Get Out: A Genius Spooky Thriller and Satire

 

I saw this at the theatre at the behest of my husband and youngest daughter. They saw it last weekend and raved about it. Scheduling conflicts prevented me and my older daughter from joining them. I had seen trailers, read rave reviews and am a huge fan of writer-director Jordan Peele, so I was intrigued by all the buzz surrounding his directorial debut. I was also wary of the possibility of over-hype leaving me disappointed. No need to fret, last night, I took my daughter and her friend (who had no prior knowledge of the film but is a horror fan) to the theatre and had a great time.

As you can see from the trailer, this is a horror film that is a social satire about race relations. It had a marvellous balance of tension, jump scares, creepiness, humour and mild gore. The story revolves around Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) meeting his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents for the first time during a weekend getaway.

 

 

This is an intricately crafted screenplay that leaves deliberate clues and many twists along the way that make you go “Holy crap, I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” It is a masterful cinematic cultural experience full of sly symbolism and metaphor. It has been aptly hailed as a cross between The Stepford Wives and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. The satire is very well grounded and to say more risks spoiling major plot points, beyond what the trailer gives away. It is fascinating watching Chris code-switch throughout the movie and slowly come to the realization that something is truly off about these people, beyond the usual micro aggressions.

I can’t wait to watch it again. I really love the lead performances by Daniel Kaluuya and Alison Williams. A special shout out goes to supporting actors Lil Rey Howry as Chris’ buddy and Betty Gabriel as the maid. It is wonderfully directed and not too gory. If you like suspense but eschew horror, I would definitely give this a go.

But if horror is really not your thing, then enjoy the video below in celebration of Jordan Peele’s genius. This is a great example of code-switching humour from his beloved and sorely missed sketch comedy show.

Black Sails: a fond Farewell

teaser_poster_for_black_sails

It has been over a year since I blogged about Black Sails HERE, shortly after binging the first 2 seasons. I am now facing the final episodes of the fourth and final season and I am sad to say goodbye. Many of the things I wrote about in my original post have remained solid throughout this underrated series and now that it is wrapping up I just want to give it a boost.

 

This show is beautifully filmed and exquisitely plotted. There is a wonderful balance of action, drama, humour and romance. I am constantly guessing as to which way things are headed. The characters’ development is nuanced and the producers are brutal when it comes to killing them off.

Binge watching this show is the best way to do it. The first 1/2 of season 1 was a bit slow but the payoff is so very much worth it. Waiting week to week for the final 1/2 dozen or so episodes is excruciating, but I will manage. In the meantime, I urge you to give it a try if you like a dark, epic, historical under-dog tale brimming with action and served with sly humour.

Manchester by the Sea: a review

manchester-by-the-sea

 

I am doing my best to watch all the Oscar best picture nominees this year and just finished watching Manchester by the Sea with my husband. We both thought this was an amazing film; a real emotional gut punch. It is not for everyone but if you want a cathartic cry, this character study is the answer. It is full of humour and there is hope but have the tissues handy. Beautifully filmed in the titular New England town, this film takes you on a quiet and painful journey into what is left of the soul of a broken man. Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) returns to his hometown when his brother dies and learns that he has been named guardian to his 16 year old nephew.

Through skilled direction and deft flashbacks, we seen the man that Lee used to be and are struck by the contrast to his present self. When we learn of the circumstance responsible for his altered state, it is heart wrenching. This is a story about one man’s struggle. This film deals with the messiness of family and small town life. Yet it is a tragedy that hasn’t forgotten the importance of laughter. Kenneth Lonergan wrote and directed this original film with such remarkable attention to detail. The idiocies of everyday life are woven into the narrative adding humour to a very sad tale.

This is not a typical Hollywood movie and I am glad for that. If you like character driven stories and don’t mind a good cry, this film will knock the wind out of you. I hope it gets some love at the Oscars. Sometimes sad independent films win big on Oscar night. I won’t be too upset if this wins for best picture (although Arrival is still my favourite, with this film tied with Hell or High Water for 2nd place). Casey Affleck is outstanding in his performance; this is such a multi-faceted role. If he doesn’t win best actor, I will be disappointed (not quite as disappointed as I was about Amy Adams’ snub for Arrival). I would be thrilled if any of my favourite 3 contenders would take home gold for screenplay, but I won’t hold my breath.

