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.









Chasing Mavericks

“Chasing Mavericks” is filled with gorgeous shots of the ocean and its mighty waves. Watching surfers ride those waves gives an exhilarating, vicarious thrill.

Mavericks is a challenging stretch of shoreline in northern California near Half Moon Bay that, with the right weather conditions, produces dangerous monster waves. For surfers, it presents the biggest challenge on continental US shores.

Jay, a real life teenage surfer, played by Jonny Weston learns about Mavericks from his neighbor in Santa Cruz, a grownup surfer named Frosty (also a real life person), played by Gerard Butler. Frosty becomes Jay’s guru and father figure, guiding him on getting ready physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually to take on Mavericks.

The story of Jay and Frosty is told with dramatic embellishments, but serves as a good framework for the surfing challenge. Along with Jay’s preparation to ride the big waves, the movie gives us side stories involving an absentee father, alcoholism, drug use, teen romance, teen bullying, death of a spouse, anger issues and such. There’s nothing groundbreaking in the onshore melodrama, but it does manage to depict Jay and Frosty as people with complicated lives away from the ocean.

You can probably guess how Jay’s quest to ride the big waves turns out. You may be surprised by Frosty’s remark to Jay just before he takes on Mavericks. A brief postscript provides more information about Jay’s life beyond his Mavericks rides.

Speaking as one who has lived near the beach (in Jacksonville, FL) and vacationed many times at the ocean, I loved all the shots filmed in and around the water. The beauty and the power of the ocean are stunning in “Chasing Mavericks” and the ocean is the reason to see it.

“Chasing Mavericks” is rated PG and is appropriate for preteens.