Friday, March 3, 2017

"Get Out" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Get Out" as well as DVDs "Inferno" and "The Shallows." The Book of the Week is "The Royal We."  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "The Cabin in the Woods."]

Get Out

A young white woman takes her African-American boyfriend to meet her parents.

I don't usually jump on the horror movie bandwagon, not at the theatre, anyway, but this last week, the movie theatre pickins were slim, and since I am a Jordan Peele fan and this movie is getting a lot of buzz, I thought I would give it a try.

I first encountered Jordan Peele on "Mad TV," where he and his cohort Keegan-Michael Key created some funny characters and gave SNL a run for it's money.  The two went on to do their own sketch comedy show, "Key and Peele" and starred together in the movie "Keanu," which I really liked.

But now Peele has gone off on his own and written and directed this comedy-horror film about a young black man off for the week-end to meet his white girlfriend's parents. And for those of you who abhor horror, this film is really more a psychological thriller than a classic horror film (and there is humor too), and it saves what blood and gore there is (which isn't much) until the end.

This is a difficult film to review since telling too much about it gives away the twist, though you will quickly figure some of it out, but I will do my best to give you a taste without any spoilers.

The film begins with a hip young African-American man walking around in a neighborhood in the dark.  He is lost and a bit nervous as he talks to his friend on his cell phone.  He is not familiar with this neighborhood but thinks he is in an all white neighborhood, hence his nerves.  All of a sudden a strange car rolls by, turns around and starts stalking him and - bang! - someone jumps out of the shadows and drags the young man into the trunk of the car.

Cut to Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), two attractive young people who are clearly in love.  They are packing for a weekend away because Allison has decided that it's time that Chris met her family. Chris is African-American and Rose is white, so Chris is a bit apprehensive, especially when Allison says she has never dated an African-American before and her parents don't know about him.  However, she reassures him, saying that her parents are not the least bit racist, in fact her father wished he could have voted for President Obama for a third term. They travel to her family's estate in the country where Chris meets Allison's mom, Missy (Catherine Keener), a psychiatrist who specializes in hypnotherapy, her Dad, Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and her brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who comes across as a stoned Johnny Depp.

Everyone is cordial but, Walter (Marcus Henderson), the black gardener and Georgina (Betty Gabriel), the black housekeeper, are a bit stiff and strange, and give Chris the creeps.  Rose apologizes to Chris for having what looks like black servants, but she explains that Walter and Georgina had been hired to help her family care for her grandmother and grandfather and they didn't have the heart to let them go when her grandparents died. 

One night Chris can't sleep and gets up to have a cigarette.  He has promised Rose that he will quit.  He is surprised by encountering Walter running in the dark and when he returns to the house he is also surprised that Missy is up.  She asks him to sit down with her and she asks if he would like her to hypnotize him to help him to stop smoking.  He says he will take a pass but before he knows it, he finds himself unable to move and his mind's eye sees him falling down a deep well. He wakes up the next morning in bed.  He knows he was hypnotized but, though he's not thrilled that Missy hypnotized him without his permission, he realizes that he no longer wants a cigarette.

Chris learns that a big annual party will be taking place at the house that weekend, and he will be meeting all of the Armitage's friends. Chris is seemingly the only black guest and as Chris is introduced to all of the white liberal couples, he becomes more and more uncomfortable as they spout cringe worthy liberal stuff about how cool it is to be black.  But then he spots a fellow African American and...guess who?  You are right!  Our young man from the opening scene, but he is dressed like an old white guy might be dressed and talks in a stilted white guy manner, nothing like the hip young man in the opening scene.  Though, of course, Chris was not there for that opening scene, he does recognize the young man as Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield), a young man who had gone missing.

What the hell is happening here?

All along Chris has been in touch by cell with his friend, Rod (LilRel Howery), who is a TSA Agent, and he tells Rod about some of the strange goings on as well as his being hypnotized.  The more Chris tells Rod, the more Rod tells Chris to get the hell out of there because maybe the family is hypnotizing black people and turning them into sex slaves.  Rod is proud to be a TSA agent and considers being a TSA Agent the same as any other law enforcement officer, so in a very funny scene he goes to the police to tell them about Andrew and the sex slave operation he thinks is happening at the Armitages.  Well, you can guess how that goes over...

