Get Out (2017): A Brilliant Horror Film That Tackles Racism and Privilege

    “Get Out” is one of my favorite horror movies at this point. This is a film that explores deeper ideas while still giving great moments of tension and horror in turn making it so much more. Whether it is racism, power and privilege, this film has a larger point but also does the tension and horror so well. Non-spoiler thoughts, you really should see this film. If you like horror films are even just smart films, check this one out.

  The film was written, directed and produced by Jordan Peele with the other producers being Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Sean McKittrick.

     The story involves Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) going up to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) parents in the suburbs. All is not as it appears to be though as the overly nice of the town underlays a dark secret as the only other African-Americans in the town give him hints of the mystery in their odd behavior.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Idea – The idea reminds me a lot of “The Stepford Wives” and as that film tacked feminism in critiquing the 1950’s housewife and showing the literal patriarchy in how the wives were constructed to be servants. This is done similar with how objectification of African-Americans. I’ll get into how with the reveal and the characters.

The Writing – The writing is smart and shows the dimension to our characters as well as the humor (which is mostly through Jeremy and Chris’s sarcasm). I always enjoyed Jordan Peele’s shorts which did a great job satirizing some segment of society or culture. This time he does it on a cinematic movie scale. Not many writers can tackle racism and privilege in a subtle way, but it is done here beautifully.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is fantastic and does a great job and raising the tension throughout the film. Michael Abels did a fantastic job.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part as they are characters and not ideas, they would have become ideas to carry the message in a lesser writer’s hands.

Chris – Chris drives the story and is photographer trying to get into college. He’s clearly happy in the relationship with Rose but is smart as he notices when things are off and even tries to go (when he doesn’t know what is fully going on just that he is under threat). It is rewarding when he gets back at the family who was going to use his body for one of the older people in the town (which is why the town exists). Kaluuya does an amazing job.

Jeremy – Jeremy is the genre savvy friend who knows something is up the moment Chris goes to town as for him the warning was Rose not telling her family she had a black boyfriend and when Chris describes the town’s odd behavior, especially those of the African-Americans, he thinks they are being used as sex slaves. He’s wrong about the reasons they are acting weird but was right about how off the town was, and in the end he saves Chris. Jones is hilarious in this role as Jeremy is the character who provides the most comedy with his genre savvyness.

Rose – Rose is a great villain! Through most of the film she is the caring girlfriend who doesn’t justify her parents racist statements but things come to a head at the end where we learn she’s the lure who finds the people for the townspeople to use. She is a great threat and almost kills Chris. Williams has quite the acting range as we see her kindness as well as when she is the cold hunter, finding more targets.

The Family – The family is brilliantly creepy as they act like they are trying to help Chris while having a sick undercurrent. Whether it is her angry brother who says Chris could get strong like an animal thanks to his racial genes and the mother hypnotizes him and uses his own smoking addiction against him, and the father who is the collector and intellectual who clearly sees Chris as a thing the entire time.

The Reveal – The reveal is that the town is using people who come to the town (who Rose collects) for their bodies so the older members can live forever. The original host is nearly dead except for their brain stem (which the movie presents as them watching their body being controlled from a distance).

Objectification in Racism – The objectification starts with the family in how Chris is never really talked to, he is talked at (which plays into the privilege part) and extends to how the family and town talk about his body or people like him. It is brought to it’s fullest degree in the fact that Chris is only wanted for what he can give (his body) not the person he is. That is part of what makes racism, racism. Whether it is excoticizing his form or seeing him as something to be exploited. In the end he was only a thing to the town, not a person. He was wanted for his race not his personhood.

The Power of Privilege – Privilege is the assumption of power over another and this is the core of the terror in the film. The town assumes they have a right to Chris and any other black person they bring to the town. It is through their privilege that they believe they have the right over his body and the body of others and rationalization is their justification.

Okay: The Townspeople – The town could have been developed more. They do fall into the horror pitfall of being the toxic sweetness in how they treat Chris, but they are all part of the organization that wants to live forever. It would have been great to see their motivations and the reasons they want to live forever.

   Jordan Peele is truly a great writer and director. This was a film that Blumhouse produced and I’ve honestly never seen a good film from their studio, until this film. It is kind of sad how good horror movies are hard to find. They are generally made on the cheap, are exploitative, usually by their nature and rarely have a deeper point that is illustrated well. “Get Out” manages to avoid all of these pitfalls and in doing so is up there with the original “Halloween” as one of my favorite horror films of all time. Seriously, check this film out.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 The townspeople could have been developed a bit more.

