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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Darling Companion


Woman's best friend isn't necessarily a diamond.

Woman’s best friend isn’t necessarily a diamond.

(2012) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Sam Shepard, Lindsay Sloane, Jay Ali, Robert Bear, Casey, Paul Kiernan, Jericho Watson, Yolanda Wood, D.L. Walker, Dina Goldman, Ruben Barboza, Mark Robinette, Craig Miner, Anne Cullimore Decker, Aline Andrade. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Dog lovers are, if you’ll forgive me, a unique breed. Being one myself, I know whereof I speak. Da Queen will tell you that I’m borderline obsessive and if you pressed, she’d probably even admit that I left the rational border behind years ago. That’s okay. Guilty as charged. From time to time in movies I have to witness bad things happening to dogs. Da Queen will also tell you that there’s no surer way to turn this rational, logical critic into a slobbering mess than seeing harm come to a dog. It’s not just my dogs I love but all dogs.

I tell you this because I was a bit concerned when I heard what the premise for this movie was. When Beth (Keaton) and her daughter Grace (Moss) find an abandoned dog at the side of a Colorado highway, Beth immediately takes to her four-legged friend. Naming the dog Freeway, she adopts the critter when nobody steps in to claim it.

Her husband Joseph (Kline), a back surgeon who invests much more into his career than he does into his marriage although he is to his own mind completely devoted to his family, is a bit annoyed by the presence of the dog but when his wife insists, he capitulates grudgingly. What he doesn’t get is that he spends a lot of time away from the home while she raised her daughters. With Grace getting married at their Rocky Mountain vacation home in the fall, her nest will be officially empty. She needs something to fill it and a dog is an excellent choice.

Beth grows very fond of Freeway and the two are virtually inseparable but things get kind of crazy as the wedding approaches and of course Joseph is of little help. As Beth is helping Grace with the final details at the vacation house, Joseph – about as useful as a cell phone on top of Mt. Everest – is given the task of walking the dog. He does so, forgetting to put Freeway on a leash and so busy talking into his cell phone he barely notices when Freeway runs off after a deer.

When Joseph returns home sans dog, Beth is understandably distraught and unleashes her wrath on Joseph who doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about. “It’s not like it’s a person,” he complains, “it’s just a dog” to which Beth retorts “Love is love. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a person or a dog.” She has a point but then again I am somewhat unreliable  when it comes to objectivity in this regard.

Of course, Joseph is in the literal dog house but he searches for the dog without success. Beth, frantic, enlists Joseph’s sister Penny (Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Jenkins) as well as Penny’s son Bryan (Duplass). Neither Joseph nor Bryan trust Russell whom they think has ulterior motives when it comes to Penny but Penny appears happy enough.

For Bryan’s part, he takes a shine to Carmen (Zurer), the housemaid who claims to have psychic powers who is certain that Freeway is still alive. This only furthers Beth’s determination and as the adults travel the beautiful countryside of the Rockies in the fall, they are forced to deal with each other one on one – for the first time in a very long time in some cases.

Some may recall Kasdan as the director of Silverado and The Big Chill as well as the writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He co-wrote this with his wife Meg so we do get both sides of the equation in most of the relationships without being overly committed to one point of view or the other. Kasdan has the wisdom to know that there are always more than one in any relationship and the case is generally that no one person is always right or always wrong.

However, you can never be wrong when you cast Kevin Kline and nobody knows that better than Kasdan who gave the actor his big break in The Big Chill. Kline is an everyman who can play just about any role and make it believable. He’s also so damn likable that even when he’s playing a character who is a bit of a dick we still end up relating to him which is quite the gift. I think that likability is why we so rarely see Kline in a villain’s role, although he can play those with aplomb as well (see A Fish Called Wanda).

