Skizzerflake's Movie Ramblings - Reviews of the Stuff I See

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Get Out - Horror in the Pine Tree South

Get Out is a horror movie of sorts, in particular a racial horror movie. It was written and directed by Jordan Peele and is his directorial debut. It stars Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams, also featuring Catherine Keener (Missy Armitage), Bradley Whitford (Dean Armitage) and Stephen Root. The film starts out reminding me of that 1960ís Sidney Poitier vehicle, Guess Whoís Coming to Dinner, except that it goes way past an uncomfortable meeting of generations theme (complicated by race), right into something much worse.

Get Out starts when white Rose Armitage is bringing her black boyfriend, Chris Washington, to her parents house for dinner and a weekend visit. Chris and Rose live in New York, her parents live somewhere rural, way down south in the pine tree zone, in a large plantation-like house. In spite of some of the usual foreshadowings that happen in horror movies, in this case a deer/car accident, made more ominous by the stereotypic racist cop, they manage to arrive at Roseís parentsí house and find themselves being made surprisingly welcome. Roseís parents seem completely at ease with her choice of a boyfriend and go out their way to make him feel comfortable. Rose and Chris are surprised to find that Roseís parents are expecting company for dinner, a large group of similar white, older, affluent, preppy-looking southerners who also surprise the audience by being completely at ease, in spite of the obvious cultural gap. The guests seem to have an odd, special interest in Chris. Roseís parents also have a son, Jeremy, an odd, threatening person, the sort of guy the audience immediately recognizes as the family member who probably belongs to the Klan. Heís superficially polite, but we know heís up to no good, that heís some sort of psychopath. Whatís additionally ominous, is that Roseís parents have two African American servants, played by Marcus Henderson (the groundskeeper - ďWalterĒ) and Betty Gabriel (the maid - ďGeorgianaĒ), both of whom are treated well in that ďOle SouthĒ sort way and seem mentally vacant.

As the night progresses, things get weirder. Roseís mother Missy is a psychologist who uses hypnosis. She wants to hypnotize Chris. Chris speculates that she wants to make him into a sex slave but she claims to be able to do away with his phobias. Rose agrees that they should probably leave. This is when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan. Chrisís friend back in New York finds strange things about the family on the web. The only other black guest at the party is in some sort of strange, zombie-like state. Chris gets really scared. Iíll not go any further on the plot, because you probably already have figured out that Roseís family is up to NO GOOD.

When I saw Get Out, I havenít heard much about it, but noticed that, at that moment, it was sitting at 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. That made me curious. I enjoyed the movie, but I also think that 100 is way too high. Iím not sure how that happened, especially given the usual lower marks that horror movies get. The basic plot idea, the black buy with the white girlfriend, in the rural south seemed like an obvious setup, playing on the audienceís expectation of the too-good-to-be-true older white southerners. The turn to horror is not what the audience probably expects but has a bizarre twist thatís much stranger than conventional racism and fits much better into the horror movie setup. Iíve seen comments that the movie is revealing some sort of truth about these racially charged family situations in American life, but really, itís not. It can be bad, but itís not like this. The obvious exaggeration risks moving over to comedy but itís a long way from social commentary. Fortunately, however, the movie plays it off well, adding some deliberate humor to dilute the silliest aspect of the horror setup.

All aspects of the production and performances in the movie are way above the usual expectations of horror movie running and screaming. Chris and Rose come off as real people and Chrisís increasing danger engages the audience. The plot line might be over the top, but acting and direction keep it from ruining the movie. I enjoyed Get Out, as did the enthusiastic audience. You wanted to tell Chris to, as the title suggests, GET OUT!!, as soon as they see the parentís house, but you know that it wonít be easy. Get Out is full of conventional horror movie devices, mostly carried off well. As a plot element, race is a factor, but not a contrived one at all and not a cheap exploitation. Iím as white as Roseís family (though not malevolent), but I identified with Chris, and wanted him to get the heck out.Örun and donít stop ítil youíre out of the state. That made the movie work well for me. I donít think itís a great movie by any means (not a ď100Ē), but I did think it was much better than these sort of teen-night-out horror flicks usually are. It's enjoyable with a sympathetic character in a horrific situation and doesn't resort to an excessive amount of obvious horror movie devices.