The Intouchables (2011): An Amazing Story About Connection Between Outcasts

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    “The Intouchables” is extremely deserving of all the praise it has received. It has gotten criticism in some circles for being racist but I’d have to disagree, and I’ll go into the reasons why in deeper into the review. To give part of my answer now though, the critics who see the film as racist do not give Driss enough credit as a character or the fact that his agency is what drives the plot, not Philippe’s.

    The film was directed and written by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano and produced by Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou and Harvey Weinstein.

     The story is about Driss a Senelgese immigrant to France who ends up taking a job with the paraplegic Phillipe when he needs Phillipe to sign off on a welfare paper so that his family can receive money. From here the story unfolds as Driss’s past and family eventually meet up with his new life caring for Philippe as Philippe deals with racism from his own class background and how dismissive most people are of him because of he is a paraplegic.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – This film has one of my all time favorite soundtracks. The music gave me chills, especially since the scenes matched up with the music seamlessly. Ludovico Einaudi is truly a master of his craft and I want to hear more of his work after this.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and presents the fear or the freedom in different moments so well. Be it the car ride at the beginning and end of the film or the moments where Driss or Philippe are isolated from the world.

The Writing – The script is quick and witty and there is so much great banter between Driss and Philippe as Philippe is overly proper and Driss could care less. This leads to a great dynamic between the two. Magalie’s witty dialogue and Marcelle’s empathy are also beautifully written.

The Characters – Any of the characters we see for multiple scenes who speak get great exploration! This especially applies to the women who are Philippe’s aids. We see their romantic relationships and friendship with Driss develop over time and see how they change one another.

Magalie – Magalie is the character who Driss takes an immediate liking too but is not interested in him but loves to play around since she knows it will never go anywhere as she values the friendship and she is a lesbian, which is the reveal we have at the end. All the minor characters in this are great and Audrey Fluerot does an amazing job!

Marcelle – Marcelle is one of the people who is standoffish of Driss at first while Driss is getting used to living in the house. That changes when Driss shows awareness that she didn’t have, both in regards to the drugs she was taking to help with her stomach and her attraction to the gardener. She is Driss’s closest friend when Philippe asks Driss to leave. Clotilde Mollet does a wonderful job.

Philippe – François Cluzet plays one of the main stars who became paraplegic during his risk taking adventures that he used to share with his wife. This leads to him not having any confidence in his looks or physical appearance and leads to a huge insecurity and guardedness. This changes when Driss treats him like Driss would anyone and he values it since Driss doesn’t see a disability, he just sees Philippe. Eventually when Driss’s cousin is in hiding he kicks him out though and gives into the pressure from the rich white French folks from his family and older friends who never liked Driss but never are around unless they have to be. When he realizes that he when his next caregiver is treating him like a patient he has enough of it and has one last adventure with Driss. Cluzet does an amazing job and since he cannot move his body all his acting is in his face.

Driss – Driss is a character who has given up but after choosing to stay and help Philippe changes and finds he has passions beyond just existing, which was what he was doing before when he was getting welfare for his family. It is this passion for life that he discovers that rubs off on Philippe and from where they build their friendship. The story is really driven by Driss and we see this in the introduction as he bets with Philippe how the cops will react to them at different points as he is driving Philippe’s sports car. In the end he and his Aunt makeup and he leaves Philippe as a caregiver since he’s made his own path and had been the entire time, though in the credits we see that they still remained friends. Omar Sy is rich in this role.

Themes – The greatest themes in this are prejudice and how wrong is (in racism or prejudice towards a person based physical difference), to not fear to take chances (be it meeting someone new, a date or making up with someone you have wronged), and the theme of freedom (with a great flying scene and a few shots of birds).

The Message – The message is one that many films have done but it is done well here. That the groups that are looked down upon be they groups based on class, race or body are wrong and that all anyone wants in the end is to be free. We see in Driss’s talk with his cousin, in Philippe’s desire to fly and in Driss’s exploration of art and how he acts. He is never a servant or subservient as his entire way of being is a reaction to that and we see this when Philippe’s adopted daughter treats him like a servant and the other times Driss calls people out. Driss is a character who never loses agency, unlike Philippe who loses it the moment Driss leaves and he is stuck with a caregiver who treats him like a patient.

The Cons: Not Enough Time with Driss’s Family or Past – We learn a lot when Driss shares his backstory about how his Aunt and Uncle always wanted children so they adopted him from his parents in Senegal but things got complicated after his Uncle left and his Aunt had more kids. You get that because he was adopted he felt rejected and was never able to form a close bond, but you don’t hear this in the scenes with his family and that took away from the film.

