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Get Out (2017)

24 Feb

Let’s say you’re on the road to meet your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. This situation alone is the nightmare of many, but let’s imagine for a second that they might – heaven forbid – be a bit racist. Not the Alabama-redneck, confederate-flag-toting kind of racist, but more like the passive-aggressive, educated white “we voted for Obama, we promise!” kind of racist. This is the premise for the new horror comedy Get Out; the terror here is not sourced from some demonic supernatural entity or schizophrenic masked serial killer but from ol’ fashioned disdain of having a white daughter who is currently dating a black man.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is naturally a bit apprehensive to meet Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents after hearing that he is, in fact, the first person of color she has ever dated. Followed by some hilariously awkward conversations with Miss and Mr. Armitage (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, respectively) that only confirm Chris’ racial paranoia, and a few weird encounters with missing person Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield) and Rose’s brother (Caleb Landry Jones) seal the deal: something is wayyyy off about the Armitage family.  What starts out as a slow burn psychological thriller soon gives way to a twisty, violent nail biter as Chris peels back the layers of the Armitage family and does his best to survive his weekend away.

Make no mistake: Get Out is a serious-minded horror film, but also one that is self-aware and also manages to pack a biting (and often hilarious) socio-political punch. It’s a very bold film to say the least – especially in a post-Obama America where racial tensions were supposed to be long dissolved. Director Jordan Peele confidently holds his own as a feature-length director, and brings his witty comedic skills to the script.  Though some scenes feels unnecessary at times, most of what we see is a tightly-controlled and well-executed genre piece that plays at length with uncomfortable racial undertones. It’s an incredibly awkward mix that should’ve fallen apart at the seams (I can’t imagine how a major Hollywood studio even found the balls to fund something like this) but in the hands of Peele, everything works out beautifully and leaves me wanting more.

Bottom Line: A highly-entertaining directorial debut by Jordan Peele of Key & Peele fame, Get Out plays out like an extended College Humor skit in the best way possible. 

get-out-allison-williams-daniel-kaluuya-600x247

 

Rating: 8/10 

Film recipe: You’re Next! + Tucker & Dale vs Evil + House of the Devil 

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore (2017)

23 Feb

It’s a cruel, cruel world. Taking place in what could only be Trump’s America, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore details the day-to-day life of Ruth (Melanie Lynskey), a jaded medical assistant who seems disgusted by the self-centeredness of a universe where “everyone I see is an asshole.” Ruth lives at home; her only friend is Angie, a busy housewife who has no time to listen when she nearly has an emotional breakdown after becoming a crime victim. It’s enough to push Ruth over the edge and investigate the perpetrators on her own terms, enlisting the help of her violent, short-tempered neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) who just also happens to be a skilled martial artist.

Macon Blair, a skilled actor making his directorial debut, tightly commands every moment of this pitch-black comedic thriller. The jokes are few and far between, but they are delivered in such sly fashion they have a big impact (the bar scene is awkward enough to rival any episode from The Office). Blair, who comes fresh off of acting in Jeremy Saulnier’s acclaimed indie thrillers Green Room and Blue Ruin, is obviously a big genre fan himself, and his script here takes from a variety of influences (Martin McDonagh and the Coen brothers come to mind) while still feeling fresh and original. Lynskey gives her career-best performance as someone who is constantly weighed by the anxieties of the modern world but still someone who wants to make the altruistic change she wishes she could see in other people.

The story gets bumpy at around the halfway mark, but the few narrative issues are easily put aside when the film dives headfirst into its white-knuckle, absolutely batshit-insane third act. Here Blair’s talent shines like a beacon and he creates enormous amounts of tension in an incredibly tight timeframe. Clocking in at just over 90 minutes, I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a taut little thriller that leaves a bigger impression than it should.

Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey appear in I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore by Macon Blair, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Allyson Riggs.

Bottom Line: A genre-infused piece that shows Macon Blair’s inherent directorial sensibilities,  I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a deliciously clever and innovative take on the vigilante revenge story. It’s also incredibly suspenseful and drop-dead hilarious. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film Recipe: Fargo + In Bruges + Straw Dogs + Gran Torino 

MOST ANTICIPATED FOR 2017

2 Jan

So he were are. 2016 is history and as we look back on the best films of the year, we can also look towards the future and what’s coming down the cinematic pipeline. Here are my top ten most anticipated films -(provided we make it far enough in the age of Trump to actually watch them).   You can check out last year’s most anticipated here.

