Get Out (2017): Blackly Comic Horror (Review)

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Written and directed by Jordan Peele (this is his maiden voyage as the man in the “big” chair) Get Out was inspired by an Eddie Murphy gag and borrows, just a tad, from other films. It is, overall, a blackly comic horror film that feels like a splendidly dark and morbid punchline.  The movie can, and does, make one feel uncomfortable and amused – often in the same scene.

We follow Chris Washington (played brilliantly by Daniel Kaluuya) as he goes, reluctantly, to visit his girlfriend’s parents. Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) is college co-ed cute – all big eyes, perfect teeth with an odd combination of droll yet goofy wit – who has arranged for Chris to meet the fam. 

All is not what it seems, however, as once Chris arrives in upstate New York, he finds his future in-laws are a combination of “trying too hard” and slightly antagonistic. Rose’s mum is a hypnotherapist who promises to cure Chris of his nasty smoking habit. Dad, a bit of east coast “whitebread,” tries to go ghetto and brother Dean is a snot.

Even without the kidnapping that takes place at the very start of the film, we feel uncomfortable and Peele manages to put the audience firmly in Chris’s shoes. The sense of unease increases even before Chris sits down with “mum” for that first unwitting hypnotherapy session.

The “big weekend” amps things up nicely as all the guests ask Chris seemingly inane and overly personal questions. (Including one strange interlude that harkens back to Madeline Kahn and “Blazing Saddles.”) He also meets, along the way, the two servants who work for the Armitage family.

All the black people he meets act oddly.  There are jarring moments: The maid’s unexplained tears, the handyman’s running in the middle of the night, the old woman with the hat-wearing young black man and the emphasis of the “white” diction used by all the above. There is another tense and weird scene where the flash of a camera gives “hat man” a nose bleed.

(This scene also harkens back to the Eddie Murphy gag about “Get out!”)

Peele has taken a concept which, initially, looks to be all about racism and turns it into a mix of neuroscience and immortality. It can also be seen as a snapshot analysis of social satire, a’la the 1989 Billy Warlock film “Society.”

(One could arguably compare the plot line with the 2005 voodoo horror film “The Skeleton Key.” Get Out addresses the same issues of living forever without all the magical hugger mugger of the Kate Hudson film…)

Get Out manages to both creep the viewer out, elicit a fair amount of chuckles and  shock in all the right places. There are sharp scary moments, the gardener running at Chris for example, and the place Chris is sent to after his session with mother disturbs on a much deeper level.

It is the mismatch of stereotypes that provides much of the comedy:  Chris’s best friend with his, mostly, improvised dialogue and the septuagenarian diction and speech patterns emerging from the servants and hat man  who  interact all too briefly with our hero at the party mixes absurdity with blackly comic moments that delight and add the right amount of quirky fear to the formula.

Get Out is a full five star film. It is full of slyly hidden black comedy that reveals itself with repeated viewings. Peele gives us a low budget masterpiece that earns each and every one of its Oscar nominations. If you haven’t already, check this one out and be prepared to be massively entertained.

Arrival (2016): Amy Adams and the Hectapods (Review)

Amy Adams

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (the chap who helmed “Prisoners” and “Sicario“) with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer – based on the Ted Chiang short story “Story of Your Life – Arrival is a slow, moving and methodical delivery of almost unconsciously epic proportions. It features the ever watchable Amy Adams meeting some “hectapods” and Jeremy Renner in a different mode than his usual heroic onscreen presentation.

Some critics have commented on the uniqueness of the aliens in the just under two hour film and stated that they are unlike other alien depictions in the past.

Oh, contraire, ‘mes amies.’

Monsters, the 2010 guerrilla-made-on-a-budget film featured multi-limbed creatures that were huge and looked not too dissimilar from these aliens. “Battle for Los Angeles” also had multi-legged, or armed (it was hard to tell) aliens who took on a squad of Marines and one Air Force Technical Sergeant.

