Us (2019)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

116 mins. Rated R for violence/terror, and language.

 

I’m glad I took some time to decompress after Us. There’s a lot to unpack here.

Us, from writer/director Jordan Peele (Get Out), is the story of the Wilson family who, while on their family vacation to Santa Cruz, are beset upon by a family of four red-clad attackers who look exactly like them. The matriarch of the Wilson family, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) learns from her doppelganger Red that the doubles are here to “untether” themselves from the Wilsons, and now Adelaide and husband Gabe (Winston Duke, Black Panther) must protect their family and friends from the growing number of murderous doppelgangers bent on killing them.

It would appear that Jordan Peele is not a one-hit wonder when it comes to his horror films. The man has a keen visual sense and the ability to tell an intelligent story. He, like Quentin Tarantino before him, was baptized and raised by film, and it shows in both Get Out and especially Us. He uses symbols and themes so intricately that Us becomes infinitely more enjoyable upon a second or even a third viewing.

If there are problems with Us, it mostly boils down to two factors in the story. First, there’s a lot of cool mythology building in the film, but the story does have moments where it becomes clear what is happening even if the mythology is not revealed yet. Doppelganger stories sometimes have certain tropes that need to be ticked off, and Us is not exempt from all of them. Secondly, with the mythology and world-building, there are some things that feel like they either aren’t fleshed out enough or don’t make as much sense the more you read into them. There are explanations, but some don’t appear in the film, and if you try to peel away the layers, you might ruin the experience, so just watch it without trying to understand it all, the film will do the heavy lifting for you.

Lupita Nyong’o proves her abilities here are just as strong as any other genre. The way she plays both Adelaide and Red are so unique and different. Adelaide is a woman who has grown up being terrified of an experience she had in Santa Cruz as a child, and so she almost isn’t surprised when these doppelgangers show up to start wreaking havoc upon them. It’s like she’s prepared for something, anything, horrible to happen, and it appears to be a blessing that she did. Red, though, hasn’t used her voice in so long that it appears that she is struggling to use correct speech patterns, her vocal cords straining due to not being flexed in a long time.

Winston Duke is also tremendous as both Gabe and the doppelganger Abraham. Gabe is seemingly nonviolent outside of his wit and the way he acts. On the flipside, it seems like Abraham only knows violence and anger, and it’s interesting to see the way Gabe tries to work around a solution.

Also like Tarantino, Peele has a terrific sense of music, and he uses it to great effect here, giving the film both catchy tunes to exude the fun of the horror, while also staging his serious sequences with more disturbing and unsettling music. His use of I Got 5 On It (he added it to the finished film after it performed with audiences in the trailer) is absolutely incredible.

Us is quite the powerhouse second feature for Jordan Peele, and while I think Get Out might be the better film, Us is my personal preference and the one I will probably go back to more often. Us is Peele swinging for the fences, and he takes a lot of risks that pay off quite well. It’s just a damn fun time at the movies and is one of the best horror films of the year.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jordan Peele’s Get Out, click here.

Black Panther (2018)

Director: Ryan Coogler

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke

Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole

134 mins. Rated PG-13 for prolonged sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture.

 

Well, Black Panther’s finally here. Compared to every other MCU film to date, Black Panther is one of the titles I hadn’t read until the film was revealed. Like Iron Man before it, I just didn’t know much about the character or the comic, but as soon as I heard about the adaptation and the inclusion of director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), I wanted to read as much as I could. Black Panther is under a lot of pressure to be good. Expectations have been abnormally high on this one. How did it turn out?

Picking up about a week after the events of Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, 42, Marshall) arrives home in Wakanda to claim his birthright as King. He is reunited with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), an old flame who sees Wakanda’s secretive advances in technology as a tool to help the world, but T’Challa believes that revealing Wakanda for what it is puts the country in jeopardy and creates enemies. One such enemy is Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, War for the Plane of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), a smuggler and arms dealer, has allied himself with the mysterious Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Fantastic Four, That Awkward Moment), who has his own reasons for wanting to reach Wakanda.

Black Panther is one of the most-layered films in the MCU, and it excels in two areas that MCU films regularly fail: the villain and the music. First, the villain is an interesting and flawed character who has understandable motives in his ultimate quest. Just like Civil War before it, Black Panther presents a very interesting dilemma that has merits on both sides of the argument, and T’Challa is just as flawed with his decision as Killmonger.

The music is also a major step up from previous MCU films in that Black Panther has a theme, courtesy of Ludwig Goransson, and its complimented by Kendrick Lamar’s music supervision of the soundtrack. This film has a unique feeling that stands on its own while embracing the tightrope act of the larger MCU framework.

Coogler presents powerful themes in the film like Responsibility and Legacy. While T’Challa doesn’t want to lead from a throne, he is challenged by what has come before. He would rather be out hunting for Klaue himself. He looks up to his father but he is challenged by the difficult decisions T’Chaka had to make as king. T’Challa is forced to confront these difficult decisions and their aftermath, further conflicting his views on the legacy that his father left. The way he interacts with Killmonger, too, brings forth conflicts in identity and the question of nature vs. nurture in their lives.

I think Black Panther is a hell of a showcase of its principal cast. It’s proof of the incredible amount of top-notch performers of all races. Each role was cast with purpose, from Danai Gurira (The Visitor, TV’s The Walking Dead) as Okoye, leader of the Dora Milaje, an all-female team of protectors, to Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Arrival) as Zuri, a spiritual figure in Wakanda who protects a special and powerful herb. Every performer in the film is so precisely cast that you couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. I was especially impressed with Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Sicario) as W’Kabi, friend to T’Challa. Up until his role in Get Out, I did not know Kaluuya, but with such a small amount of screen time, he creates a lasting impression in the film.

For all the amazing things Ryan Coogler did with Black Panther, one cannot forget that this is a superhero movie in a crowded genre at the beginning of the year. He should be recognized too for the absolutely incredible experience of watching the film. Black Panther was downright fun to watch and be a part of. If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’d advise you to head to your theater immediately to see it in the largest crowd you can. This is probably my favorite film so far this year.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, click here.

For my review of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, click here.

For my review of Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy, click here.

For my review of James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, click here.

For my review of Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, click here.

For my review of Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War, click here.

For my review of Jon Watts’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, click here.

For my review of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, click here.

 

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