Get Out

April 3, 2017 by  
Filed under Movies

“Get Out” is a truly original horror film experience. Writer/director Jordan Peele, who has a background in comedy, is able to weave humor and satire into a striking, sometimes shocking thriller about a black man going to his white girlfriend’s parents’ house to ‘meet the parents’ for the first time.

This premise seems more appropriate for a summer rom-com; but Peele uses it as a chance to make a statement about race relations, and status in this country. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) has been dating Rose (Allison Williams) for about 5 months, and Rose wants him to come to her parents’ country house for the weekend. Chris, who is a photographer by trade, is a bit worried when he asks her, “Do they know?” She plays coy, but eventually relents that she hasn’t told them. She doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but Chris has obviously had some experience and braces himself. According to her, this is also her first black boyfriend, so Chris is even more sure that there will be an issue. Rose assures him that her parents are extremely liberal and open minded, and her dad would have “voted for Obama for a third term if he could have”. As patronizing as that sounds, it at least sets Chris at ease that maybe they won’t make as much of an issue of it as he initially feared. Chris has his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery) take care of his dog while they’re gone, and they set off to the country house.

On the way, they accidentally hit a deer. This affects Chris, as he watches the deer die off in the woods by the side of the road. That along with a roadside incident with a white police officer, who seems to have more of a problem with Rose than Chris, sets a somewhat ominous tone. We think we know what we’re in for at this point–but Jordan Peele does have some surprises for us.

When we meet Rose’s parents, Missy (Catherine Keener), and Dean (Bradley Whitford), we see what Rose was talking about. Dean speaks highly of Obama, and keeps calling Chris “my man”. Missy is very welcoming, and casual. Neither have an issue with Chris being black, and Rose teases Chris about him being wrong. But there is something a bit strange: the two caretakers of the house–Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson)–are black. Dean plays this off as irony, because the two of them actually took care of his father, who died years ago, and kept them on so that they’d be employed somewhere. Dean explains that his father finished behind Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Chris laments it’s a shame his father had to live that down, but Dean brushes it off, that Owens was the best. A seemingly innocuous exchange, but it has a little more importance as we dig deeper into the story.

Eventually Rose’s brother comes, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who takes an interest in Chris as an athlete. He challenges him to a fight obnoxiously, but Chris is pulled away by the family who chastise Jeremy for being rude. Rose apologizes to Chris by the end of the night, in which Chris smirks and says, “I was right.”

The following day, Rose discovers that the family had been planning their annual big get together with the rest of the family and other friends, which means even more white people for Chris to have to try and figure out who is going to make him feel more uncomfortable. It’s some commentary about “being the only black surrounded by whites”–no matter how obsequious or polite, it still makes someone feel out of place. But there’s even more unsettling things going on at this party. Not only are the whites trying to impress Chris with their accepting demeanor, but the only black person who does show up–as a guest of an older white woman–acts strangely, and seems out of place himself.

As things start falling into place, Chris realizes he’s somewhat become trapped into this little world, and uneasiness and awkwardness give way to outright fear. He allows himself to be hypnotized by Missy, who wants to help him quit smoking–and that starts to become a problem for Chris once he realizes what they’re up to.

The film has some familiar tropes and Peele does a nice job of sending the message that he’s aware of the familiarity. So he throws a few wrenches into the plot, and mixes things up a bit. It’s a clever film, and has some biting commentary, especially because the racial undertones don’t have to do with Southern white yokels, but rather seemingly intellectual whites who try to come off as unprejudiced. I’m sure Peele has some personal experience with this, and his cynicism is well displayed throughout the film. The performances are very strong and credible, particularly Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, who really wants to just survive this crazy family weekend and get back to his life. He also has a dark secret about his past that becomes exploited at some point, creating another layer for the narrative of the film, which was already strong to begin with.

For a first time effort, this is a fantastic exercise in horror and satire, and Peele has certainly laid the groundwork for a brilliant filmmaking career. This isn’t for the squeamish–for gore or social commentary. So come in with a strong constitution, and a truly open mind, and you will be greatly rewarded.

My rating: :D

Dark Places

August 12, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“Dark Places” is the second adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. The first, of course, was the acclaimed “Gone Girl”, which was adapted by Flynn herself. Here, her work is written for the screen and directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner, who has mostly done French language films (except for 2009’s “Walled In”). The two films could not be farther apart in terms of quality of narrative execution, and adaptation itself. Where “Gone Girl” successfully brought page to screen with the same depth and care, “Dark Places” feels like it’s merely a recitation of the book.