That's as far as I am going to go with this, but this is a very funny film thanks to Howery, whose love for being a TSA Agent is an homage to the profession, but it's also a very smart social commentary on racism and white privilege, as well as a tense and scary thriller thanks to everyone playing it straight, especially Kaluuya, who is wonderful and Howery, who provides the comic relief. Allison Williams ("Girls") provides a believable love interest, while Keener and Whitford are appropriately sinister in a very white bread way and Jones as Rose's brother is...well... just really strange.

Peele has written a witty and smart script that uses devices from "Rosemary's Baby," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "The Stepford Wives" to give horror fans the horror jolt they need.  I have been known to yell "Get out!" at the movie screen when a character in a horror film stupidly goes down into a dark cellar, but the humor and the horror clichés also act as a vehicle for Jordan to comment on where the true horror lies in the everyday lives of African Americans. 

Rosy the Reviewer says... don't be put off by the idea that this is a horror film.  It's scary but not gory, and I guarantee you an enjoyable night at the theatre that will also make you think.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Inferno (2016)

Writer Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up with amnesia in a hospital in Florence and finds himself embroiled in a deadly global plot.  Anyway, I think that's what this movie is about.

I have nothing but respect for Tom Hanks.  There is no doubt that he is a great actor. He has done some wonderful acting work: "Philadelphia," "Captain Phillips," and "Sully."  Also, everything I have seen and heard is that he is as real and nice in real life as he appears on the screen and on talk shows. 
So I hate to say this...

If you see this film you might change your mind about all of that.

Robert Langdon is a symbologist and a character in the Dan Brown novels that started with "The DaVinci Code," and Hanks has played that character in the movie versions. I can't say I have read the Dan Brown novels because I haven't, so I don't have a starting point.  That said I don't generally believe in comparing books and films either.  I believe the two are two different art forms so a book or a film should be able to stand on its own.  I should be able to watch a film and get the point even if I have not read the book.  Here, I have to say I didn't know what was going on half the time. 

Now that's not Tom Hanks' fault, I know.  What is his fault, though, is his terrible overacting and the fact that he appears to be shouting all of his lines and actually acts hysterical through the whole film, but I guess if people were chasing me trying to kill me I would be hysterical too.

This is what I was able to figure out.

A guy is running through the streets of Florence and when he gets to the top of a bell tower he jumps in actually a quite spectacular fashion.  Things looked good at the beginning of this film.

Then in the next frame we find Langdon in a hospital having a nightmare with lots of fire. At first I thought this was going to be about firefighters.

"Abandon all hope."

Oh, OK, this isn't about firefighters, it's about hell.  I get it, especially when the people with their heads on backwards showed up and there was all kinds of mystical stuff going on.

Actually, I was wrong.  I didn't get it.

Felicity Jones is Sienna Brooks, Tom's doctor.  She asks him the last thing he remembers. He doesn't remember anything, and he suddenly realizes he is in a hospital in Florence and doesn't know how he got there.  She tells him he is Robert Langdon, a writer, and Sienna recognizes him because she is a fan.  She tells him he had fallen because he had been shot.  Just as she tells him that, the police arrive, but it's not really the police, it's would be assassins -- and they are after Langdon.  Things don't look good for him.

However, the doctor helps him escape, and they go on the run from we know not what or who...until of course the end.  Seems he has a code these bad guys want back because, of course, they have a diabolical plan to kill a bunch of people.  It seems that the guy who jumped was a billionaire, Bertrand Zobrist, who believed that the world was overpopulated so he invented a plague (I think) to rid the world of so many people and stem the tide of an increasing population.  The question is, how did Langdon get the code and who are these people chasing him? Are they good guys or bad guys?

The next 90 minutes is all about Langdon's nightmare's about Dante's circles of hell (Dante's "Inferno," get it?), decoding the riddle and doing a lot of running.  There is a big twist at the end - isn't there always - but not enough to save this film.

Director Ron Howard has filmed it all like a bad dream, but unfortunately it's a bad dream that turns into a bad movie.  If bad dreams are supposed to not make sense, then he has done a good job, but I don't think that was his intent. There are all kinds of disturbing images of devilish creatures, men in masks, fire and blood, women in flowy chiffon. I will say that the cinematography is gorgeous and takes us to a couple of my favorite cities - Florence and Venice - but the movie just seemed to go on and on. There was too much exposition and not enough tension to sustain the film. Good guys turn into bad guys and bad guys turn into good guys.  I was watching it on a Thursday night at home and couldn't wait for it to be over so I could watch "Project Runway Junior."  That's not a good sign for a movie.

