MArch Movie Reviews
GET OUT (R)
Tired of seeing the same horror movie week after week under a different name? Get Out will get you out of that rut. It also suggests that Jordan Peele, who wrote and directed, was the brains of the Key and Peele team. The opening scene shows the danger of Walking While Black (Is that a thing?) in a white suburb. Then, after five months of dating, Rose (Girls’ Allison Williams) is taking Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) to meet her wealthy parents (Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitford). She hasn’t told them he’s black but they’re total liberals so it won’t matter, she says. At first that seems to be true, but things seem just a little off – enough to keep Chris and us on edge. Rose’s psychiatrist mother hypnotizes Chris to help him quit smoking. At an annual gathering of their (almost all white) friends, everyone has some subtle bit of unconscious racism to contribute. Then there are the two black servants, Rose’s wacky brother and a blind art dealer... Chris may just be paranoid, but if you were in his place you wouldn’t want to be in his place. It takes the longest time for the full-on horror to kick in, but it’s not as if you haven’t been warned. The film’s ironic humor is easier to miss, thus all the more to be savored when you get it. Most ironic of all is knowing how the tone of the ending would change if the camera kept rolling for a couple more minutes. The next time you think you’re living in a “post-racial” America, let Get Out shock you back to reality.
Collide isn’t what you would call an intelligent action movie – if that’s not an oxymoron – but it has enough car crashes to tide you over until The Fate of the Furious opens next month. The plotting is sufficiently absurd to qualify as camp, especially with Ben Kingsley’s over-the-top performance as the number-two villain, Geran, a hedonistic Turk. But this is really a love story. In Cologne, Germany, Casey (Nicholas Hoult with facial hair that looks like it’s on the wrong face), an errand boy for Geran, meets fellow American Juliette (fellow Brit Felicity Jones), and goes straight to win her. But when she turns out to need a kidney transplant they can’t afford, you know the drill: It will just take one big score to pay the bills. Casey and a friend plot to steal a truckload of drugs from Geran’s boss, Hagen Kahl (Anthony Hopkins in possibly his most sinister role since Hannibal Lecter). And the chase is on, with guns firing thousands of bullets that shatter glass but never hit people. The stuntwork is impressive, the romance – well, who goes to a movie like this for romance? Everything else, not so much.
DONALD CRIED (NR)
Donald (not that one!) Cried isn’t a great movie but it’s one of the best examples since Sling Blade of an actor creating a role to showcase his talent. Expanding on his 2012 short, writer-director Kris Avedisian plays the title role; but Donald is a wingman of sorts to the main character. Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman) returns to his old Rhode Island neighborhood a couple decades after leaving for New York and reinventing himself. He’s there to settle his late grandmother’s affairs, but he’s lost his wallet on the way. The only person he can turn to for help is Donald, his childhood friend and neighbor who never grew up. (Pete can’t access the Internet on his phone? Yes, but then there wouldn’t be a movie.) The town hasn’t changed any more than Donald has – Pete might have arrived in a DeLorean - and Avedisian is remarkable as the obnoxious but somehow endearing man-child who awakens Pete’s suppressed memories of the not-always-good old days as he gives him a tour of their past. Donald reminds me of Dobie Gillis’ friend Maynard G. Krebs, who was played by Bob Denver. Wakeman, who shares the story credit, is too bland to be believable as a man who’s been surviving in New York, but this makes Avedisian’s performance stand out even more. Donald Cried is like a buddy comedy without much comedy, but the drama is quirky enough that you don’t miss it.
François Ozon, responsible for several of the best French films to reach our shores in this century, adds another. Last month Frantz won five of the 11 César Awards it was nominated for. The drama begins in Germany in 1919, when a French visitor was as welcome as a carpetbagger in the post-Civil War South. Adrien (Pierre Niney) puts flowers on the grave of Frantz, a young local who was killed in the war. Anna (Paula Beer), 21, was Frantz’s fiancée and is living with his grieving parents, who have virtually adopted her. Curious, she meets Adrien and is charmed, as are Frantz’s parents, by his stories of his friendship with the dead soldier. He helps them all to start living again. Seeing through our 21st-century eyes, despite charmingly retro black-and-white cinematography, we may form our own theory about these sensitive young men who shared interests in art, music and poetry; but that doesn’t prepare us for the secret Adrien reveals near the film’s midpoint. It’s not the last time we’ll be surprised by this adaptation of a 1932 Ernst Lubitsch film, Broken Lullaby. In telling what may be a love story, Ozon says a lot about war and its aftermath, about old men sending young men to fight their battles, and what we might be missing when we hold a grudge. If you’re holding a grudge against the French for something or other, give it a rest and see one of their best.
