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The Horror of “Get Out”

23 Feb

A week away from the Oscars means a rumination on a nominated movie is a great idea. A good friend and writing mentor, Jeff Meyers, has a take on “Get Out” I find extremely thought provoking and fascinating, so much so I asked him to let me post his ideas here. Whether you liked the movie or not (I realize as much as it invigorates many of us it befuddles others) , I think you will find his essay worthy of consideration and discussion.

It’s no secret that, historically, horror has been regarded as junk entertainment, a genre that relies on cheap thrills and lurid subject matter to draw audiences. And while critics have been willing to extoll the technical and cinematic achievements of the genre, they typically overlook the thematic, intellectual, and emotional resonance of the genre.

The well-deserved nomination of Get Out for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award is only the sixth time a horror film has been considered for such an honor. The first, 1973’s The Exorcist came 45 years after the Oscars were first introduced. Since then, only The Sixth Sense, Black Swan, Pan’s Labyrinth (Best Foreign Language Oscar) and Silence Of The Lambs (the only one to win… and regarded, by some, to be a thriller rather than horror), have been given such regard. Classics like King Kong, Bride Of Frankenstein, Psycho, Alien and The Shining were all, notably, overlooked.

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This dismissal of horror as a serious-minded expression of cinematic art and opinion has such a long and pervasive history that even some its own practitioners feel a need to distance themselves from the label, lest they be devalued as artists. 

In the introduction to The Walking Dead graphic novel, creator Robert Kirkman insisted that his goal was not to scare anyone, and that he wasn’t writing horror but rather “social commentary and character.” Writer-director Jordan Peele asserted that Get Out is not a horror film but rather a “social thriller.” 

With all due respect, Kirkman and Peele are wrong. While genre labels are often fluid and inexact, there is little doubt that a graphic novel that involves hordes of flesh-eating zombies, and a movie about a mad scientist that cuts out the brains of his victims in order to replace them with someone else’s brain qualify as horror. The rejection of the label is undoubtedly the result of those long standing dismissals of the genre. 

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Best Films of 2017

2 Jan

Though I am criminally behind in my viewing (see below), here is my annual list. The year started off rough, there wasn’t much I liked until suddenly the year blossomed in late fall; I saw a string of excellent movies that made 2017 feel like a pretty damn good year for features. Additionally, three of these terrific films – The Shape of Water, Coco and The Florida Project – were as visually stunning, albeit in very different ways, as any movie I’ve seen in years.

THE SHAPE OF WATER

It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Romantic. Violent. Erotic. Funny. Dazzlingly beautiful. Magnificent. 

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THE FLORIDA PROJECT

“A movie that defies traditional narrative storytelling” is always, for me, a polite way of saying “boring as hell.” Yet The Florida Project may be my favorite movie of the year (it’s a close call with The Shape Of Water.) Sean Baker’s objective look at the lives of marginalized people living in crap hotels on the outskirts of Orlando is funny, shocking, wrenching and heartfelt. It’s also a stunningly composed film. Baker and his DP, Alexis Zabe, somehow take these scummy yet colorful locales and bring beauty and art to the images. The movie also has some of the best performances you will see all year, many from non-actors. This is an amazing movie.

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THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Whoa. The great playwright, Martin McDonagh, follows up his debut, In Bruges, with the blackest film comedy I’ve seen since War of the Roses. Shocking, funny and shockingly funny, none of the movie’s main characters are who they seem to be initially. Each makes a surprising journey, one of the many pleasures of the film. Save one bit of miscasting in a smaller role, the performances across the board are exemplary. I’ve seen it twice and will watch again.

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LADY BIRD

It can be hard to explain why Lady Bird is such a wonderful movie. It’s a story we’ve seen told many times before and there is nothing innovative about the filmmaking… unless “damn, that is fine filmmaking” is innovative. Given the crap we see on screen, yes it is indeed innovative. Lady Bird may be a simple story told in straightforward fashion, but the writing and acting are so strong, so enjoyable, that writer/director Greta Gerwig uncovers originality and deep emotion, making what should seem old, a coming of age story, fresh and new. I had a smile on my face the entire time I watched Lady Bird. (What a wonderful year of acting is 2017! Everyone shines in this movie.)

