Review – Get Out

In a perfect world, a film such as Get Out wouldn’t need to exist, so it’s deeply satisfying that Jordan Peele’s debut feature is as deliciously satirical as it is sinister.

Horror has long been a cipher for the ills of society, whether it be mindless consumerism (1978’s Dawn Of The Dead), the fear of technology (1982’s Videodrome) or class division (1989’s Society).

Get Out PosterOne of the most celebrated voices in socially conscious horror is the novelist Ira Levin, whose Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives have both received excellent adaptations. The ugly underbelly of polite society that’s so memorably exposed in  Stepford was no doubt an influence for Peele when writing Get Out (Wes Craven’s racially charged The People Under The Stairs (1991) also feels like a touchstone).

Whilst Stepford is primarily about gender, Get Out concerns itself with race, specifically the attitudes of white, upper middle class ‘liberals’ who say one thing but whose actions reveal another. This is no mere polemic, however – its razor-sharp script also isn’t afraid to challenge some of the attitudes held by our protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya).

Get OutPeele has spoken of the seeds for the film being sown in the wake of Barack Obama becoming US President when any optimism over the country finally moving past race as an issue proved sadly naive. The election of his successor has compounded this misconception and lent Get Out the added distinction of arguably being the first film to truly address Trump-era America.

Chris is somewhat uneasy about accompanying his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents. Located in a wealthy rural idyll, Dean and Missy (The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford – nice casting – and Catherine Keener, also excellent) are suffocatingly nice to Chris, who is told they would have “voted for Obama a third time” if they’d had the chance. Alarm bells start ringing when he’s introduced to Walter and Georgina (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel), the couple’s black servants whose ceaseless pleasantries are unsettling to say the least, while Rose’s verbally confrontational brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is equally odd. Needless to say things are not what they seem and soon Chris is wishing he’d heeded the warning of one individual to “get out”.

Get OutIt’s impossible to overstate how refreshing it is to be presented with a film that makes you think as much as it churns the guts. An early encounter between Chris, Rose and a casually racist patrol cop who demands to see his driving licence despite the fact he wasn’t behind the wheel is an indication of what’s to come. Likewise, when Chris informs Dean about hitting a deer on the way to their home, the metaphor is left to hang when Dean expresses satisfaction at the thought of controlling the burgeoning population of these creatures in such ways.

A party involving the seemingly well-meaning, but overtly racist local community is wonderfully excruciating, including one pensioner who tells Chris that his favourite golfer is Tiger Woods.

Get OutEvents unsurprisingly take a more disturbing turn as the film sets out its stall for a final act that can’t sustain the smartly staged intrigue and sociopolitical prowess of its first hour or so, but is nevertheless hugely entertaining in its reliance on gore.

Whilst there is much to praise about Get Out, not everything works. Lil Rey Howery’s over-the-top performance as Chris’ suspicious best friend Rod, although amusing, often feels like it belongs in another movie (a scene involving him being laughed off by a bunch of cops doesn’t work). The plot twists are also a little obvious, although they don’t spoil the film.

Small gripes aside, the hypnotically potent Get Out blends provocative social satire and bloody horror to sublime effect.

On a closing note, I normally embed the trailer for the film I’m reviewing. However, due to the sheer amount of plot detail revealed in the trailer for Get Out, on this occasion I will be leaving it off.

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In Retrospect – The Goonies (1985)

As the cult around one of the ’80s most beloved of flicks has grown, so too have the calls for a belated sequel.

Anybody who watches The Goonies will have their favourite character, but the thought of settling down to catch another adventure with the likes of Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Corey Feldman more than 30 years after their search for “One-Eyed” Willy’s treasure is not an appealing one.

the-goonies-posterThe Goonies was, in writer Chris Columbus’ words “Indiana Jones for kids”, a movie that not only stars youngsters, but is also fundamentally about them – about the scrapes that young friends get into before the complications of adult life get in the way.

The modern wave of teen flicks began in the ’80s as Hollywood reacted to the explosive success of Star Wars by tapping in to the inpatient youth market. Alongside the Brat Pack movement led by the guiding hand of John Hughes, Steven Spielberg was overseeing a revolution in family movie entertainment.

the-gooniesThe term ‘Spielbergian’ was coined to describe a certain type of popcorn-friendly feature and Richard Donner’s The Goonies (1985) perfectly fits the mould. Executive produced (and co-directed according to some) by the bearded one, the film is fantastical, fun and acutely sentimental in equal measure.