 

 

 

 

Hell or High Water: Western-Noir for our times, a review

hell-and-high-water

 

Last Saturday was movie night again at our friends’ (Karen and Steve) house. All four of us had fun watching this on a beautiful brand new entertainment system.

 

This film took us along on a suspenseful crime spree through small town Texas. We watched 2 brothers as they robbed banks and we also followed the lawmen, who were hot on their trail. This is such an oversimplification, but to say more would risk too much. The reasons for the robberies were initially unclear but gradually we understood. Boy oh boy, there was great satisfaction in watching a rather genius plan unfold. But would they get away with it? The beauty of this movie lies in the motivation of the crimes. The true heart of this film was subtle, yet it eloquently gave us a glimpse at the lives of simple folk.

The reveal is doled out in alternating moments of quiet contemplation and high stakes tension. This is a story about real lives, set in a real place. It is both hilarious and heartbreaking. Yes, there is quite a bit of humour in this dark suspenseful tale. I also love the way it sneaks in some scathing social commentary. The cinematography is stunning rendering Texas an important character of the film. The acting is outstanding. Jeff Bridges is nominated for a supporting Oscar in his role as a senior Texas Ranger, determined to bring the culprits to justice. Gil Birmingham is fantastic as his younger colleague  and verbal jousting partner. Ben Foster, a talented chameleon of an actor, plays the ex-con brother with charm, tenderness and unique code of honour. But it is Chris Pine who surprised me. I should preface this by stating that I am not a fan of Pine, primarily because I have seen him in the same role too many times. Mostly cocky young men, of which James T. Kirk in the new Star Trek reboot is quintessential. His acting, until now, has been just too smarmy for my taste. Finally, this film allows him to stretch in a different, more sincere direction. In this film he plays the brother who has always played it straight and for that, he seems beaten down by the world at large. The film is directed with subtle detail by David Mackenzie, who is new to me.

Special credit must be given to Taylor Sheridan, the writer of this original screenplay. Even his bit characters are magnificent. I was so happy to learn that he has been honoured with an Oscar nomination. He is also known for another tense thriller, Sicario, which I reviewed (and thoroughly enjoyed) over a year ago. He has come a long way from a struggling actor in 2010 to a celebrated screenwriter of original stories. I will definitely keep a lookout for his next project to hit the big screen.

If you like tightly plotted western or crime films, great dialogue and a story that you have never seen on screen before, then this film is worth a look.

 

 

 

 

 

Lovesick: a review

lovesick-netflix

I am in the process of watching this show on Netflix for the 3rd time. That is how I measure comedy greatness, primarily in repeat watch appeal. To be fair, the 1st time I watched it while I was doing solo chores around the house, mostly cooking, cleaning, fixing stuff.  Availability on Netflix renders it highly portable. I know I was missing nuanced performances but I thought a 2nd watch with my husband would remedy that. We were looking for something to watch together that would make us laugh. This 3rd time is with my kids, who wondered what their parents thought was so funny! I flit in and out while my daughters are watching but I still find myself swept up in the zany lives of the 3 main characters.

Lovesick (previous title for Season 1 was Scrotal Recall) kept popping up as a recommendation on Netflix. But frankly, the original title put me off because it sounded like bad porn. I know, I know, as someone who will defend TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer until the end of time, I will admit to a bit of judgy irony on my part. When I saw this show recommended by mainstream critics, I thought I would give it a try.

So glad I did, when I did. The 1st season aired 6 episodes (24 min each) back in 2014 and just recently released the 2nd! 14 hilariously sweet episodes to binge watch is a glorious treat. To have waited for season 2 would have been excruciating.