Driss and Women – Driss is creepy sometimes and Magalie has to say no multiple times before he finally fully realizes it. I don’t know how purposeful this was or if it was a poor attempt at comedy, but those scenes were uncomfortable…especially since Driss has a lot more awareness with everyone else. It takes him much longer to learn with Magalie, which is a shame.

   This film is not perfect, but it is a favorite and I do think the criticism it has received for racism in regards to Driss can be argued certainly but I don’t see it in the actions or agency that the character lives. He drives the story and is arguably the main character, not Philippe. The one thing I would have changed is more time with his Aunt and cousins. We never get to know them the way we get to know the folks who worked with Philippe, but this is largely because Driss’s Aunt kicks him out of her house. How things could have been changed is giving more of the reasons why and more of Driss’s backstory earlier as it is an amazing backstory and I wanted to know more, even though the core focus was on the friendship between him and Philippe. Suffice to say, I recommend this film highly.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

Carnivale – Season 2, Episode 4 – “Old Cherry Blossom Road” – The Sins of the Family

Carnivale Old Cherry Blossom Road

Scudder has a messed up family and backstory, which in turn means Ben does too.  This story primarily focuses on the family that Scudder came from as the folks who kidnapped Ben turn out be related and the Crone is his grandmother. I’ll get into why they’re messed beyond their kidnapping of him in the assessment. We also continue to see the darkness in Justin.

“Old Cherry Blossom Road” was directed by Steve Shill and written by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin.

The episode begins with the main abused and assaulted by Justin and Justin telling Iris they need a new made. Around this time Dolan also comes to Justin with evidence that Iris started the fire but Justin refuse to believe it. Ben is with his racist Ku Klux Clan family and is given words by the Crone his grandmother and where he needs to go next, and Jonesy and Sofie continue to explore her new role.

Here is the assessment of the episode:

The Pros: The Haunting Family and Past – Scudder and Ben have a horrifying family. From the Crone sewing the lips of one of her grandson’s shut, to her murdering Scudder’s other relatives at his birth, to her glorification of her KKK ancestors and her near attempt at murdering Ben before giving him a Trench Knife and telling he’ll need it where “The Wolf and Dog howl at the moon.”

Jonesy and Sofie – Jonesy wants Sofie to be accepted and peace on his team so he has her build a giant hole. This ends up proving herself to him and to his men that she is in this and doesn’t want to do anything else. She’s given up the cards.

Ben – Ben is trying everything he can to find the answer. He ends up finding Scudder’s death mask when he’s with his family but learns from Management Scudder is still alive. He feels pretty lost in this episode and his trusting of his insane and racist Grandma the Crone took a lot of guts on his part. At this point he is looking for answers which Sofie can’t give since she doesn’t want to do the Cards anymore.

Death Imagery – Ruthie keeps seeing Lodz and sees Apollonia as well. You get the idea that she more awareness of the veil which is why she keeps walking so close to death and seeing those who have died. I hope this gets explained more.

The Cons: Justin – Sexually assaults his maid and discards her, continues manipulating Iris so Dolan will capture her while at the same time using Dolan. Not to mention his use of a criminal as his apostle who murders in his name. Stroud finds out about Samson and Ben and is following Ben to find Scudder.

This was a good but not great episode. Scudder’s family isn’t complex…they’re just racist Klan folks who persecute anyone who isn’t them. The best moments of the episode were Ben’s discoveries.

Final Score: 7.8 / 10

The Green Mile (1999): How One Man Can Change Things

The Green Mile

“The Green Mile” was a very long, but great film. It is another film based off a book that I now plan on reading, given that the books tend to give us more details of characters and events. For this reason, the length was in favor of “The Green Mile” even if I found it a bit much near the end. I’ll get into the why in the assessment.

“The Green Mile” is adapted from the book by the same name written by Stephen King and was directed by Frank Darabont, who was also one of the producers and wrote the screenplay. The other producer was David Valdes.

The story is the tale of Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Grear as older recounting events, Tom Hanks as the man living the events) who recounts why he was affected so powerfully by an old musical on the television. It is here we learn that he was a prison officer in charge of death row inmates and the supernatural events with a man named John Coffey who is accused of the rape and murder of two girls. The time period is that of the great depression. From here the truth of what happened is revealed as well as the nature of John Coffey and later Paul Edgecomb as the story progresses.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Setting – The setting in the senior home where he walks up to an old abandoned shack in the hills and in the past when he’s in the prison, as well as setting it during the Great Depression add a sense of feeling trapped that pervades the film and characters. Which works given the themes and stories that get explored.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is glorious. From old Paul talking while it is raining, to all the times the prison goes dark and the mist surrounding the hills. So many scenes are beautiful shots worthy of being framed or pictures. David Tattersall was clearly the right guy.

