Get Out

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Jordan Peele has made his directorial debut in the low-budget thriller Get Out.  Peele has been playing with the idea of race since writing and starring in sketches with the other half of his comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key on their Comedy Central show “Key and Peele”.  Much of Peele’s work on the show dealt with themes of race seasoned and punctuated with humor.  Many of the sketches themselves were often parodies of other genres of movies and television, and some of the more successful sketches included commentary on race set against a horror backdrop.  It would make sense that Peele’s first foray into filmmaking would be an allegorical tale of a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s family for the first time.

A few words about “Get Out”;

  1. Excellent writing –  From beginning to end this movie has a solid and straightforward plot that is executed well using the dialogue.  In the first act of the film it could be easy to dismiss some of the dialogue as hokey or stilted, however, as the film continues it becomes clear that these are all connected to the ultimate ideas presented in the film.  Thinking through much of the dialogue after the film ends is much like looking at pieces to a puzzle and enjoying them far more as part of a whole than as individual pieces.  Also, the building of tension through dialogue is well executed, as the film continues the general sense of unease from meeting a family paired with that family being of another race is multiplied by the idea that there is “something else” going on the entire time.
  2. Excellent acting – The veteran actors in this film do a wonderful job of helping to build the tension either through solid execution of dialogue or by lending their ‘acting gravitas’.  Having some steady hands do some of the acting seemed to add to the legitimacy of the film, however, this does not account for the excellent jobs done in drama and comedy by Daniel Kaluuya and Lil Rel Howery.  Kaluuya is believable in his role of the “black everyman”.  As a black guy watching the film, I felt like much of his responses to what was happening around him were natural and even in some cases were exactly my responses in the same situations.  Kaluuya was able to seamlessly transition from “guy in a regular situation” to “guy reacting to an extraordinary situation” relatively quickly.  He is easy to watch and his seriousness plays well against the comedic relief of Lil Rel Howery.  The interesting part of watching Howery’s performance is that it does not fade as the film continues as these roles in horror/thriller films often do.  Conversely, there is also a tendency for this type of role to be overdone to the point that it overshadows the original point and tone of the film.  Peele is able to direct Howery’s performance in such a way that it is enjoyable and cuts the tension in the film, while also serving as an audience foil and realistic commentary on what is happening on screen.  There are also some solid performances from Alison Williams who does an excellent job of being the “clueless girlfriend” and Lakeith Stanfield whose part is also a welcome addition to the film.  All the performances in the film are solid in their own regard but weaving them all together is done with great care by Peele.
  3. Compelling subject matter – As a black man who loves film, this film may have been tailor made for my demographic.  That being said much of the subject matter immediately hit home for me.  Early in the film Kaluuya’s character asks Williams’ character “Did you tell them that I’m black?”  This question captures exactly the point of this film.  There is nuance here with every interaction between Kaluuya and this new environment he is introduced to.  For much of the first act of the film, I found myself in awe of how well the dynamic between the main characters is portrayed as well as the smaller interactions between Kaluuya’s character and the parents, Kaluuya’s character and the house servants, and Kaluuya’s character and the townspeople.  I found myself saying “that exact scenario has happened to me”.  This demonstrated a clear grasp of the subject matter by Peele, as well as an excellent sense of the space he was working in.  He successfully made a film in white space that fully maintains a solid idea of blackness interacting with whiteness in white space.

This film has few flaws.  None really worthy of mentioning.  That being said it is not necessarily a film for everyone.  Some jump scares early in the film, but nothing that would be considered real terror.  (unless you consider the existential terror of trying to exist in white space terrifying, as some do)  Leave the kids at home.  4.75 of 5 stars.

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The Netflix Chronicles: Black Mirror (Season 3)

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Writer’s note:  For those of you that have not read our previous piece on the series ‘Black Mirror’ you can do so by clicking here.  This piece talks more about the show as a whole and gives an entry point into watching the series.

