Don’t Trust Yourself (Us, 2019)

But I care about love
I care about truth
And I care about trust
And I care about you
I care about us

~Michael Been, Us, On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, 1994

Us_PosterGet Out made people step back and reassess their perception of Jordan Peele.  Known for his comedy work, the biting horror thriller that took aim at white liberal racism, viewers took notice.  For a lot of this, that made us want to see what came next.  And the fact that he had more ideas in the realm of horror no longer seemed a question.

Going deeper down the horror rabbit hole, Us tells the story of young Adelaide. In the eighties, her parents take her to the Santa Cruz beach. She wanders away from her parents and enters a strange hall of mirrors. There, she meets a little girl who looks exactly like her. She is traumatized by the event.  The film picks up years later with Adelaide, now married to Gabe, on their way to the family cabin with her children. When they go to the beach, her son Jason disappears briefly, causing a dread in Adelaide.  And with good reason.  That night, they find themselves under siege by…themselves.  A warped set of duplicates seemingly full of malicious intent.

Saying much more just gives away the film.  Astute viewers will likely start to put things togethers fast and start seeing where the story is going. Others will be blindsided.  Unlike Get Out, Peele has formulated a far more… complex plot.  The twists and turns start coming fast after the initial frights of the home invasion.

Peele has a terrific eye, and the film is a visual feast.  There is, for instance, a really nice arial shot looking down on the family as they walk along the beach, attached to their shadows. He and his team of film makers use light and shadow masterfully to create discomfort and fear. In one scene, a person appears from the shadows of the background seamlessly.

You cannot ignore the performances here.  Everyone has a dual role…and pretty much everyone gets to shine. The doppelgängers are chilling in their simple outfits and creepy makeup. Lupita Nyong’o is especially compelling, with her dual role.  Red speaks in a disturbed creaky voice and moves in ways that are psychologically unnerving.

One of the things that makes the film so effective is how much I found myself liking the family.  They draw you into their world making it impossible not to become invested in their survival.

Some have suggested Us marks the reveal that the director Peele most reflects is M. Night Shyalaman.  And while I did not really see it in my viewings, I get what people are saying, mainly in the fact that this is a film with some big ideas that then throws a lot of twists and turns, yeah. But I am inclined to agree with the people who are saying this is a good thing, that this shares more in common with Shyalaman’s best work.

People who are bothered by smaller questions with struggle hard here.  The film aims big, but leaves some stuff off.  Because, honestly…where do the doppelgängers all get their matching red outfits is not important to the story.

Us is a terrific follow up to Get Out, and Jordan Peele has delivered a new an original vision.


Dive Deep (Aquaman, 2018)

Aquaman_posterSure, you know Aquaman can swim fast, talk to fish and punch hard. But what do you really know?

This holiday season, we have the full story of the savior of the seas.  Born of a lighthouse keeper from the surface world and the Princess of Atlantis, Arthur Curry has long dealt with the heartbreak of the death of his mother, believing it really to be his fault.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! when his half brother Orm sets his sites on uniting the kingdoms of Atlantis and destroying the surface world, the princess Mera seeks the aid of Arthur, who has avoided his Atlantean heritage.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! See, there is a magical trident that Aquaman will need to defeat his half brother, so he and Mera go on a big time treasure hunt.

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!! There is a guy called Black Manta who wants revenge on Arthur!

BUT THA- Oh, you get the idea.  They have packed a ton of stuff into this film, making it a bit of a mess. It is such a busy film full of story ideas it can make you wonder if any of those stories could have better room to breath in their own film.  However, one gets the sense that they had multiple assignments with this film. They had to fill in the back story not just of Arthur, but of Mera, Orm, Atlantis and a magical trident.

And yet, the film is a lot of fun.  The whole little side story in which Arthur and Mera are trying to find the trident National Treasure style is fun excitement.  And the film sets up a simple but good message for Aquaman to learn.  The effects are really good, which is important, because the entire sense of design depends on it.

The real highlight of the film is Atlantis. It is a lush and colorful undersea kingdom.  The use of undersea life in the designs of their vehicles and architecture is wondrous. This is DC film embraces the whimsy of it’s conceit to give a unique corner of the DCEU. There is also a real attention to small detail in all the underwater sequences that make is easy to forget people don’t breath or talk underwater. We get Aquaman in his traditional outfit and you know what? It looks great.

