FILM REVIEW CAPSULE: FRIDAY MARCH 3
The weekend of March 3-5, 2017, offers filmgoers some interesting films to consider, choose and see—or not see—in the theaters: the recommended, surprisingly effective, touching, charming and emotional comedy-drama-romance “Table 19,” which features a soft-touch, sentimental direction and a warm-hearted ensemble cast of comedians generating and displaying great acting chemistry to tell an entertaining, moving story; the sadly-disappointing—and not-recommended—completely downer, depressing and negative superhero and comic book movie “Logan,” which has to be one of the more dour and gray superhero and comic book movies in ages; and the second weekend for the out-of-nowhere, surprise hit—and definitely recommended—“Get Out,” a thrilling, suspenseful, scary, eye-opening—and timely—psychological suspense thriller that’s easily one of the nicest film surprises in months and an outstanding, confident debut by director, co-producer and writer Jordan Peele.
Starring Anna Kendrick, June Squibb, Craig Robinson, Lisa Kudrow, Stephen Merchant, Tony Revolori, Wyatt Russell, Amanda Crew
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Written by Jeffrey Blitz
Story by Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass, Jeffrey Blitz
Produced by Shawn Levy, Tom McNulty, Mark Roberts
Did you ever wonder why you were seated at that particular table with those particular people, at that particular wedding?! Have you sat there, at that table, with those people, wondering, “Why am I even at this wedding, anyway?” And, again, “Just who are these people—and why am I sitting next to them—at this table?”
Well, face it—everyone has been in this situation at time or another. Sometimes—face it—you’re there for the food and drinks, and not much else, due to some tenth-degree-of-separation to the bride and groom, or perhaps someone in the family was returning a favor, or being nice, or, perhaps, heck, you don’t even know the bride or groom. It’s awkward, it’s somewhat funny, it’s definitely goofy—and people just have to make the most of it—preferably by eating as much free food and downing as many free drinks as is possible.
Director and writer Jeffrey Blitz and co-writers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass gleefully took this premise and ran with it, devising a surprisingly—and pleasantly—funny, touching, charming, emotional and unabashedly sentimental comedy-drama-romance centered around six lovably awkward, diverse, eclectic and, in some cases, socially awkward misfits who do find themselves thrown together at a fancy wedding at some country resort—and, yes, they are those particular people, seated next to those other particular people, at that particular wedding. What makes the film work, and what brings it all together in a pleasing mix of comedy, drama and romance—without any of those genres going overboard, dominating or steering the film toward any one of the genres at the expense of the others—is the collective talent of the six leading actors, all of whom are naturally funny, but, in this film, they are careful to each, in their own special way, find that elusive balance within their characters, the story and the context of the overall film to keep things equally funny, equally dramatic (but funny-dramatic, not overbearing, overly-serious dramatic), and equally romantic (but not sappy, overbearing, corny romance). Thus, you get a warm-hearted film that—cliches be damned, because it’s true—will make you laugh, be touched by the characters’ situations, and feel some genuine romantic feelings.
These six lovable, goofy people find themselves seated at this particular wedding at the title’s Table 19—the table placed somewhat awkwardly far in the corner—near the bathrooms, as one character notes—and each of them are trying to figure out just what each of the others are doing there, and what everyone’s connection is to the bridge and groom. There’s the jilted, beautiful, connected—but somewhat banished—beautiful girl, Eloise McGarry (Anna Kendrick, looking beautiful, but balancing her characters’ somewhat snooty princess characteristics with a more grounded plot situation that keeps Eloise somewhat real and relatable); the constantly-fighting, flustered, middle-age-challenged, broken-marriage couple Jerry and Bina Kepp—that couple everyone knows is teetering dangerously on the edge of Divorcetown (an excellent, very grounded, very realistic—but still funny—Craig Robinson and Lisa Kudrow, in two of the best recent roles for these talented comedians in quite a while—and Jerry Kepp may just be Robinson’s best role and best performance so far in his career); the very awkward, very comedy-relief, very-caricatured, very cartoonish—but also very funny—complete oddball, eccentric and wayward nerd—and funnily-named—Walter Thimble (Stephen Merchant carefully going just nearly almost all the way to the very edge of cartoonish corniness—but stopping just short, as any good actor knows how and when to do, so Thimble is goofily funny, but also, still, a relatable human being with his own interesting back story, just like everyone else).