 

10 – Molly’s Game 

What’s it about? A young skier who get’s her own FBI investigation after creating an international poker series.

Why is it on the list? Aaron Sorkin is stepping into the director’s seat here, adapting a memoir by Molly Bloom. One of the finest screenwriters of our time, I’m curious to how Sorkin does behind the camera. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba costar.

Release date – Unknown 

 

 

 

9 – Annihilation  

What’s it about?  All we know at this stage is that the plot has something to do with a team of scientists heading into the jungle for a secretive experiment of some kind.

Why is it on the list? Because Ex Machina was one of the most wholly original and singular sci-fi films in recent memory and Alex Garland has teamed up again with Oscar Issac. Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Natalie Portman round out a dream team of actors.

Release date – Unknown

 

8 – Wind River 

What’s it about? A Native American reservation becomes a murder scene which prompts an FBI investigation led by a veteran tracker.

Why is it on the list? Another accomplished screenwriter making a directorial debut. Taylor Sheridan‘s scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water were both brilliant and I’m curios to see the acting duo of Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in a non-superhero context.

Release date – Unknown for now, but I’m hoping to catch this at Sundance.

7 – The Bad Batch 

What’s it about? A blood soaked love story of sorts set in Texas. Also, cannibals.

Why is it on the list? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ana Lily Amirpour’s Iranian-western-vampire coming of age story A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but I was intrigued enough to see she had major directing potential. This new effort seems to have a Tarantino-influenced vibe and features a slew of great character actors including Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovani Ribisi, and Diego Luna.

Release date: Though it’s played a few festivals, a widespread release date is unknown.  

6 – I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore 

What’s it about? A revenge thriller about a women tracking down the thieves who burglarized her house.

Why is it on the list? Fresh from his role in Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent, white-knuckler Green Room, actor Macon Blair takes a shot at directing his own original script. The premise sounds gleefully Coen-esc.

Release date: February 24 

5 – Mother  

What’s it about? “…a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home…” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? Because it’s Darren Aronofsky’s first film since the interesting-but-ultimately sub-par Noah.  Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Domhnall Gleeson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris star.

Release date: Unknown 

4 – Dunkirk 

What’s it about?  “Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? Christopher Nolan is one of the rare few directors who can effectively blend pedestrian blockbuster fare with an inspired artistic vision.  This has potential to be one of 2017’s biggest critical and commercial hits.

Release: July 21 

3 – Lemon  

What’s it about? A boy gets dumped by his blind girlfriend.

Why is it on the list? Though Lemon is her first feature, Janicza Bravo has one of the boldest directorial voices in indie film today mixing awkward sensibilities reminiscent of films like Napoleon Dynamite and the works of Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. Check out her short Gregory Goes Boom!  (NSFW) which also stars Michael Cera and Brett Gelman to get a taste of what we might expect from Lemon.

Release date: Unknown 

2-  Blade Runner 2049 

What’s it about? A sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. 

Why is it on this list? Though most modern sequels/reboots don’t hold a candle to their origins, the fact that this is being helmed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Arrival) and shot by cinematographer legend Roger Deakins (1984, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall, and so, soooo many more) might be reason enough to make an exception. The icing on the cake is a top-notch cast consisting of Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robyn Wright, Mckenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto and Barkhad Abdi.

Release date: Oct 6

1 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

 

What’s it about? “A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family takes an unexpected turn.” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? The Lobster was unexpectedly my favorite film of 2016 and, I’m itching to see what Yorgos Lanthimos is cooking up.

Release date – Unknown 

 

 

BEST FILMS OF 2016!

30 Dec

yes, it’s that time of year again folks.  Break out the champagne because 2016 is finally done for. As we collectivly brace ourselves for the Trump shitshow that’s arriving in the new year we can look back at the movies which expressed all of our anxiety-ridden fears about this past year. Here are my top 25 films presented in a clever video supercut for your viewing enjoyment.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/197551059″>Top 25 Films of 2016!</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/reedmovies123″>Reed Movies</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Be sure to check back soon for a list of what i’m looking forward to seeing in 2017

Arrival (2016)

16 Nov

Arrivalthe latest from director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy), adds to a recent tradition of what has been termed “the science-conscious sci-fi film.” Following in the steps of films like Interstellar and The Martian , Arrival presents us with a problem that lands squarely on the shoulders of scientists for figuring out.

