Monday, March 27, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Get Out

Whew! It was touch and go there for a while, but we all put our heads down, pushed ourselves to the limit and made it through the horrible, terrible, no good, very bad January/February Film Dumping Ground! Finally! It should be smooth sailing for a month or two, as there're some pretty decent movies filling the cineplex this month.

Get Out was written and directed by Jordan Peele.

Peele is a talented actor and writer, who's also one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele. He previously cowrote Keanu (with Alex Rubens). Get Out is his directorial debut.


Happily, Peele hit one out of the park his first time at the directorial bat. Get Out is a well-made, taut little horror/sci-fi/thriller. Best of all, it's actually about something, which is a rarity these days.  like dumb, mindless action as much as the next person, but occasionally it's nice to see a film that makes me think.

Peele's script features little or no filler, as every scene is there for a reason, and each one leads directly into the next. Even better, things are set up and actually end up paying off later. You have no idea how rare that is in screenwriting these days.

Peele also lays out a series of subtle clues throughout the movie, which in retrospect become obvious, leaving you slapping your head and saying, "How'd I miss that?"

Get Out is of course all about racism, but not the blatant, hateful and obvious kind. No one in the film wears white robes or burns crosses on front lawns. Instead it focuses on the more subtle, casual racism, of which we're ALL guilty. 

This is a far more insidious kind of racism, that springs from good intentions. The kind of racism that springs from white people who grossly overestimate their "enlightenment." The type of racism that white people don't even realize they're committing, that blacks have to deal with every day of their lives. 

Get Out feels like it could have been a Key & Peele sketch— black guy visits his white girlfriend's parents, and slowly realizes there's something sinister going on. In fact I would not be surprised to find out that's exactly where the idea originated, and Peele just decided to expand on it and turn it into a serious film.

There's even a bit of black revenge fantasy at the very end, which I'm sure will unnerve and upset white audiences. Good. We need to be shaken up now and then, and reminded that we're nowhere near as accepting as we'd like to believe we are.

Shortly after Get Out was released, Samuel L. Jackson opened his noise hole, criticizing the fact that it stars British actor Daniel Kaluuya as main character Chris. According to Jackson, a foreign-born actor like Kaluuya couldn't possibly understand the American black experience. Said Jackson, "I tend to wonder what Get Out would have been with an American brother who really feels that. Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. What would a brother from America have made of that role?"

Jesus wept.

It's called acting, Samuel. I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but it's when a person pretends to be a different person, for the entertainment of others. Perhaps you should look into it.

If Samuel L. Jackson really believes the crap he said about Daniel Kaluuya, then he needs to stop playing Nick Fury in the Marvel films immediately. I'm pretty sure he's not really the head of an international spy organization, and he couldn't possibly understand what that's like.
Lastly, I only have one caveat about the film. It's very, VERY similar to 1975's The Stepford Wives, in which a woman and her family move from New York City to a small Connecticut town, where the women are all impossibly perfect housewives. The woman begins investigating, and of course discovers something sinister beneath the small town's innocent facade.

Peele himself admitted he was influenced by the film, along with Rosemary's Baby and Night Of The Living Dead.


That's fine, as there's nothing wrong with being inspired by something. But now that he's got his foot in the directorial door and a hit under his belt, I'd like to see how he handles an original story.

Get Out looks to be a pretty big hit, as so far it's grossed $147 million ($157 million worldwide) against it's paltry $4.5 million budget.  Well done, Jordan Peele!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
A young black man walks through an affluent white neighborhood at night, looking for an address. Suddenly a car pulls up behind him and a black-clad figure gets out, clubs him in the head and stuffs him in the trunk (!).

Cut to Chris Washington, a black photographer in NYC, who's dating Rose Armitage, a young white woman. Rose is planning a weekend trip to her parents' house in Connecticut, to introduce Chris to her family. Chris is nervous about the visit, and asks Rose if she's told her parents he's black. She says no, but assures him they won't car, as they're liberals "who'd vote for Obama a third time if they could." Chris isn't convinced.

Chris calls his best friend Rod Williams, a TSA officer in NYC. Rod advises him against visiting a house full of white people, but Chris says there's no way out of it.

The next day, the couple drives through a wooded area on their way to Rose's parents' house. Suddenly a deer leaps in front of their car and Rose hits it. Rose pulls over, and Chris sees the deer lying at the edge of the woods and watches helplessly as it dies. Rose calls the police and when the officer arrives, he's civil to Rose, but demands to see Chris' I.D. Rose becomes indignant, telling the officer that Chris has done nothing wrong. The officer realizes it's not worth the trouble Rose will no doubt cause, and lets the matter slide.

