Movie Review: “Get Out”

Starring
Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford
Director
Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele’s first foray behind the camera as a director is funny, thrilling and often frightening. The writer-director balances an array of tones, bringing them together seamlessly in a movie with a lot to offer. “Get Out” is a film that works on many levels. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful and relevant thriller with plenty of ideas to go along with the scares and laughs.

The problem with writing about “Get Out” is that many of its strengths lie in the third act, where questions are answered and storylines are paid off in satisfying and unexpected ways. But part of the appeal of Peele’s debut is that it’s hardly predictable. When Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to spend the weekend with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) and her parents, it’s not easy to predict everything that’s about to happen. Her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), aren’t always welcoming, which is likely why Rose didn’t tell them that her new boyfriend was black. But while Chris is willing to forgive Dean’s racially insensitive remarks, as the weekend progresses, he stumbles upon a terrifying discovery that puts his life in danger.

Peele’s vision for a thriller doesn’t involve characters making terrible decisions to move the story along. Chris and his best friend Rod (the terrific LilRel Howery) are sometimes even a few steps ahead of the antagonists. Though Rod isn’t present for the horrors that take place at the Armitage home, he’s worried about his friend, checking in on him every once in a while to make sure he’s okay. When he realizes everything is far from all right, he makes the right call, like Chris often does in the movie.

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Part Deux It Again: The 10 best Part Twos in cinema

Sequels are all the rage right now in Hollywood. Studios are constantly looking for properties to expand into franchises, and after securing a popular first entry, the next step is the shaky second part. This is the make or break moment for the franchise – a chance to correct any shortcomings in the first one and deliver more of what people loved, while still expanding the world enough to give them a feeling of something new.

John Wick: Chapter Two” is currently blasting through cineplexes with headshots and pencil deaths galore, proving that it’s still possible to make second entries that rival the first installment. And while there is certainly a slew of Part Twos in cinema history – some bad (“2 Fast 2 Furious,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) and some passable (“Halloween II,” both versions) – the good ones also define themselves as being excellent movies in their own right that explore familiar characters in unexpected and novel ways.

Below are the 10 best second installments in cinema history. (And for those looking for the best threequels in cinema history, simply visit this entry as well).

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Blu Tuesday: Manchester by the Sea and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Manchester by the Sea”

An incredibly intimate and authentic story about a broken man forced to confront his demons, “Manchester by the Sea” is the most devastating, heart-wrenching drama of 2016. Casey Affleck is phenomenal in the lead role, delivering a subtle but powerful performance that showcases an actor at the top of his game, while Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges round out the excellent cast. Though the movie is surprisingly funny at times, it’s primarily a portrait of grief and how it affects everyone differently. There’s no guidebook or one-size-fits-all remedy to mending a broken heart, and writer/director Kenneth Lonergan conveys that point beautifully amid the wintry backdrop of his New England setting. “Manchester by the Sea” is heavy stuff, but for a film that deals in misery, it never feels exploitative, and that goes a long way in earning your attention and respect.

Extras include Extras include an audio commentary by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Movie Review: “The Great Wall”

Starring
Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Tian Jing, Andy Lau, Willem Dafoe, Hanyu Zhang
Director
Zhang Yimou

Over the last decade or so, China has grown to become the second largest movie market in the world (and is currently on pace to surpass the U.S. in the next few years), which explains why Hollywood has suddenly shown great interest in the region. But while pairing one of the industry’s biggest stars (Matt Damon) with esteemed Chinese director Zhang Yimou might sound like an exciting idea on paper, it lacks the prestige that such a high-profile collaboration warrants. “The Great Wall” is a fairly generic monster movie at its core (think “Starship Troopers” in Ancient China), and although it boasts some fantastic visuals and rousing action that’s entertaining in the moment, it’s ultimately pretty forgettable.

In 11th century China, European mercenaries William Garin (Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) have ventured deep into the country in search of a mysterious black powder that will bring them riches back home. After surviving a monster attack the night before, they stumble upon a secret garrison of Chinese soldiers called the Nameless Order – each faction divided by brightly colored armor – that’s stationed at a massive wall designed to keep out invaders. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu), the Nameless Order serves as the last line of defense against the Tao Tie, a colony of mythical creatures that crashed into China on a meteor 2,000 years ago.

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Movie Review: “Fist Fight”

Starring
Charlie Day, Ice Cube, Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Dean Norris, Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert
Director
Richie Keen

The first two-thirds of “Fist Fight” play like a Ben Stiller movie from the early 2000s. Our hero is kind but doesn’t assert himself and is perceived to be a loser by everyone around him, including the ones he loves (and supposedly love him). This part of the movie is less fun, because from a filmmaking standpoint (and in life), picking on the 98-pound weakling doesn’t take any courage or risks. When our hero finally sticks up for himself, the movie feeds off his adrenaline and begins to soar, culminating in a rather spectacular finish. The path to the ending is littered with dick jokes, but “Fist Fight” makes the early hardships worthwhile. Just barely, though.

It is the last day of the school year and Andy Campbell (Charlie Day) is a high school English teacher just trying to get through the day so he can help out his daughter at her talent contest. Andy tries to help Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube) get a video started, and when Andy discovers that a student is responsible for the repeated malfunctions, Mr. Strickland loses it, grabbing a weapon from the hallway and terrorizing the students. Andy and Strickland go before the principal, who lays an impossible ultimatum on the two: either one of them confesses or tattles, or they’re both fired. Andy’s wife has already missed her delivery date with their second child, so Andy rats out Strickland to keep his job. Strickland tells Andy that he’s going to fight him after school is out. Andy knows he’s going to get clobbered, so he tries everything he can to back out of it, failing miserably in the process.

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