But it is not just the design and effects that the film has going for it. Now, Mamoa has limited acting range…but the filmmakers have filled the movie with a cast that keeps this from being an issue. He can do his brash and confident guy thing, because he is supported by top notch talent like Temuera Morrison, Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson. Wilson really carries a lot in the relationship between Orm and Arthur. He somehow manages to give a heart to a megalomaniacal maniac king. His hatred of Arthur is in a misguided blame for the loss of their mother, and Wilson sells this well.

And then there is James Wan. Wan is without a doubt one of the strongest directors in action films today. Even his giant action scenes are easy to follow. He balances sequences with multiple simultaneous leads exceptionally well (such as when Arthur and Mera become separated and have their own individual fights).

Aquaman manages to overcome a lot of odds, being far more entertaining than the elements ought to allow. So, in spite of a busy storyline, Aquaman is a rollicking fun adventure.

Back to the Beach (Baywatch, 2017)

Baywatch_PosterHonestly, of all the “Drama TV Show Made as a Comedy Movie” options?  Baywatch seemed like the best option.  Even at its most earnest (and Baywatch saw itself as a serious adventure drama), it was pretty hilarious.

So, opting to go the route of comedy, made sense.  I would have not given Baywatch a chance, were it not for some of its casting choices.  Most specifically Dwayne Johnson and Alexandra Daddario.

One of the weirdest things to me about the original show was it apparently had a 65% female viewership.  A show known for slow motion shots of Pam Anderson (and a series of Playboy Playmates that followed her) had a large female audience.  Maybe it was David Hasselhoff?  So, just how well does the Baywatch movie translate?

The short answer would be “Okay”.  The whole cast is pretty good and clearly get their roles.  The film opens with beautiful beach shots leading up to a big rescue by Mitch Buchanon (Johnson), leaping into the ocean to save an unconscious swimmer.  The guy asks Mitch if he is Batman, and Mitch replies, “Sure am…just browner.”  We see Mitch is rather beloved, one guy making daily sand sculptures of Mitch because he saved the life of the guy’s sister.

We are introduced quickly to the rest of the cast.  Ronnie is an aspiring lifeguard with a massive crush on gorgeous C.J.  A running gag is how flustered he gets around her and uh…an enthusiastic response in his pants.  Summer (Daddario) is another aspiring lifeguard who catches the attention of Matt Brody, an infamous gold medalist swimmer who joins the crew for community service.  Stephanie is Mitch’s second in command.

The central plot is the discovery of drugs on the beach, leading to the team’s efforts to expose a drug ring.  The plot is very simple but overly easy to sustain as the story hits the typical beats as many stumbling blocks impede their investigation.  Primarily, they are not cops.

The humor and language are more ‘R’ rated than the original show, though only one sequence goes overboard.  There is a sequence in the morgue that goes for gross out humor that oddly enough feels a bit out of place.  A lot of the humor is based in poking fun at the source material.  At one point, everyone is throwing crime scenarios at Brody.  He is arguing that they should be going to the police, rather than solve the case themselves.  He points out that the scenarios all sound like some unrealistic TV show.  I am pretty sure these scenarios all were from the original series.

There is a moment when Summer and Ronnie are discussing how C.J. seems to move in slow motion.  And here is where it gets to be a fine line.  Because if you are poking fun at the show’s “jiggle” factor?  You really run the risk of perpetuating it.  This cast is all attractive, and especially the women.  We are treated to all the women in sexy swimsuits, sexy gowns, sexy…well, you get the point.Of the central cast? The only average looking characters are guys.  I am a bit torn on the Ronnie and C.J. plot line.  It is a pretty tired “Average Guy and Hot Girl” scenario.  On the other hand, both characters are likable and the relationship develops somewhat organically.

The jokes tend to be hit or miss, though there are a fair number of good laugh moments.  The action sequences are actually quite nicely done and look great.  There are some awesome underwater shots.

In the end, though, what works best in the film is its ensemble cast.  They all have a certain charm that carries the film in a way the plot and humor do not.  Like I said, Baywatch is okay and even enjoyable.  But it never gets above its source material enough to feel fresh.

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