Leaving aside the small duplicity issue of this film’s version of little green “men” Arrival manages to hit a lot of notes in the time given. It stresses the need for communication above all else and throws a game changer into the mix with a time conundrum of sorts.

The film starts with what we assume to be memories (although in essence they really are just “future” remembrances) of a daughter who dies an early death and the mourning of the parent left behind. It then moves into the day of linguistic professor Jesse Banks (Adams) going to work and finding her class decimated.

Turning on the news, we learn that 12 alien spacecraft, looking like ovoid versions of Kubrick’s obelisk from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” have arrived, hovering above the earth in odd locations across the globe. In short order, Banks is approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who wants her to translate the newcomers version of language and she is joined by Ian Donnelly (Renner); a scientist.

The build up to the underplayed epilogue of the film is slowly paced. This gives us an idea of how long it would take to learn an alien communicative system as well as giving us a reason why the creatures write in a circular manner.

Non-linear time-lines are the basis for the language and the gift that the visitors mean to bestow on a hostile planet. It is the crux of the plot and the thing that drives Banks throughout the film. Somewhat amazingly, for what is in essence, a science fiction “creature feature” Arrival is a bit of a “tear jerker.”

This is only accomplished by a subtle delivery of moments of truth along the film’s own timeline. Renner’s character’s clear excitement and delight at the prospect of entering the alien spacecraft.  Adams’ tough fragility and the emotions that she displays while “remembering” her dead daughter are just part of the mixture that really sells the film and its off-center plot twist.

Even the moment where Abbott, or Costello, tap the glass with one hectapodal limb (a clear gesture meaning, “it’s behind you” toward the end of the film) feels true and rational. After all, in terms of non-verbal communication, it makes sense that even aliens could point at something and it would mean the same thing in any world: “Look at that.”

The ending is sad, yet defining, and perhaps only Adams could have pulled this one off so perfectly. Renner makes the perfect partner for the actress in this scenario and he plays the enthusiastic scientist to perfection. At no time do we confuse Ian with that arrow slinging Marvel hero that the actor is so associated with.

Villeneuve has managed to put together a tale that relies on memory of things to come with a major plot device of “seeing” things in the future at the “right time” to affect the present.  The editing and the pacing of the film makes everything come together beautifully at the end. 

Arrival conveys the strictness of a military response to an alien visit adroitly. The humorless approach, by personnel used to dealing with threats, mixed with the more aesthetic players on the team works well and also has that ring of truth to it.

Somewhat surprisingly, Arrival only garnered one Oscar (for Best Achievement in Sound Editing) as it is a full 5 star film.  It never really misses a beat and hits all the right notes throughout. It is available to watch via streaming online or on DVD.

Catch this one if you can and have a box of tissues handy just in case. Check out the trailer below:

The Handmaiden (2016): Simmering Sex and Dirty Books (Review)

Publicity still from The Handmaiden

Directed by critic favorite Chan-wook Park, The Handmaiden (inspired by Sarah Waters‘ depiction of Victorian England in her book “Fingersmith”) is, for all intents and purposes, a “bodice ripper.” In other words there is a good amount of simmering sex and a lot of dirty books.

Updated to fit the time frame of Japan’s occupation of Korea, it features a beautiful pair of women who share an unhappy past. Lady Hideko (Min-hee Kim) has a lot of money and is orphaned. She lives with her uncle who has a large library of pornographic books that he forces her to read to an appreciative audience. 

Jun-su (Tae-ri Kim), a young pickpocket – whose male mentor is a thief of the highest order – becomes Hideko’s handmaiden. The mentor becomes Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha) and he “tricks” Hideko into marrying him.  

But all is not as it seems in this film. The uncle (Jin-woong Jowho forces Hideko to read porn to his paying guests may be the only character who flies his true flag’s colours. His only real artifice, if it can be called that, is to affect Japanese ways.

It is this affectation that allows the “Count” access to the man and Fujiwara’s pretending to be Japanese royalty is both his plan and downfall. It could be said that Fujiwara’s intentions are also pretty clear, he is like the uncle in this respect…

Hideko pretends to be an innocent in the ways of love and sex and Jun-su, of course, pretends to be a handmaid versus a thief. The latter’s instructions are to aid Count Fujiwara in his quest to bed and wed Lady Hideko.

