Tag Archives: jordan peele

The Worst and, more importantly, THE BEST of 2017, so far

So, as I am the grand arbiter of all things film, I’m officially calling the summer movie season at its close. Alas Logan Lucky, The Glass Castle, or Annabelle: Creation, you’re all part of the fall movie season. However will you survive?

And at the close of summer movie season, we’re essentially halfway through the movie year. I know we’re more than halfway through the calendar year, but trust me, that back half is always as packed as it gets. There’ll end up being things that are Oscar nominees that aren’t even on our radar right now. The worst movie of the year is likely still yet to come (though it’s hard to imagine right now).

But since I’m a fiend for lists, let’s make one, shall we? Let’s give a few check-ins and see where we are, starting with the worst (because it gets the attention) before taking a full celebration of the best.

Bottom 5 Films of 2017 So Far

5) The Dark Tower

Idris Elba

Ahh, The Dark Tower. The best franchise that will never quite be. Based on Stephen King’s series of epic fantasy western Lovecraftian meta-novels, some much smarter studio could have had a new Game of Thrones on its hands. Alas, it was in the hands of Sony and they instead produced a fall flat on its face. A mess of bad studio production, The Dark Tower wastes its actors, murders its pacing, and takes all the material and tosses it out the window for a mid-90s adaptation premise. Any film that features Matthew McConaughey saying “I see you’re still impervious to my magicks” with a straight face has an uphill battle. The Dark Tower doesn’t win it.

4) The Circle

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A bland mess of technophobia, I really just feel bad for the people involved here. The Circle is Black Mirror without the brains or heart, an aesthetic rip-off by a huge number of people who should be able to make some better stamp. Staring a pitch-perfect satire of late capitalism in the face, The Circle is content to shake its fist at social media and ultimately end up going nowhere.

3) Transformers: The Last Knight

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Look, who the living fuck expects anything out of this franchise at this point? The best Transformers has ever been able to aspire to is Bay’s weird hypercompetencies managing to shine through the material. But when they don’t, it’s the same thing that happens every goddamned time: A mess of story with awful design with a runtime that lasts for aeons.

2) Ghost in the Shell

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A pile-up of decisions so bad that you’re more baffled that it ever happened than mad that someone chose to do it. That all said, this is a film that was never going to be great and still manages to enrage far above its station. A messy script, terrible direction, and boring setpieces would sink any movie, but a movie that white-washes like this one does deserves all the ire that can be thrown. When your material is so fertile with intellect, you can’t be this fucking stupid in putting it together.

1) The Book of Henry

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Colin Trevorrow is a rare sort of filmmaker, one who in a past era would have perhaps been run out of town after town after the people found out his snake oil elixirs just weren’t working. The Book of Henry is his raw nerve put on screen. Excessively manipulative, baffling in every plot point put on screen, and a masterpiece of inhuman behavior, seemingly put together by a man who’s never met a human but is fairly certain he knows how they work. Fuck this movie.

An Appreciation of Legion’s Existence and Why Jordan Peele Should Direct a Blockbuster

There’s not any real connection between these things, but it’s Thursday March 30th, both of these things are on my mind and I don’t quite want to make a full article out of both. So, without further adieu.

An Appreciation of Legion’s Existence

Wednesday night brought the season finale of Legion, the first live-action television show from the X-Men universe (that actually happened, unlike Generation X). Noah Hawley’s always off-kilter, never quite fully graspable drama garnered tons of critical love and just as much critical antipathy. In other words, Legion has people talking and arguing and giving shots cross the bow.

I come down on the side of critical love, in case anyone was wondering (You weren’t, I’m relentlessly positive). Legion is like nothing else on TV, a show that’s visually daring and as bold as narrative television gets. It’s relentlessly fun with some of the most bonkers action sequences I’ve ever seen on TV (a late-season fight plays out as a silent movie, complete with intertitles). It’s got a group of great actors all full of charisma, anchored by now-crowned leading man Dan Stevens and the show’s bedrock Rachel Keller. That group is then taken into the stratosphere by Aubrey Plaza, who legitimately deserves every award possible for her work on this show and for defying every image had of her. Plus, its first season actually managed to have its mysteries and then turn them into a satisfying narrative that it actually resolved.

But this isn’t just so much me elucidating the successes of Legion, there’s plenty of people who attack it in a more interesting way than I ever could. More, I want to simply step back and appreciate how insane it is that a show like this exists and appreciate what it’s managed to contribute.