His chemistry with Keaton is genuine and unforced. Keaton who sometimes can overdo the neurotic thing at least doesn’t make her character a complete ditz. She does have some legitimate grievances and while the way things work out is a bit contrived (but what Hollywood film is not?) the character itself isn’t. The acting in fact is terrific all around – the movie in fact suffers from an embarrassment of riches with so many great actors in the movie that you wish some of them got a little more screen time and you tend to leave that kind of film feeling a little cheated – and yet if they’d made the film longer it would have been too long. Catch-22 lives.

While the movie ends up using the dog as a uniting force and the search for him/her as a metaphor as our own search for love and acceptance, it gets to its destination after a few too many convenient coincidences. Other than that though this is a beautifully shot movie – you also can’t go wrong setting a movie in the Rockies in the autumn, although it is Utah subbing for Colorado here. It leaves one with the warm fuzzies which isn’t a bad thing and although a lot of critics grouse about it, this isn’t a dog movie in the same sense as Marley and Me nor is it a dog of a movie in the sense of a whole lot of forgettable exercises in cinema but it is a movie that might just stick with you like a loyal, loving dog and who doesn’t love that?

WHY RENT THIS: Because, you know, dogs. I’ll see Kline in anything, even when he plays a bit of a jerk.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many contrivances. Too many great actors, not enough time.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual content as well as a bit of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Kasdan’s first time in the director chair since 2003’s Dreamcatcher.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Along with footage of the New York premiere there’s also a featurette on the casting of the dog Freeway.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $793,815 on a $12M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride (1991)
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Red Baron

Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires)


Pretty girl, prettier boys.

Pretty girl, prettier boys.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (IFC) Monia Chokri, Nils Schneider, Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Anne-Elisabeth Bosse, Olivier Morin, Magalie Lepine-Blondeau, Eric Bruneau, Gabriel Lessard, Benedicte Decary, Anthony Huneault, Patricia Tulasne, Jody Hargreaves, Clara Palardy, Minou Petrowski, Perrette Souplex, Louis Garrel, Sophie Desmarais. Directed by Xavier Dolan

Love is tricky, particularly when friendship is involved. You feel one way towards your best friend and another towards someone you love. Once in awhile though you find yourself competing with your best friend for the love of someone and that makes perfect sense. When you think about it, if you have enough in common to be best friends, why not tastes in lovers?

That’s what happens to Marie (Chokri) and Francis (Dolan). He’s a gay man and she a straight woman. They share a Montreal apartment and well heck, just about everything. However when they meet Nicolas (Schneider) at a party, all bets are off. Marie falls for him deeply and Francis does as well. Both of them are reading things into Nicolas admittedly flirtatious gestures. Each one believes that Francis is more interested in them.

Things escalate as each of them vie for Nicolas’ attention and shower him with increasingly lavish gifts. Things culminate in a vacation at the cabin owned by Nicolas’ mom. Who will Nicolas choose?

This is a movie that isn’t always easy to take in. For one thing, Nicolas is a bit of a jerk. He is clearly manipulative and misleading the both of them, although for their parts they do a lot of seeing things the way they want to when it comes to him. This isn’t the kind of love story you’re used to seeing – these are very flawed people in not always nice ways.

There have been a pretty good number of promising French-Canadian directors that have come along in the last ten years and Dolan is one of the most talented of these. This isn’t my favorite of his films – it carries with it a little too much self-conscious hipness which I always find abhorrent. While I understand that hipsters are people too, I find their attitudes to be somewhat condescending at times and that kind of bugs me. Being cool generally means understanding that everyone has their own idea of what cool is and that may not necessarily be what you think it is.

In any case, the performances here are solid and the story well-written and realistic. While it has received a good amount of critical attention, it just didn’t connect with me. Fortunately, other Dolan films have and I’m pretty sure future films will.

WHY RENT THIS: Looks at the effects of a love triangle somewhat more realistically.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Hipper than thou.

FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of sexuality with some nudity as well as some rough language and adult situations.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dolan supplies the voice of Stan in the French version of South Park.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $588,383 on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Jules et Jim

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: U-571

56 Up


Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

Neil Hughes looks on his life with a bit of melancholy.