Through the course of the film, which runs in three parts like the source novel, we are treated to the two women falling in love and some “soft porn” depictions of sex. We also learn that Hideko is not the wallflower that Jun-su thinks she is and that the reader of books is desperate to escape her uncle’s iron rule.

The film looks spectacular, even without all the lovingly lit and framed female nudity, and the set pieces, along with the costumes, help to bring the film’s setting to life.  The story, broken into three parts, reveals what is going on behind the scenes, although the final act really wraps things up.

Behind all the subterfuge and the nefarious doings of various characters, the film really is a romance. It chronicles, at the start, the two women and their gradual awareness of each other. What starts as an infatuation graduates to full sexual congress and they bond completely before the “Count” ever arrives.

We learn of Jun-su’s (whose name is changed to Sook-Hee when she starts work at the house) background and what makes the young woman tick.  Leaving out the lovemaking (there is not a huge amount anyway) the romance between the two women takes second place to the mystery of who is really doing what.

In many ways this feels like a combination of Stoker with a touch of “Lady Chatterly’s Lover.” For those who never heard of the book, it was a sensation “back in the day” as a story regaling the reader of a “lady” who fancied a bit of “rough.” A lot. In this particular tale, the “rough” is a young pickpocket and not a stablehand. (This really is down to the author of “Fingersmith” however and not Park Chan-wook.)

The film is a long one, clocking in at two hours and 24 minutes.  It does not, however, feel long. The story is interesting enough that it keeps the attention transfixed on the events in each of the three parts, or acts, as  presented.

The Handmaiden is a full 5 star treat and it is available on Amazon Prime, for free or can be rented/streamed if one is not a Prime customer. Head over and catch this one, if you can live with sub-titles, and enjoy this mystery/romance.

 

Rosewood: Fairy Tales & Frozen Truths – Family (Review)

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Rosewood “Fairy Tales & Frozen Truths” re-addresses family and how we never really know everything about those in our bloodline.  Villa has to face issues that her brother Marcos has and Rosie finally accepts that the newest member of his familial world should be allowed to give up a kidney.

A female children’s entertainer is found frozen solid in a freezer. Mitchie realizes that the dead woman is dressed in a Cinderella outfit, right down to the glass slippers, and it is clear that she did not die of hypothermia. It is also obvious that the young woman was murdered.

Mitchie takes a personal interest in the case as the dead woman also lost her parents at an early age. Team Rosie learn that the victim had been hit with a heavy object and it was this that killed her, not the intense cold.

The suspect list includes:  A father suspected of abusing his child, another children’s performer, the dead woman’s legal guardian and the woman’s boss. At the end of the episode it turns out that the murdered “Disney Princess” was killed by an evil “step sibling.”

Rosie and Slade argue throughout the episode about that kidney and Donna Rosewood steps in to help out Daisie Villa when her son Marcos refuses to see her. We find out that Marcos has been taking pictures of Annalise’s friends and family to facilitate getting to know them.

Hornstock also intercedes on Annalise’s behalf when he finds out that Marcos is avoiding Daisie. They find out about all those photographs and Villa tells her brother off. At the end of the episode, Marcos explains what is happening in his life and why he was avoiding his mother.

Slade and  Rosie have a talk about family and the captain putting himself at risk. Rosie also explains that since the condition was self inflicted he feels that Slade’s risk is unacceptable.

This was a good episode. It took a long time to find out who the killer was and when the reveal came it was the sister who not only killed the princess but she was also poisoning her mother.  It was a Disney-esque twist based on sibling rivalry  and greed.

Rosewood has always been about the charismatic Rosie, the relationship between he and Villa and the family he has built around himself. Villa’s family also figure into this equation and everyone in the circle is a part of Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr’s extended family.