The story revolves around Libby Day (Charlize Theron, who may be miscast for this role), who when she was a child, witnessed the murder of nearly her entire family save her older teenage brother Ben, who is convicted of the killings. She is coaxed into witness testimony that sends Ben to life in prison–but years later, a group of people called the “Kill Club” (they follow serial murders and try to solve cases on their own) believe that he may be innocent. One of the leaders of the group, Lyle (Nicholas Hoult), tries to persuade Libby to reevaluate her stance that her brother is guilty. There are inconsistencies in the crime scene itself and Ben doesn’t seem to have a real motive. Back in 1985, during the mass hysteria of satanic occult witch hunts, it was easy for a jury to believe that Ben was a devil worshiper and wanted to make a sacrifice to Satan. In actuality, Ben (Tye Sheridan) is a meek, quiet, reserved normal boy who gets in with a crowd that claims to be Satanists. Older Ben (Corey Stoll) now claims he is innocent, and wants Libby to change her testimony in order to clear him. But she still doesn’t necessarily believe that he didn’t do it. What she begins to discover is that there were other people involved with that night–including Ben’s girlfriend Diondra (Chloe Grace-Moretz) and even his own father, Runner (Sean Bridgers). When his mother Patty (Christina Hendricks) and two sisters Michelle and Debbie are murdered, they are killed in different ways, suggesting there may have been more than one culprit.

The film, like the book, jumps around between timelines, sometimes going back to 1985 on the day of the murders and the hours preceding them, and then going to present day where we have the older versions of the characters being visited by Libby to try and piece together what really happened. In the book, this is all done in a way that makes the story more a thriller than a character study–but it succeeds in being both, really. The movie tries to replicate that, but because it begins jumping around too early (in a book you can get away with that because you can always go back and use reference points), anyone who hasn’t read the book would probably be confused and check out emotionally rather quickly. The story seems like it would be compelling enough to string together a 3 act story easily, but there are too many characters and too much going on to be able to follow it if you’re not already familiar with the material.

The individual scenes are nicely acted. All of the sets are well done, and there is a sense of desperation in the murky atmosphere of the rural midwest. Instead of using that as a theme, however, it’s more like a backdrop. A set, simply to set the stage. The characters speak to each other but they don’t interact. There is no real conflict, no stakes, nothing to gain or lose. We don’t really care if Libby sets her brother free or finds the truth because nothing was established in the first 15 minutes that made us really care about the outcome.

In “Gone Girl”, Flynn is able to reconstruct her novel and keep the theme intact with David Fincher’s masterful directing ability. Not to say that Paquet-Brenner is incapable–but it’s disappointing to see someone completely botch a compelling story simply by missing the point that you need to set everything up credibly and with enough simplicity that the story unfolds naturally and comprehensively. Here, we are given little cuts of meat rather than the whole steak. And it definitely leaves one starving for a better movie.

My rating: :(

 

Body of Lies

October 14, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

I had mentioned in my review of “Burn After Reading” that the opening and closing shots are amusing and poignant to what the film is about; in that, here’s a picture of the globe, here we focus on a random area, and see random events that prove to be much more hectic and dramatic than they should. In “Body of Lies”, it’s pretty much the complete opposite effect.

The film revolves around two characters throughout, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. Now, I’m going to go ahead and let you know that the trailers for this film have been their own “body of lies” by somehow trying to portray Crowe as the villain in the film. He’s not. I’m not ruining anything by telling you that, either. In fact, knowing that should aid you through this movie, so that you’re not thinking there will be some big twist at the end or some kind of revelation that turns Crowe into a bad guy. He is a bit of a window character for DiCaprio’s character, named Roger Ferris, who is an undercover agent for the CIA investigating a series of terrorist bombings that have led him to Jordan.

Ridley Scott directed this picture, and he shows time and time again that, even in his advanced age, he can still shoot a picture. The script, by William Monahan, has a great first act. It sets things up very well. You are intrigued by the layers of plot thickening. But, the film goes to such an extent to set things up that really, it can only be justified by having an even bigger ending. I think the film’s eyes were bigger than its stomach.

This film is based on a novel, and I believe the script wanted to treat this as much as a character movie as it was a plot-driven thriller. But because it tries to go into two different directions at once, it goes nowhere instead. There is a brief love interest that Roger becomes involved with–but he goes to an extreme (and unbelievable) length to protect her, and winds up getting right into Ground Zero, and throws himself into the proverbial Lion’s Den.

