What does this title mean to you? Do you see Us or US? Well, one half of a comedy duo turned satirical director Jordan Peele has stated there is no concrete meaning behind his sophomore feature. To save the confusion or feared mispronunciation, Us has dual connotations in fitting with how one would interpret the film itself. In the wake of his multi Oscar nominated global phenomenon Get Out, Peele returns with an even darker and more thought provoking movie that reminds us that we are our own worst enemy.
A family take a trip to Santa Cruz for a relaxing summer vacation. However, their tranquility is soon disrupted when dopplegängers arrive at the end of their driveway. This mind boggling, ambiguous comedy-horror is overflowing with ambition. I think Get Out is a good film but not a great film, I respect the innovative creative choices Peele makes as well as the power social commentary that is carefully woven into the story. However I found both the horror and comedy elements lacking and the sub plot with Chris' best bud Rod jarring and fairly avoidable.
Us however is a taxing, frustrating but extraordinary work - one that I don't doubt will be studied in years to come. In the DNA of Peele's sinister satire he explores our duality. There are visual motifs peppered throughout the entire journey, repeated symbols of pairs - whether it's the newscast that reports the game score reading 11:11 or the shadows cast by the Wilson family as they stroll across the beach. Peele delicately sorts images into the film, reflecting the dopplegängers in smaller detail. Scissors are a power convention of the horror genre - they don't just impose this great sense of threat because they're a sharp object, their symmetry mirrors the genuine threat which is each side of us.
Chiefly, Peele dedicates the first half of this nightmare to the family. Like all the best horror films, Us establishes real character dynamics, admirable people who we invest in long before things literally go to hell. Discussing the lyrics to Luniz' I Got 5 On It and bickering around the kitchen table - Peele shows us their close-knit relationship. Winston Duke is terrific as Gabe - the goofy dad who dabs and attempts to win over the rest of the family with his conked out "speed" boat. Shahadi Wrigth Joseph is brilliant as the archetypal disapproving teenage girl, in addition to Jason played by Evan Alex who brings great physicality to his performance. In one of her first leading roles Lupita Nyong'o is sensational as the anxious though resourceful Adelaide, capturing a mother's instinct with refections of long hidden childhood trauma. Us is flawed but the first act is flawless.
I'm personally not a fan of comedy-horror, I find it either undercuts the tension or it can't find the right balance between scares and gags. Although it took me a while to adjust to it - Peele is trying to do A LOT here. Us is a better showcase for the visionary genre blending and tinkering with extremely dark subject matter whilst injecting zany dead-pan humour into it. In one pre-climatic scene the family argue over who has the highest kill count and should therefore drive the getaway car - this bold tone mixing and self-awareness is a key aspect of Peele's auteurism, along with his politically and socially thought provoking cinematography.
There is so much to decipher in Peele's Rorschach test. Us plays as a wicked critic on Trumps' America, pointing the blame at ourselves, suggesting we are the reason the nation is so divided. It's also a film about inequality and the marginalised groups of society, but unlike Get Out, not strictly about racism. When we reach the end you may not gain much gratification from this satirical misadventure, but more than anything Us is your own interpretation. The fact that Peele had the balls to put out something this ambitious with no clear meaning is not only commendable, it's absolutely awe-inspiring.
In Asghar Farhadi's newest drama everybody knows; the Iranian filmmaker of About Elly and The Salesman fame ventures into rural Spain along with two big A-list stars. It's such a treat to see both Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz on their own turf in a small-scale, self-contained picture. Laura returns from Argentina to her hometown outside Madrid to celebrate her sister's wedding, however things take a turn for the worst when her eldest daughter Irene is abducted.
Farhadi crafts a raw, hard-boiled family drama immersed in the tiny town and isolated countryside. With a more stripped down approach, Everybody Knows sketches the emotional torment of a family riddled with deceit and resentment, and how an event leads to a butterfly effect opening a rift that will change relationships forever. As a result of Irene's kidnapping Laura (Cruz) seeks help from old friends, specifically Bardem's avuncular figure Paco.
Sooner rather than later we discover that Paco and Laura were once lovers. Fooling around in the dusty, sun dappled bell tower Irene finds her mother's initials carved into the timeworn brick wall. The church bells are a predominant feature of the film's soundscape and it becomes clear right away how vital its importance is within the narrative - Farhadi hints a connection between Irene and Paco as the bells continue to chime in the backdrop across the movie. Expanding up the amazing sound track we also have the evocative, rustling branches of Paco's vineyard, the dirt track roads that crunch underfoot and the pouring rain that scuttles against the frayed jalouise windows.
Cruz and Bardem are captivating in two roles that are seemly, deliberately, given very little direction. Cruz presents a woman who is readjusting to her home environment years after her last visit, settling into the lifestyle fairly quickly but drawn closer to old friends once her daughter is abducted. Bardem is depleted as the weary Paco, reluctantly thrown into the mix of Laura's family tragedy and laying everything on the line for her. Haunted by past relationships, it's refreshing to see Bardem in a thoughtful and understated role, acting against his mainstream expectations and taking on a more endearing character.
Farhadi cleverly diverts away from overused genre conventions - there's no cross-cutting between the victim and her searchers. Everybody Knows is simply - and beautifully - about the instability of a family dynamic under extreme circumstances. Farhadi aims for naturalistic story telling and definitely achieves so.
Everybody Knows (Todos Lo Saben)
As social media dangerously expands there are ever increasing opportunities for trolls to spurt out genuinely nasty and unjustified hate. There have been a great deal of films in recent years that have effectively been buried by internet users - most notably 2016's all female reboot of Ghostbusters. If you were unaware, the controversy surrounding Marvel's latest feature has been not only ridiculous but quite toxic. Infamous critic website Rotten Tomatoes even had to change its entire system of ratings due to fans leaving fake negative reviews, intentionally dragging down the audience score - the studio has never before been afflicted with such strife.