I know I am picking on old Tom.  In his defense, he didn't really have much to work with here.  His character is kind of boring and just a pawn in everyone else's game.  And it's not easy to do a good acting job when your character can't even remember who he is. But in the end, I guess I just don't buy Tom as an action hero.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you liked the Dan Brown books, you might like this, but otherwise, I think you can give it a pass.  It might change the way you feel about Tom a bad way.

The Shallows (2016)

Surfer Nancy (Blake Lively) is attacked by a shark not far from shore, but too far from shore to safely get back.  That shark seems to have ti out for her. Will she make it?

Most horror films use several cliché devices and this film is no exception:

Device # 1:
Found footage. The film opens on a deserted beach with a little boy finding an abandoned helmet with a camera attached. He turns on the camera and watches a tape of someone being attached by a shark.  Now flashback to the time leading up to that attack (think "Blair Witch Project").

In the flashback, we learn that Nancy's mother has died, and Nancy is traveling as an antidote to her grief much as Cheryl Strayed did in "Wild."  She has traveled to a deserted beach in Mexico, a beach that her mother had discovered and loved.  Nancy is an experienced surfer and also a med school student, which will be a good thing later in the film.

However, she is here alone because her girlfriend has bailed on her.

Which leads us to ...

Device # 2:
A seemingly innocent event causes our heroine to be unexpectedly alone.

Device #3:
As soon as Nancy arrives at the deserted beach, ominous music is heard, which makes us wonder, "Gee, is something bad going to happen to our beautiful heroine?"

Device #4:
The use of gorgeous scenery, which makes us think nothing bad could possibly happen here, and then when something bad does happen, it's even more bad.

Device #5:
Girl alone in an isolated place wearing a bikini which makes her seem even more vulnerable and gives male horror fans an extra little thrill. Lively and her swimsuit harks back to Ursula Andress or Halle Berry in the Bond films.

Device #6:
Feet and arms dangling perilously under the water with the camera shooting above the water, then under, above, then under.  You might think this device only works for shark movies but it works well for boogie men under the bed too.

Device #7:
Nancy runs into two young surfers and asks the name of the beach.  They won't tell her.  The guy who drove her to the beach wouldn't tell her either.  So her not knowing the name of the beach will either play a key role later in the film (it does) or at the end of the film when we find out the name and hit our heads exclaiming "Of course!"  That actually doesn't happen.

Device #8:
The film is slow to build as we enjoy a time of calm beauty and then wham!  Gotcha!

After all of that beauty, some awesome surfing scenes and Nancy in her bikini, Nancy is finally attacked by a shark, loses her surfboard and takes refuge on a dead whale.  She has happened upon a shark feeding ground, and though she is not far from shore, she is too far to get back there. 

She sees a guy sleeping on the beach and yells for him to help her.

Device #9:
Someone you think will help you actually steals your stuff and leaves you there...until that person gets what he deserves!

Device #10:
The rest of the film is a cat and mouse game - girl vs. shark.

Who will win?

All movie genres have their clichés but that doesn't mean they are bad movies.  It just depends on how well those devices and clichés are executed and in this film, they are executed very well. Those devices and clichés are there for a reason because when put together in a masterful way as in this film, they work.

Along with gorgeous cinematography and a tightly wound film (with a screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski), director Jaume Collet-Serra gives us lots of close-ups of Blake and her cleavage, and Blake is certainly a lovely screen presence who rises to the occasion of carrying this film mostly by herself.  And she also kicks some serious shark butt.  The film also uses a cool feature for exposition - showing texts and pictures from Nancy's phone on the side of the screen, whenever she is looking at her phone or talking to her family.

One can't help but compare this to "Jaws," and one can easily see that fake shark technology has come a long way, but this isn't so much a "Jaws" film and, it's not so much of a horror film, either, as it is a psychological thriller, though it certainly would be a horror to be stalked by a shark.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I would call this "horror movie light," for those of you who don't like the blood and gore of the slasher films but who still enjoy the thrills of being a little scared.  And you guys out there would probably enjoy Blake and her bikini.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

212 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Five college friends plan a getaway to a cabin in the woods, not realizing that their every move is being watched and minipulated.