There’s also Renzo Eckberg, a poor, unfortunate high-school nerd who is indeed a nerd, socially awkward, unsure of himself, lacking in confidence, inexperienced with girls, inexperienced in social situations, a mamma’s boy—and wholly lovable, in that cute way where you want to take quiet, shy guys like this, hug them, help them out, and tell them that everything will be okay once high school is over and they get to college; and, the best for last, Jo Flanagan, a career nanny who was once the bride’s nanny, and who is simply the story’s, the characters’ and the movies’ center, rock, central figure in many ways (even though the film strives to center itself around Eloise), the mother and grandmother figure—and the foundation. This older senior citizen mother figure and wise sage, who ends up mentoring, counseling, helping guiding and connecting in many ways all of the other characters, if not the director of the film and the producers, is played brilliantly, touchingly, movingly and quite solidly by the veteran, career and Academy Award-nominated grande dame actress June Squibb, who is 87, but in terms of acting, spirit, energy, presence and spiritual guidance in this movie, could well have been 27.
June Squibb delivers one of those sly, clever, smart, talented performances full of insight, experience, maturity and life-institutional- knowledge that simply steals the film right out from everyone else. Squibb doesn’t do it by over-emoting, by dominating, by hamming it up, by intentionally stealing scenes, by not even delivering grand, eloquent monologues, speeches or lines—she steals this movie, and the story, by finding her well-drawn-out, well-written wise, insightful and perceptive character’s experience, knowledge and intelligence—and heart—and combining that with Squibb’s own, inner, real-life insight, perception and experience and her innate, natural acting abilities and delivering a performance that ends up simply capturing moviegoers’ hearts and souls.
For Jo Flanagan is a woman who cares deeply, who, as a smart woman, senior citizen and career nanny, has been able to see just who people are inside and underneath, and she is someone who can understand and relate to these oddball, quirky people, and give them some homespun, but smart, advice, guidance and help. Jo starts out as a seemingly eccentric, quirky, questionable older woman, but it’s to the writers’ credit that that direction is quickly abandoned—and Jo is revealed to be the smart, insightful and helpful revelation and hero that she turns out to be. When Squibb is on screen, delivering her lines in that motherly, caring, loving fashion—telling these wayward people who they really are, what they should really do, and where they should really go in life, you can’t help but be moved, touched and inspired. Squibb takes the character, the characters’ motivations, and her own experience and creates a memorable character that anchors, centers and grounds this movie. That’s talent—and it’s a credit to director Jeffrey Blitz and co-writers Jay and Mark Duplass that they were smart enough to let Squibb’s Jo Flanagan quietly, secretly come to dominate the movie.
And there are certain aspects to the story arc and character development of Jo Flanagan that can’t be revealed in regards to how Flanagan steers the story, because it would be a spoiler. But rest assured that although Eloise’s romantic situation with one of the groomsman and her complicated connection to the bride, Walter’s bizarre situation and connection to the wedding, the natural teenage-years life learning curve of Renzo and the middle-age path of discovery and connection between Jerry and Bina are all explored and enjoyed in satisfactory ways, as everyone’s storylines come together in a natural, easygoing manner, and the audiences gets to enjoy six characters who are actually likeable and who people actually care about, in the end, there’s still the sturdy, reliable wise older sage Jo Flanagan guiding and overseeing the proceedings.
In the end, these lead six characters come to realize that–not to be corny, but it’s true—they are indeed real people with real lives, concerns and issues, that they do matter, that, you know what, it doesn’t matter what table they are seated at, and what goofball wedding they’re at. They are people, they have lives of their own, and they do matter. So to hell with awkward table assignments at awkward weddings. In the end, the six characters come to realize that they are not awkward, that they are not really nerds, and they don’t need those other particular people at those other particular tables—because they have each other. The six characters come through a path of self-discovery and live-discovery and find that they have each other. It’s not corny, it’s not sappy, it’s happily sentimental, and it is touching, charming—and happy.
So the next time that you’re seated at that table at that wedding—look up, look next to you, look across the table—and talk to your tablemate. You may just find that those other people at your table are the very best people at that particular wedding. And if you find a wise, older, experienced, mature, insightful senior citizen mother figure like Jo Flanagan at your table, a mother figure who is ready to be nice, kind and helpful—well, that could be as much as a revelation as the wonderful “Table 19” turns out to be at the movies.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant
Directed by James Mangold
Written by Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Produced by Hutch Parker, Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner
What prompts some filmmakers to think that a superhero or comic book movie needs to be depressing, downer, negative, R-rated to the point of being, well, too R-rated, overly-violent, and even somewhat nihilistic? And why and how do most people drive any satisfaction out of downer, depressing superhero and comic book movies? That very sentence presents the basic problem with this approach—because, basically, let’s face it—superhero and comic book movies should be fun, entertaining, positive, hero-driven in a positive way, somewhat breezy and diverting, like a rollercoaster ride or a carnival ride, funny even, and just overall a good, upbeat time at the movies.
