GET OUT (2017, Jordan Peele)
The premise sounded great, but that’s just a premise. Then the trailer came out, and it was great, but that’s just a trailer. Now the film is here, and what-do-you-know, it’s great. Peele makes literal what has presumably been a figurative horror for so many black men: meeting their white girlfriend’s family. It’s hard to think of a horror masterwork in American cinema that hasn’t been anchored by either politics, social issues, or some sort of zeitgeist fear. But how often have the complexities of things such as interracial dating, fawning liberal condescension, and class guilt been mined for true terror? Not often, and Peele squeezes every drop of juice he can from this fertile fruit.
The script is tight as a drum — hardly a line or scene is wasted: the deer hitting the car feels metaphorical while it’s happening, but Rose’s reaction (refusing to let the cop harass Chris for his ID), her dad’s reaction (“They’re like rats” infecting the area and need to be stomped out; every dead one “is a good start”) all make such good sense the further this story goes. White symbols like the colonial architecture and the old-school teacup become harbingers of doom; passive bigotry like the discussion of black genetics, muscle tone, and lack of intelligence are all revealed as motives, not just opinions. And that feels somewhat revolutionary.
This is an hour of delicious setup, but then the final act is one enormous, cathartic release of tension. We spend so long seeing everything through Chris’s eyes (the most sympathetic protagonist in a horror film I can think of in years) that the hell unleashed in the back third of the movie comes armed with righteous truth. Not unlike Jamie Foxx’s rise to power at the end of DJANGO UNCHAINED, Chris’s arc is at once frightening, smart, and deliriously deserved. Peele’s camera sense is finely tuned, allowing close-ups to unnerve us as much as wide shots, long takes, and jump scares. Perhaps some of the narrative contrivances are a little too sweaty (Rod’s visit to the police, the happens-to-be-open-right-then closet door) but those flaws are easy to overlook when there are so many totems of wealthy, white, oppressive culture (a bocce ball, a police car, a stuffed and mounted deer head) put — ironically and delectably — into the hands of the black man.
KEDI (2017, Ceyda Torun)
Impossible for a cat-lover like me not to at least enjoy sitting in a theater for 80 minutes seeing terrific footage of adorable cats being awesome, but as a piece of documentary filmmaking this is fairly lacking. Why bring up the history of Turkey and Istanbul without showing us any photos, paintings, artifacts, or relics from the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople, or even early 20th century Istanbul, that involve cats? No archival footage, no sketches, stories, no pottery, rugs, etc. One mostly-off-camera subject talks about how cats came to be in the city (working as mice-hunters on ships, then disembarked once they docked in the harbor), but that just calls attention to how little effort was put into gathering any footage for this that isn’t contemporaneous video of cats and people.
Speaking of people, we barely get to know any of them either. There’s a poor fisherman who lost everything he had when his boat sank, and he talks about how cats saved his life, but he’s basically just wallpaper here. Same goes for the shopowner who just smirks at the mother cat that comes by every now and then, or the guy who routinely takes injured cats from the marketplace area to a vet and keeps an open tab. Torun just skates the surface of their lives, leaving it up to them to drop some shallow platitudes about how if people could get along with each other like they get along with cats, it would be a better world.
But what does work about this is the beautiful attention paid to how these cats live. It’s great to see a city where instead of each cat living alone in a house, shitting in a litter box, and staring out a window (like here in Los Angeles; my own apartment building has at least 5 cats in it and none of them have ever seen each other), they freely roam the streets and people just pet them and feed them as they please, then go home while the cats stay transient. And each of them really do have a personality — cat-owners will recognize a bit of their own friends in any number of these characters: the stubborn ones, the affectionate ones, the curious, the sleepy, the spastic, the vane, the wise. Patient camerawork leads to capturing some very nice moments of adorable cat behavior. You’ll smile, even if you’re never enlightened.
JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 (2017, Chad Stahelski)
If 2014’s JOHN WICK was the 2014 Golden State Warriors with Steph Curry (overachieving underdogs, lovable, talented) then JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 is the 2017 Golden State Warriors with Curry and Kevin Durant: over-stuffed, more expensive, believing its own hype, and the big guy in town. A lean 101 minutes, the original film was a nonstop freight train of gas-fueled action. This one is bloated out to 122 minutes, full of pregnant pauses in conversation and grand posturing fit for a movie that thinks it’s the shit.
Luckily for Stahelski and his team, it kind of is. What it loses in its narrative efficiency and fresh-faced surprise, it makes up for in even bigger action scenes. Everything from hand-to-hand fighting to car-as-weapon balletics to HK-styled gun-fu is terrific, even if some of the “hidden” cuts make the long takes jerky and strained. There are plenty of “Holy SHIT!” moments to make you jolt in the theater, and the blood and gore are a-plenty.
I do wish Derek Kolstad’s lame-ish script had figured out a few things better. What’s the deal with the Chuk Iwuji character? He’s introduced in the Gianna sequence as if he’s going to pay off later, but when we see him again at the end it’s a throwaway. And after PASSENGERS and now this, is Laurence Fishburne just going to show up in movies for pretentious scenes to stand around talking too much? This MATRIX reunion didn’t go as I’m sure Stahelski had hoped.
Too many threads belaboring a need to flesh out this alternate universe of hitmen all over the planet are what keeps JWC2 from being great, but when it gets down to business — like the furtive gunshots in the subway station, the train fight, the stairway brawl, and the hall-of-mirrors ENTER THE DRAGON callback — it’s ’90s action movie heaven.