A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Allison Williams, Daniel Kaluuya, and Betty Gabriel in Get Out
Chris Washington: Daniel Kaluuya
Rose Armitage: Allison Williams
Missy Armitage: Catherine Keener
Dean Armitage: Bradley Whitford
Jeremy Armitage: Caleb Landry Jones
Walter: Marcus Henderson
Georgina: Betty Gabriel
Andre Logan King: Lakeith Stanfield
Jim Hudson: Stephen Root
Rod Williams: LilRel Howery

Director: Jordan Peele
Screenplay: Jordan Peele
Cinematography: Toby Oliver
Production design: Rusty Smith
Film editing: Gregory Plotkin
Music: Michael Abels

Jordan Peele's witty, scary Get Out seems to have hit just the right nerve in Trumpian America. It's not only a strong contender for Oscar nominations for picture, director, screenwriter and actor, it's also one of the sharpest films about race in the United States in years. That's because, I think, it's a genre film: a horror comedy. It's not so hard to make a statement about race in a drama like last year's Oscar-winner Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016) or an earlier best picture winner like 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013), which white audiences could watch and feel satisfied that they've learned a lesson. But the essence of comedy, especially one that blends horror into the mix, is to make audiences feel uncomfortable: We laugh almost in spite of ourselves because we see people doing things that we recognize and feel embarrassed about in our own lives. I sometimes think the words "racism" and "racial prejudice" are inadequate depictions of what really afflicts most Americans today, which is race-consciousness: the constant awareness of racial difference that we carry around with us. It works both ways, as Peele demonstrates in the opening of his film. Chris Washington is as aware of the cultural differences between him and his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage, as she is. They're about to visit her family in the deep affluent suburbs, and she jokes about how race-consciousness will manifest itself during their visit: Her father will try to establish his liberal, non-racist bona fides by telling Chris that he would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could have. And we laugh when, sure enough, he does. (Having Rose's father played by Bradley Whitford, star of that liberal feel-good series The West Wing, adds a touch of irony.) If Peele had stayed on this note, Get Out would have been just an amusing social comedy, but he introduces real tension with his opening scene, which shows a then-unidentified black man walking down a suburban street at night, muttering to himself about how disoriented he is. Suddenly a car appears, passes him, then makes a U-turn and begins following him. The man panics, and before we know it, the car stops and a man gets out and attacks him and shoves him into the trunk of the car. Then we're introduced to Chris and Rose while retaining the awareness that their relationship is shadowed: Get Out is not going to be an update of Stanley Kramer's 50-year-old Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Eventually, as tension builds and comedy shades into horror with sci-fi touches, Get Out moves from race-consciousness comedy into an actual statement about racism, in which black people are valued for the services they can provide for white people. As a director, Peele has Hitchcockian gifts, though he sometimes misses: There's no need for an orchestral sting in the scene in which Chris is walking through the Armitage house at night and a figure passes behind him -- it should have remained almost a subliminal moment for the viewer, leaving a "did I see that?" impression. But the real strength of the film is in its screenplay and its performances. Daniel Kaluuya is near-perfect as Chris, at first preternaturally calm and self-possessed even in the awkwardness of meeting his girlfriend's parents, then showing his gradual uneasiness with the anomalies that manifest themselves. The ending of the film was reportedly, and smartly, changed: Chris was to be arrested after the violence that takes place. But in the context of the wave of headlines about police mistreatment of black suspects Peele felt that ending was heavy-handed and substituted a "happy ending" that still feels unsettling: What will happen to Chris when the cataclysm at the Armitage house is discovered and investigated? Peele has said he has ideas for a sequel, but I hope he doesn't make it. 

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