Daniel Kaluuya (my favorite Black Mirror actor) is dating Allison Williams (my fourth-favorite Girls actress), comes to visit her parents Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford and brother Caleb Landry Jones (Antiviral) in an aggressively white suburb. At first there’s the socially-awkward but not overtly threatening kind of racial tension: dad brags about his Obama support and all the white family’s employees are black. But things get weirder after the mom hypnotizes Kaluuya and now he can’t tell if he’s being paranoid or if there’s a conspiracy, until it’s too late and he’s tied to a chair in the basement being prepped for brain surgery, so the highest bidder (blind Stephen Root) can flee his aging white body and live fifty more years inside Kaluuya’s.

A finely crafted thriller, and I’d never in a million years guess it was from the writer of Keanu. I could tell that Peele had made a super-effective movie when the white Nebraska audience at my crowded screening erupted in cheers when Allison Williams got shot (or maybe she’s just their least-favorite Girls actress as well). Betty Gabriel (The Purge 3) and Marcus Henderson (Insidious 4) play the grandparents play-acting as servants (she’s especially good – coldly suspicious then briefly vulnerable). Keith Stanfield (Short Term 12 and Atlanta, Snoop in Straight Outta Compton) is the party guest who yells the title line at Kaluuya when a camera flash wakes him from “the sunken place.” And comedian Lil Rel Howery is Kaluuya’s buddy in the TSA who gets all the best lines.

Some of the reception has focused on whether it’s a scary/effective horror movie, which is the same kind of horror-purist bickering that lowered appreciation for Cabin in the Woods and The Witch. Come on everyone, break out of your genre holes. Peele more accurately calls it a “social thriller,” and says he’s working on four more.

Alan:

One minute in, this movie that will play every mall in America makes it viscerally clear that it’s not black guys who are scary — it’s neighborhoods packed with sheltered dopes who quake at the very thought of black guys … Get Out is searing satire, with scary/comic riffs on slavery and assimilation, but it’s also a smashing crowd-pleaser of a horror film, complete with mad science, cult-like crazies and a creep-out homage to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin … But even as Peele brings the house down, we see the serious toll of all this horror on Chris’ face and body. Neither the movie nor anybody watching can take it all as a joke.

Owen is graduating soon, getting his own place, in a relationship, finding employment. He’s also got autism, and didn’t speak for years as a kid until his parents figured out that he’d memorized all the Disney movies they had on video, and learned to speak to him in character with Disney dialogue. So the movie follows Owen now, and through photos and home videos from the past, drawings and cartoons by French effects company Mac Guff, and editing of Disney emotions into real events. Owen and his dad do decent character voices, and someone on letterboxd writes “This is the happiest you’ll ever be to see Gilbert Gottfried.”

I wondered about the nursing home intro, but in the end felt it was the best framing device of an older woman recalling dead friends since Atonement. Bulk of the movie follows serious-minded, self-assured Marcus as he learns (and ultimately fails) to navigate a college full of distracting human elements – a patronizing dean, a sexy rich girl, noisy roommates and people who want atheist Marcus to define himself as Jewish (and at the same time want him to attend the school-mandated chapel services). After he’s caught buying his way out of church (he’s not wealthy, but felt that getting out of church was morally necessary), he’s expelled, sent to the Korean war, killed.

Marcus’s girl Olivia is Sarah Gadon, Gugu’s white sister-cousin in Belle, Pattinson’s wife in Cosmopolis, the sick celebrity in Antiviral – I should be able to recognize her by now. If I watch this again, need to pay more attention to her character, now that I know more about her emotional instability and tragic end. Marcus is Logan Lerman, who starred as loner high school freshman in Perks of Being a Wallflower, now a loner college freshman. He’s magnetic, and his clash with the equally serious and self-assured dean (Tracy Letts, writer of Bug, also in Homeland and Christine), mostly represented in one extra-long, tense meeting scene, was reason enough to keep watching, though I didn’t get much sense of narrative progression or the movie’s point until it all comes flooding in at the end.

M. D’Angelo:

A chilling illustration of nails that stick out being hammered down, lent additional blunt force by the strangeness of (fairly recent) history … Also rare and exciting to see intellectual ferocity onscreen, even if it’s the annoyingly self-righteous undergrad variety.

Moana’s island is dying because demigod Maui desecrated a statue, and the villagers are strictly forbidden from sailing beyond the island, but Moana’s grandma doesn’t care about these men and their dumb rules, urges Moana to do whatever the hell she wants, then dies. Helped out by ocean magic (which is why the water rises and twists on the poster) and accompanied by an idiot chicken, Moana appeals to Maui to retrieve his magic-wand fishhook from a greedy Jemaine-voiced crab and help her return a magic stone to the volcanic lava beast, returning harmony to the land. Good songs and beautiful water and fire effects (the characters were okay – I’ll take the chicken over Moana or Maui). Directors Clements & Musker also made lost classic The Great Mouse Detective. Of the Disney animated features I’ve watched most recently, this trounces Big Hero 6 and Frozen and Mulan, but I still prefer Wreck-It Ralph over all. Looks like The Princess and the Frog should be next to watch.

