“Get Out” combines comedy, satire, and scream out loud horror in a completely new exciting way. The opening scene in which a Black kid hunts for an address in a white suburb sets up a wild story of white privilege, interracial dating, racial tension, and society assumptions that left me thinking of break through films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” “The Stepford Wives” and “Fatal Attraction.” Daniel Kaluuya plays Chris, a talented Black big city photographer dating beautiful white Allison Williams who plays Rose. After a few months together she wants Chris to meet her parents. She says they don’t know he’s black but it won’t matter. At their secluded mansion in the woods, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener appear welcoming, but something seems off. Rose’s hyper brother played by Caleb Landry Jones spends a lot of time discussing Chris’s athletic ability, and Steven Root (one of the great character actors whom I still remember from “Office Space”) makes things even more weird as the blind owner of an art gallery who admires Chris’s photography. The family also employs a grounds keeper played by Marcus Henderson and a maid played by Betty Gabriel–two black servants in an all white household explained just a little too readily by a very creepy Bradley Whitford. Catherine Keener taps into her inner creep as a psychiatrist/hypnotist whose ability to ping a china cup will make the hair on your neck rise. The horror is quite horrible and the screams come naturally. As in any great horror film, “Get Out” builds and releases with hearty laughs, many of them provided by Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ pal who works for the much maligned TSA. So far Jordan Peele is best known for his work with the comic team Key and Peele. In “Get Out” he demonstrates a director’s sure hand. We know he’s taking us someplace only he knows and we’re gonna love it. The production looks great. The acting’s lovely (I especially liked Allison Williams). The directing’s brilliant. The body count’s high and bloody and completely new. 3 1/2 Stars “R”. Does it deliver what it promises? Sure handed horror/comedy/satire. Is it entertaining? Never let’s up. Is it worth the price of admission? Might be one of the year’s best.
“A United Kingdom” shines a light on the story of a long forgotten interracial marriage that sparked an international fury in England and Africa in the 1940’s. David Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama who comes to England to study law in 1946. Khama is heir to the tribal throne of his people in Bechuanaland (now Botswana.) Rosamund Pike plays Ruth Williams, a white British clerk who meets Khama at a missionary dance. They fall in love and vow to stay together without her family’s approval. But Khama faces even more disapproval from his Uncle who decrees the interracial marriage makes Khama unfit to rule. The situation escalates into British politics as Bechuanaland was at the time a British protectorate. England wanted to hold on to her empire and frankly didn’t want to upset neighboring South Africa in the opening days of the racial policy of apartheid. British politics and representatives take a harsh view of the couple who for a time must live separately, she in Africa and he in England. Owelowo and Pike have enough chemistry and talent to keep this story interesting. “A United Kingdom” feels a little predictable but the end titles tell the rest of a quite interesting story. The production looks good. The story’s told well. The actors excel. The facts are fascinating. 3 Stars PG-13. Does it deliver what it promises? Interesting historic romance. Is it entertaining? Well told. Is it worth the price of admission? Worth watching.
“The Great Wall” aspires to join the ranks of American blockbusters. This production comes from China with Matt Damon as the star making this a Chinese production of an American movie. The result feels like an awkward translation. Damon and his sidekick Pedro Pascal ride through China looking for plunder. Suddenly, a monster attacks. Thanks to Damon’s sword mastery and the aid of a magnet, (don’t ask) the monster dies and the twosome push on, only to be captured by the armies gathered at the Great Wall of China. Soon we hear the legend of why the wall exists: to hold back monsters who return every 60 years. The first major attack on the wall features state of the art special effects and a 3 D screen full of creatures that look like escapees from Jurassic Park. Damon proves a brave fighter and is accepted by the Chinese who decide to teach him the noble ways of the Nameless Order, a selfless tribe led by the athletic female Tian Jing. Any hope of romance between Jing and Damon vanishes as the two bond only to fight epic monster attacks which ultimately lead them to the emperor’s castle. Pedro Pascal doesn’t get much more than the standard sidekick role while Willem Dafoe fares even worse as a long time prisoner looking for escape. “The Great Wall” has trouble with dialog which sound clunky and wooden. For some reason Damon maintain an Irish accent which only seems distracting. The result is mixed, not exactly bad, but for American audiences not good either. “The Great Wall” 1 Star, PG. Does it deliver what it promises? Off kilter epic. Is it entertaining? Odd and clunky. Is it worth the price of admission? No thanks.
