Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Review: Get Out

Get Out (2017) – Jordan Peele

        When word first hit that Jordan Peele, the funny big-eared half of Key and Peele, was writing and directing a horror film I was obviously intrigued. When I found out it was somewhat a comedy I thought, well sure, yeah. When I heard it was being produced by Blumhuse I went, “Hmmmm,” pleasingly as I tapped the pads of my fingers together in a thoughtful way. When I saw the trailer, learned it was about a suburban nightmare land where seemingly affable white families terrorize black males, it all basically clicked. Oh and then when I found out Bradley Whitford plays the aforementioned patriarch I basically stood up in my chair and screamed “TAKE MY MONEY.”
I am an apologetic lover of horror-comedies. The two genres, when done well, can become a sum that's so much greater than its parts. But it has to be done just right, and I find it's usually best when the movies are treated as horror films that happen to also have comedic moments, rather the other way around. I'll admit the bar was set so high for my expectations of this movie it seemed almost impossible to deliver. I thought perhaps Peele's (hilarious) sensibilities would bleed into the rest of the horror parts too much, and feel uneven.
        Well I am stupid. Because apparently Jordan Peele is REALLY good at making horror films.
The film's hero is Chris, a likable, if not fully developed (not that it detracts from the movie), likable, 26-year-old black man going with his white girlfriend to meet her parents for the first time. “Did you tell them I was black?” He asks in the first scene, immediately setting up the movie's tones of racial awareness. But even when she assures him her parents aren't racist (“My dad would have voted for Obama a third time if he could”), once they're on the trip everything feels off. They hit a deer on the drive up, which Chris watches die, before he is hassled by a white police officer (seemingly just for being black). The scene is simple and fast but steeped in dread (Peele has a good eye for staging a shot in a slightly askew way to make them seem just barely strange).
        One of Get Out's greatest strengths is its commentary on race relations: suburban affluent white people's trying to be “cool” with black people, discomfort outside one's own race, having black help, stereotypes about race and horror movies, they all do a great job to make this movie a sharp, relevant satire while not trying so goddamn hard to spell the message. Many times the race differences are down played for laughs (Bradley Whitford, who plays the dad, and thank GOD because he's amazing, keeps calling Chris things like “man” and “bro”). Rose's mother, Catherine Keener, seems off. Kind, but way too into hypnosis, and her brother Jeremy is downright aggressive, trying to wrestle with Chris because of his “fantastic genetics.” It flips the horror movie trope (of a nice-seeming family who are actually killers) just enough by adding the racial element that it feels fresh, but still familiar enough that the “message” of the film never feels exhausting.
        As the weekend progresses and things get weirder, we see Chris (Daniel Kayuula) do his best to stay civil in the face of all these awkward moments, continually telling Rose (Allison Williams) that everything is fine. Like so many movies, it's the main characters own admittance into these situations that becomes his undoing. It just so happens this time it's because of a determination to not assume other people's racism, even when it literally hypnotizes you.
        Which brings to my favorite thing about this type of horror movie: Without giving too much away, there is very little to no supernatural elements in the film. Sure, things go absolutely batshit crazy, and some people are definitely gonna get stabbed (possibly with a deer's head, a recurring image that actually does a nice job of establishing Chris' character), but it all feels creepily possible. There's no gross-outs or cheap jump scares. Instead the movie has a building level of suspense, everything getting stranger and stranger, until it finally snaps and the true horrors are revealed. It's really fucking well done.
        The movie definitely has some comedic beats in it (mostly delivered by LilRel Howery, Chris' proud TSA agent friend), but Peele saves most of them for the second half of the film when things get equally bonkers for our hero. It feels ever-so-slightly uneven, and not because the jokes aren't funny or Howery doesn't sell them perfectly (he does), I guess I just with it was spread out a little more evenly throughout the whole movie. There is also one particular ending fight/death scene that is so badly edited I have to think everyone on set had the flu that day. But these are very small complaints in an otherwise inventively smart, fun, and most of all, creepyscary horror movie that I fucking loved. Jordan Peele has got my vote for all the movies in the future.