Pearl (Patrick Osborne)

Machinima/cutscene clip about a girl growing up with her dad with a car and music then getting too old for dad and hanging out with friends with the car and music then remembering poor dad and going back to visit. It felt kinda like an extended commercial, but not as good, surprising from the guy who made Feast. Ah, it was created with VR software, how cutting edge.

Borrowed Time (Coats & Hamou-Lhadj)

Bummer cowboy story, sad man goes to cliff edge where he accidentally killed his dad whom he was trying to help up with the use of a shotgun. It doesn’t feel like 3D animation is best suited for this sort of thing. The codirectors are seasoned Pixar animators.

Blind Vaysha (Theodore Ushev)

Girl is born with a left eye that only sees the past and a right eye that only sees the future, sometimes by a few hours and sometimes by thousands of years. Maybe you could do some cool things with this concept, but the movie’s only concerned with grabbing the viewer and saying look, wouldn’t this be terrible? Imagine if you had to live like this. Wouldn’t it be just awful? Wouldn’t it? Huh? The end. Ushev is a prolific shorts director and this is the first I’ve seen.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Robert Valley)

Long story of the narrator’s troubled friend Techno who gets rich then needs a liver transplant. At least this one has cooler visual style and music than the others, though it’s another sadness drama, and all women be sexy-ass bitches. The director was an Aeon Flux artist!

Piper (Alan Barillaro)

Still the best. Sandpipers rule.

The White Helmets (Orlando von Einsiedel)

Wrenching doc about self-appointed post-bombing rescuers in Syria, mostly set during a training session in Turkey. It would also turn out to be a really useful movie to use when looking for IMDB or Letterboxd users with terrible opinions to block, if either of those sites allowed me to block users with terrible opinions.

Negar and Ashkan (just out of jail) are young musicians in Iran who just wanna play some chill keyboardy indie rock. They can’t perform in their own country without government permission (impossible), but could perform outside the country with passports and visas (unlikely, but slightly more achievable). There’s a story here, as they travel Tehran gathering money and bandmates and checking on the status of their illegal passports (culminating in injury and arrest and disappointment), but the movie seems like an excuse to show off the different types of music being made in Iran, and the difficulty involved in making music (and, in the intro scene, the difficulty involved in making this film itself).

Noel Murray:

The movie comes to life whenever Hamed Behdad appears, playing a fast-talking hustler who slings bootleg DVDs and lives with his pet birds Rhett Butler, Scarlett O’Hara, and Monica Bellucci … It’s only when Behdad is onscreen that Ghobadi effectively dramatizes Persian Cats’ thorny questions: Whether it’s better to fight or flee, whether a repressive regime forces artists to consort with criminals, and whether some laxly enforced laws are only on the books to give the government an excuse to crack down on non-conformists.

Worth the eight-hour length, which is extremely high praise for a documentary miniseries about a topic that didn’t interest me at all until all the rave reviews and awards started flowing in. Although after sitting through the whole thing I don’t have much to say about it besides agreeing with whichever critic recently said it’s greater as journalism than filmmaking. We were most interested in the pre-murder episodes, about OJ’s adventures in racist America, and how the perception of him changed, than in rehashing the glove fiasco.

A. Muredda, from his fascinating comparison of the two big O.J. movies, which ends with a giant backhanded compliment to The People vs. O.J. Simpson:

For Edelman, Simpson registers as a calculating, charismatic man whose self-written Horatio Alger myth leading up to the murders happened to coincide with critical moments in race relations in late 20th-century America, despite his near total lack of interest in politics. Sociologically astute, methodical, and committed to being non-exploitative in its paralleling of Simpson’s trial with a history of police brutality and civil rights violations dating back at least as far as the Watts riots of 1965 … each episode grapples with a structural contradiction between Simpson’s professional and personal life and the toxic racial context around him.

While the Lady Gaga superbowl party raged downstairs, I was upstairs watching one of the most emotionally upsetting war films ever made…

Americans in the Vietnam war get into a battle while De Palma lowers his camera into the tunnels where someone is creeping up on Michael J. Fox, who has fallen partway through before being rescued. So the movie opens with Fox not being a huge help to his squad, and his reputation only gets worse. The men survive, but a few (movie) minutes later, Fox rescuer Erik King gets shot at a supposedly friendly village. Back at camp, Fox’s teammates (leader Sean Penn, Sean’s violent buddy Don Harvey, John C. Reilly and timid new replacement John Leguizamo) are frustrated that the whorehouse is off limits, so on the way out to their next assignment they kidnap a village girl (Thuy Thu Le) as a sex slave. After she’s raped and tortured for a couple days, they stab and shoot her during a battle atop a train trestle (during which, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a friendly-fire disaster down below) and toss her body off a cliff.

Fox has never gone along with this, trying to free the girl and once standing up armed against his men. Later as he’s recovering from a head injury back at base, he’s told “what happens in the field stays in the field” but reports his men’s actions to Lt. Ving Rhames, who says he’ll break the men into new squads and that Fox should forget it. Fox persists and finds sympathetic Sgt. Dale Dye (a Vietnam vet and the film’s technical advisor) who helps him take the men to military court, but not before Clark attempts to assassinate Fox with a latrine grenade (with some impressive first-person camera) and Fox strikes back with a shovel. The investigators find the girl’s body, each soldier is sentenced to at least eight years in prison, then back to Framing Story Fox, who still has nightmare/daydreams.