This is a film of great set up and poor pay off. The “body of lies” that Roger entangles himself into are very natural, it’s not that contrived. But how he gets out of them are exactly that. And it leaves something to be desired by the ending. It’s a film that is also ensconced in themes about deceit and truth and honor. Crowe’s character, as I mentioned before, is used well in this metaphor.

Overall, the movie is well acted, and well paced. I never felt bored, even if I was confused on exactly where it was going. The villains were a bit simple and predictable. But I can’t endorse the film because the biggest thing lacking in the film was the third act and the ending and that’s really the most important thing. It just didn’t have the punch that it should have, and it was a great let down after a wonderful set up. It’s a shame that so many great names are attached to this inferior effort. But, it is worth a viewing if you’re a big fan of Scott, Crowe or DiCaprio. All gave A efforts, but the film winds up with a C result.

My rating: :???:

Fringe (FOX)

September 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Entertainment

FOX, Tuesdays @ 8:00pm CT

Encore of Pilot Broadcast: Sunday, September 14th, 7:00pm CT

Put “Lost”, “Alias”, and “X-Files” in a blender, and this is pretty much what you get, with less endearing main characters and a fairly thin plot for an hour and a half long pilot.

The first five minutes were pretty mesmerizing. It felt very similar to when I watched the first episode of “Lost”; just completely gripped by the action. And guess what? This also begins on an airplane.

A mysterious skin disease infects and disintegrates an entire commercial airliner in Germany, and no one is left alive. The FBI is brought in, and pretty soon, they’re tracking an elusive man who may have had something to do with it. At first considered a terrorist plot, it seems this goes deeper. The main character, Olivia, finds that a doctor who used to conduct controversial experiments back in the 70’s (everything happened back in the 70’s!), may also have some insight into this since he was involved with what is known as “fringe science”. For those who don’t know, “fringe science” is anything involving paranormal, mind control, otherwise known as science fiction. The only problem is that he’s in a mental institution, and can only be visited by immediate family. His only living kindred is his son, who is in Iraq wheeling and dealing, and he’s not exactly interested in helping dear old dad out.

He comes around, and the three of them try and figure out what exactly is going on with this strange skin reaction that seems to make it completely transparent and induces some graphic results. The main interest for Olivia also involves her boyfriend, also with the FBI, who has been infected after coming into close encounters with the elusive man they’d been chasing to get answers, and he has a short time to live.

As the plot develops further, there are more layers to the story, as the man is eventually caught, and killed by Olivia’s boyfriend John for some unknown reason, and that leaves more questions than answers as it seems he has double crossed them? Well, of course the end of the show doesn’t really answer anything–I mean, it’s science fiction right?

The problem I had with this pilot, unlike “Lost” or “The X-Files”, was that it didn’t establish the characters nor a plot convincingly enough to keep me interested in seeing it again. While there were some very interesting moments, it all seemed borrowed–no, that’s too kind a word to use for J.J. Abrams now–stolen, from those shows previously mentioned. And, since he blatantly said he was using elements from “The Twilight Zone” and “Altered States”, I’ll say he stole from them too. And the thing is, it wasn’t even cleverly stolen.

All of the characters are very familiar and very predictable. The “insane” doctor has moments of brilliance followed by moments of random, rambling incoherence that I suppose is used as some sort of comic device. To me it falls flat, and is very patronizing, like it was focus grouped to middle aged housewives who laugh at animated cleaning products in commercials and still thinks anything involving a dog instantly makes it cute and buyable.

Besides the first five minutes of the pilot, “Fringe” settles into your average, garden variety “science fiction” show, and I use the quotations for a purpose: that it’s not really science fiction. It’s just what a couple of post Film student grads found on Wikipedia, thought it was cool, and decided to scribe a 2 hour show about it. Instead, in this case, it’s three writers who all have pretty reputable backgrounds in the TV/film industry, and decided to cash in on TV’s latest craze to create shows that look science fictiony, have a hot chick as a lead, have inexplicable-but-cool things happen, and hope that people’s attention spans won’t catch up to how boring, inane, and lackadaisical it is.

JJ–you’re no Rod Serling. And at this point, I’d say you’re not even Chris Carter. “Fringe” is hardly that. It’s as run of the mill as you can get.

My rating: :?