To pick up where we left off last, the first episode of the new season of ‘Black Mirror’ entitled ‘Nosedive’ immediately re-establishes the tone set by the previous two seasons and Christmas special.  Using a bit of a despondent score and a sanitized color aesthetic immediately you are reminded that we are being showed a view of our possible future.  One of the differences of this episode from previous episodes is how bright and cheery it is, as well as its use of sanitized language.  However as the show continues it becomes obvious that the cheeriness is a possible wink to dedicated viewers who know things will only continue to fall apart.  While the first episode of season three boasts the only real “happy” ending seen on this series as the season continues the show continues to shine.

A few words about ‘Black Mirror’ (Season 3):

  1. Satirized technology – In many episodes of this season the way technology is used is greatly advanced.  This show very much plays with the “what if” factor with regards to where technology is going.  Questions like “What if the entire windshield of a car were used as a screen?”  to “What if NFC technology were standard in all business transactions?”.  This is done effectively because most times no attention is drawn to the advance in technology itself, but rather these portions are spinkled into the show like seasoning for the viewer to enjoy.
  2. Continues to cover the trajectory of technology -The majority of the episodes of this season cover where technology is going.  This is done through using “satirized technology” as well as playing with ideas of our interactions with each other changing based on technology.  This is enjoyable because at first glance you can view an episode and think to yourself “This would never happen”, but after continuing to watch will change to the thought of “Isn’t this already happening?”.  Black Mirror does an excellent job of asking the question “How far is too far?”
  3. Covers current theories about technology and human interaction – As stated before, the question of “Isn’t this happening already” is understated in some episodes however in a few episodes it is the main question.  These could be considered to be the allegorical or metaphorical episodes.  These episodes do a good job of providing commentary to our current state by telling us a cautionary tale.  A good example of this being effectively done are in the episodes of “Shut up and Dance” and “Hated by the nation”
  4. Stays consistent with the tone of the rest of the series – With the exception of “Nosedive” (and as far as the spirit of the show even “Nosedive” meets this mark) the tone of the show is still dark and unsettling.  Everything from the aesthetics to scoring to ideas, while this show is easily binged watched, the ideas of the show will leave a lasting impression on you.  A combination of thinking through these ideas while processing what is on the screen will definitely leave you feeling a certain way.  For dedicated viewers this will be something easily done and in most cases enjoyable.  However getting used to the dark tone of this show for new viewers may take some adjusting.  Unsettled, is the best description of feelings after watching even the brightest episode of this season.
  5. Experiments with multiple genres – Season 3 does a better job of experimenting with different genres of television and film.  This is done while masterfully remaining the same show.  You will travel through multiple genres including horror, romance, and even police procedural (esque) episodes all while still hitting the points stated above.  Above all the tone remains the same, which is remarkable when considering that it legitimately is crossing genres.
  6. Diverse casting – Race and gender in casting are not an issue in this season (nor was it ever in this show)  People are placed in the roles that are best for them and the viewer has no need to be concerned with their race or gender.  This is also the case for leads in each episode.  To be clear, 2 of the 6 episodes have white men lead characters.  3 of the 6 episodes have women lead characters.  2 of the 6 episodes have black lead characters.  This is done without a shoehorn and gives the show a very relate able feel across the board.
  7. Immersive world building – Each episode is a world unto itself.  Each world is built so effectively that a whole season could be built around each premise.  This is not unique to season three, however it is on great display in this season.  The ideas are bigger than the vehicles themselves and because of this, the stakes of each episode feel real and weighty.  This allows for you to be completely immersed in one episode, then end the episode and completely immerse yourself in another episode.  There is no inherent need to watch the episodes in order, however I believe they were set up in the order they are in an extremely effective manner, and I would recommend watching them in the order presented on Netflix.
  8. Boiler plate boxes checked (great acting, great direction, great writing) – Without saying, direction, writing, and acting are impeccable on this show.  It would be difficult to go through each episode to pinpoint some favorite moments.  However for each episode to only have about one hour to establish characters, plot, and story it is done without feeling rushed or like an afterthought.

Black Mirror season three continues to be Netflix at its best.  It is an underrated show that not everyone will enjoy because it is about way more than what you are being shown on the surface.  I strongly encourage all of you to begin with season 1 as a means of getting the tone and direction the show intends to take.  This is not a show for your kids, at all, not even a little, do not let them watch.  4.75 of 5 stars.  (note this is an increase from 4.5 from the original Black Mirror post)