This romantic comedy jumps somewhat randomly through time (in a clever way that is not at all confusing) and deals with 3 best friends (Dylan, Evie and Luke). Dylan’s recent diagnosis of Chlamydia and subsequent need to inform his previous partners serves as a novel conduit into the colourful world of these 20 something characters. This is a show for an older audience, no doubt (language, sexuality). It is kind and yet very incisive. It stars Johnny Flynn as Dylan (frustrated romantic), Daniel Ings as Luke (superficial player) and Antonia Thomas (Alisha from my beloved Misfits) as no-nonsense Evie. Watching them figure out lives, careers and relationships is so much fun. The show’s humour is not only in its dialogue but its physicality as well.

If you like romance, British comedies and do not mind non-linear story-telling, this is a show to check out.

La La Land, a love song to Classic Film and Musicals

xnewlala-jpg-pagespeed-ic-9adgdmfcqe

I went with my family to the theatre to watch this movie. It has many critics whispering Oscar and I was super curious. The only musicals in theatres these days are usually cartoons. I was raised on classic Hollywood film and I am a fan of musicals. I did like (not love) this film. So did my family, but I don’t think it will win anyone over who isn’t partial to musicals to begin with. But if you are a fan of either Emma Stone or Ryan Gosling (I am) and are curious about them breaking into song and dance numbers, this is worth a look.

We follow Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) as they fall in love and support each other through the struggle to make it against all odds in L.A. Mia is an aspiring actor and Sebastian is a jazz pianist. It is a story that honours artistic dreamers. It is a fantasy that flirts with harsh realities. It is beautifully filmed and the acting is top notch, especially Emma Stone. The dancing is pretty good but I can’t say it was as effortless as I had hoped it to be. The songs are good but didn’t exactly wow me. The singing is ok.

la-la-land-ryan-gosling-emma-stone

I give the writer/director, Damien Chapelle A+ for effort. It takes guts to tackle a musical without a big studio system supporting you and a dearth of triple-threat talent to choose from. There were numerous overt nods to classic Hollywood films and I really liked the ending. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it. However, this isn’t the film that will convert anyone to embrace musical film. For me, that film is still Singing in the Rain (1952 starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor). I can’t help feel sad as I write this less than a day after Debbie Reynolds has died, on the heels of the tragic loss of her daughter Carrie Fisher. I think I am going to dust that DVD off now, watch it again while my husband goes out to see the new Star Wars: Rogue One movie with my eldest.

 

 

Arrival: a Review

arrival_movie_poster

I went to the theatre with my husband yesterday. We both had the day off work; the kids were in school and this film had a matinée showing. My husband and I were itching to see it after hearing/reading a lot of positive reviews. And I simply love the lead, Amy Adams (not enough to watch her in the most recent Superman movie, but still) and greatly admire the director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario).

Wow! I loved this film and so did my husband. In fact, as we left the theatre, he said that this was one of the best films he saw this year.

This film is not for everyone; it is thoughtful, deliberately paced (some would say glacially so) science fiction (not hard science like The Martian) with twisting emotional core. This is not an action movie. The CGI is minimalistic.

 

 

Aliens have arrived in 12 space pods, hovering above land in 12 different parts around the world. Nobody knows why. Amy Adams is a linguist professor who is recruited by the US military, along with Jeremy Renner, a theoretical physicist, to lead the attempts at communicating with these other worldly beings. During this procedural-like plot, we learn about Amy’s character’s life and how this assignment becomes so intricately woven into the person she is. To say more would reveal plot twists and be too “spoilery”. It is a very emotional journey. I had tears welling up and could hear a few sniffles around me as the credits rolled past.

This movie touches upon love (romantic and paternal), global politics, time-travel and militarism. There is no gratuitous sex or violence. Denis Villeneuve seems to enjoy immersing the viewer in the main character’s experience. This film reminded me of Sicario in that way. I was confused for the first 2/3 of the 2 hour run time, because everyone on-screen was too. My patience was rewarded. I am not a science fiction fan, in general, but I do like contemplative stories that give me hope for the future. This movie does that and is so much more enjoyable than the recent onslaught of dystopian fantasy films that have been hitting the multiplex.

If you like thoughtful films, don’t mind a slower pace and a bit of confusion, then check this one out. But get ready for your heart-strings to get tugged.

