Get Out

Watching horror films requires a certain degree of masochism, if you think about it. Why would anyone want to experience pure fear and terror? Yet something about that sensation is so deliciously awful. The first horror movie was released in 1896, and we’ve been paying people to scare the crap out of us ever since. When I saw the trailer for Get Out I wasn’t sold, but eventually the collective groundswell of enthusiasm swayed me and I began to look forward to it. Comedian/actor Jordan Peele (Keanu) does not disappoint, crafting a smart, unsettling film that taps into an undercurrent of fear unique to the Black experience.

Get Out features a young interracial couple, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario) and Rose (Allison Williams, Girls). They are still in the honeymoon phase, and their differences haven’t caused any problems…yet. However, trouble looms when Rose decides it’s time to introduce Chris to her family, who is unaware that he is Black. Chris is sort of an everyman figure for Black audiences. His fears and vulnerabilities are our own. His experiences are relatable, both on a small and large scale. In one scene he is peppered with ignorant questions from Rose’s family and friends, as they expect him to speak on the entire Black experience rather than for himself. It’s clear that he is on display, regarded like an animal in a cage in one moment and like wild game in another. An insidious air of foreboding hangs over the film, creating a palpable sense of tension only heightened by the realism of Chris’ dread.

Why does this movie work? Quite frankly because White people can be scary. There are still parts of the country where the color of your skin can be a deadly liability. I know that Black men still have to be cognizant of their surroundings if they are in certain areas with a mate of a different race. I like that Get Out depicted many of the micro-aggressions with which we have to contend so often. Whenever Black folks attempt to engage in thoughtful discourse on such topics, we are often accused of playing the “race card,” and I think Peele deftly avoids this charge with tight, cogent writing, dramatizing these situations in a palatable yet jarring fashion. I hope that White audiences’ curiosity is piqued, as some are perhaps taken aback at the notion that they are the scary ones!

Horror isn’t my favorite genre, but good writing transcends category. Get Out didn’t resort to cheap thrills; instead Peele expertly tapped into the realism of his setting and subject matter. It reminded me of the classic horror films of the 70s and 80s, very atmospheric, complete with a perfectly disturbing score. At one point the film had notably garnered an astounding 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is well deserved. I say that not because Get Out is the Movie of the Year, but because it works extremely well as a cinematic experience, and its structure and pacing were flawless. I’ve been fortunate over the past several months to have seen many diverse representations of Black film, and I hope the trend continues. The strength of any great movie starts with the story, and Peele’s got a winner on his hands. Grade: A.


The Accountant

In life, I’ve found that it’s fine to have preferences, but that you should remain open-minded. You just never know when your tastes may change. I used to prefer Matt Damon to Ben Affleck. Comparisons between the two have been inevitable, as they’re best friends who emerged on the Hollywood scene in tandem. Damon always seemed to be the superior actor, and I still think that holds true. However, I don’t like Matt Damon as much as I once did. And Affleck lately has just seemed…cooler. The Accountant looked like a smart action thriller, and I was drawn in by the titular character’s backstory. Unfortunately, it was just an average movie, and my mini-streak of duds continues.

Affleck (Batman v. Superman) stars as Christian Wolff, an accountant with the uncanny ability to crunch numbers better than a calculator. He has a beautiful mind, one that is suited perfectly for his chosen profession. Through flashback we learn that Christian was born with a high functioning form of autism that gifts him with amazing intellectual abilities while rendering him socially inept. His father refuses to coddle him, teaching him instead to defend himself to the literal death through relentless combat and martial arts training. His compulsive need to finish tasks lends itself well to this borderline abusive instruction. Fast forward to present day, and Christian’s unique upbringing and skill set have led to a lucrative career “uncooking” the books for some of the world’s most notorious criminal enterprises.

If you consort with international criminals, chances are you won’t go unnoticed for long. Eventually Christian draws the attention of Treasury Agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons, Whiplash) who pinpoints his identity with the help of junior agent Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Arrow). When Christian lands a high-level corporate client, the Feds become even more invested in his activities, and King and Medina turn up the heat. Working alongside young accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), Christian becomes entangled in a web of danger in the pursuit of millions of missing dollars for their mysterious new client. Soon their lives are in jeopardy, but who’s calling the shots?

