(On Cable TV, December 2017) Life is made of strange coincidences. So it is that I sat down to watch Get Out as the results of the US Senate Special Alabama election of 2017 were coming in, an election that offered as clear cut a choice between a typical candidate and a far-right activist with documented episodes of racism, sexism and pedophilia. A fitting backdrop to Get Out, which is a daring take on race relations by way of comic horror. While the starting point of the film may seem familiar—a young white woman takes her new black boyfriend home to meet her parents—the film quickly takes a turn for the bizarre and then the terrifying as the protagonist realizes that he’s in grave danger. To tell more about the premise is irresistible, as it encapsulates the nature of racial relations at a time when it’s not polite to be racist. To my dismay, I could recognize a bit of my own tics in the oh-so-subtle racism expressed by upper-class whites toward our protagonist. The horror elements get more and more intense as the film goes on, although they are partially defused by a comic subplot that seems to belong in another film. Daniel Kaluuya is good as the hero, but Catherine Keener and Allison Williams are far more interesting in their insidiousness. Writer/director Jordan Peele has some notoriety in comedy as part of the Key & Peele duo, but his eye and attention for detail as a filmmaker is terrific—Get Out has a pleasant amount of depth and craft in its details, with a script in which most lines (including the titular quote) have more than one meaning. It’s solid filmmaking and I was quite taken by the result despite taking in my own lumps as a left-leaning well-meaning kind-of-oblivious white guy. I suspect that my just-shy-of-enthusiasm reaction may have been helped along by the real-world events unfolding via my telephone screen as I watched the movie. As all hope seemed lost for our protagonist on-screen, electoral results suggested a comfortable lead for the worst candidate. But as the movie wrapped to a close and fortunes shifted for our protagonist, so did the electoral results, with the better candidate taking a comfortable lead right before the credits started rolling. The ongoing discussion about racism may take the form of an entertaining movie or a statewide election, but it needs to take place. Sometimes, the stars even align and you get both a great movie and an election result that feels like progress at the same time.
(Video on Demand, August 2016) Noted comedy duo Key & Peele (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) make their big-screen debut in Keanu, an action comedy revolving around a cute kitten sought by two criminal groups and our pair of nebbish protagonists. Defying stereotypes, Key & Peele take on personas closely associated with white actors (a stoner, a square family man) and sends them in the middle of a gang war. Blending comedy with suspense requires a deft touch, and one of Keanu’s most distinctive traits is that it’s shot like a thriller (with shadows, depth-of-field, slow-motion action sequences) by director Peter Atencio despite a succession of visual gags and rapid-fire dialogue. The mix is not perfect: There are times, such as the end of the Anna Faris scene, where the film errs too much in one direction. But while the joke density is on the low side, Keanu delivers what it intended, and the result is a fair bit of entertainment. The cute kitten, obviously helps make everything better and funnier.