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COCO

Pixar seemed to lose some of its magic in the last couple of years. While Coco isn’t perfect, and there are a couple of plot revelations you can see coming from the start, the movie is a revelation because the milieu and characters are so unique, at least for mainstream cinema. Coco is also a dazzling feast for the eyes, one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve ever seen. It goes for your heart and it will get your heart. Bravo.

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THE LOST CITY OF Z

I saw this dense, challenging movie three times in the theatre and was really bummed it did not catch on, though it is easy to understand why given the complexity of both the characters and the ending. James Gray steps into David Lean territory with the true life adventure tale of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who becomes obsessed with finding a lost city of the Amazon. It all works for me: grandiose and beautiful images, a terrific score, richly written characters, and superlative performances from Charlie Hunnam, Tom Holland, an unrecognizable Robert Pattison (becoming such a great actor) and Sienna Miller, a chameleon who may be the best actress working in film today. It will haunt you.

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DUNKIRK

Dunkirk certainly had its detractors. But it did boffo box-office, to use Variety-speak, which is surprisingly and encouraging given the movie is a $150 million dollar art film with no lead character, no real villain and a time-jumping narrative. I loved it. Rarely have I been so tense and keyed up in a movie. Nolan and his team build an incredible amount of dread, heightened by Hans Zimmer’s innovative score, one of his best.  Easily one of Nolan’s best as well.

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GET OUT

Jordon Peele somehow crafted a funny, suspenseful horror movie that slaps you up side the head while also being incredibly satisfying, a true audience pleaser even as it challenges you. Smart, clever and a lot of fun.

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PHANTOM THREAD

Wow. I’ve never used this word before now, but this movie ravished me. Stunningly beautiful with a magnificent score, directed with PTA’s usual precision and incredible performances across the board, I loved this movie. Loved it. It has put some people off as being cold and distant. I get it. Kind of. It’s lush and romantic yet ultimately a bit disturbing. Whatever. Phantom Thread transfixed me from the start and never let go.

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I, TONYA

I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t this: sharp, smart, hilarious and ultimately surprisingly deep and even moving. The filmmakers somehow make the standard mock-documentary format new and exciting. And the performances are stellar. (It has been such a wonderful year for actors.) This might just be the most purely enjoyable movie I’ve seen all year. What a blast.

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Honorable Mentions: Call Me By Your Name, The Big Sick, Baby Driver, Logan, Logan Lucky, The Disaster Artist, Blade Runner 2049

Did not yet see: Wind River, Phantom Thread, I, Tonya, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Mudbound, Brawl in Cell Block 99, The Darkest Hour, Ingrid Goes West, Good Time, Hostiles – Wish I could just stop and watch movies for a few days!

Tell us your favorites in the comments!

 

Homemade Butter… in 5 minutes

14 Sep
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Butter made in 5 minutes

One of my favorite movies of all time is Rosemary’s Baby, still as chilling and brilliantly acted and directed as it was almost 50 years ago when it debuted. A favorite line in the movie has a modern relevance regarding food.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow), as you should know, becomes pregnant after moving into an old gothic apartment building on Central Park. On the advice of her doctor, she begins drinking a fresh, healthy milkshake every day, mixed and delivered by her next door neighbor, Minnie Castavet (Ruth Gordon deservedly won an Oscar for this role). According to Minnie, the shake contains raw egg, gelatin, herbs, and something called Tannis Root.

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Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon in “Rosemary’s Baby”

Rosemary, along with the audience, slowly begins to suspect there is a conspiracy to steal or harm her baby. Famously, very little happens in the movie yet it ruthlessly crawls under the skin. The ordinary becomes terrifying as we wonder if something is actually happening or if Rosemary’s imagination is running wild. 

When the book (1967) and the movie (1968) were each released, both phenomenal hits, our country and much of the world was in the midst of a decades long embrace of chemically created food over natural: formula over breast milk, margarine or oleo over butter, Saccharin and corn syrup instead of sugar, boxed food over food made from scratch, etc, etc. It seems so obvious now that something natural would be healthier than something created in a lab. But given years of misinformation and outright lies from both the government and food corporations, there was no reason for the public to believe otherwise. (I really despise the FDA, a rant I’ll reserve for another post.)

