Get Out


Daniel Kaluuya finds out we like him…we really, really like him.

(2017) Horror (Blumhouse/Universal) Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, Lil Rel Howery, Ashley LeConte Campbell, John Wilmot, Caren Larkey,Julie Ann Doan, Rutherford Cravens, Geraldine Singer, Yasuhiko Oyama, Richard Herd, Erika Alexander. Directed by Jordan Peele

 

Given the situation and history of race in America, it could be forgiven if some African-Americans might have nightmares that white America is out to get them. Certainly given institutional racism in the past, the need for Black Lives Matter in the present and not a lot of hope for change for the future, life in these United States might seem like one great big horror movie for people of color.

Chris (Kaluuya) is a photographer who’s just getting started in his career. He is an African-American with ties to the community but he also has a white girlfriend – Rose (Williams) who has yet to inform her parents that she’s dating a black guy. But not to worry, she tells him – her parents are liberal progressives from way back. They’ll have no problem with it. When you’re taking your boyfriend to meet your parents for the first time, please understand that those words offer no comfort whatsoever.

Rose’s parents are pretty well-to-do – they have a vacation home in upstate New York that most would probably classify as an estate. Her Dad (Whitford) is a neurosurgeon and her Mom (Keener) a psychiatrist specializing in hypnotherapy. Dad is that kind of guy whose attempts to sound hip and current are awkward and unintentionally funny (“So how long has this thang been going on?” he  asks much to Chris’ bemusement). Mom offers to help cure Chris of his smoking habit which he politely refuses. He doesn’t want anyone messing with his head.

But awkward first meeting weekend gives way to some legitimate misgivings. The African-American domestics Walter (Henderson) and Georgina (Gabriel) seem anachronistic. The bonhomie of a family and friends gathering reveals racism bubbling just under the surface. The drunken brother (Jones) seems unusually aggressive.  Chris has nightmares and realizes that someone has been messing with his head after all. But the messing with Chris’ head is nothing compared with what’s going to mess with ours.

Peele is best known up to now for being part of Key and Peele who have one of the most respected shows on Comedy Central. Methinks that he has something else that he’s going to be best known for. He shows a confident, deft hand which is unusual for a first-time director and he took a nearly microscopic budget for a movie released by a major studio and parlayed it into what is sure to be one of the most profitable movies of the year.

He does it with a smartly written film that lightens the tone of the deeper issues it explores and doesn’t allow the audience to get angry or frustrated given the climate of the times. While I’ve heard some mutterings that the movie is racist towards whites, I would tend to disregard that kind of talk and compare it to certain SNL sketches that poke fun of white stereotypes. We all, after all, have our prejudices whether we admit to them or not.

He also does it with a near-perfect cast of largely unknowns from a feature standpoint although Whitford and Keenan are both veterans and Jones and Stanfield have some good performances under their belts as well. Each cog in the wheel performs exactly as they need to which helps ratchet up the creepy factor when it appears that Chris has entered a weird Stepford Wives town for Caucasians.

As light as Peele keeps it he does save room for some heavy horror moments although there’s not a lot of viscera here. It’s more the concepts that are horrifying rather than any visual gore although there are a few images where Peele brings on the red stuff. He’s not shying away from it so much as using it effectively.

Kaluuya, a British actor playing an American here, has star written all over him. He is absolutely mesmerizing onscreen and delivers an excellent performance that’s bound to get him noticed for more high-profile roles. He reminds me a lot of John Boyega and we all know that his career brought him into the Star Wars universe; something similar could conceivably happen to Kaluuya who I think would make a fantastic John Stewart in the upcoming Green Lantern Corps movie for DC/Warner Brothers.

This is one of those occasions where the critics and the general public have both embraced a film. It’s certainly bound to be one of the better horror movies to come out this year and some might well keep it in mind for one of the best movies of the year period. I’m not quite on board for that kind of lofty praise but this is definitely a movie worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it already and savvy movie buffs are likely to add it to their collection when it comes out on home video later on this year.