Infinite for cat lovers, *** for others
If you’re going to spend an hour and a half watching cat videos anyway, you may as well see some good ones on a big screen – and get a look at Istanbul at the same time. Apparently there are thousands of street cats in Turkey’s exotic, colorful largest city – not in the high-rent district but around the open-air markets near where the fishing boats dock. No one “owns” them but many have someone who takes care of them, sometimes dozens of them. They know where to go when they need food, shelter, even vet care. Ceyda Torun’s well-crafted documentary gets up close and personal with some of these cats and the people who care for them. Some of the people express interesting points of view; some of the cats do too, but they’re not subtitled so we don’t understand them. One woman describes her own interspecies conversations as like communicating with aliens. They may attribute human qualities to the cats but the movie doesn’t try to anthropomorphize them like docs by Disney and others. “People who don’t love animals can’t love people either,” one man opines; but do these animal lovers automatically love people too? Do they feed homeless humans the way they do cats? I spent 17 years fighting a cat for a person’s affection and always lost. But even I enjoyed Kedi, and with all the obsessive cat lovers out there it could prove to be a surprise blockbuster. If I were Torun I’d be collecting footage for Kedi 2.
- Steve Warren
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI (PG-13)
I hate it when I’m right and everyone else is wrong. Despite its Oscar nomination and festival awards, My Life as a Zucchini is just a sweet little stop-motion animated feature with as many flaws as virtues. For one thing, it’s predictable. If you can’t guess ten minutes in where the protagonist will end up, you don’t see enough movies. For another, the pace is too slow in an obvious effort to stretch it to feature length. (It runs 80 minutes, including about 10 of credits, with a strange Easter egg in the middle of them). Nine-year-old Icare accidentally kills his beer-swilling mother in the opening scene, although this isn’t clear until later dialogue confirms it. Raymond, a kind cop, places him in a small orphanage. Icare would rather be called by his mother’s pet name for him, Zucchini, which sounds better, if less manly, in French (Courgette). He eventually becomes besties with the house bully, Simon; and his relationship with the new girl, Camille, could get interesting if there’s a sequel. Oh, those French! Check the schedule because you have a choice of the original French version with subtitles or a dubbed English version with the voices of Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page and Amy Sedaris. You won’t want to bring anyone too young to read subtitles because of “locker room talk” (e.g., “exploding willies”) as the pre-adolescent boys exchange theories about sex; and the inadvertent matricide is never questioned or condemned. As a Truffaut worshipper I object to publicity materials calling this story “reminiscent of” his work. There’s as much similarity in plot and tone as there is between these animated figures and Truffaut’s live actors.
THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT (R)
Only in the movies would a war between Christians and Muslims be fought over a woman. OK, I’m exaggerating. World War I would have been fought anyway, even if Lillie (Hera Hilmar, who looks like the young Stockard Channing), a strong-willed, 23-year-old nurse from Philadelphia, hadn’t volunteered at a hospital mission in Eastern Anatolia in 1914. Aside from idealism, part of the attraction for her is Jude (Josh Hartnett), an American doctor, until she meets the title character, Ismail (Michiel Huisman), who is assigned as her “military escort” from the Ottoman Imperial Army when she arrives in the country. The hospital treats everyone, as America hasn’t entered the war yet. The movie is equally neutral, showing war as bad for all people and barely touching on the Turkish genocide of Armenians. If you have an American public-school education the historical details will go over your head, but you can follow the romance. Beautiful cinematography by Daniel Aranyó is the strong point of a movie that might have been made 50 years ago by a David Lean wannabe. (The director is Joseph Ruben, whose best film was The Stepfather, 30 years ago.) Everybody in the world speaks fluent English in a script that trades in clichés. The rating would be PG-13 if not for a little extra bloodshed.