The self-labelled Goonies are a gang of social misfits facing the prospect of their last day together as the neighbourhood they live in prepares to make way for a new golf course. Hanging out in Mikey’s (Astin) attic, they stumble across a map pointing them to the fabled “One-Eyed”Willy’s loot. Against the better judgement of Mikey’s older brother Brand (Brolin), the gang go in search of the gold and, along the way, must contend with the pirate’s booby traps as well as an escaped family of criminals, led by the cragged Mama (Anne Ramsey), who learn of the treasure.

The film smartly spends time establishing the close bond of the kids before they embark on their adventure. It’s these early scenes that are strongest as we get a sense that the characters are desperately trying not to think about the seemingly inevitable events on the horizon – most effectively captured in a brief, sad hug between Mikey and Brand.

The GooniesDonner encouraged improvisation on set, which perhaps inevitably led to the excited young actors (some of whom like Astin and Brolin were starring in their first feature) speaking over each other in an effort to get the last line in. Although subsequently defended by a number of the cast, it often leads to scenes becoming cacophonous as dialogue gets drowned out by screams and shouts.

The dialogue itself is very much of its time (the word “shit” would never get uttered as much in a kids film today), while the big speeches don’t land with as much weight as you imagine Donner and Columbus had originally intended.

The subterranean caverns the Goonies must contend with owe more than a passing nod to Indiana Jones, but are beautifully designed and evoke a real sense of danger. Furthermore, “One Eyed”Willy’s pirate ship (built lovingly to scale) remains a sight to behold and the look of gleeful amazement on the actor’s faces as they first set eyes on it is wonderful.

The GooniesLess successful are the interactions between the Goonies and the dastardly Fratelli clan. Their initial encounter in a run down old restaurant (the starting point for the treasure quest) is clumsily handled and the film can’t seem to decide just how threatening to make its family of criminals.

The film’s opening scene has Jake (Robert Davi) escaping prison after convincing a guard he’s hanged himself (something else we probably wouldn’t see in a film of this ilk these days). Another scene later on finds Goonie Chunk (Jeff Cohen) having been captured by the Fratellis and threatened with having his hand mangled by a blender unless he tells them everything. It’s unnerving stuff, lightened by Chunk taking their threat literally by tearfully owning up to every minor infraction he’s ever committed.

James in particular veers between pantomime villain and wicked witch, while Davi and fellow Fratelli Joe Pantoliano enact the sort of bumbling villainy made famous a number of years later in Columbus’ Home Alone.

The GooniesThrown into the mix is the character of Sloth (John Matuszak), the horribly disfigured brother of Davi and Pantoliano’s Fratellis, who is chained away and later befriends Chunk. Largely ignoring the darkly disturbing aspects surrounding such a tragic character who only wants to be loved, the film instead plays Sloth for light-hearted fun, even going so far as to throw in a Superman gag (a nod to Donner’s 1978 big screen take on the Man of Steel).

While a bit ragged around the edges, The Goonies remains a warm-hearted celebration of the power of friendship and the importance of living every last second of childhood.

Review – Avengers: Age Of Ultron

For a film with so much baggage it could clog up a whole fleet of invisible S.H.I.E.L.D jets, this latest instalment in the unstoppable Marvel juggernaut somehow manages to avoid collapsing under the weight of its own cinematic universe.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron may not be the game changer its predecessor was, but Whedon has closed this particular chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about as as well as he could. Now what's next?

Avengers: Age Of Ultron may not be the game changer its predecessor was, but Whedon has closed this particular chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about as as well as he could. Now what’s next?

Guided by any hand other than that of Joss Whedon, Avengers: Age Of Ultron could so easily have turned into another Spider-Man 3 (2007) – overloaded to the point of bewilderment.

Despite having enough characters to fill a whole season of Game Of Thrones and a plot that, when boiled down, follows a very similar thread to its 2012 predecessor (supervillain exposes the underlying tension between our team of superheroes before they assemble stronger-than-ever for the good of humanity), Whedon just about keeps the plates spinning.

Iron Giant: Ultron (James Spader) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Iron Giant: Ultron (James Spader) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Ignoring Jeff Goldblum’s immortal warning from Jurassic World that man shouldn’t be “so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), with the help of Dr Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) creates artificial intelligence to give life to his Ultron project, a global defence force of Iron Men to help thwart threats both terrestrial and extraterrestrial.

No sooner does Ultron (James Spader) spark up then he unleashes a diabolical plan to wipe out the Avengers; a scheme bolstered by the assistance of the super-fast Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the mind-bending Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen); mutants whose grudge against Stark seems well founded.

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) wonder what to do next in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) wonder what to do next in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

With the odds stacked against them, the Avengers – Iron Man, Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Hulk – must come together as never before in order to stop Ultron.

In some ways, Age Of Ultron is actually superior to its monstrously successful forebear. The time given to each character is more democratic, in particular Hawkeye, who virtually becomes the beating heart of the team.