REASONS TO GO: A comic-horror look at African-American perceptions and racial stereotypes. There are some good laughs as well as some good scares.
REASONS TO STAY: Some might be made uncomfortable by the film’s attitudes towards racism.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a good amount of violence, some bloody images, profanity and sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Peele became the first African-American director to earn over $100 million at the box office on his debut feature film.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 99% positive reviews. Metacritic: 84/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Wicker Man
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: My Life as a Zucchini

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H for...howyadoon?

H for…howyadoon?

(2002) Crime Thriller (Tartan) Jin-hee Ji, Jung-ah Yum, Ji-ru Sung, Seung-woo Cho, Woong-ki Min, Yong-soo Park, Hyuk Poong Kwon, Eol Lee, In-kwon Kim, Kil-soo Park, Sun-kyung Kim, Bu-seon Kim, Roe-ha Kim, Seon-mi Yeon. Directed by Jong-Hyuk Lee

We assume we have control over the things we do. The truth is that our actions are programmed just as surely as any computer – programmed by our environment, by our upbringing, by our own nature. Changing the programming can be an arduous task – or a terribly simple thing.

When a serial killer named Shin Hyun (Cho) turned himself in after brutalizing and murdering six women, all of South Korea breathes a sigh of relief, particularly after the monster is put behind bars where he belongs. But ten months later, when copycat killings begin to appear in Seoul, Police detective Kang (Ji) is assigned the case with his partner Kim (Yum).

Working from clues left at the scenes of the first two crimes, the two detectives determine a suspect and stake out his home. Unfortunately, the killer realizes he’s being watched and attempts to flee into a nearby nightclub. After killing a third woman – exactly the way Shin Hyun had murdered his third victim – Kang shoots the killer and puts him into a coma.

That doesn’t stop the copycat killings. Two more murders are committed and this time they are captured but claim to have no memory of the crimes. Detective Kang determines that they had availed themselves of the services of Dr. Chu (S.K. Kim), a hypnotherapist. An interview with her will send Kang on the road to a confrontation that has been building his entire life and turn this case on its ear.

Director Lee – who also helmed the Bizarro Western The Good The Bad The Weird was clearly influenced by David Fincher’s Se7en. This is part police procedural, part thriller and part slasher flick. Some of the killings are fairly disturbing and while there isn’t a ton of gore, there are some nightmare-inducing images the squeamish may want to turn away from.

Ji makes for a classic anti-hero, a rumpled detective burdened by the sins of others having seen humanity’s worst side, and the weight of his past heavy on his soul. He is a tough customer but his eyes reflect a weary vulnerability. It’s a terrific performance that transcends language.

Lee keeps the tension at a comfortably high level, allowing brief breaks but never for long. While the movie’s ending was a bit of a cop-out, while getting there you’re never quite sure who can be trusted and what the motivations of anybody are. While the movie’s main conceit is not necessarily uncommon, it’s not been utilized in quite this fashion.

This is yet further proof that some of the best filmmaking in the whole world is going on right now in South Korea. Although this film is over a decade old, it carries with it many of the traits that make Korean cinema great – a willingness to tackle subjects that we would consider taboo, an unflinching eye on violence and suffering and acting performances that are generally more modulated than those in other Asian nations. For those looking for a terrific edge-of-your-seat thriller that you haven’t seen before, this is one that should go on your short list.

WHY RENT THIS: Tense and intense. Reminds me of the movie Se7en.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Reminds me too much of the movie Se7en. Twist ending a bit of a no-brainer.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some fairly severe violence and adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was remade in 2009 as the Indian film Amaravathi.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Saw the Devil

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Waking Ned Devine

The Fourth Kind


 

 

The Fourth Kind

Milla Jovovich wonders if this whole thing isn't a new threat from the Umbrella Corporation.

 
 

(Universal) Milla Jovovich, Elias Koteas, Will Patton, Charlotte Milchard, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Corey Johnson, Enzo Cilenti, Mia McKenna-Bruce, Raphael Coleman, Daphne Alexander, Alisha Seaton. Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi

 

 According to the filmmakers, Nome, Alaska has a disproportionate number of disappearances every year, to the point where the FBI makes more visits than they do to Anchorage, a city with many times the population of Nome. Of course, according to the filmmakers, everything you see in this movie is real and is backed up with “archival” footage.

 

It isn’t until she puts them under hypnosis that the excrement hits the air conditioner. The terror of her patients becomes so insistent that they literally break their own backs to get away from the trauma of their repressed memories.