The Wire: an Overdue Review

the_wire_cover

 

The Wire is an HBO TV show that can be found on most top 10 TV show lists published in the last 10 years. Until recently it was a serious gap in my pop culture knowledge. Now I know why it is always there on those lists, taunting me, daring me to take the plunge. I finally did; I watched all 5 seasons on DVD over a few weeks.

 

 

And it took some patience with the first 4 episodes, but I am glad I stuck with it. It is an excellent show, but clearly not for everyone. The authentic street language, for one, had me watching with subtitles. That might be a deal breaker for some. How to sell this to a viewer? I am not sure, but it has a big fan in President Obama, if that is enough of a recommendation.

 

 

The Wire is a brutal, cynical, vérité depiction of life in inner city Baltimore. The show throws the viewer into this world head first. Over the course of 5 short seasons (10 to 13, 1 hour episodes) one encounters the shenanigans of gangsters, cops, dock workers, teachers, reporters, lawyers and politicians. This show reveals the horrors associated with growing up in poverty, youth trapped in tangled webs of rigged systems (justice, education, social). My heart breaks as I watch children surrounded by drug-addiction, who are destined to repeat this life cycle because it is the only one they know. This show is deft at exposing the flawed systems, which are set up to fail, by any number of problems. Be they conflicts of interest in the wake of short election cycles or simply a lack of resources. And yet this show is beautifully written, with heart and humour. It strength also lies in a diverse array of characters, on both sides of the law, many whom one can’t help care about. Even the criminals, no spoilers here, but Omar Little (iconically portrayed by Michael Kenneth Williams) remains a fan favourite.

 

 

Does it make my top 10? I don’t know. That is a list that is always in flux, besides, I usually stop ranking after my top 2 (Currently Breaking Bad #1 and Spartacus #2). It can be a bit preachy at times and the season to season introduction of new characters and settings makes some storylines less compelling than others, leading me to be a bit impatient at times. I guess I prefer more personal stories with smaller casts a bit more than epic tales of power struggles and social commentary (also the reason why I stopped watching Game of Thrones). So where does it fit in my hierarchy of great things to watch? These are the things that I consider when arriving at an answer. Would I watch The Wire again? Probably, but not very soon. Did I watch it with my undivided attention at all times? Alas, no. Will I bug my husband to watch it too? Nope, still trying to get him to watch Breaking Bad with me. But I am glad I watched The Wire. It showcased the early work of actors who have gone on to bigger things, most notably Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan. I appreciate it as a unique TV experience and think that creator David Simon had a remarkable vision and was a wonderful voice for the city of Baltimore.

A Couple of TV Comedies by Phoebe Waller-Bridge

It has been a while since I have blogged. Summer was a busy time, but I am back with lots to write about. I watched a number of enjoyable TV shows. Here is the first lot that I wanted to share. Both are comedies written by a talented woman whose work is new to me. If you have a dark but quirky sense of humour, like short British series and are not offended by swearing or nudity, you might want to check these shows out. Warning, the trailers are NSFW.

crashing-s01-home-slide

Crashing

This UK comedy is available on Netflix in Canada. 6 episodes, each less than ½ hour. It is just perfect for binge-watching in one evening after a long work week has left one good for nothing else (Not that THAT ever happens). OMG, what a way to lift my mood, this show had me laughing out loud like a fool. It is written by and stars Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whom I now just absolutely adore! I had seen her previously as a supporting character in Broadchurch’s disappointing 2nd season and she made no impression at the time. She is a remarkable comedy writer and a tremendous actor. Crashing is an ensemble comedy set in a decommissioned hospital. The inhabitants are property guardians, which is a real thing that I had never heard of before. In an attempt to prevent squatters, the property guardians are lured, with low rent, to live in and maintain the abandoned hospital. This brings together a colourful group of characters and hilarity ensues. This show is about being a young adult, figuring out your life’s direction and who you want to share it with. To say more would spoil the fun. I enjoyed it so much I watched it again with my husband (over 2 evenings this time) and was thrilled to hear his belly laughs. This show is a rapid-fire of one-line zingers and exquisite physical comedy. The supporting cast is a delightful mix of actors. Some of them are familiar to me. What a treat it was to see them again (Jonathan Bailey Olly from Broadchurch and Damien Molony, Vampire Hal from Being Human -UK).