What’s fascinating today about Rosemary’s Baby is that the shake, made from natural ingredients, is one of the creepiest things in the movie. It becomes a focal point and a source of fear for the audience, and then Rosemary herself. A knot begins to form in our stomachs every time Rosemary takes a sip. As her paranoia increases, she finally snaps and revolts against what she perceives is being done to her. Rosemary then delivers the line I love:

“I want my vitamins from pills, like everyone else!”

Crafted and created in a lab is what was healthy and normal to audiences at the time. Natural was not. Even with our modern perspective, we are thrilled when Rosemary takes this stand. Is she too late? Is anything actually wrong? You’ll have to watch this brilliant movie to find out. (Note: It’s free if you have Amazon prime… the movie is gorgeously shot by William Fraker so try to watch it on a big screen!)

We are thankfully moving away from the days of margarine and corn syrup (lies, LIES!) and the idea that crafted in a lab is good for you. We have returned to the wonderful knowledge that something as simple and wonderful as butter can be enjoyed without the guilt that was thrust upon us for years. It actually is healthy!

Yet true, decadent butter is still hard to find, at least in the USA, thank you FDA. Years ago I was in Italy and ate at a small family owned hotel/restaurant on a farm. After I sat down, they brought me bread and butter. I tasted the butter on the bread and thought my head would explode. I’d never tasted anything so good. I called the owner over and in my very broken Italian kept asking him, ‘What is this??” He kept shrugging and saying, “It’s butter.” I kept saying,  “No, this is NOT butter.” He became frustrated and looked at me like a stupid American and finally threw up his hands. “It’s just butter!” I realized later it was butter that had been churned that very day, with no pasteurization. My goodness, was that incredible butter, so different than what we buy in most stores. 

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Il Falconiere

I’ve recently discovered you can make such butter at home, fast, without a churn! All you need is some heavy (whipping) cream and a food processor. With basically no effort at all, you will have fresh, incredible butter. Give this a try (and let me know what you think!)

For the recipe, click here: Continue reading

Best Films of 2016

31 Dec

(With a little TV included!)

Most exciting to me about the films on this ‘best of’ list are the directors, none of whom are old guard. I should state that while I very much believe diversity of all kinds is of the utmost importance in the arts, I myself don’t think about the age, race, sexual identity or gender of an artist when I view a work. Is this a dichotomy? Some would say yes. I think not. A work of art is great or it isn’t no matter who creates or guides it, at least by my own judgement. 

A debate for another post.

Something wonderful is happening in movies, though. Only after I compiled this list did I realize all the directors were younger or less established than the directors we usually find on year-end lists. A very diverse collection of artists were involved in the movies I found worthy of note in 2016. I didn’t compile the list with this in mind, it just happened. Which fired me up.  

Agree with my list or not, the directing (and writing!) talent found here bodes well for the future of my favorite art form.

ARRIVAL

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Denis Villeneuve is my favorite director working today. As evidenced previously in two incredible thrillers, Prisoners and Sicario, Villeneuve builds tension and dread better than anyone. In Arrival he does the same, brilliantly, but for very different effect. A thought-provoking work of science fiction with a dazzling emotional payoff, I’ve seen the movie three times. It gets better and richer with each viewing.

Along with stunning cinematography by Bradford Young and an innovative score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Villeneuve creates an atmospheric movie that somehow is simultaneously majestic and intimate. All of the actors shine, even in the smallest parts. Jeremy Renner does some of his warmest, most charming work ever. And Amy Adams is my pick for best actor of the year, male or female. Her understated performance is filled with great emotion and depth. She grounds the movie with a quiet power that makes the last twenty minutes even more thrilling and eye opening. A second viewing only elevates her work, given the final revelations. I’m not ashamed to say I wept the first time I saw ArrivalIt’s a masterpiece.