Let’s be clear what Legion is. It’s a show that essentially allowed itself to exist outside of narrative reality for the overwhelming part of the season. It’s a show that compressed time down to the point where 3 episodes of the show took places over maybe half a second. It’s a show that was absolutely willing to go in its own direction and didn’t particularly feel the need to catch you up until it felt it was the right time.

In other words, it’s a show that pushed its medium, that felt as thought it was actively trying to carve its own path. You have to appreciate a show that took a property and made its own name and its own bones with it.

You also have to appreciate a show that almost single-handedly revived the cultural significance of the X-Men. The X-Men have been the red-headed stepchild in our brave new superhero-filled world, but between Legion and Logan, the two have made X-Men something exciting again because each leans into the inherent oddity and tone differences of the properties.

So yeah, Legion exists. That’s awesome.

Why Jordan Peele Should Direct a Blockbuster

For those of you who haven’t heard, Warner Brothers seems to be courting Jordan Peele, Hollywood’s hottest commodity after directing the smash-hit Get Outto direct one of its upcoming genre properties, either anime remake Akira or surprising DC Comics hot potato The Flash. 

The question here isn’t so much his suitability for either of those. Get Out showed a steady directorial hand and knowledge of genre tropes (a knowledge that’s been infused to all his work so far) that pretty much makes him capable of anything and makes me excited to see him direct either.

I will say that Akira would be more interesting. It’s a specifically Japanese story and I’m not thrilled about an American version, but courting Peele seems to point towards the one workable version of this thing. Akira spoke to a specific youth disaffection with Japanese society and the feeling that it exploited and abandoned them, a lost generation.

I sort of feel like, just maybe, that’s a story a Black male director could tell about the African-American youth experience. Set it in future Atlanta, cast a group of great young Black actors, have an artist as smart about race as Jordan Peele with a budget? Might be absolutely worth the years that people have been trying to get this potential shit off the ground.

Like I said, if there’s any way we’re going to tell an American story of this, Jordan Peele could be the one to pull it off. But that’s not what we’re talking about.

Rather, we’re talking the general resistance I see to Peele doing a big-budget studio project at all, working with comic book/adapted property. There seems to be a general resistance to the idea of him not sticking with his planned “social horror” project and to the idea of him “giving into the machine.”

Look, I’m not necessarily thrilled that we won’t get more Get Out-style movies right away. We should absolutely have a hundred like it, all from Peele’s hand. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing that Peele takes a swing at big-budget directing.

First off, he absolutely has the talent for it. Get Out is a lot of things, but its most exciting story is the announcement of Peele as an amazing director. Only the most horrifying micromanaged studio project suffocate the talents of the best directors, see Alien 3. But given that the success of Get Out gives Peele more negotiation room than Fincher on Alien 3, and given that it’s Warner Brothers, I don’t think that should be the concern here.

The other is that taking company man swings like this are necessary. Doing the studio film is how you get big budgets for original movies and dream projects. Christopher Nolan doesn’t do The Prestige without Batman Begins or Inception without The Dark Knight. Guillermo del Toro makes Hellboy because of Blade 2. David Lynch makes Dune and talks Return of the Jedi for the hopes of making the smaller pictures that have made his name. Hell, Ava DuVernay is filming Wrinkle in Time right now.

This isn’t to say there aren’t legitimate reasons Peele might want to make Akira or The Flash. But I’m also saying that being willing to work on these big pictures with less personal attachment is what’s going to launch him into the stratosphere he deserves to be in, what makes him the money and gives him the trust to make things that are truly daring and expensive. And a good relationship with Warner Brothers is not a bad way to do that, their business model is giving people a fuckload of money to do whatever.

Peele is undoubtedly one of the next great directors, to the point where I wonder if it will be trivia that he was once a great sketch comedian. He can and should take some time to earn studio capital and has the talent to make something great while he does it.

Get Out Should Be Seen With An Audience

On its own merits, Get Out is one of the boldest and most exciting moviegoing experiences of this year. To call Jordan Peele’s (of Key & Peele fame) directorial debut confident would be a great understatement. Get Out is uniquely sure of its abilities, so uniquely able to carve out its space between cringe comedy and creeping horror that it would be worth the watch on that alone.

But Get Out already rests in a special place in my heart because I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever had quite so much fun in a movie theater. There are movies that I’ve enjoyed more, that I’ve been more thrilled at, sure. But I don’t think I’ve ever quite felt moviegoing as a collective experience so much as taking in Get Out with an Atlanta audience.