Kong: Skull Island - The latest chapter in a long tradition

So how many times is it that weíve seen the big ape? King Kong, the big gorilla from the mysterious island was probably the first monster in movie history to be a star and have a movie named after him in 1933. He and screaming Fay Wray were accompanied by lots of publicity, warnings to the audience, and an ambulance in attendance outside the theater (if you were in a famous venue). Kong became part of movie mythology and has been resurrected numerous times, often accompanied by other monsters, epic battles and a history of screaming actresses. Most recently, in 2005 Peter Jackson reanimated the hairy beast, with Naomi Watts doing screaming duty.

This time around, itís Jordan Vogt-Robers doing the direction with Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Sam Jackson (Preston Packard), Brie Larson (not screaming that much as Mason Weaver), John Goodman (Bill Randa) and John C Reilly (Frank Marlow) in the lead roles, accompanied by a bunch of disposable soldiers, adventurers and strange natives. A mysterious island has been discovered, obscured by a perpetual hurricane. It must have some sort of strategic value, because the US wants to be sure that the USSR doesnít get it. After all, itís 1973 and if the Russians are interested, then so are we, but we want it first. A bunch of Viet Nam era Hueys is dispatched with soldiers and corrupt civilians to see whatís there. Thereís some sort of Hollow Earth theory circulating among the crew that monsters can escape from the inside of the planet. The movie doesnít waste a minute on niceties.

The first thing the team does is to drop a bunch of bombs on the island, thoroughly pissing off the dominant inhabitant, our favorite giant gorilla, who proceeds to make junk and mincemeat out of the copters and much of the team. The survivors are split into two groups, trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to escape with their lives. This is, of course, Kong Island, so we know that there are a lot of different monsters and Kong just might be the most reasonable of all of them. As you probably expect, encounters with mysterious natives, giant spiders and ďskull crawlersĒ makes for a lot of noise, fighting, screaming, running and flying palm trees. The crew includes regular military guys, in full Viet Nam regalia, led by macho guy Preston Packard (Jackson), a Huey commander who doesnít leave a soldier behind. The civilian leader is James Conrad (Hiddleston), a creepy CIA guy of some sort, also accompanied by Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the lone ďpacifistĒ in the group. She does not want to go in shooting. Along the way, they find Frank Marlow, an American who has been stranded on the island for a long time, half crazy and gone native. As veterans of many Kong movies, what we already know, is that Kong is just trying to protect his island, and is the least scary of the creatures. This becomes apparent to the crew.

So, how does this one rank among the many, many movies in which King Kong has appeared? Iím sure I have not seen all of them, but Iíve seen many, and one of my early childhood traumas was seeing the 1933 version of the story on TV, the one that made me mess my diaper, so itís a long history for me. Fortunately, as amped up as the FX were, this was pretty good. The movie really doesnít waste much time on overblown exposition, since they know what we really came to see. Itís heavy on action, light on confabulated explanations for how this island came to be. Kong is also a decent mashup. Aside from the early stop-motion black and white movies, it draws elements from the various remakes and the Japanese monster movies in which Kong was a character. It also draws heavily on Viet Nam era lore, having elements that look like outtakes from Apocalypse Now, especially Reillyís Marlow character, whoís gone off the deep end, but becomes a likable character. It has a great early 70ís soundtrack. Almost everything in the movie is rendered digitally, and considering the content, itís pretty good. The plot line works and acting is as good as it needs to be, considering that most of it is running and screaming. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed itÖ.fast moving, economical and having a good climax and ending. Be sure to NOT leave it before the credits are done. There seems to be a plan afoot for something to follow, and you donít want to walk out without knowing what it is. I canít finish without the naturalist in me remarking that the entire franchise, back to 1933, has given real Gorillas an undeserved reputation. This does a little but to fix that since Kong is only protecting his domain. Itís a fun movie, with lots of suspense and action, a good addition to a tradition thatís 84 years old now. I did not see it in 3D, but, technically, all of the action and animation was well done, settings and costumes are good and Kong is as scary as the one that traumatized me as a kid.