Thor-some: Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Thor-some: Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

We also finally get to see Hulk properly lose it in an epic bust up with Iron Man, while the film’s final extended set piece endeavours to keep the action grounded (a bad pun for anyone who’s seen the movie, sorry) while all hell is being unleashed and – unlike some other superhero flicks – actively gives a damn about the poor civilians caught up in the ensuing chaos.

It is at its strongest when it takes the time to let the characters breathe and interact with other, most amusingly at a party at Avengers HQ (formerly Stark Tower) in which the team kick back and chew the fat alongside some of the franchise’s periphery characters, including Don Cheadle’s War Machine and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. A scene in which Thor challenges his comrades to pick up his hammer is lovely and mirror’s the film’s best exchange late on between the crown prince of Asgard and a character whose origin I won’t spoil.

He's fast, she's weird: Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and sister Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

He’s fast, she’s weird: Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and sister Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

In spite of Spader’s cooly malevolent delivery, Ultron fails to leap off the screen as effectively as Loki managed to in Avengers Assemble. However good the visual effect, a human villain will almost always engage more with the audience and if that bad guy is a maniacally grinning Tom Hiddleston then so much the better.

Whedon has now taken a step back from Avengers duties and it’s not too difficult to see why. In a recent interview he said: “There’s basically 11 main characters in this movie, which is quite frankly too much.” When your writer/director acknowledges there’s simply too much stuff to crowbar into one movie you have to start wondering if he maybe has a point. That he’s kept this stew from boiling over is, frankly, remarkable.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

The torch has now passed from a seemingly relieved Whedon to Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s Anthony and Joe Russo who, before helming the two-part Infinity War will first serve up Cap’s next solo outing Civil War – it’s safe to say there’s a lot of war coming up.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron may not be the game changer its predecessor was, but Whedon has closed this particular chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about as well as he could. Now what’s next?

Review – Fast And Furious 7

It comes to something when the sight of the Furious Gang launching their fleet of souped-up super cars out of a plane is just another crazy day for a franchise that has well and truly gone into overdrive.

Fast and Furious 7 shows there's still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don't think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride

Fast and Furious 7 shows there’s still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don’t think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride

Whether by accident or design, the adventures of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and co have hit upon the perfect formula of cars, cartoon action and complete craziness that has proved to be box office gold dust and all-but guaranteed a further sequel.

While the lurid focus on female flesh would make Michael Bay proud, horror maestro James Wan nevertheless takes the wheel with an assuredness that belies any fan fears that he might fail to step out of the long shadow cast by F&F alumnus Justin Lin.

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) encounter the enigmatic Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) in Fast And Furious 7

Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) encounter the enigmatic Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell) in Fast And Furious 7

Wan’s job was made nigh-on impossible with the tragic death of series stalwart Paul Walker. We’ll probably never know what Fast and Furious 7 would have been had its co-lead survived, but the film we have (rewritten to address his departure from the franchise) is a very fitting send off for an actor who got better with each instalment and provides a genuinely moving final scene that will have anyone invested in the series wiping away a tear.

The spectre of death hangs over the film; from the carnage unleashed by ex-special forces hard case Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) as revenge for what happened to his brother Owen (Luke Evans) in F&F 6, to the quieter moments; most hauntingly when Dom’s crew mourn the loss of one of their ‘family’ and Brian (Walker) responds to Tej’s (Ludacris) plea for there to be no more funerals with the prophetic line: “Just one more…”

Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast And Furious 7

Brian (Paul Walker) and Mia (Jordana Brewster) in Fast And Furious 7

As well as being Walker’s final movie, F&F 7 also takes the franchise in a whole new direction with the introduction of Mr Nobody (Kurt Russell), leader of a typically well-stocked covert ops unit who offers to help put down Shaw in return for Dom, Brian and the others locating an all-powerful computer program called the ‘God’s eye’.

There are teasings of it here (in particular during a covert infiltration of an Abu Dhabi’s prince’s hotel penthouse party), but one can foresee future films following in the footsteps of Mission: Impossible, with Dom’s crew choosing to accept increasingly outlandish assignments from Mr Nobody.

Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) go toe-to-toe in Fast And Furious 7

Hobbs (The Rock) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) go toe-to-toe in Fast And Furious 7

The addition of Statham to a heaving cast of alpha males adds an extra spice to proceedings. Shaw’s motivations make him dangerous and unpredictable, while his Terminator-esque relentlessness and seeming inability to sustain injury means he’s also fun to have around.

The film is bookended by two satisfyingly titanic fist fights involving Statham; the first (and best) against Diplomatic Security service agent Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time); and the second with Dom atop a multi-storey car park being besieged by mad-as-a-lorry mercenary Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).

