Friday, February 24, 2017

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER 2

Opening this weekend:

 
Get OutChris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, gifted and black art photographer in New York City, goes upstate for a weekend in the country with his white girlfriend of four months, Rose (Allison Williams), to meet the affluent parents. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon, Mom (Catherine Keener) is a hypnotherapist, creepy brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is a med student.

They seem, initially, like nice folks, a little awkward and self-conscious about Chris’s race, but well-intentioned, even compensatorily over-friendly. But small weirdnesses crop up at once, first with the mannered, inauthentic behavior of the family’s black domestic help (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel) and of another black man who shows up at a party (Lakieth Stanfield), and then with other hints of the sinister.

To say much more would be to give away too much about this horror tale, written and directed by Jordan Peele (half of the comedy team of Key & Peele) in his directorial debut. Suffice to say that it’s a splendidly successful, witty shocker, in large part because Peele is disciplined about playing by the rules, using the theme of racial unease to generate terror along a wonderfully old-fashioned, Ira-Levin-ish Gothic structure.

Kaluuya, a Brit, easily pulls us into his gradually-rising paranoia and makes us root for Chris. The white actors are flawless, from the subtlety of Williams, Whitford, Keener and Stephen Root as a blind gallery owner to the ripe caricature of the unwholesome party guests. And the wide-eyed servants, with their stilted unctuousness, can raise the hairs on your neck. There’s overt comic relief, too, in the form of the ebullient LilRey Howery as Chris’s worried TSA agent pal.

Best of all, while Get Out is sincerely meant to scare, Peele still brings his comic sensibility into play here. There are well-crafted jolts and jumps, and the climactic clashes are conventionally gruesome, but the movie never loses a sense of audience-pleasing fun. Peele connects the film not only to classic horror templates but also to hardwired racial beliefs, both black and white. The plot partly hinges, for instance, on the familiar white conviction, recently displayed by our president, that all black people know each other.

Opening at Sonora Cinema at Desert Sky Mall:


You're Killing Me SusanaEligio is a Mexico City soap actor who likes to stay out late, drink, and fool around with women from the set. One morning he wakes up to find his stunning writer wife Susana (Veronica Echegui) absent from bed and apartment. Her clothes are absent from the closet, too.

Stunned and shaken—he thought they were doing great—Eligio traces Susana to a writer's workshop at a college in Iowa. He drops everything and follows her there, where he finds her involved with a virile, silent Polish poet.

From here on, You're Killing Me Susana (Me Estas Matando Susana), directed by Roberto Sneider from a Jose Agustin novel, becomes both a romantic comedy with serious overtones and a spiky look at U.S. culture through an outsider's eyes. In both functions it's charged up by the performance of Gael Garcia Bernal—probably best known to U.S. audiences as the young Che Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries—as Eligio.

With his insolent sexual confidence and persistent (if mostly ineffectual) machismo, Eligio is the sort who can smirk at his own infidelities yet throw wailing, floor-pounding tantrums at Susana's without seeming to notice the incongruity. The breathtaking Echegui makes you see how the combination of Eligio's oppressive selfishness and his unshakable lovability could make sneaking away while he's asleep seem like the only escape.

This wry, absorbing, unpredictable movie can truly be called a comedy-drama, deftly tipping from near-farcical to poignant without losing its balance, on either side of the hyphen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

REVENGE WATCHING

Since we were discussing MeTV last week, allow me to point out that the vintage network's old-school horror host Svengoolie, who's been on a welcome Godzilla kick lately, shows Godzilla's Revenge this Saturday.



I have exceptionally fond memories of that one (released in the U.S. in 1971), as my sister Priscilla took me to see it at the Warner Theater in Erie when I was about nine.

So...

Monster-of-the-Week: ...let's acknowledge Gabara, the monster who acts like a jerk to Godzilla's kid Minya in that film...


Excuse the spoiler, but needless to say, both Godzilla and son get their revenge...

Monday, February 20, 2017

CAMPAIGN KILLER

Happy President's Day everybody!

In observance of the day, check out Your Humble Narrator's story, on the New Times blog, about my adventures campaigning in my neighborhood for our current President's opponent. Also...


...check out the February issue of Phoenix Magazine for my review of North Mountain Grille (page 152, or here) and my "Four Corners" column on Indian food joints (page 153, or here).

Friday, February 17, 2017

DODGE BRAWL

Opening this week:

 
Fist FightCharlie Day is Andy Campbell, a milquetoast English teacher at an underfunded, underachieving, metal-detector-enclosed high school. Ice Cube is Strickland, a tough history teacher. It’s the last day of school, the odious, arrogant students are playing outrageous pranks, and the teachers are re-interviewing for their jobs in the face of layoffs. Things are tense.

Andy witnesses Strickland violently lose it front of his class, and faced with the prospect of losing his job if he doesn’t, he “rats out” Strickland to the principal. On the familiar grounds that “snitches get stitches,” Strickland then challenges Andy to the title combat after school.