Grade: A-

Random Observations:

  • Between this and Cabin in the Woods, can Bradley Whitford star in every self-aware horror comedy movie for the rest of time? PLEASE THANKS.
  • Lakeith Stanfield from Atlanta shows up! Hey Darius! I wish you had shot a poster of a dog in this as well.
  • Daniel Kaluuya (from Black Mirror) is great, and does some super solid straight-faced crying. It was intense. And Allison Williams' (Girls) can go from “sweet everygirl” to dead-eyed SCARY quickly.
  • I saw this movie in a VERY crowded showing in Downtown LA. It was one of the loudest, rowdiest, and most fun movie-going experiences I ever had.
  • I could not stop thinking about this the whole time. I truly hope this is how Jordan Peele makes movies:

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Review: John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter (2017) - Chad Stahelski

          What made 2014 John Wick so great wasn't just it's solid directing and well-executed action/stunt work (thought it helped), and it wasn't just our steely hero, Keanu Reeves, being as Keanu-y as possible (thought it helped), and it wasn't even the fact that the movie is a puppy revenge flick (okay that part SERIOUSLY helped). What made John Wick so surprisingly refreshing was how confident it was in all its cinematic sensibilities. It commits to every narrative choice, regardless of how silly it seems, which in turn makes it so much fun to watch. If the movie believes John Wick is as good at killing dozens of faceless henchman then goddamnit, so do I! It's this kind of commitment to prolonged ridiculousness that gets me so off when I watch action movies. And boy does John Wick Chapter 2 double down on the craziness while embracing it so earnestly.
           If John Wick was already a confident film, then John Wick Chapter 2 is the Matthew McConaughey from Dazes and Confused of movies when it comes to but sure of yourself. From the first scene (containing of the smoothest looking and excellent car chase sequences I've ever seen) it takes everything you love about the first movie and adds more flare, mixes it up just enough to make it not just a retread, but still give you all those delicious familiar notes. A huge body count? You betcha. Is there revenge? Hoo boy! Is there a dog? YES, AND IT'S ADORABLE THERE JUST WASN'T ENOUGH OF HIM.
           Starting off not long after the first movie, John Wick is once again dragged back into the murky and compelling (and apparently all-encompassing) international assassin syndicate known through the Continental hotel. The specifics of why he gets back aren't important (blood oaths, markers, more blood oaths), but what is important is the over-the-top and fantastical world building that the movie does this time around. Not just its international locale (how do you one-up the club scene from the first move? Have another club scene, but this time in Italy so the club can be even fucking weirder! Because Italy!), but we delve deeper into the world that Keanu keeps leaving and coming back to and leaving and coming back to. It gives the movie an interesting depth and sprawling nature the first one couldn't possibly have considered. It's a bigger sandbox with more toys but it never loses sight of what's important: namely Keanu flipping countless dudes over and shooting them in the head.
           There's a great fight scene between John Wick and Common's Cassian that culminates with the two of them crashing through the glass of the Italian Continental building, a safe-haven and murder free zone for all contract killers who arrive there. And in there we see the brilliance of the movie, one that can go from two characters trying their best to stab each other (for dessert) one second and forced to drink bourbon and gin with each other the next is funny, a little silly, and all great.
           The movie goes on maybe a hair too long, but with the amount of fun it keeps adding with each new set piece, it keeps it from ever slogging down too much. Towards the end there is an assassin montage scene(s) that is so ostentatiously insane and hilarious that I almost wish it was even longer. The larger scope of the movie, the revealing more of this worldwide killers club plays well into the ending, which while it doesn't offer much in the way closure (not that we need much), it's clearly there to set up even more of John Wick's future puppy-laden adventures.
           And fantastic I say, fantastic! With an entry like this, I could watch these movies happen every year or two until I die. Or until Keanu Reeves does. But have you seen pictures of that dude? He doesn't age. These movies could go on forever. 

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts
  • I want to see an entire movie about the rockabilly tattooed women running the international assassin hot line.
  • Between the scenes with the tailors, the gun-sommelier, and the guy who must've made maps for Indiana Jones, this movie had more of a Bond feel. But then John Wick stabbed a guy in the dick and it all sorta evened out.
  • I could have used more dog. But I can honestly say that about any movie ever.