A typically understated scene from Fast And Furious 7

A typically understated scene from Fast And Furious 7

However, it’s the eye-popping motor madness that’s most fun, what with the aforementioned flying cars sequence (nicely referencing an earlier moment when Brian, having spotted his son throwing a toy car out of the window, says “cars don’t fly!”) and an equally unlikely scene when Dom drives off the side of a mountain and thinks nothing of it.

Even this pales in comparison, though, to the truly outrageous sight of Dom and Brian jumping a sports car from one Abu Dhabi skyscraper to another… before doing it again. Quite how they’ll top that one in F&F 8 is anyone’s guess.

Fast and Furious 7 shows there’s still plenty left in the tank of this gloriously absurd franchise so don’t think, just strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride.

Review – A Most Violent Year

Heating oil may not be the sexiest narrative device for hard-bitten cinema, but J.C. Chandor’s gripping paean to the crime dramas of yesteryear crackles with a slow-burning tension.

An assured step forward in Chandor's so-far unblemished copybook, A Most Violent Year is a timeless and engrossing chapter in America's cinematic crime genre

An assured step forward in Chandor’s so-far unblemished copybook, A Most Violent Year is a timeless and engrossing chapter in America’s cinematic crime genre

While the title suggests otherwise, A Most Violent Year eschews the brutality of Scorsese-aping gangster flicks for a more unconventional and understated drama about an immigrant businessman doing everything in his power to avert bloodshed and avoid being reduced to the level of those who would seek his downfall.

The violent year in question is New York’s annus horribilis of 1981, when 120,000 robberies and more than 2,100 murders were reported. Amidst such chaos, Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) struggles to keep the plates spinning as he runs his up-and-coming heating oil firm, while his impetuous wife Anna (a formidable Jessica Chastain) looks after the books.

Things start to turn really nasty for Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) in A Most Violent Year

Things start to turn really nasty for Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) in A Most Violent Year

The hijacking of the company’s trucks by unknown assailants and an investigation into alleged price-fixing and other dirty tricks by ambitious Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) adds to the pressure on Abel, who enters into a potentially dangerous business deal with a group of Jewish Chassidim that could lead to his becoming a major player in the city.

When trouble visits their door, Abel’s reasonable business-minded approach is called into question by Anna, whose family connections seem to suggest violence is no stranger (“You’re not going to like what’ll happen once I get involved”).

Ms 45: Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain) in A Most Violent Year

Ms 45: Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain) in A Most Violent Year

This reveals itself in a key scene when a deer runs out in front of their car and, before Abel can bring himself to put it out of its misery with a tyre iron, Anna puts three rounds into the poor beast having decided that “she’s going to do something about it”.

In spite of their different outlooks on what needs to be done to survive and thrive, they nevertheless make for a formidable team, with Anna the power behind the throne as she propels her husband to greater heights.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) with attorney Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) in A Most Violent Year

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) with attorney Andrew Walsh (Albert Brooks) in A Most Violent Year

As well as looking like a Godfather-era Al Pacino, Isaac’s softly spoken tones also bring to mind Michael Corleone, while his sharp suits and perfectly tailored camel-hair coat exude an authority in keeping with his measured demeanour.

In spite of his aversion to violence, Abel is not one to be pushed around, though and his ambition is unrelenting, as his attorney Andrew Walsh (a barely recognisable Albert Brooks) discovers when he asks him “why do you want all this so much?”, only to receive a blank stare and the response “I have no idea what you mean”.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) makes his cast against Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) in A Most Violent Year

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) makes his cast against Assistant District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo) in A Most Violent Year

The singular image of oil oozing like blood from an oil tank pierced by a bullet speaks to the fascinating battle Abel faces in A Most Violent Year. When violence erupts, it is sudden and striking, notably during a freeway set piece involving truck driver Julian (Elyes Gabel) that spirals out of control.

Comparisons to Sidney Lumet’s 70s/early 80s work, most notably Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Prince And The City (1981), and the output of Lumet’s torch-bearer James Gray (2000’s The Yards being the best example) are plain to see, but Chandor is no magpie and by making the strongest and most intimidating character in the film a woman subverts the normal expectations of the crime drama.

Scenes are juxtaposed between dimly lit rooms (a nod to The Godfather) and a yellow-tinged New York winter courtesy of Bradford Young’s crisp and moody cinematography, while the lack of a consistent score (an extended car, foot and subway chase is made more dramatic by the dearth of music) is refreshing.

An assured step forward in Chandor’s so-far unblemished copybook, A Most Violent Year is a timeless and engrossing chapter in America’s cinematic crime genre. As Abel would say: “The result is never in question; just what path you take to get there.”