Somewhere along the lines, some wayward producers, directors and writers in the superhero and comic books worlds thought it would be a good idea—for some reason—to darken everything and make everything, well, downer and depressing. Most of the time, that approach doesn’t work. It worked for Christopher Nolan—but Noland and his team were smart enough to make Nolan’s three Batman movies positive, encouraging and optimistic enough amid all of the mayhem, chaos, violence and depression—in the end, in Nolan’s films, Batman is still the hero, he still fights the bad guys, the bad guys are still bad, and there’s still room for comrade Superman’s truth, justice and the American way. But nearly everyone else who tried to copy Nolan’s dark-knight dark-worlds in superhero and comic book films have failed. Darkness does not rule in superhero and comic book worlds—light, sunshine, brightness, good over evil, heroes, and life, liberty and the pursuit if entertainment happiness should rule the day and night.
Thus, director James Mangold and writers Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green completely forgot this important lesson with the dreary, dour, depressing, downer, gray, even ghoulish failed superhero and comic book film “Logan,” which heavily lumbers into theaters amid clouds of grayness, divisiveness, confusion, anger and negativity—before anyone has even seen the movie. Rumors leaked about the story’s story, plot and characters, causing fans to react negatively, and when you have angry fans angry about certain story lines and a resulting film that’s dreary and depressing from start to finish, well, the filmmakers must be blamed for a huge, odd failure in regards to “Logan.”
It’s not an enjoyable film, it’s not a fun film, there’s barely any humor or bright spots, it’s far too unnecessarily violent, the story, plot and characters are all depressing, the characters are not likeable, there’s no real reason for the wholly gratuitous R rating, there’s no need for characters to cuss and shout and scream and yell and fight for the entire length of the film, there’s no need for the characters to go through what they go through, and, oddly, despite the possibility and potential for a very real, moving, emotional story—even that is squandered, cast aside, destroyed amid the overall dreariness and depression. “Logan” is just a mess of a superhero and comic book film.
The story centers around the central character, Logan, who is one of the mutant X-men characters striving to survive in a futuristic world where, for some reason, humans are still chasing down, hunting, ostracizing and trying to even capture or kill mutants—which, you’d think, would have ended about ten movies ago. Logan’s superhero power is that he can extend and withdraw long steel blades from his hands, exhibit superhuman strength, run and leap and move like some hyper-strong creature, and heal from all types of wounds. He is called Wolverine, and he’s been seen in, well, far too many movies already—which is part of the problem; the Wolverine character became over-extended and over-exposed about, well, five movies ago.
In “Logan,” Logan/Wolverine is presented as, well, one of the absolutely wretchedly unlikeable, unwatchable and uncare-able superhero characters in ages. He’s mean, gruff, tired, worn out, in a constant rut, out-of-shape, unshaven, a pill-popper addict, an alcoholic, and he fights, creams and yells with everyone—including his closest friends, people who try and help him and even a cute little girl who he should be caring about, trying to help and trying to love with all of his heart. But Logan is such a lost case, and he’s presented in such an awful manner, it’s hard to, again, care about him, watch him or root for him.
And then there’s Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier, or Professor X, who, again, is simply presented in this film as such a tired, old, worn out, depressing, senile, rambling, unstable older wreck of a person, superhero or comic book character—well, it’s simply just depressing and ridiculous. Although viewers want to care about Xavier, “Logan” is such a mess, the film presents the character in such a depressing fashion, he’s not a superhero and viewers just don’t know how to properly relate to a character they should be rooting for in a just and proper superhero world. Which “Logan” isn’t.
And then there’s the presence of a beautiful, precious little girl, Laura, all of 11 years old, all wide-eyed, cute face and bundle of curiosity, kidness, innocence—and hidden danger. Yes, she’s a mutant—that’s not giving anything way—and she comes into contact with Logan and Xavier, and the three of them must get the girl to safety and outrun—you guessed it—more shady federal government agents equipped with the requisite black SUVs, big guns, mad scientists, mad posse hunters, evil villains, and orders to capture, shoot, kill or torture the mutants, or perhaps bits of all of the above.
