In this edition, we’re taking a look at Get Out, Battle of the Sexes, American Assassin, and Lion.
I don’t like scary movies; I avoid them as much as I can. But when people won’t shut up about one — and it gets nominated for Best Picture — I feel obligated to check it out. I sadly had Get Out’s twist spoiled for me before seeing the movie, but it didn’t really hamper my enjoyment. In fact, it illuminated a lot of the foreshadowing and fun dialogue that takes place before the twist, giving me even more appreciation for the writing, acting, and direction.
I’m curious if there’s anyone else out there that would agree with me, but Get Out feels like an 80s horror b-movie — and I mean that as a compliment. Its story is completely bizarre, and it tells that story in a very slow burn way before blowing the lid off at the climax. It’s surreal, low budget and knows it, and uses tension and jump scares deftly to heighten mundane circumstances. Obviously, Get Out executes on these things better than a traditional 80s horror movie, but that’s the vibe that I got while watching. It definitely doesn’t feel like a “modern” horror movie to me. Maybe that’s partially why I liked it so much.
But at its core, Get Out isn’t even really about its crazy story. It’s more a movie about race, and I think that’s equally as powerful. Main character Chris — played by Daniel Kaluuya in an Oscar-nominated performance he definitely earns — comes across like three different people. There’s the Chris when he’s with his white girlfriend, the Chris when he’s with her sometimes borderline sometimes obviously racist family, and the Chris when he’s talking to his black best friend. Obviously, I’m white so this is just my interpretation, but I was fascinated to see how he acted in those three audiences. I’ll never understand what it’s like to be a minority, and how that culture differs from “white” culture in America, but if the reality is anything like in Get Out, I have a much larger appreciation for how difficult it is for minorities to be themselves around people that are unlike themselves.
Plenty of props go to Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed this. The movie has a great sense of humor, which you’d expect coming from one of the creative minds behind Key & Peele. But it also clearly has an agenda that it delivers in a fair way. It would be incredibly easy for me to sit back and be annoyed by how the white people were portrayed in Get Out. Not only would that kind of prove the point Peele is trying to make, but it also wouldn’t be justified. Sure, some of the characters don’t act like real people in the way they talk about race. But that’s pretty much the point of those characters. The rest of the more “realistic” stuff feels like how people might act when put into an uncomfortable situation with a black guy. That’s incredibly sad, but I can’t get on my high horse and pretend like I wouldn’t be inclined to some over-compensation, as well. It’s a tough thing to get right without offending folks on either side of the racial fence, but Peele nails it, in my opinion.
It’s hard for me to be 100% unbiased on this since I knew the twist coming in, but that reveal felt pretty obvious to me from the jump. It isn’t a huge knock against the film, but it feels like Peele maybe had a little too much fun playing Hitchcock. There are a few moments of story-telling that could be clearer, as well. Without spoiling things, it has to do with who some characters were before the events of the film. For folks that have seen it, I’m talking about the old boyfriends and the scene with the photographs. I only connected the dots because of context; the guys in the pictures looked too different from how you see them in the movie for it to make sense. But that’s an incredibly small issue.
I was shocked with how much I enjoyed Get Out. It toes a racial line that has never been more tough to toe, and it offers enough scares to please that crowd but enough substance to please me. It takes a long time for shit to pop off, but once it does, both the waiting and the resolution are worth it. Get Out is well deserving of its Oscar nomination, and I’m excited to see what Jordan Peele can come up with next.
Battle of the Sexes
Similar to Get Out, Battle of the Sexes is a movie with an agenda. I’d say this one is maybe less even-handed in its portrayal of the sexes, but I also think that’s fair considering the time period and subject matter.
Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) was the best female tennis player of her time, but still couldn’t get the same money as her male counterparts. All of this in spite of the fact that viewership and attendance for women’s tennis were the same as for men’s. So, with the help of other female players, she went out and formed her own tennis league to compete with the men’s. That league’s success inspired senior tour player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) to challenge her to a “battle of the sexes” to prove whether women could really stand up to male players.
Stone and Carell are both fantastic in the film. Stone brings a depth to Billie Jean that’s fantastic to watch, and completely nails the mixed emotions her character is feeling. I feel the same way about Carell’s Riggs as I did his performance in The Big Short: While I’m sure his characterization is true to life, he just doesn’t seem like a real person to me. I will say that we do get a fair amount of backstory and character development for Riggs, which is nice. It makes him seem more humanized, and while I definitely wasn’t rooting for him, you do feel a bit bad for him at the end.
