities that have American history. They're integral to the creation of our country. It's so hard to say which one I would like better, but San Francisco has more maybe freedom, because it isn't under snow for half the year. Chicago, I feel like, is a little more industrial, and they encounter that in their arts in a lovely kind of way. San Francisco is much more light and freeing, but there's a dark, twisted history as well that feeds into the people's work there. I'm an art fanatic: visual arts, music, anything and everything in all forms. When I think of people and I think of the city, I always try to relate it back to the work that comes out of it. I think it's a really good reflecting point.

You don't need to choose, but how did filming in San Francisco inform Tales of the City?

CB: Oh gosh, I hate to admit this, but I think we're allowed to: We filmed a majority of Tales of the City in New York, in Yonkers, New York and the Bronx, because mainly for Olympia. She can't travel that far that much back and forth, and her whole home, her base, and her life is in New York. We wanted to honor that. But, we did shoot for about two weeks in San Francisco, and it was a frigging blast. It's a hard city to shoot in. The expense of it is really a lot different from shooting in Chicago. We were filming in the lake in February, and half of our stunt crew almost lost their fingers because of frostbite. They're very, very different, but both have exciting challenges.

For Russian Doll, would you shoot every scene in a single location at once?

CB: Oh yeah. It was all block shot, which is what that's called. It's really difficult because you'll be shooting for one, eight, four, six, and three. We would maybe not have the full script for episodes six and eight. You've got to do these scenes where I'm breaking up with Beatrice all day, because we're in the apartment where I break up with Beatrice and let's just film it out because it's a lot cheaper. To the credit of the producers, Leslye [Headland], Amy [Poehler] and Natasha [Lyonne] and everybody else that was behind it figuring out the logistics, 1,000 hats off to them, because they did it and they did it really well. It was difficult, don't get me wrong, but if we hadn't done it that way, I don't think it would've been successful.

Where do you see Nadia and Alan after they break free of that loop?

CB: I have no clue. Everybody keeps asking me that. I don't know what they're going to do. I have no clue, just like my character in the show who is just going along for this ride with this woman. I'll help keep her in balance as much as I possibly can, but we're on this ride. I've talked to Natasha, had a great time at her birthday, and we just had a really lovely kind of come-to-Jesus about the work and how happy we both are. This is so personal for both of us. To see it flourish and, more than anything, people from all walks of life understand it and relate to it, and it trigger thoughts of what are male feelings of depression and how do I handle myself? Am I communicating enough to maybe get help from my friends and my family and my loved ones? That is a million dollars in the bucket. We had a little come-to-Jesus, and I asked her where she thought it was all going to go. I don't think she knows. She just finished Orange [Is The New Black], and I know that her and Leslye are going to get into writing, but they both are coming off of a lot of other stuff. I think they need time to really do it and do it right, and I want to give them that space. I think I'd wait another year if they needed it.

But you will be involved in a second season?

CB: I hope so. I don't know. I was only signed on for a year contract. I wasn't even a series regular, actually. Initially, we had talked about it going into a whole different world. We had talked about other characters. They talked about us going and doing a whole different thing. There was also mention of just a new story, so I have no clue where they're at at this moment. That was all early, early in the beginning. I'm excited to see it just as much as everybody else.

Did you film a movie this year too?

CB: Yeah, I have no clue when it's coming out, but it's a movie with Drew Barrymore. It's called The Stand-In. I'm really excited about it. It's a comedy and I have a little, itty bitty part in it, but I had a lot of fun working on it.


"The Dead Don't Die" Review: Very Slow Kills of Even Slower Zombies

If you're looking for zombie-killing action, remember this is a Jim Jarmusch movie.

The Dead Don't Die is exactly what one would expect a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie to be.

At least, it's exactly what anyone should expect a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie to be. This is the director of Broken Flowers and Paterson, so audiences know going in that The Dead Don't Die won't be the typical Bill Murray romp (when was the last time Murray did a romp anyway?)

The plot centers on the small town of Centerville as it faces a zombie outbreak, which is caused by polar fracking spinning Earth off its axis. Officers Cliff Robertson (Murray) and Ronnie Peterson (Adam Driver) have to warn the town and fight zombies after dark.

These are definitely zombies at a Jim Jarmusch pace. Not only are they the traditionally slow, lumbering, George Romero-style zombies (no fast running zombies here, thankfully), but Jarmusch slows down the action even more. For some reason, the characters take their time killing the zombies.

Don't expect Dawn of the Dead-sized hordes, either, or even Walking Dead-sized. This is an indie movie, after all. There's a horde of only seven or eight zombies on Main Street, although there are a lot more at the cemetery. Zombies on the athletic field allow for some fun gags, so Jarmusch does indulge in some of the traditional "zombies resuming their routines" jokes.

If you've seen other Jarmusch movies, like Paterson or Coffee and Cigarettes, you can sort of apply those tones to this zombie movie. The Dead Don't Die isn't even as loyal to its genre as Ghost Dog was to samurai movies or Only Lovers Left Alive was to vampire movies; those films still took their time, but they adapted to the genre. Instead, Jarmusch adapts zombies to his tone and pace.

The Dead Don't Die has a light tone, but it's not laugh-out-loud funny. Quirky would be the clearest way to describe it. Nobody's making jokes, but they're saying things that are a little off-kilter. The first meta joke was fun, but after the second meta joke, you can totally predict what the third meta joke will be.

There are a lot of characters standing around talking, making changes or guessing where tourists (led by Selena Gomez) are from. The mortician, Zelda Winston (Tilda Swinton), addresses every character by their title and full name, because that's an unusual way to talk. Murray does exactly one lone pratfall. In 2019, let's celebrate what little Bill Murray-physical comedy we still get.

At least there are plenty of gory zombie bites. When zombies are killed in this movie, they spray black dust instead of gory innards, which gives it a somewhat classier effect. If you're looking for zombie-killing, once again these characters take their time killing zombies. Even though they know the rules to aim for the head, they're in no rush.

I have to call a little B.S. on Jarmusch's deep cut references, though. Zoe (Selena Gomez) tells store clerk Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), "Your film knowledge is impressive" on the basis of his references to Psycho, George Romero, and Nosferatu. Come on, Zoe, aim higher. But maybe she was just being nice to the townie.

Jim Jarmusch is not at everyone's speed, but he's firmly established his own style and pacing, so everyone should know what to expect from The Dead Don't Die. It's not Zombieland. The Dead Don't Die is a traditional Jim Jarmusch movie—slowed down by zombies.