Thus, the chase is on, and the evil mad chasing federal agents chase Logan, Xavier and Laura, and fight Logan Xavier and Laura, and chase and fight some more, all presented in crazily, loudly, wildly edited action sequences of such bloody, cutting, vicious violence, one would think they’re watching a bloody Scorsese or Tarantino crime movie rather than a superhero or comic book movie.
And “Logan,” which starts out badly, devolves into more badness, until the entire exercise is swallowed up by itself, its meanness, its violence, its viciousness, and its depressing story, plot, characters and characterizations.
The acting is fine—Hugh Jackman as Logan, Patrick Stewart as Xavier and the fetching, adorable Dafne Keen as Laura all perform well and turn in fine, credible, talented performances. Don’t blame them for “Logan’s” failures—it all comes down to the script, the story, the plot, the dialogue, the unnecessary R rating and the story.
“Logan” is a good example of a film where the dreary script and story were kept too close to a core group of people, and some bold Marvel producers should have taken one good look at the script, grabbed the prop hand-knives used for the Wolverine character—and shredded the screenplay to bits. Then someone with a positive outlook on life, superheroes and comic books should have written a completely new story and made a completely new movie.
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Lil Rel Howery, Stephen Root
Directed by Jordan Peele
Written by Jordan Peele
Produced by Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm, Jr., Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele
“Get Out” is an amazing debut film from Jordan Peele—who directed, wrote and co-produced this movie—and this stunning debut from Peele is a gripping, taut, tight, suspenseful—and flat-out scary—psychological horror film that works expertly on every level. This story will have moviegoers enjoyably grabbing onto their seats and seatmates, clinching their fists in anxiety, and crazily literally jumping out of their seats in good old-fashioned thriller fashion. “Get Out” works as a suspense film at the directing, writing, acting and producing levels; the film is, just like the enjoyable comedy-drama-romance “Table 19,” a welcome surprise at the movies so far in 2017; it’s a fun rollercoaster fright fest that recalls, pays homage to, but doesn’t steal from, some great thrillers; and it’s a thoroughly impressive feature film debut from Jordan Peele. And don’t be confused by Peele’s background as a comedic actor from MADtv, “Key and Peele” and Second City—“Get Out” is decidedly not a comedy! This is, again, one scary psychological suspense thriller.
Daniel Kaluuya deftly, understatedly and quite charmingly plays a young, twentysomething, Chris Washington, who’s casually, enjoyably, nicely dating the quite beautiful—and also seductively charming–twentysomething Rose Armitage, also nicely and likeably played by an attractive Allison Williams (that’s not being sexist, as her good looks help define the character in ways that can’t be revealed), and all seems to be going well for these two, normal, attractive people just starting out in life and enjoying the positive aspects that are life in one’s twenties.
But then—it’s the dreaded invitation to visit Rose’s parents’ fancy, upscale, upstate country home, and Rose’s attendant fancy, upscale, upstate parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener, whooping it up in deliciously twisted, bizarro roles that must have been a hoot to play on the set because the portrayals surely come off as scary, frightening hoots onscreen!). However, ah, er, um, there is one slight possibly awkward social and cultural piece of business to discuss before the big Visit to Meet the Rich Parents in the Country occurs: Rose has seemingly not happened to have mentioned to Dean and Missy that Chris happens to be black. Not that it matters, or should matter, but, let’s be real, sometimes, with some people, it does indeed matter—although it shouldn’t—and sometimes because it matters for some people, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, there is no sane reason that anyone should have had to write that at any time during any period in the history of mankind—but it’s part of the stark reality-world that we live in: Some people are racist. Why, we might even be able to see some of that racism, say, in today’s society, right here in the United States, in 2017!
That subtle, or not-so-subtle cultural observation aside, Jordan Poole is smart enough to realize that, indeed, in the context of crafting a modern-day suspense thriller, here are some interesting building blocks of build a modern-day suspense movie around: racism is real; that racial prejudices, stereotypes and generalizations are real; that the most unsuspecting people fall into these stupid traps; and, if you happen to be a person of color, the inherent, creepy, subtle—or not-so-subtle—very real racism, racial profiling, stereotyping and generalizing do exist in every corner, at every economic and educational and intellectual level, among people of all types. Even upper-class, educated, fancy folks living in upper-class, fancy houses far out in the beautiful, wooded, faraway country. That just happens to be reality. And these racist views, viewpoints, prejudices, misunderstandings, ignorance stereotypes and generalizations, while seeming on some levels with some people in some situations to be just mild and existing under the cover of intellectual security blankets of education, privilege, money and fancy houses and businesses—could very well be not so mild, not so covered, and actually quiet dangerous, destructive and debilitating.