********************

fleabag

Fleabag

Unfortunately this comedy is not readily available in Canada, yet. It is available in the USA on Amazon’s streaming service. I managed to catch it in my travels and was blown away. This is the 2nd TV series launched in 2016 that is written by and starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Based on her award winning play, this TV show is a character study that is much darker than Crashing. It is funny, charming and an exquisite showcase for this woman’s remarkable talent. Her facial expressions alone flash a series of emotions so quickly, I am almost afraid to blink. Her writing is as brilliant as her physical screen presence. Fleabag is the nickname of the main character, who is a millennial struggling to find her way in the world after a (mini-spoiler alert) tragedy. This show deals with dysfunctional families, sisters, feminism, human frailty, friendship, loss and love. The main character breaks the forth wall throughout the show, a risky move that really works. Another risk is the interjection of poignant flashbacks. Phoebe Waller-Bridge weaves a haunting portrayal of a young woman’s life. That it is also a comedy is a genuine marvel. Her supporting cast is a delight. Olivia Colman, playing Fleabag’s father’s wife, is a treat to see in a role diverging from her serious ones (Broadchurch, The Night Manager). I hope it comes to Canadian Netflix soon. Because at 6 episodes, each less than ½ hour, it is a perfect show to binge-watch. Another enjoyable evening was spent unwinding with Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Thanks go to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast for introducing me to this show (which also led me to find Crashing) and a wonderful young talent.

Revisiting Donnie Darko (2001)

donnie-darko

 

I remember watching Donnie Darko (2001) on home video, shortly after it was available for rent and being enthralled, creeped out and confused. At the time it didn’t make complete sense, but strangely, it didn’t matter as much as I would have expected it to. I just thought it was a creepy, poignant metaphor for madness. When the Director’s cut was released on DVD in 2004, I bought it, tucked it away and waited for the right time. Over a decade has passed since then. Why was last night the right time? Maybe because Jake Gyllenhaal was on my radar after my daughters and I saw his guest appearance on a recent episode of Inside Amy Schumer . We were looking for a creepy movie to watch together so I figured it was time to watch Donnie Darko again.

 

Wow, this film holds up very well. It is set in 1988 and follows a troubled high school student into what appears to be a descent into madness. Or is it? We witnessed time travel and alternate universes on a backdrop of suburban life. To say more would risk spoiling the experience. I was hoping for more clarity with the director’s version this time around. By the end, I was still left wondering, “WTF?” If you like those kinds of, what I like to call, “WTF Movies” (Inception, Memento, Shutter Island, to name a few) and don’t mind googling an explanation or 2 afterward, then this is film is for you.

The film was written and directed by Richard Kelly and had an awesome cast. Young Jake Gyllenhaal in the titular role was superb as his character flipped between simply awkward to seriously disturbed. He was supported by Drew Barrymore (she also executive produced), Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell, Maggie Gyllenhaal (in a meta role as his sister), Noah Wylie and Jenna Malone. There are even a few brief, before they were famous, appearances by Seth Rogen and Ashley Tisdale.

The 80’s New Wave soundtrack (INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears, The Church, Joy Division) was well chosen. The family dynamic portrayed in the film is a sweet realistic contrast to the disturbing events that abound. There is minimal gore. The special effects are few and not distracting. If you like a film that keeps you guessing, Donnie Darko is definitely worth a watch. If you can understand it by the end, then you will have impressed me. I find solace in the knowledge that I was not alone; the late great Roger Ebert shared my confusion. My daughters and I had fun googling for explanations and talking about watching it again in the near future with a better understanding. Maybe I will check out the director’s commentary; that is something I haven’t done with a film in a while.

Below are some links we found helpful, but I caution you to use them only if required, as they contain spoilers.

 

http://www.themoviegoer.com/donnie_darko.htm

http://www.donniedarko.org.uk/explanation/#blog

WHY DONNIE DARKO’S LITERAL PLOT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE (AND WHY IT DOESN’T MATTER)

Previous Older Entries Next Newer Entries

Blog Stats

  • 11,024 hits