Us

us-movie-poster

Weird things can happen on vacation. Many of us have stories we could tell.

None as weird though as the tale of the Wilsons, a typical American family on a typical getaway to a cabin in the woods. Their vacation is interrupted by an odd quartet of dead ringers for each of them, in red jumpsuits. These menacing dopplegangers unleash a night of terror and violence.

Writer/director Jordan Peele has crafted another winning film. Us is a suspense thriller with plot elements that will have you thinking and rethinking about the story well after you leave the theater.

Us has laughs as well. Nothing as gutbustingly funny as the best Key and Peele bits on Comedy Central, but enough to take a bit of the edge off at timely intervals.

The mom, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), has a backstory which is told in the film’s opening segment. Her memory of a scary time in a funhouse from childhood causes her to have qualms about going to Santa Cruz beach with the family. But her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) cajoles her and the kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) into a day at the shore.

At the beach, they hang with family friends the Tylers (Elizabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker and Cali and Noelle Sheldon). The dads have a cordial visit, but Adelaide’s nervousness inhibits any meaningful mom talk with Mrs. Tyler. When Jason briefly disappears, Adelaide freaks out until he is found. Then when the Wilsons get home that the real horror begins.

Nyong’o is the key player among the talented cast. As Adelaide’s doppleganger, she is the only one among that crew who can speak coherently, although in an unpleasant, distorted voice.

The Us soundtrack features the haunting opening song “Anthem” from composer Michael Abels as well as several tunes by pop artists ranging from Janelle Monae to the Beach Boys.

Yes, the film’s title is the name of our country: U.S. And when asked “who are you” Adelaide’s doppelganger replies, “We’re Americans!” So you may impose whatever political message you wish. Or you can just choose to be entertained by a well-made film!

Interestingly, among those receiving special on-screen thanks at the end of the movie is Steven Spielberg. In a way, Us recalls stories Spielberg told in films like E.T. (director) and Poltergeist (story/script) of normal families facing extraordinary occurrences.

A recommendation: see this film sooner rather than later when spoilers are more likely to be freely shared online and in conversations with friends and family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Girl On The Train

Emily Blunt is good. Her title role in The Girl On The Train as a sad, damaged soul is the kind that often nets awards nominations. She manages the role well, avoiding the temptation to overact.

But it is the storytellers—novelist Paula Hawkins, screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson and director Tate Taylor—who make TGOTT a compelling, suspenseful mystery. The unfolding of the film’s set-up is accomplished smoothly, revealing characters and situations in a manner that grabs one’s attention and doesn’t let go.

When Rachel (Blunt) mentions her vivid imagination in an opening voiceover, it’s a clue that what is seen through her eyes may not be accurate. Factor in the alcoholism that rules her life and she becomes an unreliable source for certain plot elements. She does, however, have voyeuristic tendencies, so she is highly observant.

Two other key female characters, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and Megan (Haley Bennett), are women that Rachel has watched from her seat the train that takes commuters into Manhattan from the suburbs. Anna is married to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom (Justin Theroux). Megan is Anna’s neighbor who helps care for Anna and Tom’s baby.

Rachel often sees Megan embracing her husband on the upstairs deck of their home located not far from the tracks. She also sees her ex and his new wife—the woman he had an affair with while married to Rachel.

One day she notices Megan is on the deck with a different man. Soon after, Megan disappears. Rachel’s recollections may be of help to the lead police investigator (Allison Janney) determine what happened but the time in question is a blackout period due to her excessive drinking.

Among the talented cast are two favorite former sitcom stars. Martha (Lisa Kudrow of Friends fame) is a woman from Rachel and Tom’s past. Cathy (Laura Prepon of That 70s Show) gives Rachel a place to stay when her drinking problem is at its worst.

You may be able to solve this movie’s puzzle before the big reveal, but a lingering question remains unanswered after the end titles: is Emily Blunt’s performance awardworthy? Director Tate Taylor’s 2011 film The Help resulted in three acting Oscar nominations and a win for Octavia Spencer.

Blunt is a solid pro. Depending on what comes down the cinematic track during the next few weeks, that girl on that train may not be on the inside looking out come awards season.

 

 

10 Cloverfield Lane

Creepy, frightening and suspenseful. Imagine being held prisoner in an underground bunker by a doomsday prepper who tells you that you should be grateful because he saved your life! 10 Cloverfield Lane provides thrills and chills and keeps you wondering.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is driving on a lonely road on a dark Louisiana night, having left the city and her boyfriend. Suddenly her car is hit. When she awakens, she finds herself in a room with concrete block walls. She is receiving an IV drip and she is handcuffed to the wall.

Soon she meets her rescuer/captor Howard (John Goodman) who tells her that she was lucky to have been brought to the shelter because everyone else is dead. Well, except Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), a good ol’ boy who doesn’t seem quite as panicked about being underground as Michelle is.

What’s the story? Has there been a nuclear attack? Chemical weapons? Aliens? Or… does Howard just have an active, paranoid imagination? Is he a protector? Is he to be feared? Or is he a guy whose military training has prepared him for fateful, factual end times? And what exactly happened to his daughter Megan? Lots of questions!

10 Cloverfield Lane is a suspense thriller. Like some of Hitchcock’s best works it presents an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation, one where things are not what they seem to be. First time feature director Dan Trachtenberg has delivered an efficient movie that doesn’t waste a frame.

The setting inside the underground bunker recalls the shed in last year’s Room where a young woman and her son went imprisoned. But the abode in Cloverfield has several rooms. Claustrophobia is an issue but the real concern for Michelle and Emmett is Howard and his unpredictability.

Winstead (best known, to me at least, as Ramona Flowers in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim Versus The World) is perfect as a woman whose survival depends on quick thinking while constantly reevaluating her situation. Goodman as the alternately threatening and comforting Howard is an enigma whose ultimate playbook can only be guessed at until the film’s climax. Gallagher (who looks like the guy who played Chuck on TV but isn’t) has little opportunity to shine.

FYI—10 Cloverfield Lane has nothing to do with the 2008 film Cloverfield except for the fact that J.J. Abrams served as a producer for both.

If you’re up for some creepy fun, 10 Cloverfield Lane brings it. But remember, when you’re telling your friends about it, no spoilers!