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Get Out – Review

13 Mar

When Key & Peele first aired on Comedy Central, I didn’t think the show was going to go anywhere, but then I watched it and realized that the two stars had an incredible talent when it came to comedy and satire. I loved their movie, Keanu, and when I saw Jordan Peele was writing and directing a horror film based on racism I was immediately on board. I knew that it would be a blend of horror and sharp satire, and at times probably even be funny, and that’s exactly what I got. Get Out is a really smart, eerie, and subversive film that has many different ideas and perspectives while also telling a creepy, and sometimes even gleefully campy, horror story.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) are at the point in their relationship where it’s time for Chris to finally meet her parents. Normally, this would be a passably awkward experience, but Rose’s parents have no idea that Chris is black. Despite Rose telling Chris that her parents, while being typically eccentric, are nothing to really worry about. Upon their arrival to their suburban home, Chris is whole heartedly greeted by Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) Armitage. Over time, Chris starts to notice strange remarks concerning both him and the Armitage’s black housekeepers. Things only get stranger when Missy hypnotizes Chris during a late night conversation, a session which ignites a furious paranoia in Chris that causes him to investigate what is really going on in that house and the real horrors that lie beneath the surface.

There’s so much to say about Get Out that I don’t really know where to begin. When this movie was first previewed, there was a lot of backlash for it showing this overt racism directed at one particular race to another. The thing is that this movie is not as clean cut as that. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface that trailers can’t convey, and I’d be pretty upset if they did because the way this movie unfolds is riveting. While Peele does explore the overt racism towards African Americans, it doesn’t really stop there. The story also delves into the realm of paranoia and preconceived notions of both races that arise because of these problems. It also goes in a pretty cool direction where certain actions from people, while they claim they may be trying to help, are only making certain situations worse or changing nothing at all and coming off as condescending. While not giving anything away, the last third of the movie goes absolutely haywire and only makes things more complicated with certain unexpected twists that come out of nowhere… Twists that just so happen to be awesome.

While this is definitely a horror movie through and through, there’s a couple really cool things that kind of help Get Out step outside of the box and escape genre conventions. For one thing, this film can be super funny. Like gut busting funny, and a lot of that comes from the hilarious performance by Lil Rey Howery, who plays Chris’ best friend. We all knew that Jordan Peele was a really funny guy, but it’s impressive that he can so seamlessly weave his off the wall sense of humor into a genuinely unnerving horror tale. I mentioned that the third act just introduces a whole new layer in terms of thematic material, but it also really shakes things up when it comes to style and genre conventions. I’m not going to say anything about what happens, but any B-movie fan will appreciate the story taking a sudden turn into that kind of territory.

What would have been a major problem for this movie was if it was too obvious. If Peele whacked you over the head with the messages and points he was really driving at, the movie would feel too preachy. While there are a few moments that do feel a tad bit heavy handed, they are completely out shined by the subversive nature of the rest of the film. This is mostly due to Jordan Peele’s fantastic screenplay and direction, but credit also has to go to the actors. I had no idea who Daniel Kaluuya was before seeing this movie, but he was outstanding. He gives a very natural and level headed performance that can be both shocking and funny. The other stand outs are Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener as the older Armitages, who just seem to radiate the kind of eerieness this movie needs. I already mentioned Lil Rey Howery, but I just have to reiterate how funny this guy is and how essential he is to the entire movie.

I’ve been saying recently that we are living in a renaissance of horror, and Get Out only proves that point even more. This is a brilliant and wonderfully subversive film that gets under your skin while also succeeding at making you laugh. It has some really great thematic depth to it that will make any audience member with half a brain think about the characters and motivations, which is a great first step to making a great film. Add on some memorable scenes and a lead character that you can’t help but love and you have a winner on your hands. Get Out is a superb film that will challenge your mind as much as entertain you.

Final Grade: A-

Synecdoche, New York – Review

1 Apr

Here’s a movie that the late, great Roger Ebert called the best film of the decade back when it was released in 2008. This is Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Before this film, Kaufman established himself as one of the greatest modern day story tellers with his screenplays of Being John MalkovichAdaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. He’s a writer like no other, and the puzzles that his movies present are proof. That being said, Synecdoche, New York comes off as his most personal and most challenging work yet.

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Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a theater director working in New York City. His most recent play is a success, but life at home couldn’t be worse. First, Cotard begins to suspect that he’s suffering from a degenerative disorder that’s practically shutting his body down. To make matters worse, his wife Adele (Catherine Keener) takes their daughter to Berlin for an art show, but never return. To cope with this, Cotard begins working on a personal and extremely realistic piece of theater by constructing a replica of New York City inside a giant warehouse with thousands of actors playing real life people acting out situations that have happened in day to day life. As the line of Cotard’s fiction and Cotard’s reality begin to become one, he begins to lose all track of time and control on his other relationships with multiple women in his theater group.

Anyone who is familiar with Charlie Kaufman’s work knows that he is not afraid to put our minds through a cinematic blender. Eternal Sunshine and Being John Malkovich subscribed to a set of rules that seem only to exist in Kaufman’s mind. Things don’t have to make sense or follow any linear design as long as his story is there and he gets across what he’s trying to say, even though you may not get everything the first time through. You can’t really say that with most directors, but Kaufman makes it work. Unlike the other movies I’ve mentioned, the story in Synecdoche, New York completely goes off the rails leaving time and space to be a minor footnote to a work that’s much more important.

