Amazon Prime review: Jordan Peele’s “Us” (2019)

Once upon a time, there was a girl, and the girl had a shadow…

If you don’t know what to watch next, Jordan Peele’s Us (2019) is available on Amazon Prime.

The psychological horror film had the all-time second-best opening weekend for a live-action feature after James Cameron’s Avatar (2009), and the third-best behind Andy Muschietti’s It (2017) and David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018), but the best for an original horror script.

Peele, who won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his directorial debut, Get Out (2017), is also the screenwriter for Us.

On Rotten Tomatoes, ninety-four percent of critical reviews aggregated for Us are positive.

Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star as Adelaide Thomas and Gabe Wilson, who visit the family lake house in Santa Cruz with their children, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex).

Adelaide is doubtful about the trip because of the mysterious, traumatic event which befell her at the beach when she was a child. Their first night there, a family of four strangers invade the Wilsons’ home and reveal themselves to be their doppelgängers as the Wilsons fight for survival.

Together, Us and Get Out showcase not only Peele’s genius for the horror genre, but also his talent for filmmaking in general.

His background in comedy does not arrest his passion for horror, but rather refines it with laugh-out-loud dialogue that endears you to the cast all the more devastatingly when the terror comes to claim them.

Us is as rich with subtext as its predecessor, yet speaks with a voice all its own. Where Get Out is a slow-burn suspense thriller, Us is a fast-paced horror show.

Nevertheless, between the two, Get Out is the superior movie, but only because it is so difficult to meet, much less exceed. Get Out is one of the greatest pictures of our time, and one of the most important horror pictures ever, a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece.

This isn’t to say that Us isn’t still a scissor’s cut above the competition, because it is. Nyong’o’s dynamic performance alone, characterizing both hero and villain, deserves multiple viewings in order to truly experience each layer of nuance she delivers to this dual role.

In a way, Us is more subtle and sophisticated than Get Out, a thematic cocktail of motifs and visual metaphors and double meanings as open to interpretation as a hall of mirror is infinite with reflections.

Us might have been stronger, in fact, if it was more ambiguous, but as it is, it is still a horror piece more lovingly choreographed than the mainstream, cheaply-shot Hollywood release made for no other reason than to rake in an easy profit.

And that twist ending will echo through you forever.

“Midsommar” actor says cast was speechless at first screening

Leading man Jack Reynor is quoted as saying the cast of Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) sat thunderstruck through their first viewing of the horror film in New York earlier this month, despite knowing everything about the narrative, according to Entertainment Weekly. Reynor says the first two acts of the follow-up to Hereditary (2018) are brimming with gallows humor, but the final third is artfully crafted to overwhelm the audience a la Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Reynor co-stars alongside Florence Pugh as an American couple who visit a secluded Swedish commune while travelling across Scandinavia, where a cult awaits them.

The making of Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday” (2019)

Danny Boyle’s Beatles jukebox musical, Yesterday (2019), originally began as a screenplay titled Cover Version by Jack Barth and Mackenzie Crook, with Crook slated to direct, according to The New York Times. After approaching executive producer Nick Angel for his connections in the music industry, Angel asked Richard Curtis, writer of Mike Newell’s Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) and his own Love Actually (2003), to rewrite the script, sharing a story credit with Barth. Curtis’s production deal at Working Title and Universal got Boyle involved, and Apple Corps and Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the copyright holders behind most of the band’s discography, were persuaded the film would be prestigious and lucrative enough to share the rights.

AMC Theatres introduces “AMC Artisan Films” as an alternative to blockbusters

AMC Theatres is launching a new programming-marketing strategy called “AMC Artisan Films” to draw attention to more character- and narrative-focused features as opposed to blockbusters, according to Variety. Elizabeth Frank, the company’s executive vice president of worldwide programming, says not only is AMC known in the industry for distributing blockbusters, they also carry more artist-driven titles than any North American competitor. In an effort to boost the success of these lesser-known movies, AMC Artisan Films is seeking earlier runs from platform releases, as well as playing them longer in the theater in the hope that there will be enough time for positive word-of-mouth to reach audiences.

Inside New Jersey’s filmmaking renaissance

After the New Jersey Legislature approved tax credits for film and television production and Governor Phil Murphy signed it into law in July 2018, industry revenue could double and local businesses could expect hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the Asbury Park Press. Todd Phillips’s Batman flick, Joker (2019), Alan Taylor’s prequel to HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), The Many Saints of Newark (2020), and Steven Spielberg’s remake of the classic musical, West Side Story (2020), are all shooting in the state. Former Governor Chris Christie, in an effort to curb the budget, suspended the film and TV program in 2010 and allowed it to expire in 2015, blocking the 2009 incentive for MTV’s Jersey Shore (2009-2012).