But the film begins with two seemingly ordinary guys (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford again - see review above for "Get Out") in white short-sleeved shirts heading to work in a gleaming laboratory.  What?  At first you might think you have happened onto the wrong film.

But then we get down to business and it slowly becomes clear what is going on.

College friends retreat to a remote cabin to have some fun. The group is comprised of some standard horror movie stereotypes:  There is The Scholar (Jesse Williams), The Sexually Active Bad Girl (Anna Hutchison), The Jock (Chris Hemsworth, before he hit it big and aa personal favorite of mine) and The Virgin (Kristen Connolly), and The Stoner (Fran Kranz), roles that have significance as the movie plays out. Upon arrival, the group discovers unsettling pictures, two-way mirrors and a mysterious door in the floor.  They also find a diary with some incantations and conjure up the Buckners, a family of zombies, who unbeknownst to our young kids, are headed their way with evil on their minds.  They are all oblivious to the danger and to the men in white shirts who are watching their every move and influencing their lives, except, wouldn't you know it's The Stoner who eventually figures out what is going on.

But, OK, already I have some questions about horror cliches:

  • Why are the girls always running around in bikini underwear?
  • Why are people so quick to go down into dark cellars?
  • Why are people so quick to recite incantations that can bring out the dead?

The film relies on the "gotcha" effect, that sharp bit of music followed by something jumping out at you on the screen which in turn makes you jump out of your seat (I jumped four times. I counted).

This was an early film for Chris Hemsworth and he and his fellow actors all deliver credible performances but this film is not so much about the acting as the plot, which is fresh and original and caused quite a stir when it was first released.

Why it's a Must See:  "[This film] is a fiendishly clever horror with an unexpected plot development that's one of the great surprises in recent cinema...With its bloody exploration of ideas of sacrifice, the movie prompts difficult questions about the audience's need for and enjoyment of onscreen violence and fear."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die."

Directed by Drew Goddard, who also wrote "Cloverfield," one of my favorite horror films, and co-written and produced by Joss Whedon, who created "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," this film is a pastiche of homages to other horror films. It embraces most of the horror movie tropes but with the added twist of those strange people in the white shirts watching them, and I couldn't help but wonder...

"What if horror films were real life people being manipulated, tortured and filmed for our enjoyment?"  Ew.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a fresh, original horror film -- and you will never guess the ending!

***Book of the Week***

The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (2016)

What if Prince William had fallen in love with an American?... and other what-ifs of the Kate and William love story.

American Rebecca Porter, AKA Bex (the Brits love to shorten everything into a nickname), was the practical one, the one who played soccer and didn't care that much about girly stuff. Her twin sister, Lacey, was always the romantic one who wanted to marry a Prince, so Bex was the most unlikely of the two to end up going to Oxford and to meet and fall in love with a prince.  But she did.  However, the road to Royal love is not an easy one.

Knowing my love for all things royal, my daughter bought me this book.  Though it's a novel, it allows us American women to live out the dream of marrying a prince. I was born the same year as Prince Charles and my mother was a bit of a Royal watcher, so I think she might have had some thoughts of her daughter marrying a prince.  I inherited her love of England and all things Royal and was transported by the Charles and Diana so-called love story and despaired at the subsequent tragic end.  But then, we had Kate and William, and this novel is basically the story of Kate and William, American-style, with a few stretches of the truth and what-ifs thrown in.

  • What if Pippa and Harry had gotten together?
  • What if Pippa and Kate had had a falling out over the wedding?
  • What if Kate had snogged Harry, not once but twice?
  • What if Diana hadn't died?  What would she be like now?
  • What if a huge scandal had threatened the wedding?

Authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, creators of the witty fashion/celebrity blog "Go Fug Yourself, (something else my daughter introduced me to)" propose those questions and more, and it's all played out against the back-drop of a fictionalized Kate and William love story and wedding, most of which is thinly veiled as in the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but you will have fun recognizing what's beneath those veils.  In this story Rebecca and Nicolas stand in for Kate and William. You get to be a fly on the wall with their romance, their break-up and, well, you know how the real life story ends.  In this story the ending is different but then if there weren't some departures from the truth, it wouldn't be a novel, now would it? 

Rosy the Reviewer says...classic chick lit but ROYAL chick lit!

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of

"I Don't Feel at Home in this Life Anymore"


The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 

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