I enjoyed the sight of Affleck stomping his way through would-be foes shocked that a pencil pusher was kicking their ass. However, the plot was a muddled mess. My need for things to make sense wouldn’t let me ignore the seemingly pointless series of events that were strung together and called a storyline. Although the plot strengthened the film in its establishment of Christian’s backstory, it faltered miserably as the movie wore on, and any “twists” fell woefully short. Affleck was effective for the most part, though his performance could easily be panned as a caricature. Jon Bernthal (Sicario) makes an appearance, and though his presence usually enhances a film, here it was just more evidence of a poor storyline. Wait for this one on Redbox. Grade: C+

The Girl on the Train

Before I see a film, there’s an occasional bit of trepidation. There’s always the risk that the results will not live up to the expectation, especially if the studio includes the best moments in the trailer. Good editing and well-placed scenes can leave you duped. Such was the case with The Girl on the Train, a film that teased mystery and suspense, but failed to deliver on both. I was expecting something in the vein of Gone Girl but was left with something much more forgettable.

Emily Blunt (Sicario) stars as Rachel, a troubled divorcee who hasn’t gotten over her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux, Zoolander 2), despite the fact that he’s moved on by starting a family with his former mistress. Rachel is battling demons, struggling with addiction, living day to day with the loneliness and betrayal of her failed marriage. She commutes to Manhattan on the train every day, often gazing out at the sprawling homes dotting the train’s path. One home in particular draws her attention, a charming white abode occupied by an enchanting young couple. The woman, a carefree blonde, is everything Rachel wishes she were: vibrant, hopeful, in love. Her husband appears devoted and loving. Rachel crafts a narrative for the couple in her mind, spinning fanciful tales from weeks of brief observations.

When the young woman Rachel’s been observing goes missing, she comes even more unhinged. Claiming to have witnessed her abduction, she tells the authorities – who are reluctant to believe her, given her fragile emotional state. Things get even more complicated when it’s revealed that the missing woman was also Tom’s nanny. The characters are intertwined in a way that isn’t abundantly clear – and here’s where I hoped the film could’ve been more suspenseful. For a substantial portion of the film we watch Rachel stumble through her pathetic life in a lonely haze, but instead of empathizing with the character, I was mostly apathetic.

Furthermore, the story felt disjointed, as writer Erin Cressida Wilson (Men, Women & Children) used flashbacks, frequently shifting back and forth from different perspectives and points in the recent past. Perhaps this device was employed in the book from which the film was adapted, and maybe it was more effective in that medium, but it faltered here. The pacing was slow and uneven, and I didn’t feel emotionally connected to the characters. The film didn’t become worthwhile until its final act, which was overwhelmingly predictable. I feel catfished by this movie. Take it from me and save your money. Grade: D+

Hell or High Water

When we think about interesting movie settings, we might think of some exotic locale, perhaps a far off land – maybe a jungle or the base of a volcano. But great cinematic landscapes don’t have to be on the other side of the world. Sometimes an effective movie setting is one that is rarely depicted, but not so far away. Such was the case for Hell or High Water, an enthralling film capturing a slice of southwestern America. The Texas setting lent itself surprisingly well to the story of two brothers who chart a dangerous course through the Bible Belt.

When we meet brothers Toby (Chris Pine, Star Trek Beyond) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster, The Finest Hours) they are brazenly robbing a small bank. Inexperienced but resourceful, the pair is bumbling in their execution but genius in their foresight. Tanner is fiery and violent, while Toby is sympathetic and measured, each the perfect foil. Inevitably, the siblings soon draw the ire of Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges, True Grit), a small town sheriff near retirement (a familiar trope, I know). He and his partner begin tracking the duo, mapping their likely targets, surmising that they are stealing small amounts to reach a modest, specific goal. If they can determine the motive, perhaps they can narrow in on a suspect.

Director David Mackenzie (Starred Up) and writer Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) weave an atmospheric tale permeating with desperate energy. Toby and Tanner are just a half step ahead of the law, and it could all come crumbling down at any moment. As their motivation for the robberies is revealed, we feel the weight of their burden. A sense of foreboding hangs like a cloud over the film, hinting that the pair is on borrowed time. Many viewers will probably relate to the movie’s themes, particularly the brothers’ sense of frustration at the seemingly short hand life has dealt them, always a day late and a dollar short. Blue-collar, working class, somewhat marginalized and essentially impoverished.

The film was reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ work, with cinematography and setting similar to both No Country For Old Men and Blood Simple. I could also see Sheridan’s hand reflected in the story, which bore cinematic similarity to his work in Sicario. The Texas landscape was grimy and hot, and their desperation was palpable. Perhaps I shouldn’t have rooted for them, but I did – which is a testament to the film’s story and two leads. Foster and Pine gave textured performances, evincing wide-ranging emotion. While there has been praise from critics, the average moviegoer may be reluctant to see this film – but don’t be one of those people. Hell or High Water has been one of the better films of 2016, so far. Grade: A