While Fox is distracted:

Such an intense and brutal movie. De Palma seems to borrow some of the obvious war stuff from Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, but the acting and filmmaking are on point, and the bitter fury comes through loud and clear. It’s not so much an anti-war movie, more about extremes of human nature, but obviously Redacted is a companion piece. Michael (not Paul) Verhoeven shot a 1970 feature called O.K. covering the same story, which caused outrage at its Berlin Film Festival premiere.


De Palma (2015, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow)

After finally catching up with Casualties (glad I waited for blu-ray) I watched the recent career-summary documentary, finding it amusing that the guy who directed the swearingest movie of the 1980’s looks like Uncle Toad and keeps saying “holy mackerel.” He’s proud that his generation of buddy filmmakers (Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola) were able to do great work inside the studio system “before the businessmen took over again.”

On Carrie remakes: “It’s wonderful to see what happens when somebody takes a piece of material and makes all the mistakes that you avoided.” He wrote the spy kid in Dressed To Kill as himself. “I used to follow my father around when he was cheating on my mother.” I finally got to see the alternate tidal-wave ending in Snake Eyes, and as suspected it’s cooler than the real ending.

B. Ebiri:

Paltrow and Baumbach don’t get fancy with the filmmaking. They’re smart enough to let De Palma’s own resonant images — his gorgeous compositions, his smooth camera moves — do much of the work. (After all, if you can’t make an awesome clip reel out of Brian De Palma films, then what good are you?)

Directing Dancing in the Dark:

A. Nayman, who does a good job discussing the doc itself, instead of using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career:

De Palma’s pride at taking a potentially ordinary, corporately backed genre exercise and hotwiring it into a slick and enjoyable piece of craftsmanship seems tied to the fact that Mission: Impossible made a lot of money. Whatever their technical or artistic merits, the successes of Carrie, The Untouchables, and Mission: Impossible differentiates them within a body of work that’s typically been more notable — and in some corners, largely validated — on the grounds of failing to connect with audiences. For all the glee De Palma says he takes in making viewers uncomfortable, he seems to get off even more on getting big crowds into the theater in the first place.

Me, I’m using it as an excuse to talk about De Palma’s career. It’s time to rewatch them all, but I’m in the middle of a hundred other things so it’ll probably have to wait. The ones I most need to watch are Hi, Mom! and Wise Guys. And to rewatch, in order:

The Untouchables
Carlito’s Way
Scarface
Mission: Impossible
Body Double
Femme Fatale
Blow Out
Raising Cain (the new edit)
Mission to Mars
Phantom of the Paradise
Sisters

A strange movie to begin with – I had to remove “weird” and “mysteriously” from all over this post. Suffice to say that everything that happens in this movie happens mysteriously. There’s a tiny bit of dialogue, and low music during intense moments, but most of the time it’s all unsettlingly (mysteriously) quiet. Lucile is typecasting herself as a creator of inexplicable fables where children grow up in isolated gender-segregated environments then are set free into our world in the final minutes.

Nicolas lives with his mother who isn’t his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier of Around a Small Mountain) down by the sea. She feeds him wormy kale stew, lets him hang out with the other boys in town who are all the same age, assures Nicolas that the dead boy he spotted underwater was just a dream, and sneaks out at night to slither in nude star-patterns with the other boys’ mothers (who aren’t their mothers).

Nicolas is taken to the hospital for a belly injection, then again for an ultrasound, which detects a rogue heartbeat down there. So I guess the mermaid-mothers are raising boys and growing new things inside them? We see from Nic’s friend Victor’s fate that the boys don’t survive the birthing process. Nurse Stella (Roxane Duran of The White Ribbon) takes a liking to Nic because of his sketchbook, takes him through the underground caves acting as human scuba gear and releases him back to the city.

Very nice photography, especially the underwater scenes in the beginning, with an alien coolness that recalls Under The Skin. The women having gills and the birthing experiments might point towards the movie title for clues as to what’s going on, but it doesn’t feel like a mystery to be solved, more an imaginary world (more dangerous than it first appears) to soak in for a while. Recalls some glimpses from the A Cure for Wellness trailer, but I disagree that Evolution counts as horror.

Ehrlich:

It’s been a decade since Hadzihalilovic’s only other feature, 2005’s Innocence, and it seems as though the writer-director has been hoarding her nightmares ever since … If Evolution has a thematic through-line, it’s Hadzihalilovic’s propensity for stripping male bodies of their autonomy … it’s an oblique return to childhood, to a time when there was no clear boundary between imagination and reality, when everything you didn’t understand was beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.

D’Angelo: “To watch Hadzihalilovic’s films is to be reminded that life itself is a deeply perplexing mystery — that we’re all born into rigidly stratified societies, laden with inexplicable rules and run by people whose minds we can’t access.”