“The Lego Batman Movie” gleefully lampoons Batman and all the other look alike superhero movies of the past several decades. The comedy begins in the first seconds as the dark Warner Brothers logo comes on the screen with voice over irony courtesy of Will Arnet. Lego Batman is revealed as a self-centered narcissistic jerk who won’t even give the Joker the satisfaction of a love/hate relationship. Not that the plot matters, but just to sketch it out for you, Commissioner Gordon retires and his daughter – voiced by Rosario Dawson – takes over with some modern ideas that don’t involve Batman. Our hero not only gets blindsided but also gets a deep crush on the new commissioner. Ralph Fiennes sounds perfect as the voice of Alfred the Butler, and Michael Cera plays a Gotham orphan who talks his way into Bruce Wayne aka Batman’s world and his ultimate turn as Batman’s sidekick Robin. “The Lego Batman Movie” creates wonderful silly fun. The jokes fly fast and furious and round-up almost every movie villan ever conceived from The Wizard of Oz to Harry Potter. The gag runs out of a little steam an hour or so in but the finale’s swell and so is “The Lego Batman Movie.” 3 1/2 stars “PG” Does it deliver what it promises? Funny animated comedy. Is it entertaining? Delightful. Is it worth the price of admission? 2017’s funniest film so far.
The star-crossed teenage romance gets a new twist in “The Space Between Us.” Asa Butterfield plays a kid born on Mars thanks to an astronaut mother who didn’t expect to go into space pregnant. To amp up the emotion, Asa’s mother dies in childbirth, and fellow astronaut Carla Gugino steps in as his surrogate mom. The kid returns to earth only to discover growing up on Mars makes him unable to live on earth. But now he’s got a girlfriend played by Britt Robertson and the two take off on an adventure and great escape. Occasionally “The Space Between Us” feels like a Disney or Spielberg teen adventure. Sometimes it approaches cute. But most of the time this story feels sappy. 2 stars PG. Does it deliver what it promises? Teenage romance. Is it entertaining? A sugar overdose. Is it worth the price of admission? I pass.
“Fifty Shades Darker” doesn’t need to be a good movie. All it needs is to satisfy the audience of the book and the first film installment. This episode reunites the “Fifty Shades of Grey” lovers Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, who broke up at the end of the first movie when Christain’s S and M demands weirded out Anastasia. Jamie Dornan returns as the demanding billionaire attracted to Dakota Johnson. I didn’t feel much chemistry between the two, but the uncomfortable laughter watching the couple signals something approaching acceptance enough. The plot has Grey begging Anastasia to return, this time with a more comfortable set of intimate rules. The red room with all of its S & M paraphernalia still exists, but comes into use only when Anastasia initiates visits. The plot thickens with sexual harassment from Anastasia’s boss, plus one of Grey’s former S & M partners interested in revenge. She played as a stalker by Bella Heathcote and looks like the scary figure from “The Ring” who used to climb out of the vhs machine to kill her victims. Heathcote provides a jaw dropping moment that drew the longest laugh out loud reaction. Also on hand, Marcia Gay Harden as Grey’s adoptive mother, and Kim Basinger as the older woman who initiated Grey into the S & M world and still has an interest in her much younger pupil. The two veteran actresses vamp it up like Davis and Crawford in their final “B” movie days. The love scenes look tame, and I imagine female fans will appreciate Anastasia’s empowerment in them. The other plots feel like they came right out of “Dynasty” or “As the World Turns” and earn laughs rather than gasps. Combine all of these elements and you have an experience more like a girl’s night out then a movie night. I have a feeling that’s gonna work out for the filmmakers. 1 star “R”. Does it deliver what it promises? Soft core S & M/romance. Is it entertaining? Mostly laughable even if by mistake. Is it worth the price of admission? Cheaper than a visit to the Chippendales.
Robert De Niro plays an over the hill TV sitcom star trying to keep his career going as a stand up comic in “The Comedian.” As the story begins, he joins Jimmy Walker and Brett Butler in a seedy club for a “nostalgia night.” Things don’t go well. A heckler angers De Niro, who in turn hits the guy with his microphone, and our comic lands in jail. Once out of prison he begins community service and meets Leslie Mann also doing community service for assault. The two begin an age inappropriate relationship seriously bordering on creepy. Also creepy is the parade of old timers who turn up looking less than their best. They include Harvey Keitel, Danny DeVito, Charles Grodin, and Cloris Leachman plus a cameo by Billy Crystal. The combination of elder stars and foul language comedy plus several more wrong turns makes “The Comedian” difficult at best. I laughed a few times from the sheer awfulness of this project, but there’s nothing funny watching great talent go wrong. If you have any doubts, wait until the end, when a first grader comes on stage and performs a routine she has learned from De Niro. On second thought, don’t. Zero Rated “R” (language and sexual situations) Does it deliver what it promises? The title reads “The Comedian” but there’s nothing funny in it. Is it entertaining? Painful to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? No no a thousand times no.