The Characters – There really aren’t any 2-Dimensional characters, unless said character are psychopaths. For this reason it was great spending so much time with them all since everyone gave great performances.

Brutus Howell – David Morse plays the guard who is the teddy bear of the group. He enjoys joking with the inmates on death row and it takes Paul to pull him out of it sometimes. His heart is in the right place and when John does the miracle and heals Paul, as well as the Resurrection of the mouse Mr. Jingles. He was my favorite of the minor characters without a doubt, since he was one of the few who actually held Percy Wetmore (who had the political connections) for his wrongdoings in the prison.

Jan Edgecomb – Is Paul’s wife and is the other who believes the miracles of John Coffey when Paul tells her of them. She also makes John some cornbread that he shares with Mr. Jingles and Mr. Jingles guardian who is also a prisoner, Eduard “Del” Delacroix. Her role is smaller but Bonnie Hunt does a great job.

Eduard “Del” Delacroix – Michael Jeter plays my other favorite minor character, as he is a slightly mad inmate who adopts Mr. Jingles, who is a highly intelligent mouse. He is one of the kinder inmates and genuinely feels guilt at the end for the crimes we do not hear about. For this reason he’s a character with a lot of depth as we see him make friends with the guards and Mr. Jingles and his torture (in the beginning and when he is put on the electric chair) by Percy. His death is brutal as the sponge is not put on his head so he is cooked before he dies. His death would be the saddest if not for what comes later.

Dean Stanton – Barry Pepper was perfect for this role and it was good to see him in a film that wasn’t “Battlefield Earth.” He is one of the youngest of the guards and we see him learning the ropes and also building a relationship with John and Del too. He weeps at John’s death and we see how much John has changed him through his kindness and miracles.

Warden Moores – The Warden is played by James Cromwell, and he’s Cromwell the guy is great in everything he’s in. In this he plays a guy who gives in to Percy because he’s afraid of the State coming down on his Prison. He’s also fearful because his wife is dying and has Brain Cancer. It takes him trusting Paul and John at the end for John to take away the the infection and heal her. You can tell that he was changed by it and probably has second thoughts about the crime Coffey is accused.

John Coffey – Michael Clarke Duncan won best supporting actor for a reason. His character is an immortal who has strong emotional intelligence but his intellect isn’t all that great and he sees things simple as far as wanting to take away another’s pain or destroy someone for causing pain. He is on death row for the murder and rape of two girls which was done by another character (Wild Bill) who he kills in the end. He goes to death after giving some of his power to Mr. Jingles and Paul by accident since he was doing so in both cases to help Paul understand why he was innocent and why Bill needed to die and because of the terror Mr. Jingles felt as Del was being killed. His character was complex and the closest to good in the film, which is why Paul feels guilt at not saving his life.

Paul Edgecomb – In the flashbacks Tom Hanks was perfect in this role. He plays a mentor figure to both the inmates and the guards and shows himself to be a good leader with a cool head time and time again, even when Percy and Bill pull crap that causes pain to others. He is the one who has a urinary infection for the first part but is healed by John which leads to him investigating and finding racism was a big part of why John was found guilty, even though his character showed he would not commit the crime. This haunts him later when John gives him immortality and we see the pain and loss of waiting to die and his immortality scene as punishment through the eyes of Dabbs Greer.

The Message – For me the message was at the core, that one person can change things. In that it was John Coffey through his miracles, which were really a reflection of his kindness. He made everyone around him better or safe. Which Paul did after when he left the prison to help at risk youth, so they wouldn’t end up in prison.  John’s actions shaped everyone around him and left a lasting impression on the immortal Paul who than carried it to the end of his days.

Okay: Wild Bill and Percy – These two characters were mostly selfish dicks and uninteresting ones because they had no motivation beyond wanting to cause pain. It was never about power, they were just bullies and that didn’t lend to the story beyond them being obstacles for Paul and later John to finally overcome. Each of them are monsters in their own ways as Percy picks on the week and tortures them and Wild Bill rapes and murders people. These characters got justice in the end though with Wild Bill killed by Percy and Percy in a mental institute.