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Aside from being mind boggling in story, Synecdoche, New York also succeeded at boggling my emotions. This is one hell of a heavy movies despite how completely off the walls it is. There’s so much stuff to find hilarious in this movie, for example doctors who do their best to give their patients as little insight as possible, a psychiatrist who doesn’t seem to be even listening, and a character who buys and lives in a house that’s perpetually on fire. However, and this is a huge however, once the movie starts getting into its later scenes and I began to realize more and more the message of the movie, I found myself getting hopelessly sad in a way that a movie hasn’t done to me in a while. So, yes, the movie is really funny in many scenes, but it’s overall quite upsetting, but upon closer inspection it may give you a surge of great joy.

With the huge emotional response and the fact that this world Kaufman has made exists outside the realm of conventional rules, it’s safe to say that watching this movie just once is a bad idea. Going back and thinking about this movie more has made me realize all of the little clues, themes, and symbols that I completely failed to notice the first time through. It’ll almost be like watching the movie for the first time all over again now that I know how much it really plays with your mind. The only complaint I can possibly have about this movie is that it seemed to go on and on. For a movie as strange as this with all of its complicated storytelling, it is a little bit long and I felt it necessary to take a little break in the middle.

Going back to what Roger Ebert said about Synecdoche, New York being the best movie of the decade, I wouldn’t go that far in my opinion. It is still a truly remarkable movie that feels very personal to Kaufman, but also works great as a movie that exists to figure out the meaning of the story and piece together all the clues that seem to be subliminally sneaked into the movie. Still, this movie is not for everyone. It’s so complex and difficult that the casual movie watcher may not be interested. For the nice audience that it is directed too, however, this is a fascinating and original film that fits perfectly into Charlie Kaufman’s filmography and succeeds especially as his debut film.

Being John Malkovich – Review

16 Oct

There are some movies where I think to myself, “How did this even get made?” 9 times out of 10 that means that I’m watching a piece of shit movie that seems like little to no talent or effort went into it at all. Now, it’s true that I had the “how did this get made” though while I was watching Being John Malkovich, but it was the rare 1 out of 10 chance where I had this thought even as I was watching an incredible movie that was full of talent, effort, and one of the most original screenplays I have ever seen. Still, with a story as surreal and other worldly as this, the movie has a lot to say and it really is some of the most fun I ever had watching a film.

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Craig Schwartz (John Cusack) is a struggling puppeteer who has recently gotten a job on the 7 1/2 floor of an office building as a file clerk. The office has incredibly low ceilings and the only was to get there is by prying the elevator doors open when it is in between the seventh and eighth floors, but that isn’t the strangest part about it. Hidden behind a filing cabinet is a portal that leads Schwartz, and anyone who enters into the mind of John Malkovich (who plays himself). Craig and his coworker Maxine (Catherine Keener), who refuses to return the love that Craig is pouring on her, decide to open the portal to the public for two hundred dollars. Everything seems to be going fine for everyone (except John Malkovich) until Maxine and Craig’s wife, Lotte (Cameron Diaz), become attracted to each other, but Maxine will only love her if she is inside John Malkovich. This odd love quadrangle soon results an existential crisis for everyone involved.

While this movie was released in 1999, I saw that an early draft of the script was actually being circulated by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as early as 1989. This just adds to the miracle that this movie was made in the first place. Screenplays are very often around for years before being made, but this one is just so odd. John Malkovich was attached as producer for a while, but never actually planned on playing himself when the movie was made. Many people were suggesting other actors to play the part, including Tom Cruise, but Kaufman was only going to allow the movie to be made if John Malkovich was the celebrity whose mind would be entered. After much convincing, Malkovich decided to act in the movie, and the rest is history at its most surreal.

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From the get go, this movie plays by its own rules, and I need to give so  much credit to Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze, who before this movie only worked on music videos and commercials and is now an Academy Award winning film maker/writer. The fact that these two took a story about a portal that leads to the mind of John Malkovich and then spits you out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike and made it work well is really incredible. Beneath all of the surrealism and strangeness is a wonderful look at how people obsess over the idea of celebrity to the point where they want to stop being themselves in exchange for a life that is much more exciting. If you want to dig deeper, it actually is a powerful movie about self worth and respect that is hidden beneath a dreamscape of portals and advocates of ever lasting life.

Another thing that’s wonderful about Being John Malkovich is that it made me laugh, and laugh very hard. The now famous “Malkovich, Malkovich” scene is one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in a movie ever. I feel like I’m very harsh on comedies in the sense that it has to be original, somewhat smart or witty, and not rely on gross out or sexual humor. A movie that doesn’t apply to these personal rules are not funny to me. This film almost exists on a different dimensional plane of comedy where people like the members of Monty Python thrive. It’s smart and original on so many levels, but also just unbelievably funny. This is comedy, ladies and gentlemen.

Being John Malkovich is one of the most interesting, original, and insightful comedies that I’ve seen in a long time, not to mention that it provided me with enough surrealism to last a year. This was to be expected from the writer of films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation, and the director of Her and some of the most wild music videos you’ll see. This is an excellent film that I would normally say isn’t for everyone, but it really sorta is for everyone. I feel like there’s joy in this movie for everyone and even some things that everyone can relate to. Being John Malkovich is one of the best comedies of all time.