It looks like next week will see the transplant take place and it will be interesting to see the outcome. Slade, who revealed to Rosie this week that he is more sinner than saint, has a doomed air about him that does not bode well.

While it took some time for the new captain to fit into Rosewood’s verse, he has finally become a fixture that works well in this Miami based crime show. Hopefully he will not expire “mid operation.”

Rosewood airs Fridays on FOX. Tune in to watch the dynamic duo of Morris Chestnut and Jaina Lee Ortiz. They are the hottest “non” couple on television at the moment. Do not miss out on their splendid chemistry.

Cast:

Guest starring Manny Montana as Marcos Villa, Ginifer King as Veronica Collins, Gina Hecht as Paula Benjamin, Ellen Wroe as Gretchen Benjamin, Kim Matula as Leanne Forrest and T.J. Linnard as Vince Hanna.

The Girl on the Train (2016): Gone Girl…Not (Review)

Emily Blunt as Rachel

Directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, Get On Up) from a screenplay by Erin Cressida Wilson based on the book of the same name by English author Paula Hawkins, The Girl on the Train is a splendid mix of layers hidden amongst a myriad of smoke and mirrors. The film has been compared to the 2014 film Gone Girl, but there really is nothing to bring the two together. 

There is a missing woman, which is the big theme in the Gillian Flynn novel and movie. But where the characters in Flynn’s opus are all self centered and obsessed with their own character arcs, Hawkins’ people are all illusion, pain and hidden misery.

No one is as they appear initially. Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the “girl on the train,” who seems to be calm and retrospective. She fantasizes about the young woman she sees from the moving vehicle. On her journey to and from New York, she sees Megan (Haley Bennett) and her husband Scott (Luke Evans) as the “perfect couple.” 

As the film progresses we learn that the couple she “spies” on live right near where she and her ex-husband lived. Justin Theroux plays Tom, Rachel’s ex, and he has a new life with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their child Evie. 

The Girl on the Train is a long film that manages to seem much shorter than its nearly two hour running time.  We are lead down a path that twists and turns with each new revelation. Things are seen mainly from Rachel’s point of view but we are also let in on Megan’s state of mind.

Each character in the film has a secret, some hidden on purpose and others via misdirection and at least one character has the truth skewed by someone else. The end of the film, as well as the murder midway through, is surprising.

This drama/mystery/thriller is a perfect whodunit with a trail of confusing  clues that slowly but surely lead us to the killer.  It is only with the final reveal that we learn the truth and on top of it being somewhat heartbreaking for at least two of the characters  it is also shocking.

Not having read the source book by Hawkins it is unclear just how closely Tate and Wilson followed the original storyline. In the end, however, it does not really matter as the film is put together perfectly. We stick with the story, as it unfolds in fits and starts, and we get caught up in each character’s tale.

Blunt may have the best backstory and she manages, with the aid of some brilliant makeup and spot on acting, to utterly convince as the alcoholic with memory problems. She unflinchingly allows the camera to linger on her blotchy complexion and those slightly unfocused eyes. It is a real tour de force performance.

Bennett is sexy, sultry, remote and dissatisfied. It is all too easy to see where her fixation with sex comes from and her need to live in the moment.

Ferguson comes across as the trophy wife who is, like Bennett’s character, a little distant.  She has issues with Blunt’s character and emotes a certain naivety that is both sad and surprising.

Lisa Kudrow makes the most of a crucial cameo as Tom’s old boss and Allison Janney almost steals the show as Detective Riley. 

The Girl on the Train has also been called a “woman’s film” and indeed this story features a microscopic look at the three women featured in the movie. However, the film works on many more levels than just a “chick flick” and as a mystery/thriller hits every single note without one miss.

By the end of the film we care and feel for each major female character. It says a lot about the quality of the script, the acting and the direction that we can empathize with everyone but the one real villain of the piece.

The Girl on the Train is a full 5 star film.  Once one begins watching it, there is no question that it must be finished. The urge to learn the truth amidst all the false clues and misremembered events overwhelms all. Watch this film now and get caught up in the story and its characters.