Peele’s debut tells the tale of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a photographer going to meet the parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). He’s nervous as Rose hasn’t told her parents that he is a black man. Rose assures that he has nothing to fear from her rich and liberal family. After all, her dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) “would have voted for Obama a third time if he could.”

His nerves are not assuaged by the trip. An early car accident with a deer (that leads to a brief run-in with the police) sets the tone as Chris arrives at the isolated Armitage home, meeting hypnotherapist mother Missy (Catherine Keener) and her off-kilter brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones). The tension of the whole situation begins to ratchet up, especially with the Armitages’ housekeepers Walter (Marcus Henderson) and Georgina (Betty Gabriel) acting particularly strangely.

To say anymore than that would be telling. Trust me, you won’t want me to tell.

Suffice to say, Get Out gets weird and trippy and terrifying in ways you won’t expect. Peele manages to deftly manage tone here, having you laugh your ass off in one scene and clawing your seat in dread in the next.

A lot of that is thanks to Peele’s cast. Kaluuya is an incredibly compelling leading man, that same mixture of vulnerability and steely resolve that made him so fantastic in his role on Black Mirror. The Armitage family could not be more dead-on for their roles, with Bradley Whitford managing to make dad jokes feel threatening,  Allison Williams trading on her Girls past and Catherine Keener acting as the most terrifying presence in the whole movie.

Excepting perhaps Betty Gabriel, playing housekeeper Georgina, who manages to exude more menace with one repetition of the word “no” than some actors do with whole scenes and monologues. Peele’s direction helps at every step, but Gabriel manages to put the whole film on edge from the first time she shows up.

On the comedy side though, the whole film is dominated by Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ friend TSA officer/”only sane man” Rod. It is almost impossible to understate how much Howery steals the show, his pitch-perfect delivery on every line eliciting continuous raucous laughter. The biggest laugh is almost a throw-away aside, he’s just that good at his delivery.

That cast is all at service of Peele’s sharp racial observation married to a deft filmmaking hand and a deep knowledge of the tropes of his genre. It’s cliche at this point (especially from me) to say “just like his work on Key & Peele.” But it really does hold true.

Around its Sundance premiere, Peele alluded that the film was more a horror of liberal racism, that never-ending parade of microaggressions brought by a mix of good intentions and ignorance. It’s rare that a horror film makes you want to crawl under your seat and hide before the horror even begins, but that’s just what Get Out does.

A montage at a party of the Armitages’ wealthy friends reveals Get Out‘s intentions. Wealthy white people, all with the best of intentions they assure you, treat Chris like an object. A physical specimen, a symbol of new-cool, a unique urban eye. It wears on you like it wears on Chris to endure this. Even his loving girlfriend seems to look completely past what Chris is going through, unsure why everything is so different this time, getting it just a little too late to fix it.

It’s that constant and wearing dehumanization that informs the more openly horrific second half, and Peele’s script here not only captures those rhythms perfectly, but also manages to use every inch of Chris’ initial introduction into this world to set up the second. Get Out is one of the tightest scripts in some time, almost demanding a second viewing so that the dense detail and call-back can be picked apart.

And what this all comes down to is that Get Out is intensely aware of its audience. There’s a certain victory in seeing a black man overcoming that dehumanization, in seeing through the exploitation and coming out on the other end. It knows how rare seeing that victory can be for its audience, and it leans wholeheartedly into. It also lets its audience have fun and laughs and scares along the way. Get Out is fucking awesome, there’s no smaller way to put that.

Grade: A

My Totally Unasked For Suggestion on Replacing an SNL Cast Member

Last night, it was confirmed that Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah, both modern SNL mainstays, would be leaving the show for “other opportunities.”

After the fact, it was confirmed that Killam’s contract wasn’t picked up for the next season. In an interview with Uproxx, he stated that it appears to be because work on his directorial debut, Why We’re Killing Gunther starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, would be cutting into the SNL season and that meant they would not be keeping him around. In my mind, that’s a pretty solid reason and I think a well-earned bigger and better thing. Hopefully Beck Bennett will quickly be able to pick up Killam’s “Generic White Dude” slack, though SNL has certainly never been poor on that type.

The more confusing loss is that of Jay Pharoah. No statement has been made and I’m certainly not about to speculate. In fact, I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised had he left soon enough, he’s been there for a while, but I wouldn’t have expected now. We still have 5 months left of President Obama, at least half a season, and Pharoah was the sitting SNL Presidential Impersonator.

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