Tag Archives: B+

GET OUT

Producer: Scott McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., and Jordan Peele
Director: Jordan Peele
Writer: Jordan Peele
Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Milton "Lil Rel" Howery, Betty Gabriel, Marcus Henderson and Lakeith Stanfield
Studio: Universal Pictures

B+

Science-fiction and horror have long served as vehicles for social commentary, and Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” is a particularly biting example, as well as one that shows his gift for humor. Funny, creepy and thought-provoking at the same time, it’s a picture that transcends mere genre pigeonholing to become an outstanding blend of different elements.

That doesn’t mean it’s entirely original. One has to wonder whether Peele is a fan of Brian Yuzna’s 1989 “Society” and Wes Craven’s 1991 “The People Under the Stairs,” since there are echoes of both here. To their post-Reagan critique of socio-economic disparity, however, Peele adds a strong dose of racial politics, beginning with an opening prologue, reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin incident: Logan, a young black man (Lakeith Stanfield) who’s searching for an address as he walks through a suburb at night, is abducted by an unseen fellow driving a white sports car. Viewers will encounter both the victim and the car again before long.

Cut to the city, where Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), an up-and-coming photographer, is getting ready for a first meeting with the parents of his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) at their elegant rustic home. There’s a bit of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at work as Chris frets that Rose hasn’t told them that he’s black, but when they arrive—after an unhappy encounter with a deer on the road that reveals some casual racism on the part of the cop called in to investigate—Dean (Bradley Whitford, a neurosurgeon, and Missy (Catherine Keener), a therapist, couldn’t seem more welcoming, at least on the surface. To be sure, their comments reveal that they’re bending over backwards in oversensitivity to the situation, and Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is more abrasive, especially after he has a few at dinner. The unsettling behavior of the Armitages’ black staff—groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel), both of whom seem strangely addled—is also troubling.

Still, apart from Missy’s insistence on hypnotizing Chris to rid him of his addiction to cigarettes, all seems reasonably unthreatening until the next day, when a bevy of the Armitages’ friends arrive for an outdoor party. The affluent, almost completely white crowd seem incapable of talking with Chris without making some horrible gaffe—with the exception of blind art expert Jim Hunter (Stephen Root), who greatly admires his work. But the appearance of a much-changed Logan among the guests begins to reveal what dark secret is lurking beneath the apparently placid surface of the Armitage family estate.

It wouldn’t be fair to disclose what the secret is, or precisely how it centers on Chris. Suffice it to say that “Get Out” morphs gradually from weirdly off-kilter social satire to full-fledged horror in a way that suggests Peele’s appreciation not only of Yuzna’s “Society” but of Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” (which Yuzna produced) as well. The final reels include a good deal of violence and bloodletting while avoiding the over-the-top grossness that afflicts so many genre pictures nowadays, and one has to appreciate the care with which the script ties up the various threads that it has arranged over the course of the plot; this is one puzzle that actually fits together in the end.

Overemphasizing the horror elements of the picture, moreover, would downplay the fact that it also elicits plenty of chuckles and outright laughs. Many, especially in the early going, take aim at the absurdity of weak-kneed liberalism that pretends that ours is a post-racial society; Dean’s attempt to prove his bona fides by emphasizing that he voted for Obama is just the first of such well-meaning blunders. But there are also the periodic scenes stolen by Milton “Lil Rel” Howery as Rod, the best friend who regularly phones Chris to warn him, with a hysteria that comes to be quite reasonable, of the dangers of going to visit a white family. The fact that Rod is a TSA employee with delusions of grandeur—a fact made clear in a scene in which he visits the police to ask for their help in locating his friend—makes him all the more absurd, and amusing.

Peele secures expert performances from his cast, with Kaluuya anchoring the picture by playing Chris as an agreeable, anxious-to-please guy who becomes increasingly aware that he’s in imminent danger, and Williams making the most of a major character turn. Whitford and Keener bring an appropriate measure of not-quite-rightness to her parents, and Root adds a touch of malicious glee to his blind art dealer. Gabriel, Henderson and Stanfield are happily unafraid to go from creepily subdued to broadly over-the-top in the space of seconds, while Jones is suitably vile.

For a modestly-budgeted production—something typical of Blumhouse releases—“Get Out” looks fine, with widescreen cinematography by Toby Oliver that’s surprisingly traditional and slick editing by Gregory Plotkin. Michael Abels’ score, meanwhile, pretty much makes a joke of the “gotcha” moments that are part of the horror canon, like the sudden appearance of the deer and another quick-moving figure in early scenes, to which it adds a goofy shriek.