For the rest of the picks, click here to  Continue reading

A Movie for the Political Season Vol. II

7 Oct

Spellbound, a 2002 documentary about kids competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, is hands down one of the most entertaining movies ever made. You may not think a movie on this topic could ever be enjoyable but damn! Alternately hilarious, joyous, spellbinding (had to go there) and heartbreaking, the second half of the movie also becomes as riveting and suspenseful as The Fugitive or Die Hard. 

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Beautiful in its narrative simplicity, the first half of Spellbound introduces us to eight different teens. We meet each contestant, one after the other, in short vignettes. We find out about their families, their interests, their various quirks. Then all arrive at the National Spelling Bee and, given the wonderful emotional work done by the filmmakers in the first half, the spelling bee itself is an absolute nail biter. When I saw it in the theatre, people were audibly reacting in the second half as if it was the original screening of Rocky. As Ann Hornaday wrote in the Washington Post, “This just might be the most action-packed suspense thriller of the summer.” 

Please don’t let the title of my post put you off. Spellbound is not an outwardly political movie. It truly is wildly entertaining and is one of my personal favorite movies of all time. (I’ve seen it many, many times, it is that much fun to watch.) Yet given everything that is currently going on in our country — and world —  Spellbound, without trying to do so, has a subtle yet very powerful message, much more so than when it was released almost 15 years ago. Given the broad range of families depicted in the movie, Spellbound will make anyone who watches it, whatever their own background and political belief, proud to be an American. At the same time, it might challenge some beliefs on what exactly our nation of immigrants means.

For a few years, Spellbound was unfortunately difficult to find. It’s such a good movie and was so popular, at times even used copies on Amazon were going for over $50 dollars. While I still can’t find it streaming anywhere, a bunch of very cheap used copies have turned up on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Spellbound-Ted-Brigham/dp/B0000WN13Q

This is worth the few dollars the DVD copies cost! So stop what you are doing and watch this movie!

A Movie for the Political Season Vol. I

10 Sep

As I noted a few weeks ago, when it comes to politics I tend to keep my big fat mouth shut. I’m not going to change my current habit. Instead, over the next eight weeks or so, in line with my previous posts about Great Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen (Volumes I, II and III), I’ll feature a few outstanding movies many haven’t seen that everyone should encounter. These films also have eye-opening parallels to our current season.

The first is the groundbreaking masterpiece, Children Of Men.

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Released at Christmas in 2006, Children Of Men is a dazzling thriller loosely based on a novel by the great P. D. James. James’ idea was a not too distant future where humankind has gone infertile. The movie takes place in 2027, 18 years after the birth of the last baby, Diego Ricardo. Opening with the death of Diego, which causes worldwide grief, Children of Men thrusts us into a dystopian society that is immediately unsettling given how similar much of this crumbling civilization is to our current world. Britain, where the movie takes place, is the only stable government remaining in the world though it too seems on the verge of collapse. The movie explores what happens when the first woman in 18 years becomes pregnant.

CLICK TO  Continue reading

A Food and Film Affair

10 Feb

This is mostly for my Texas friends and readers, although anyone is welcome to make the journey to the utterly charming town of Fredericksburg, Texas!

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Fredericksburg, Texas

Friday, February 19th, I’ll be in the glorious hill country of Texas hosting a “Food in Film” benefit for The Hill Country Film Society, a terrific organization I’ve had the pleasure of working with for the past 5 years.

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Bluebonnets of Texas Hill Country

In partnership with Hoffman HausOtto’s German Bistro and Pedernales Cellars, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite “food in film” clips and discussing film while we all share in a multi-course meal designed with the clips in mind. The menu is incredible, it’s going to be delicious.

Better yet, your ticket will help benefit a great organization dedicated to supporting Texas filmmakers, independent film and children interested in filmmaking. (Proceeds benefit the Hill Country Film Society’s year-round programming: the Hill Country Film Festival, Indie Film Series and Summer Film Camp.)

Five Star ranked Hoffman Haus is offering 20% off accommodations if you are not local. 

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Hoffman Haus

So come out and join us for what should be a blast of an event. Click the link below for more information and tickets. Feel free to contact me as well! Would love to see you there.

For tickets and information click here: 

https://www.universe.com/events/film-affare-tickets-fredericksburg-ZM6R58

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Clemenza teaches Michael how to make Spaghetti Sauce