Here, we have Louise (Amy Adams) a linguists university professor who has been called in by a secret military faction led by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), because of her optimal translation skills and her previous clearance with handling government-classified areas. The reason is simple: mysterious extraterrestrial ships have been found across the globe and the US government is desperate to make some sort of contact with whoever is inside these ships in an effort to get answers before public panic sets in. Of course, communication with alien beings proves to be easier said than done, and increasing tensions between world governments escalate while the probability of finding a peaceful Q&A session fades to violence.

Villeneuve is no doubt one of the most talented directors working today and he brings a singular film adapted from a short story written by Ted Chiang. As a director who prefers subtlety over boldness, Villeneuve’s take on the alien invasion drama draws tension from the moments that aren’t shown on screen rather than those that are given to us. Most of the events are presented in minimalistic fashion (a stylistic choice that hasn’t been seen in the genre since maybe Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin?) with an emphasis on the physiological versus physical conflict within the characters. A chopped-up narrative featuring flashbacks and flashforwards adds confusion early in the film but makes its place known in the narrative later on.

Supporting Amy Adams is Jeremy Renner playing Ian, a theoretical physicist who teams with Louise in an effort to reach understanding of the extra-planetary visitors. Though both are fine actors, and give much to the film individually, the pseudo love-interest stuff between the couple feels fake and forced. Standard, sure-fire dialogue is everywhere in Arrival, where many characters’ lines feel like either direct exposition or a statement of the blatantly obvious settings. But like most Villeneuve’s work, it’s the sentiments in between the lines that becomes the most compelling. Here, we have vast thematic inklings of philosophy, language, and the nature of violence sprinkled around the obvious “don’t shoot, they are peaceful” lines that place Arrival neatly into blockbuster territory. The result is a typical story wrapped in an artful, minimized, and ideologically-heavy package.

Bottom Line: Denis Villeneuve’s latest focuses more on big ideas than it does big explosions, which might be a bit trying for viewers expecting the traditional alien invasion. Though it dives into melodrama territory a bit too often, Arrival is a well-directed piece of sci-fi that feels paradoxically both intimate and ambitious. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipie: Interstellar (2014) + Solaris (2002)

Hell or High Water (2016)

7 Sep

Western Texas might seem like an odd setting for director David Mackenzie. To the born and bred Englishmen whose last film, Starred Up, captured the grit and violence inside a British prison, the cowboy persona of Texas might seem like too big of a culture clash for the filmmaker to make sense of.  Amazingly, Mackenzie wholeheartedly embraces his inner cowboy with Hell or High Waterand the result is a suspense-ridden crime drama that surprisingly feels 100% Texan.

The film follows a pair of brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard (played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine respectively) who start of the movie with a good ole’ fashioned bank robbery. We quickly learn that the brothers share different histories – Tanner is fresh from a stint in jail and Toby is a recently divorced father – as well as views on morality and what exactly the stolen cash will be used for. Hot on their tail is Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Gil (Alberto Parker), who make a mismatched but loveable pair. From here, the film becomes a cat-and-mouse game as the rangers try to follow and predict the Howard boys’ next move.

Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) bring a lot of exhausted tropes from the cops/robbers game to the screen, but something about the quality of the writing and Mackenzie’s uncanny ability to fit into the culture of wild west makes these tropes seem fresh and exciting. Sheridan’s script adds some great characterization (the racial banter between Marcus and Gil is fantastic) as well as some genuine humor to what would otherwise be a tiring cliche’ of a plot.  The result is a film that works well in terms of suspense and emotional delivery, and gives us the best acting performance from Jeff Bridges in years.

Bottom Line: It borrows a lot from previous westerns, but its authentic realism and outstanding performances make Hell or High Water an incredibly satisfying film. 

Rating: 7/10 

Film Recipe: No Country For Old Men + The Place Beyond The Pines 

Suicide Squad (2016)

3 Aug

Suicide Squad feels like a bit like an experiment. One that was hastily put together by a procrastinating 12-year-old at 2:00 a.m. the morning of the science fair. In other words: it’s an obvious but well-intentioned mess in the form of DCU trying to tap into the magic money-making superhero formula (one that Marvel has down to a T), and turn it in for a passing grade.

Directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch) the latest follow up in the DC Cinematic Universe takes place right after the events of Batman vs Superman and is a tragic misstep for the franchise in what should have been Warner Bros’ bonafide summer hit. Superman is now dead, and the US government is dealing with the repercussions of having superheroes, superantiheros, superpeople, meta-humans (which we quickly learn is the DC term for mutants) among the public. “What if Superman had decided to walk in the Oval Office and steal our president?” US official Dexter Tolliver (David Harbour) asks. This notion prompts Amanda Waller (Viola Davis playing arguably the movie’s most interesting character) to assemble a team of expendable baddies to be used as a safeguard in case things go south. Which they inevitably do when one meta-human decides to go rogue and unleash a 6000-year-old magical force named Incubus upon Midway City (it unfolds just as nonsensical as it sounds).

After a hasty segment that introduces our many beloved anti-heroes via expository flashbacks, (so he is called Deadshot because he is good with guns hunh? You don’t say!?) we get on with a rescue mission of sorts. This is where things get a bit bland; what should have been the beating heart of the film ends up feeling flat and uninspired with a shoehorned chase-the-magic-thingy plot device. To top off the magic, we get to see our squad battle it out with some hokey CGI fossilized zombies? (because these things don’t bleed, thereby saving the film from the R-rated blockbuster stamp of doom). It’s a wild, illogical ride but also perplexingly enjoyable – possibly because the actors go out of their way so often to convince us that, yes… they are having a really good time bashing stuff up together.

The scenes are so clumsily sewn together; sure, the Marvel movies were boring and predictable but at least they had a sense of fluidity to them. Characters seem to come and go as they please with little motivation (one member of the squad gets killed off in the first act without much of an afterthought) or efforts towards the overarching narrative. The dialogue is often clunky and awkward; lines like “Her sword steals the souls of its victims” are said so nonchalantly it’s as if the characters were discussing college sports. The film’s humor is also a little off, though thankfully it doesn’t go overboard on the snarky, self-aware banter via Deadpool. Most of the jokes are put on the backburner while the action and attitude take center stage.

For all its flaws, something about Suicide Squad works, at least on a popcorn turn-your-brain-off-and-enjoy-the-ride level. David Ayer clearly has a love for these characters and his passion is felt strongly through the screen. A couple shine brighter than others though, specifically Margot Robbie‘s version of Harley Quinn, Viola Davis’ hardass embodiment of Amanda Waller, and Will Smith‘s Deadshot. And then there is the infamous Joker, played by Jared Leto who gives a solid method-driven interpretation of the beloved character, but also one that feels a bit out of place and unnecessary. Still, he is a lot of fun, and watching the clown caress others’ faces while talking to them about his debauchery is one of the film’s best moments. Stylistically, it’s obvious Ayer and his cinematographer Roman Vasyanov were going for something dark. Crank up the Mad Max: Fury Road obsession with guns, knives, and makeup and you have a nice visual aesthetic which works well in a film devoted to the baddies.

The real villain here is in the editing. With rumors of reshoots and re-edits to the film 3 months ago, one can’t help but think that once upon a time there was a version of Suicide Squad that actually made sense, one that was properly timed with one plot point leading to the next. What I saw wasn’t so much of a bad film in and of itself as it is was a prime showcase for what could have been.

But who cares? This is Suicide Squad, the film that was Warner Bros’ saving grace at keeping up with the Marvel juggernauts that dominate the box office every year. And you know what? I bought into it. There is an undeniable charm to the film’s scatterbrained chaos. Sure, it’s ugly, but what David Ayer has done with these ragamuffin characters is definitively cool, if not outright admirable, and it goes beyond anything Disney has done with their Star Wars or Marvel franchises. Yeah, it might be a bit of a messy disaster project, but by the time the credits roll, you still can’t help but smile at that poor 12-year old’s desperation, give him a pat on the head, and say with a half-assed smile “good job kid”.

Bottom line: Suicide Squad feels so remixed, chopped up and dead set on pleasing audiences, there is little substance left to show whatever original artistic vision director David Ayer might have been capable of. 

Rating: 5/10 

Film recipe: The Avengers + Hot Topic + dysfunctional romantic relationships