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.

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.”

A first-person semi-documentary by Nance about his uneven love life, which also contains a second-person semi-documentary by Nance (How Would You Feel?) about his uneven love life, plus fragments of a first-person documentary by Nance’s ex Namik, plus drawn animation and stop-motion and other things. The presentation is great fun, and though all the navel-gazing relationship talk gets to be a bit much, it’s not an overlong movie and all the shape-shifting kept me happy.

Not the first documentary I’ve seen to contain its own test screening. I thought Nance had a new movie in Sundance last month, but I guess it was a live performance of his project where he googles phrases about black kids and follows the results down a wormhole, then posts the results on his vimeo page. I watched for a few minutes, but the online version seems to be missing essential narration.

Flying Lotus did the music for this and LoveTrue which I saw a few weeks later. And I tried to look up articles or interviews about the film but instead got caught up in a highly entertaining essay Nance wrote about Exodus: Gods and Kings in which he convincingly labels Ridley Scott a white supremacist. Ah no wait, here’s a Filmmaker interview in which Nance claims he was playing “the type of guy she wouldn’t like” on camera so the story would make sense, which complicates things even more.

“You know what the people are. You know that the inner compass that should direct the soul towards justice has ossified in white men and women … White people cannot bear the thought of sharing this country’s infinite abundance with Negroes.”

I’m not fully convinced that Daniel Day-Lewis’s Abe Lincoln is realistic – he seems too wise and charming, too capable and upright, too able to manipulate fellow politicians who ought to know better, too perfectly Spielbergian. But that kind of politics sure felt good to watch in the present day when leaders of the “Party of Lincoln” run our government like cartoon villains. This is actually covered in the film when TL Jones dresses down a spineless adversary: “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you’ve attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself the Democratic Party.” Even after all the acclaim I wasn’t sure it’d be that captivating a film, but every performance is on point, the story is true-ish and meaningful and inspiring, there’s drama and humor and it’s got the best lighting I’ve seen in any movie all year.

Opens unexpectedly with post-battle David Oyelowo talking to the president. Besides Lincoln and his wife Sally Field and son Joey Gordon-Levitt there’s David Strathairn as the hesitant secretary of state, James Spader and John Hawkes as the president’s lobbyists sent to change senators’ minds (via bribery if necessary), Tommy Lee Jones (with a hairpiece so ridiculous he makes a joke of it himself) as a radical leftist senator. Walt Goggins and Adam Driver pop up, and Stephen Henderson of Fences, and Jackie Earle Haley and hundreds more.

Soldiers sent to meet the confederate delegation:

I didn’t know who James Baldwin (writer/activist) was, nor one of the friends/subjects of his unfinished manuscript, Medgar Evers (killed for working for the NAACP to integrate schools). So I watched this half as history lesson and half as experience, taking in Baldwin’s great language and experiences, the director’s intercutting of film history (Baldwin commented regularly on the movies), and Sam Jackson’s narration in a low, very un-Sam-Jackson voice.

M. Sicinski:

Baldwin’s prose focuses on his memories and observations of these three pivotal men, but also veers into other related questions: his sense of duty to leave his expat life in Paris behind and return to America at the height of the Civil Rights movement; the historical legacy of slavery and the culture of the South; the psychopathology of the white man; and his becoming reconciled with his position as a “witness,” a man of letters in the midst of a historical epoch too often cemented by bloodshed.

Sicinski comments positively on Peck’s filmmaking – M. D’Angelo counters:

The conceit of structuring this film around Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript requires Peck to find images to accompany the words … and he does a thuddingly literal job … Most of this just isn’t a movie — it’s a visual audiobook.

Second of the oscar-nominated documentaries we’ve seen at the Ross this month. We’re almost through the O.J. doc, about to watch Life Animated, and we’ll see if we can get to 13th before True/False.

Dramatisation of when totalitarianism expert Arendt was sent by The New Yorker to cover Israel’s trial of nazi controller Eichmann and she returned with a different story than everyone was expecting, bringing up the complicity of certain Jews in the holocaust and Eichmann’s non-evil ordinariness. Besides the social problems this causes, Arendt (Barbara Sukowa, Fassbinder’s Lola, also Europa and M. Butterfly) appears to be in constant, low-burning inner crisis. It’s well-acted, but I’m not sure the movie does a great job of visualizing philosophical thought by showing Arendt looking pained and distant for two hours. Katy was distracted by her “open marriage” which her generally supportive husband Heinrich took advantage of while Hannah dreamed of days past with Heidegger, and what it had to do with anything. The use of actual Eichmann footage instead of hiring an actor was a nice touch.

“Vote – this is something I cannot do … because I am a felon”

Opens with camouflaged forest war games, then cut to scraggly Mark and girlfriend Lisa, who are often naked and taking drugs. Such shockingly good photography and uncensored access to the subjects that I had to stop the movie and make sure it’s a documentary. And it’s… complicated. Minervini: “There is no screenplay, there are no fake characters. People aren’t playing themselves, they are themselves. Re-enactment or direction I still consider a necessary tool to successfully to complete a project with such a high degree of difficulty.”

Family visits, political talk, daily life, drug making and taking, a funeral, work and sex and so on… it’s a portrait of ordinary lives, but not the kind we see in movies.

Mark’s grandma:

Working at the junkyard with Jim for $20 per day:

Then the last twenty minutes is something new: a fourth of july weekend training camp and/or drunken party for an alarmingly large white militia group united in their hatred of “Obama” and love of “freedom”.

“Some of the people in the militia are related to the people in the first part. I won’t go any deeper, because there is a certain anonymity that has to be granted there, but there are family ties between the two worlds.”

Celluloid Liberation Front:

Minervini has been observing these communities throughout his filmography with neither ethnographic pretensions nor sentimental bias, counting on that rarest of all aesthetic devices: human empathy. In The Other Side the spectator enters a world alien from his own with a subjective purity … it is that basic formal honesty that makes The Other Side a film to be felt and experienced for what it does to you rather than for what it is supposed to mean.

Minervini in Filmmaker:

I’ve already approached the topics of pain and fear, and I needed to dig into the sociopolitical causes of it. I think my intentions are very clear with The Other Side … This time, it is the angry me that takes over while filming, who wants to look for who’s responsible for this self-destructive, violent social behavior. It was time for me as an American filmmaker, living and working in America, to look for the responsibility at an institutional level.

Minervini in Cinema Scope:

Instead of a revolution, Southerners want devolution. They think that they would be better off with a more powerful local government than with an allegedly intrusive central one. This false belief is partly due to the chronically low level of political knowledge in the US … it remains a largely economically divided, pathologically anxious, and inherently racist country, brainwashed by fallacious information on crime rates, national security threats, and, last but not least, the ever-incumbent fear of the loss of individual freedoms.