(2012) Documentary (First Run) Michael Apted, Bruce Balden, Jacqueline Bassett, Symon Basterfield, Andrew Brackfield, John Brisby, Peter Davies, Suzanne Dewey, Nicholas Hitchon, Neil Hughes, Lynn Johnson, Paul Kligerman, Susan Sullivan, Tony Walker. Directed by Michael Apted and Paul Almond (archival footage)

In 1964, director Paul Almond along with a young researcher named Michael Apted who went on to a successful directing career interviewed fourteen 7-year-old children from around England (mostly the London area) from differing social circumstances. The interviews consisted of the hopes and dreams of the children; what they thought their lives would turn out to be. The television show that resulted in these interviews became a wild success in British and was made a feature film that received a great deal of acclaim here in the United States.

Every seven years since then Apted would return to chat with the fourteen subjects (Peter Davies dropped out after 28 Up in 1985 but returns in time for the newest installment, ostensibly to promote his band the Good Intentions and Charles Furneaux dropped out of the series after 21 Up in 1978 to pursue his own documentary career). Remarkably, all 14 have reached middle age with varying degrees of comfort.

The initial series was supposed to be a commentary on the British class system. What it has become is something else entirely. It has become much more of a personal study, looking at the individuals and how their lives have progressed.

Few lives have been as poignant as that of Neil Hughes. He has skirted on the edge of society, on occasions being homeless. There are certainly demons there; he is asked point blank about his sanity and reflects that he has received some sort of therapy although he doesn’t elaborate. He often seems melancholy, as if disappointed by his own experiences and in where his life has gone. None who saw the ebullient young Neil in Seven Up! and Seven plus Seven Up would have predicted this. In 56 Up he is on a town public works council in Cambria (he seems to prefer Britain’s north) and has become an Anglican canon where he gets to do just about everything a priest does. While he doesn’t seem completely satisfied with his life, he at least seems to be more sanguine than he’s been in recent years.

It is hard to ignore the incidence of divorce in the lives of these kids. While some have been blessed with long marriages (some rocky – Tony Walker dealt with his own infidelity but he and his wife managed to work things out without divorcing) five of the kids have been divorced at least once with one having never married (Neil).

Their lives have turned out quite a bit differently than they would have predicted I think. At 56 the gaze is turning more to the past than the future; ahead lies retirement and grandchildren (some of them are already enjoying the latter) and at this time of life one becomes more or less resigned if not content with one’s position in life or at the very least accepting of it.

These movies are a bit of a mixed blessing. They are fascinating on the one hand to see the progression of life from youth to middle age but these are mere snapshots. It’s like taking a Polaroid of a life and extrapolating from it. As Nick Hitchon, now teaching electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin says that this “is not an absolutely accurate picture (of me) but it’s the picture of somebody and that’s the value of it.”

It is not for me to judge a life and in some ways we are forced to do just that in viewing this. We become as voyeurs, making opinions of these lives and passing judgment on those who have lived them and while that’s inevitable, it’s also something to be resisted. Keep in mind that we are seeing these people through interviews that last approximately six hours out of seven years. We really aren’t getting to know them as people, just the surface facts. And for some of them, it is more compelling than it is for others.

This is a fairly long movie (about two hours) and it can be tedious in places. There is certainly a value to these movies – this was reality television before there was reality television – but it isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. If all you want out of a movie is to be taken out of your own life and transported to more exciting and wonderful places, this isn’t going to do much for you. But those who look to find insight into their own lives by seeing the lives of others will find much value here.

REASONS TO GO: Fascinating, particularly if you’ve been following the series for 49 years.

REASONS TO STAY: Not every life is interesting.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of foul language but that’s about it.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The series began on British television and continues there to this day; it is in the United States that a compilation has been released as a feature film for almost every installment.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100; the documentary got outstanding reviews.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: 49 Up

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jack the Giant Slayer

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil


Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Katrina Bowen begs Tyler Labin not to snap his own overall strap again.