“Keanu,” Peele’s earlier movie with his erstwhile TV partner Keegan-Michael Key, might not have been a winner, but “Get Out” hits the bull’s-eye dead on.

NERUDA

Producer: Juan de Dios Larrain, Peter DAnner, Renan Artukmac, Alex Zito, Juan Pablo Garcia, Ignacio Rey, Gaston Rothschild and Fernanda del Nido
Director: Pablo Larrain
Writer: Guillermo Calderon
Stars: Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mercedes Moran, Diego Munoz, Pablo Derqui, Michael Silva, Jaime Vadell, Alfredo Castro, Marcelo Alonso, Francisco Reyes, Alejandro Goic and Emilio Gutierrez Caba
Studio: The Orchard

B+

Pablo Larrain’s film on Chilean poet-politician Pablo Neruda is no more a conventional biographical portrait than his recent “Jackie” was of Mrs. John Kennedy. But “Neruda,” while no less cinematically imaginative than the earlier picture, is the more successful of the two. It isn’t that Luis Gnecco makes a more convincing Neruda than Natalie Portman did a Jackie Kennedy; both are, in fact, very fine. It’s that Larrain and writer Guillermo Calderon have found a way to fashion a portrait of Neruda that, while highly speculative and inventive, reflects its subject and his work stylistically in a way the “Jackie” struggled to achieve but failed to accomplish.

The script by Guillermo Calderon focuses exclusively on the late forties, when Neruda was already a national icon for his popular poetry. He was also, however, an important figure in the Chilean Communist Party and a member of the Chilean Senate. Then-president Gabriel Gonzalez Videla (played by Alfredo Castro), of the Radical Party, had been elected with Communist support, but in 1948 he expelled Communist ministers from his cabinet and then banned communists entirely, forcing the party leadership—including Neruda—into hiding, and ultimately convincing many of them to flee the country.

It’s this episode in Neruda’s life that’s the subject of Larrain’s film, and a substantial portion of the running-time is devoted to the poet-politician’s peregrinations to various supposed safe houses, accompanied by his wife Delia (Mercedes Moran, a magisterial presence) until he must finally leave her behind to cross the Andes on horseback to Argentina. But the journey is hardly presented in typical heroic mode. Neruda is depicted as a vain man conscious of his own legendary status as he haggles with party functionaries and interacts histrionically with rank-and-file communists, who on occasion suggest that his exalted position distances him from their problems and concerns although—as a remarkable scene involving the testimony of a drag queen who has had a brief meeting with the poet proves—he can nonetheless be enormously inspiring to them. There’s also no doubt about his large appetites, not only for recognition but for food and female companionship.

Neruda, however, is but one of the two main figures in the tale that Larrain and Calderon have concocted. The other is Oscar Peluchonneau (dapper Gael Garcia Bernal, exuding unflappability), the fictional police inspector appointed by Videla to track the fugitive down. On the one hand, Oscar is presented as a typically dogged noir gumshoe, but he’s also a combination of self-conscious elegance (especially in terms of his fastidiousness in dress) and desperate striving (he describes himself as the son of a famously successful detective, but by a prostitute). Oscar narrates the picture, constantly offering biting remarks about his quarry and his comrades but at the same time proving singularly inept at his job despite an air of smug certitude.

As the gentlemanly chase continues, moreover, Peluchonneau becomes a literary device of a different order: he expresses the fear that he might be no more than a creation of Neruda himself, destined to play the role of a subordinate figure in the poet’s story, and by the time that the two finally meet in the snow-covered mountains—a rendezvous that Neruda will look back upon afterward with the Olympian gaze of the creative artist—the film playfully suggests that’s exactly what we’re been witnessing. A supposed biography has become a flamboyant portrait of a man who constructed his own mythic persona, told with the same sort of artifice that he employed in doing so.

That’s reflected in the sumptuous look of “Neruda,” in which the gauzily lush widescreen cinematography of Sergio Armstrong captures every detail in Estefania Larrain’s production design, Mario Ricci’s art direction and Muriel Parra’s costumes. Federico Jusid complements the eye-catching visuals with a score that incorporates classical themes, particularly a motif from Grieg’s music for Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”—not accidentally another travel tale that blends realism and fantasy in a mixture some found disconcerting in its day.

Though anyone who goes to “Neruda” expecting a full biographical dramatization will certainly be disappointed, the more adventurous will find it an engrossing blend of poet and filmmaker, of history and art, done up in florid period style.