Notes from the Screener Pile: 2017.4

So many movies, so little time.

Get Out        
(USA, 104 min.)
Written and directed Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Lakeith Stanfield, Betty Gabriel, LilRey Howrey
Sink into the floor and fall into the wild, strange world of Get Out. This brilliant and spectacularly entertaining film from writer/director Jordan Peele offers a visionary entry into the world of horror. Get Out is a chillingly satirical commentary on race relations in America as young Black man Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes away to meet the parents of his seemingly sweet white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). Chris worries that Rose’s parents don’t know their daughter is bringing a Black man—gasp, her first!—home for the weekend, and nervously considers the tense two days ahead.

Get Out is Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? reimagined for the era of “America First” politics. Rose’s parents, played by Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, live in a stately all-white suburban neighbourhood decorated with pleasant niceties and casual racism. Their servants, black people who act like 90-year-old white folks, give off super creepy vibes and Chris soon realises that Rose’s family isn’t as perfect as it appears.

Peele constantly keeps the audience guessing and on their feet as Get Out oscillates between moments of unbearable tension, wicked horror, and shocking social commentary. Kaluuya gives an engaging performance as the likable young buck turned unwilling victim, while Keener all but steals the film in her small but bone-chilling performance as Rose’s mother who orchestrates the family’s deception through carefully calculated control. The scariest thing about Get Out is just how plausible it is, for even if the action of the Armitages is farfetched, the politics, attitudes, and motivations behind their crimes, are unnervingly on point.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
(USA, 112 min.)
Written and directed by Noah Baumback
Starring: Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Ben Stiller, Grace van Patten, Elizabeth Marvel

Oh, my goodness. The Meyerowitz Stories just doesn’t stop talking. Even a die-hard Noah Baumbach fan will struggle through this chatty ensemble film that blabbers incessantly nearly two hours. This Netflix original film is best viewed in the comfort of one’s own home where escape is just a remote control away. However, watching the vignettes unfold to reveal the story of the Meyerowitz family dynasty, one can’t be bothered to care about any of these whiny people. It doesn’t help, either, that Baumbach plays this motor-mouthed film with manic energy in which even great actors like Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson struggle to give weight and meaning to their characters’ vapid and trivial rantings. This film is absolutely insufferable. We already have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of our own relatives, so why bother with this petty and self-absorbed clan?

Marjorie Prime
(USA, 99 min.)
Written and directed by Michael Almereyda
Starring: Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins

Somewhat in the same spirit of The Meyerowitz Stories, Marjorie Prime is undone by the fact that it just doesn’t shut up. Good science fiction is often a matter of “showing” versus “telling,” and this stage to screen adaptation doesn’t leave much to the imagination as its characters sit there and voice all the Big Ideas it has to offer. There’s actually a great premise and an outstanding cast here to do the heavy lifting, but as Marjorie Prime dives into its story of a family wrought with grief and puts the viewer in a household in which departed loved ones are replaced by holographic likenesses of parents and children, it reveals too much too quickly. Perhaps it simply works better as a play if a quartet of actors as strong as Geena Davis, Jon Hamm, Tim Robbins, and an especially effective Lois Smith are going to sit around and contemplate death and grief, but as a work transported to a visual medium, Marjorie Prime needs a greater sense of absence. Unlike The Meyerowitz Stories, however, you won’t be wishing everyone in this family were dead.