Matthew McConaughey looks terrible in “Gold” and that’s the point. He plays a passionate driven prospector who drinks, smokes, eats, and talks too much but can’t help it because he inherited his family gene for mining. He takes over his father’s business but runs it into the ground during a bad economy. Looking for a break, he joins forces with Edgar Ramirez and the two begin looking for gold in Indonesia. Everything goes wrong including a bout of malaria for McConaughey. Things change when he comes out of his sick fog and learns they’ve made a strike. This sends our guys back to Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. As in “The Wolf of Wall Street” life gets out of control pretty fast, too fast for Matthew’s girlfriend Dallas Bryce Howard. The story skips forward and backward in time which helps keep things interesting. McConaughey seems fully invested in the character and keeps the energy up when he’s on-screen. The twists and surprises feel right out of “Wolf of Wall Street” “Argo” and “American Hustle.” As a result, the movie feels just a little too familiar. I enjoyed “Gold” but I’ve seen better. 2 1/2 Stars “R”. Does it deliver what it promises? Big money out of control comedy adventure. Is it entertaining? Fun to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? More brass than gold.
I’m not sure what the filmmakers want us to think of “The Founder”—the semi-autobiographical story of Ray Kroc, the man who turned McDonald’s into a global — a global what — a global monster? a global giant? a global force? Well maybe all of that and more for both good and evil. “The Founder” has a lot of appeal thanks to the performance of Michael Keaton. He hits just the right note of ambition, nerves, and hypocrisy. The movie begins with the often told story of Kroc selling malted milk machines and driving all the way to California to investigate a new restaurant that uses them. He discovers the original McDonald’s run by brothers played by John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman. They’ve changed their drive in into a walk up assembly line hamburger place where the order comes out and into a paper bag within seconds. Keaton as Kroc recognizes a great idea and sells the brothers on letting him franchise their operation. At first things go well, but then the arguing starts and pretty soon the lawyers get involved and when the dust settles Ray Kroc winds up the winner and the two little guys look like George Bailey ready to jump off the bridge. There’s no bail out in this story. In truth and in the movie the original McDonald’s goes out of business when Kroc opens one of his slick new Golden Arches across the street. “The Founder” seems content to let us view Kroc’s life warts and all. Keaton as Kroc belts down bourbon, dumps his wife, puts the moves on anther guy’s wife, runs the guys with the original idea out of business, and winds up fat and happy in Beverly Hills. “The founder” sticks to the 1950’s 60’s and 70’s. I’d like to know what the filmmakers think of the effect of McDonald’s on our world today. 2 1/2 Stars PG 13. Does it deliver what it promises? Biography of a super salesman. Is it entertaining? Story of a not very nice guy. Is it worth the price of admission? Well it’s interesting even if it’s not exactly uplifting.
Director M. Night Shyamalan caused a stir with his spellbinding “The Sixth Sense.” Unfortunately he’s been trying to regain the mojo from that film ever since. In his new movie “Split” Shyamalan stoops to torture porn. James McAvoy sinks his acting chops into a severely disturbed who displays twenty-four different male and female personalities. One of the more aggressive of his characters kidnaps three teenage girls from a shopping mall parking lot. Soon the girls must deal with the shifting characters while trying to figure out a way to escape. We learn more of Split’s story from visits to psychiatrist Betty Buckley, who specializes in treating multiple personalities. Pretty soon all goes wrong except for young Anya Taylor-Joy who has problems of her own which turn to her advantage. Shyamalan is best known for his surprising twists and “Split” offers a few, but nothing as earth-shaking as “the Sixth Sense.” There’s an unseemly air to this story, so much that I couldn’t wait to get outside and breathe in something fresh. Zero “PG-13” (How did that happen?) Does it deliver what it promises? Torture porn. Is it entertaining? Dreadful. Is it worth the price of admission? Long, predictable, and empty.