I did find it difficult to truly root for Billie Jean King while watching the movie. I get it, being gay wasn’t anywhere near as acceptable as it is now, so maybe it’s possible she would never have married a man in the first place — but she did. And for most of the movie, she’s having an affair. I don’t care if the affair is with a man or a woman, it still isn’t right or justified — and the fact that her husband seemed mostly okay with it doesn’t justify that, either. I’m glad Battle of the Sexes included that side story to both humanize and demonize her character. She might be fighting the good fight for women’s rights, but she isn’t a saint. I think that just makes her seem like more of a human being, and that’s a good thing for this type of story.
The movie does a great job of delivering that 70s aesthetic in its style and visuals. There are more than a few moments of fake period tv, and they work. The final match between Jean and Riggs is a tad slow, but also carries a good amount of intensity throughout.
Battle of the Sexes is a movie that would never have been made if Billie Jean King lost to Bobby Riggs. I find that fascinating. But I’m glad she did, not only because it spawned a terrific film, but more importantly, helped us take another huge step toward gender equality. I straight up can’t believe some of the things men said about women back in the 70s, and the fact that 40+ years have passed only makes it more despicable that some of that talk still happens.
It’s hard for me to work up any strong opinions on American Assassin one way or the other. It’s a perfectly fine action film, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the genre from a story, character, or set piece perspective.
The movie has two main hooks. First, it’s centered on Mitch Rapp, a young man whose wife is murdered by some terrorists while they’re on vacation. He sets out on a personal vendetta to kill everyone involved. I think actor Dylan O’Brien does a nice job selling the intensity, but I found it hard to buy into his character’s circumstances. He’s just a regular dude who takes it upon himself to infiltrate terrorist cells and is then recruited as the top agent in a counter-terrorist unit of the military. There’s a fair amount of suspension of disbelief to go along with the beginning of the film.
The second hook is that the villain of the movie is a former recruit of Michael Keaton’s character, played by Taylor Kitsch. I’d consider myself a Taylor Kitsch fan, as I’ve always found it sad that he hasn’t become an A-list star after Friday Night Lights. He’s just been involved in too many movie flops, I guess. His character in this one is never developed as anything more than a fanatical bad guy, and that’s a shame. Keaton doesn’t get much character development, either. He’s the gruff, no-nonsense father figure that doesn’t dole out enough pats on the back.
American Assassin seems more interested in delivering suspense than story. It wants me to ask questions like, “Who is a bad guy? How is Kitsch’s character doing what he’s doing? Is everyone in on this?” That’s all to be expected in a twist and turn action movie like this, but when none of those answers are particularly interesting, some better characters and writing could have helped escalate American Assassin to being more than another forgettable spy movie.
Normally once Academy Awards nominees are selected, I try and see as many of them as possible. But when Lion was nominated for Best Picture in 2017 — along with a slew of other awards — I still had no interest. I’ve never been a fan of Nicole Kidman and I haven’t loved Dev Patel in anything I’ve seen him in. But as I looked back at the major releases in 2017 I hadn’t yet seen, I figured I’d take a chance on this one rather than watch some dumb, forgettable action movie. Let me say, I’m so glad I didn’t listen to my bias on this one, because Lion is one of the best films I’ve seen in quite a while.
I’m going to make a weird comparison to Full Metal Jacket, but stay with me. Full Metal Jacket feels a bit like two movies. There’s the first half that introduces the characters and their circumstances in training. Then, the second half is when they actually go off to war. Those two pieces can feel a bit disparate on their own, but the second half doesn’t work without the first. That’s sort of how I feel about Lion.
The beginning of the movie tells the story of a young Indian boy, Saroo, that gets lost and ends up hundreds of miles away from home. It’s like a Homeward Bound type thing as he’s trying to get back home, despite the fact that he doesn’t really know where he’s supposed to go. There are plenty of diversions along the way, some of them fun and some of them quite dark. There’s a good amount of subtlety here, as well. There’s one scene in particular where a man comes to visit that’s supposed to help him find his mother, and there’s a definite pedophile vibe despite there being nothing overt about his intentions.
I won’t give any outright spoilers, but the second half of the movie has the young boy grown up, still trying to find his mother and hometown. This older version is played by Patel, and he knocks it out of the park. There’s a clear conflict as he deals with his current circumstances, but he can’t help but obsess over finding the family that he’s now been away from for over 20 years.
That’s all I’ll say about the story, as the “will he or won’t he find them” piece is the main driver toward the climax. I’ll just say that I was openly weeping at the movie’s end, and I’m not the least bit embarrassed. The only knock I can give against Lion is that it feels a tad long while it’s working to establish Saroo’s adult circumstances. But I’ll even give the movie a pass on that one, as that sense of wanting things to move forward faster than they are is mirrored by Saroo’s desire to find his home.
Thematically, Lion deals with family, nature vs nurture, young adulthood, and determination, and it exceeds on all fronts. The score and cinematography also add to the drama and intensity of scenes, and really sell the sense of journey that Saroo embarks on. I can’t believe this film was based on a true story.
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