Soundtrack – Didn’t really leave an impression the way the cinematography did. Wasn’t bad, just wasn’t memorable.

The Cons: The Length – In the end this was a con because it could have made events more concise. We get all the important information like we do in “Return of the King” but it can’t help but feel like it’s dragging as we get quite a few endings back to back. This is one of the few things that hurts the film.

This is a film I’d highly recommend. It’s a favorite film though my favorite film adapted from a Stephen King novel would still be “The Shawshank Redemption.” This one goes into a lot of different themes and most the characters are quite rich in how they are acted and what the script gives them. If you have patience, it is worth sitting through, because the end payoff is worth it.

Final Score: 9 / 10. A solidly great film.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): The Idealization of the West and the formation of Statehood

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     “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” is a western directed by John Ford. The story begins with Senator Stoddard returning back to the town in the west that made him famous to visit Tom Doniphon’s funeral. From here he tells the story of the past to the press and the story unfolds. The story involves Ranse Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) who is seeking his fortune out west when he is attacked and robbed by Liberty Valance. From here is found by Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) who brings him in to a restaurant where he is nursed back to health. From here the story unfolds as the path to statehood is used to explore the relationships in the town and to Liberty Valance and his gang. 

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Cinematography – The film is in black and white and makes great use of shadows. Visually the movie is stunning and makes good use of the sets it takes place on…giving life to the town and the west. 

Ranse Stoddard – James/Jimmy Stewart is a fantastic protagonist. He is the idealistic lawyer who doesn’t believe in force until he realizes Liberty doesn’t care and will continue to hurt and rob and keep the territory from seeking federal protection. After he is abused by Valance at the restaurant where he falls in love with the owners daughter Hallie (Vera Miles) he begins training with a gun. He also teaches Hallie and the town how to read and write and about the law. He is a complex character who respects Hallie and has a respect for Tom who helps him but is doing so grudgingly for much of the film. 

Hallie Stoddard – Vera Miles is fantastic in her role and the writers do a good job of giving her agency. After she learns how to read and write from Ranse she becomes a teacher in the class. She chooses to be with Ranse too and never shows Tom that she feels romantically the same way he does, though she does respect him deeply. 

Tom Doniphon – It is John Wayne, this is his thing. He is the gruff, no-nonsense hero. Really my biggest issue with his character is his condescension to Hallie and thinking he owns her. It takes her clearly showing she loves Ranse for him to finally get that which leads to him burning the cabin he built for them. He is the one who kills Valance but is never recognized for it by anyone other othan Hallie and Ranse since the press refuses to destroy the legend of Ranse being the one to kill him. He also isn’t racist and stands up for the man named Pompey (who is African American) who works for him. 

The Formation of Statehood – Tom represents military and Ranse represents civilization. Tom is all protection and Ranse is all about education. Both were needed for the territory to become a state and get the recognition on the federal level. This dynamic is explored really well in their relationship to one another…ending in Ranse getting the nomination and Tom defeating Liberty and his gang…as well as remaining a symbol of the nameless soldier. 

Okay: Doc. Peabody – The drunk doctor is pretty much just that. He is the idealistic press man who is nearly killed which inspires Ranse to challenge Liberty to a gun fight near the end. He isn’t bad, he just is one note. 

Marshall Appleyard – Played by Andy Devine (famous voice actor for Disney, played Friar Tuck in their “Robin Hood” animated film) is a coward just trying to protect his family. He is cool in that he has a large Hispanic family and protects Peabody as well at one point. His problem is we don’t see that so much of his fear is tied to his family and protecting them. Showing that would have elevated his character to a pro. 

Cons: Liberty Valance – He is cruel of the sake of cruel and extremely one note. He doesn’t elevate this either and his goons are one dimensional cronies as well. He exists as an abstract threat at his best because there is no character there. 

Western Problem – Native Americans are seen as savages and even seen as redskins in this. The fact that there were already people in the territory is glossed over as a Manifest Destiny is embraced as represented by Ranse. I wish this had been addressed at least a little…though this a problem from lots of movies in this era and even westerns today. 

       “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” was an enjoyable western, though the problems of Tom’s misogyny for most of it till the end and the racism towards the natives cannot go unspoken. It is the idealization of statehood where the biggest threat are nameless gangsters who kill and take for the sake of doing so….and it is in that idealization that it is at it’s best. It’s just a shame it didn’t capture the complexity better. I would recommend this movie, just know these problems. 

My final score is 8 / 10. It definitely deserves the praise it gets as a classic in cinema, largely because of how well the leads handle their roles.