 

Abbey has some trauma of her own. Her husband Will, also a psychologist, passed away recently. Abbey believes he was murdered by an intruder who stabbed him in the heart, although Sheriff August (Patton) is just as adamant that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Which one is right? Would you believe…both of them?  More to the point, would you believe either of them?

 

After one of her patients (Johnson) becomes so traumatized by her sessions that he visits an unthinkable tragedy on his family, August begins to regard Abbey with the stink-eye, thinking she may be somehow planting some kind of post-hypnotic suggestion in her patients. He really doesn’t have a motive, but he does have the ability to bellow quite a bit.

 

Abbey has also been seeing a therapist of her own, Dr. Campos (Koteas) who is at first skeptical about her claims until he sees things that defy explanation, like patients levitating off of beds which, sadly, are missing from the videotape due to unexplainable distortion. When a deputy witnesses a bright light coming from the sky to bathe Abbey’s home and her daughter Ashley (McKenna-Bruce) disappears shortly thereafter, Abbey really comes under scrutiny. Nobody believes it could possibly be alien abduction – nobody except Abbey, Dr. Campos and linguist Awolowa Odusami (Kae-Kazim) who identifies strange gibberish on the tapes as Sumerian, the most ancient language on Earth and one even today that we have trouble translating properly.

 

The movie is presented as “found footage” i.e. documentary footage that has been discovered by researchers or whatever. This format has been very successful in the horror genre of late, initiated by The Blair Witch Project and continuing with Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. It can be very effective in creating an atmosphere in which the jeopardy seems real.

 

Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to proclaim this footage as genuine a bit too loudly. It didn’t take long for enterprising researchers to discover that the characters and events are all cut from whole cloth. Now, normally I wouldn’t mind – it is a movie after all – but don’t present it as a documentary when it’s clearly not. The movie would have been far more effective had it not pressed it’s claims to be real and instead just allow you to sit back and immerse yourself in the footage, as Paranormal Activity did, rather than conduct an inner debate as to the veracity of the film’s claims.

 

I’m wondering why on earth director Osunsanmi decided to go with name actors like Jovovich, Koteas and Patton to re-enact scenes that they’re showing “archival” footage of, nearly word for word on split screen. It’s unnecessary and annoying. Osunsanmi was trying to have his cake and eat it too – he would have been better served either to simply make a movie with the star power, or preferably, with the “archival footage” which was far more effective than the “re-enactments.”

 

Jovovich is a solid action star, but she played the grieving Abbey with a lack of passion which is certainly a way to go. She winds up with a curiously detached feeling, as if you could open up a zipper on the actress’ back and discover that inside is only air. It made it hard to truly develop an emotional link to the character.

 

The suspense was well done and while I do like the premise, it eventually bogs down in its own conceit and comes off like Whitley Streiber was given a digital cam and sent off into the Maryland woods in search of the Blair Witch. I’m not saying that this is a bad movie – it has its moments and some of the footage is well-crafted – but it could have been better had the director not tried to have it both ways. Sometimes, simple is better.

 

WHY RENT THIS: The suspense aspect is very well done, and some of the scares quite effective. Jovovich is an outstanding lead actress who doesn’t get the props she deserves, and Koteas does a good job of channeling Christopher Meloni in his role.

 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The outing of the “real” footage takes away some of the film’s effectiveness which remains a catch-22.

 

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images are exceedingly disturbing.  There is also some rough language and implied sexuality, but definitely this is not for those who might be given to nightmares.

 

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Nome is 51% aboriginal in population, none of the characters in this movie appear to be of that ethnic background.

 

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.  

 

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $47.7M on an unreported budget; I’m thinking that the movie probably broke even or made money.

 

FINAL RATING: 6/10

 

TOMORROW: Six Days of Darkness concludes with a horror classic.

Actress Milla Jovovich (you can tell she’s an actress; she says so at the very beginning of the film) plays Abbey Tyler, a psychologist (who is also “played” by English actress Charlotte Milchard) who has noticed several of her patients who have difficulty sleeping have eerily similar stories; they all awaken at about 3am with an owl staring at them, an image that fills them with inexplicable terror.