The rest of this broad, crude, foul-mouthed comedy, directed by Richie Keen from a script by Van Robichaux and Evan Susser, involves Andy frantically resorting to ever more dishonorable and humiliating tactics in an attempt to avoid this fight. In outline, the plot is very much like that of 1987’s Three O’Clock High, except featuring teachers instead of students. Ultimately, of course, in the grand tradition of movies, Andy and Strickland must face off—if they didn’t, the title would be a cheat.

It’s an indefensibly stupid, ill-conceived, mostly unfunny, often offensive movie. So of course, I feel compelled to defend it a little. A very, very little.

First of all, the actors are good. Day, a veteran nitwit from the Horrible Bosses movies and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, fearlessly plays shamelessness. He isn’t the customary cinematic comical coward, like Bob Hope or Woody Allen, making his avoidance of peril into a self-deprecating dignity—he’s palpably willing to abase himself, and the effect is painful, verging at times on poignancy.

Tracy Morgan brings his querulous, imploring tones to the part of the perennially losing football coach, and he’s pretty funny. Jillian Bell is even funnier as a guidance counselor who seems desperately in need of guidance herself. Only Christina Hendricks, as a possibly psychotic French teacher, seems wasted, although I suppose no footage which features Christina Hendricks walking down the hallway in a form-fitting black dress can be considered a total waste.

Ice Cube is always effortlessly commanding, even in a role like this, which aside from being one-note is saddled with a major idiocy at its core. The moviemakers try to sell us on the idea that Strickland’s rage is because he’s fed up with the disrespect of students and the indifference of his colleagues, and that he’s insisting on going through with his challenge to Andy on the grounds that a fight between two teachers will somehow showcase the problems faced by those in their profession.

This is ludicrous, certainly, but it may point to the reason why, as terrible as Fist Fight is, the movie can’t be called dull. It draws a certain degree of dramatic potency from the near-impossible situation in which public school teachers in poorer districts find themselves—constant frustration if they care about their jobs and their students, soulless defeat if they give up. The dumb fight-between-teachers plot, even though it was probably the inspiration for the picture, is also a weight around its neck. It’s possible to see how, with the same cast and setting, something could have been made that was at least equally funny but genuinely trenchant.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

TUNNEL VISION

Your Humble Narrator is a fan of the vintage network MeTV, in no small part because they play silly, nostalgic old-school ‘60s and ‘70s sci-fi on the weekends, including Irwin Allen’s ridiculous The Time Tunnel.

This week’s scheduled episode is “Chase Through Time,” in which our epoch-hopping, stock-footage-fleeing heroes James Darren and Robert Colbert find themselves, among other eras, back in prehistory. So…

Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s acknowledge the primordial titan that threatens them in that episode…


…obviously played by an unfortunate alligator with fins and horns attached. It appears to have been recycled from Allen’s own 1960 version of The Lost World.

Friday, February 10, 2017

BRICK BAT

Opening this weekend:


The Lego Batman MovieEven though I never had Legos as a kid, nor played with them as an adult, I enjoyed 2014’s The Lego Movie and A Lego Brickumentary. I think I liked this cubist take on the Caped Crusader best of all, however.

Directed by Chris McKay from a script by, among other hands, Seth Grahame-Smith of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, it’s a highly observant spoof of the sort of turgid, self-important superhero epics that have, for me, taken a lot of the fun out of the genre. Batman, growled here, as in The Lego Movie, by Will Arnett, is a vain loner, obsessed with his “nine-pack” abs, and opposed to letting anyone help him with, or share the glory of, his exploits. Partly this is ego, but he also can’t bear the idea of personal attachments of any kind—he watches Jerry Maguire and cackles loudly at the line “You complete me.”

He even wounds the feelings of Lego Joker (Zach Galifianakis) by refusing to admit that, as enemies, the two of them share something special. In response the Clown Prince of Lego Crime hatches a magnum opus scheme against Lego Gotham City, involving not only the DC stable of villains but…

Well, I shouldn’t give away too much more. Suffice to say that Lego Robin (Michael Cera), Lego Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), Lego Superman (Channing Tatum) and Lego Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) all get involved in the story, among many other classic characters. The gags are obsessively detailed and fly by at furious speed, yet somehow, maybe because of the geometrical nature of the figures, the action remains more lucid and coherent than it is in many of the movies being sent up here.

Better still, unlike many of the targets of its parody, it clocks in at well under two hours.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

TAPE FEAR

Check out Phoenix Magazine’s blog for my story on the VHS Swap tomorrow evening at FilmBar, followed by a screening of the amusing ‘80s-style horror flick Beyond the Gates...


With The Lego Batman Movie opening tomorrow…

 Monster-of-the-Week: …let’s give the nod to Lego Clayface, seen here towering over the back row…

…among that movie’s villains.