The hate was primarily fuelled by Marvel's supposedly heavy handed feminist agenda, with the marketing for this film in no way subtle about the fact that Captain Marvel is their first female led picture. The girl who fell to earth - Carol Danvers - finds herself caught in the middle of a galactic war between the mighty Kree and the shapeshifting Skrulls.
Sadly Captain Marvel is all white noise - Brie Larson beams and sparkles, quite literally, in a hugely underwritten role. Co-directors and writers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck are aided by a host of other creative forces, working behind what has got to be one of Marvel's messiest screenplays. There has been such uproar over Captain Marvel reportedly ramming its feminist ideologies down the throats of fans, yet ultimately - surprisingly - the film has very little to say. Although Carol's cosmic energy is an electrifying sight to behold, this underwhelming fantasy is all hype and no show.
That said, reminiscent of Marvel's phase one formula Captain Marvel has quite an authentic feel, similar to the likes of Iron Man and Thor. As usual there are the "end of the world" stakes, but Boden and Fleck don't particularly stress the impact this movie will have on the wider MCU - which is refreshing to see in the mist of multi character team ups like Infinity War. It's wistful in the quieter moments, as when amnesiac Carol walks into a bar and sees fragments of her past life burst across her minds' eye. With that in mind however its confused structure clutters a perfectly decent storyline - whilst admirably small-scale, we never feel the cosmic level oomph of the Kree/Skrull war against which the story is told.
Captain Marvel condenses Carol's backstory into a series of emotionally ineffective flashbacks -with Boden and Fleck lazily - almost reluctantly - sketching the hurdles she had to jump through. There is an underlying theme of women being continually knocked down and gaining the strength to dust off and stand straight back up again, however this poignant message is never brought to the forefront - key events that make Carol the woman she is are sidelined and subsequently Captain Marvel doesn't feel anywhere near as empowering or consequential as it should do.
Nonetheless, Larson's supernova performance outshines Carol's poor character development. Carol Danvers is the archetypal badass woman: she isn't feminised by any means, she has swagger and attitude to spare but most importantly she doesn't answer to men. Indubitably, her best trait is how she acts on her keen instincts - there is absolutely no time for hesitation, Carol goes with her gut and never flounders at the last second. Larson's edgy star-warrior teaches young girls the significance of confidence and sticking by decisions.
Surprisingly Captain Marvel doesn't beat you over the head with 90's nostalgia, although I think it could have afforded to. There are elements that harken back to early 90's sci-fi with Pinar Toprak's fantastic, warping electro score and the occasional moments of eye-popping production design. With exception to the few grungy tunes lined up on the MP3 player - Elastica's Connection and No Doubt's rather on-the-nose Just a Girl, there is very little indication that we are gazing back at the earlier days of the Avengers. Samuel L. Jackson is un-suprisingly fantastic as de-aged Nick Fury, in addition to Ben Mendleson as the shapeshifting Talos.
The main problem is that Captain Marvel is not the statement feminist piece the studio pushed so hard to be - the smaller ideas are never spotlighted nor is Carol given the emotional depth an origin story really should do. Larson's perky, fearless but underplayed performance as Danvers gleams through the overall mediocrity. Like many of the studio's recent endeavours, Captain Marvel is given little artistic freedom and is restrained to the conventions of the genre, falling into the lacklustre pot of routine and commonplace superhero capers.
Debussy's Clair De Lune is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of classical music. Used in a recent trailer promoting Godzilla: King of the Monsters it had a staggering impact - and likewise The Aftermath employed the same spellbinding melody. However when I think about James Kent's latest drama, only a city levelling Kaju comes to mind. Either I'm just a sucker for Debussy or that says a lot about this weak but watchable war time romance.
Rachel Morgan is sent to Hamburg to live with her husband - a British army Colonel - during the post-war reconstruction of 1946. They take ownership of a German household but tensions soon arise when Rachel is drawn to house owner Stefan Lubert. The Aftermath will keep you confined to barracks however. This sexually frustrated war drama plants Keira Knightley in the middle of Jason Clarke and Alexander Skärsgard. Churning out an excruciating performance Knightley acts like a spoilt school girl who throws a tantrum when she doesn't get her own way. Following the death of her son during the war, Rachel travels to a blitzed Hamburg to reunite with her other half Lewis Morgan - but things soon turn sour as Rachel is swept away by housekeeper Stefan's hospitable charm.
This lustful drama is absent of any romantic energy, there is almost no connection between Knightley and her two lovers. The Aftermath tries to align us with Rachel but her character is absolutely horrible and in no way personable - the film tries to excuse this though, suggesting that her personal demons drive her unfaithful actions. There's a point where Knightley weeps behind a grand piano, lamenting over the loss of her little boy - the scene itself has some sense of anguish but I'm sorry to say that her performance gives those same sensations as nails on a chalkboard. Skarsgard offers some relief as Herr Lubert, initially polite and submissive to the English command his character becomes more complex when he begins to take interest in Rachel - Skarsgard even makes the physical scenes feel a little less wooden.
There is this clever idea of violation lying beneath the surface of The Aftermath but this is cast aside for a muted romance. With British soldiers tactlessly lauding over German citizens you are naturally wound up by disrespectful manners, but it's equally intriguing to see Skarsgard's down-to-earth character boil over in rage when pushed. There is an odd sub plot involving his daughter and the remaining Nazi's, but this sort of hovers in the atmosphere with little importance and doesn't really go anywhere.
The Aftermath is engaging escapism making use of some striking landscape shots of delicate snow topped trees of post-war Germany, however, it fails completely as a romantic thriller with a really poor and embarrassing effort from Knightley.
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.