Disney recruits top Netflix executive for new streaming service

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Disney+, which is scheduled to launch November 12, will be a commercial-free monthly subscription at seventy dollars a year, offering up new and old series and films from beloved franchises. (Image Courtesy: CNBC).

Walt Disney announced Tuesday they had hired Matt Brodlie, the director of the original film division at Netflix, to lead international content development for their forthcoming family-friendly steaming service, Disney+, according to CNBC. Under Brodlie’s leadership, Netflix released Susan Johnson’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) as well as Alex Richanbach’s Ibiza (2018), and it also picked up Academy Award darlings like Dee Rees’s Mudbound (2017) and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma (2018). As part of his new position with Disney, Brodlie will arbitrate which properties need to be produced or acquired for Disney+ customers outside the United States.

How Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) saved Prince’s career

With the thirtieth anniversary of the release for Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) coming and going this month, Prince’s Batman LP still shapes creative partnerships between filmmakers and musicians today, according to Variety. After Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain (1984), Prince overspent on production costs while touring for the soundtrack, until Batman producer Mark Canton reached out to the singer’s management team as part of the film’s saturation marketing strategy. Drawing from a rough cut of the film for inspiration, despite not knowing how to score a cinematic composition to the frame, Prince produced much-needed hits such as “Batdance,” “Partyman,” and “Scandalous.”

Hulu review: Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” (2017)

A film that receives both boos and a standing ovation during its premiere at the Venice Film Festival, is a film that demands to be seen.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (2017) is available to stream on Hulu. Sixty-nine percent of the reviews aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes for the psychological horror film are positive, but audiences polled through CinemaScore graded it with an “F.”

Its opening weekend marked the worst debut for a Jennifer Lawrence vehicle in which she earned top billing.

A plot synopsis is not easy for a reviewer to put down in words. Suffice to say, the movie opens with an unnamed poet (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Lawrence) living in an idyllic country home evocative of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism.

When a man (Ed Harris) and a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) come to stay as guests at their house, this paradise begins to fall apart.

Although not a narratively straightforward picture, mother! is an exercise in production value.

The performances of its four decorated stars are dramatic tours-de-force, and Matthew Libatique’s kinetic cinematography externalizes the surreal panic characterizing Lawrence’s titular “mother.”

Whispering alongside them is Johann Johannsson and Craig Henighan’s atmospheric sound design, echoing with the breathy non-diegesis of Aronofsky’s own Black Swan (2010) like chills running down your spine, and creaking with all the dread of the poet’s house.

The trailer misrepresents mother! as an homage to Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), which arguably answers for much of the popular disappointment in the final product.

Indeed, the text can be interpreted as an allegory for Biblical creation, or the artistic process, or sociopolitical and environmental decay (or all three.. or something else).

It is an experimental release marketed as a mainstream scary movie about creepy neighbors, and it fails to meet its own expectations.

But even in its true, arthouse context, mother! can be self-indulgent and pretentious. Some of its metaphors are heavy-handed, and others try too hard to be “ambiguous,” instead coming off as “half-baked.”

The filmmaker wrote the screenplay in five days, and it shows. At its stylized, dreamlike best, that’s a compliment. At its forced, incomprehensible worst, it’s not.

Whether it gets you to cheer or jeer, mother! is sure to be unlike any other film you’ll ever see.

New tax credit for filmmakers to go into effect in Montana

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Friday evening, volunteer Justine Conlan opens the doors to the Covellite Theater in Butte for a Covellite International Film Festival screening. (Image Courtesy: The Montana Standard).

The Montana Economic Industry Advancement Act goes into effect July 1, offering a production expenditure tax credit of up to thirty-five percent of filmmakers’ total base film production investment for films shot in the state, according to the Montana Standard. Filmmakers must incentivize the hiring of local crews, employ students, or film in impoverished counties, with a budget of at least $350,000, a Montana promotion featured in the final product, and a total claim for tax credits of less than ten million dollars a year. Fly-fishing tourists still visit Montana because of Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It (1992), and filmmaking encourages economic stimulation for many communities through money spent on housing, food, and supplies.

Will Gluck’s “Easy A” (2010) will get a spin-off

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Will Gluck’s Easy A (2010) was Emma Stone’s first major leading role. (Image Courtesy: /Film).

A spinoff of Will Gluck’s Easy A (2010) is in the works, with screenwriter Bert Royal returning to draft the script as well as direct the film, which will also take place at Ojai North High School and will be about similar themes with a new cast of characters, according to /Film. With Easy A serving as a loose adaptation of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Royal was quoted in an interview as saying he planned to set similar interpretations of Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand and The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens in Ojai, California. The follow-up still has yet to be written, so no details are known yet as to whether Emma Stone, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, or Malcolm McDowell will reprise their parts, or when it will be released.