(2010) Horror Spoof (Magnet) Tyler Labine, Alan Tudyk, Katrina Bowen, Jesse Moss, Philip Granger, Brandon McLaren, Christie Laing, Chelan Simmons, Travis Nelson, Alexander Arsenault, Adam Beauchesne, Joseph Sutherland, Karen Reigh. Directed by Eli Craig

Everything is about perception. Sometimes we look at a person and see a police officer. Someone different will look at that same person and see a thug. It’s all how our experiences guide us.

A group of college students, led by the unctuous Chad (Moss) are taking their spring break in the mountains of West Virginia. They need to make a pit stop for beer and stop off at a Last Chance Gas convenience store. There they stumble on Tucker (Tudyk) and Dale (Labine), a pair of redneck types who are on their way to a vacation of their own. Dale is extremely shy and has a very low self-image, but he takes a shine to Alison (Bowen), a comely co-ed. Tucker encourages his shy friend to approach the girl but his tongue-tied charm fails to impress, possibly because he’s holding a scythe at the time.

The kids go off to their camp and Tucker and Dale find their “vacation home” which resembles the cabin from The Evil Dead somewhat eerily. While the kids go skinny dipping, Tucker and Dale are out fishing. Alison gets separated from the rest of the group and gets startled by the two hillbillies, falling and injuring her head. When the boys try to return her to her friends, they mistake their intentions and run away screaming for the hills.

When Alison awakens, she discovers that far from being homicidal, the two boys are sweet and caring. She begins to see Dale much differently whereas she might not have seen him that way earlier. However, her friends think that she has been made a captive against her will and that the two men plan on doing hideous, horrifying things to her. They mean to rescue her, at any cost.

That cost turns out to be plenty high as the kids attempts to rescue their friend turn out in disaster and accidental death. Tucker and Dale are mystified; they start thinking that Alison’s friends are part of some sort of suicide pact cult. Chad and his friends are growing more and more violent; the boys are growing more and more mystified. What’s a redneck to do?

This Canadian film for whatever reason sat on the shelf for nearly two years before getting an American release and even at that, a somewhat excuse-me release at that. It’s a shame too; this is the kind of movie that would attract a big cult audience if people just knew about it.

It’s funny but not in a broad, outlandish sense; rather it takes situations and makes them the star. Each little set piece is a gag that ends with a stupid college student getting killed in a brutal – and funny – way. One kid stumbles into a wood chipper. Another runs headlong into a branch and gets impaled. Another takes off the safety on a gun and blows his own head off.

But this is more than a horror spoof. There are some interesting subtexts here on prejudging, class distinctions and embracing differences. There is also some pretty tight chemistry between Tudyk and Labine, both of whom have serious comic chops but can also act. Those are both good qualities and exceedingly rare together in the same person. The real hero of this movie may well be the casting director.

There are also an homage or two to such movies as the aforementioned Evil Dead as well as Wrong Turn and Friday the 13th as well as non-genre films like Fargo. The writing is clever in places with some unexpected bits that had me in stitches.

I liked this movie a lot and unfortunately it isn’t attracting a lot of attention, either from the mainstream press or from genre blogs. Nonetheless it’s worth seeking out if it is playing near you but never fear; it is already available for as Video on Demand and will be on home video just after Thanksgiving. I suggest you take whatever opportunity you can to check it out; it’s as much fun at the movies as I’ve had this year.

REASONS TO GO: Funny and sweet and plenty of gore and violence to please any horror buff. Hip without trying.

REASONS TO STAY: There were a few sections where things seemed a little flat.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some fairly rough violence, a good deal of blood , a fair amount of foul language and a smidgeon of bare breasts.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The two leads are known for supporting roles in cult favorite TV shows; Labine in “Reaper” and Tudyk in “Firefly.” In addition, Bowen is also primarily known for her TV work on “One Life to Live” and in “30 Rock” (whose cast she joined after filming this).

HOME OR THEATER: This will make a fine rental or a nice addition to your DVD library.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Dolphin Tale