Imagine that existing—in the United States of 2017!! Imagine that.
With the realization of all of this lurking somewhere deep in the back of his intelligent, insightful young mind, Chris, somewhat reluctantly, agrees to go on the awkward visit upstate with Rose, despite the very real potential for some upscale, snooty social, cultural—and racial–awkwardness, uncomfortableness and irritation. But Chris likes Rose, and he wants to please her, so he agrees to take the trip.
Does anyone have to suggest or tell you what happens next? Without revealing anything—although trailers and preview reviews have suggested much of what happens next—rest assured that what should have been a nice, quiet, relaxing trip to the country house of the beautiful girlfriend turns into a horrorshow trip to a modern-day psychological hell that will scare the hell out of you. Chris learns that, yes, all is not what it seems at the fancy, upscale, educated, privilege-laden girlfriend’s parents’ house deep in the country. Who knows who evil lurks in the hearts and minds of these seemingly harmless parents, their seemingly harmless nearby fancy, upscale, educated, privilege-laden friends and neighbors, and even Rose’s whacked-out, super-scary, unhinged and obviously insane brother Jeremy, wildly—but a controlled wildly—played by Caleb Landry Jones, who also taps into his inner demons for another crazily scary portrayal, alongside the seemingly-sane-but-possibly-deranged Dean and Missy.
And then there’s the robotic-like, cyborg-like, Stepford Wive-like helpers at the house, Georgina and Walter, who, um, aren’t quite normal, to put it mildly.
But part of the fun early in the film, like with any good suspense thriller, is that Chris has no idea what the holy hell is going on here. Are the parents and the brother uncomfortable with Chris because he’s black? Why do they say and do some odd, weird things in front of Chris? What’s wrong with Jeremy, who exhibits some violent tendencies early on? And what on earth is wrong with Georgina and Walter? Is everything just normal, and Chris is imagining things? Is it all just a figment of Chris’ imagination? Is everything really okay, or is something terribly, horribly, strangely, dangerous wrong here at the Armitage household out in the country? Have you seen just one psychological thriller in your lifetime? Then you know the answer.
What happens next to Chris at the steadily unsteady Armitage homestead is just wildly exciting, suspenseful fun—as noted, it’s steadily, creepily gripping, scary and—cliché alert–a real rollercoaster of twists and turns that leads to an all-out crazy third act that will have moviegoers jumping up and down with excitement. Those are terrible clichés, yes, but it’s a good way to describe this film. And to generally suggest that things go wildly off-track at the girlfriend’s nice house in the country is not giving anything away—any good suspense film builds to an exciting climax in the third act.
Amid the building mayhem, chaos and suspense, there always needs to be at least one person aside from the protagonist who’s there on the sidelines, helping, guiding, providing some sense of grounded, normal reality—and a needed sense of comfort and support for the protagonist. Otherwise, things would be too bleak and too hopeless under the suspense-story circumstances. Again, fortunate to the film and adding to an already superb cast, is comedian Lil Rel Lowery, who strongly and confidently—and humorously, providing the film’s comic relief—plays Chris’ best friend, a TSA officer named Rodney Williams. Lowery’s portrayal is important in this film—again, he’s Chris’ best friend, he provides outside-the-crazy-world support for Chris, he provides comic relief, and William’s presence, detective work and friendship and support provide some relief from all the madness that seems to be building at the increasingly-suspicious Armitage house.
Eventually, Chris and Rod discover some things that, well, lead to the conclusion. To reveal what happens and what Chris and Rod find would be to spoil the film.
Along the way, quite intelligently, Jordan Peele not only delivers a fun, effective psychological thriller with bits and pieces from “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” “Single White Female,” “One Hour Photo,” “Falling Down,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives.” “Basic Instinct” and “Fatal Attraction,” he also delivers some stinging, biting, caustic and foreboding messages, themes and warnings about, again, the very real, very realistic presence, dangers, ignorance, violence and flat-out lunacy, madness and insanity that exist among people when it comes to racism, prejudice, bigotry, stereotyping, generalizations—and hatred and ignorance based on race. And those messages and themes, as told throughout “Get Out”—-are just as psychologically scary as what happens in the film. And they are especially psychologically scary in the overall societal and cultural context of the precarious, divided United States of 2017.
So this weekend, for some major extremes in feelings and emotions at the movies—which is a good thing—head on out and be sweetly moved, touched and charmed by “Table 19”—and be prepared to be chillingly shaken, scared and frightened by “Get Out.” Either way, with either film, it’s a great time at the movies.