Eventually Rose and Chris make it to her family's sprawling house. Chris sees Walter, the family's black groundskeeper, who stares unnervingly at him. Rose's parents, Dean and Missy, welcome Chris with open arms, seemingly unfazed by his race. Dean is a neurologist, and tries to make Chris comfortable by calling him "my man," and attempting to fist bump him. His efforts are awkward, but well-intentioned. He even tells Chris he'd have voted for Obama a third time if he could (!).

Dean gives Chris a tour of the house, and introduces him to Georgina, their strange, oddly-disconnected black housekeeper. Dean seems embarrassed by the fact that they have black servants, as he knows how it must look to Chris. He explains that he hired Walter and Georgina to help look after his elderly father. When his dad died, he didn't have the heart to fire them. Chris is less uncomfortable with the fact that the Armitage's have a black staff than by how oddly they act.


Chris then meets Jeremy, Rose's extremely douchey brother, who keeps trying to put him in martial arts choke holds (?).

Later at dinner, the Armitage's try to get to know Chris, asking about his family. He tells them his dad was never in the picture, and his mom died in a hit & run accident when he was eleven. Missy notes that he smokes, and says she's a trained hypnotherapist and can help him quit. Chris politely declines.

That night, Chris has trouble sleeping in a strange house, and goes outside for a smoke. He sees Walter, fully dressed, running full blast toward him. Unsure what to do, he stands frozen on the spot. At the last second Walter veers away from him and disappears into the night. Chris then looks up at the house and sees Georgina in a window, gazing lovingly at herself in a mirror.

When he goes back inside, he's met by Missy, who once again brings up his smoking habit. Chris assures her he's working on quitting, and Missy beings stirring a cup of tea, slowly and insidiously hypnotizing him before he realizes what's happening. He reveals more info about the night his mother died. He says he realized she was late coming home, but instead of calling 911, he sat watching TV for several hours. Later he found out his mother, who'd bit hit by a car, could have been saved if he'd called for help when he should have.

Missy tells Chris he's sinking into the floor, and he finds himself floating inside a formless black void. Missy calls this "The Sunken Place." Chris looks up and can see the real world high above him, but can't interact with it. Suddenly Chris wakes in his bed the next morning. He's unsure whether any of the events of the previous night happened or not.

Chris runs into Walter, who apologizes if his "nightly exercises" scared him. Chris realizes this means that Missy hypnotized him after all. He calls Rod, who echoes the audience's feelings and advises him to leave immediately.

Later that day, the Armitages host their annual garden party, which, as you might expect, is filled with dozens of rich old white people. They all take an unusual interest in Chris, as they awkwardly try to convince him they're not racists, which of course just proves that they are. Chris then meets eccentric art dealer Jim Hudson (played by Stephen Root). Despite the fact that he's blind, Hudson says he's a fan of Chris' work (?).

The Armitages introduce Chris to Logan King, a young black man who's married to a much older white woman. Logan dresses like a man of sixty, and welcomes Chris in a very stilted and formal manner. Chris feels he's seen Logan somewhere before, and tries to stealthily take his photo with his phone. Unfortunately he forgot to turn off the flash (um... isn't this guy supposed to be a photographer?), which seems to stun Logan. His nose starts bleeding as he grabs Chris by the shirt and yells, "Get Out! (we have a title!)." Dean and the other guests hustle Logan away.

Later Logan apologizes to everyone, saying the flash caused him to have a seizure. Chris isn't convinced.

Chris and Rose then go for a walk on the grounds. He tells her he's uncomfortable around so many white people, and says he wants to go back to NYC that night. Rose is disappointed, but agrees. While they're out, Dean holds a mysterious auction, as all the rich old white people bid on... something. Jim Hudson places the winning bid.

Chris and Rose return to the house and begin packing. Chris emails the photo of Logan to Rod, who recognizes him as Andre Hayworth, a mutual acquaintance of theirs from NYC. Alarmed, Chris tells Rose they need to leave NOW, not later that night. Rose leaves the room to look for her car keys, as Chris continues packing. He knocks over a box in her closet, and when he picks it up he sees it's filled with dozens of photos of Rose with a series of black boyfriends, and even one of her and Georgina!

Chris runs downstairs, but Dean, Missy and Jeremy block the door. Rose slowly saunters down the stairs and he tells her to hurry and find her keys, but she suddenly reveals she's in on the conspiracy to keep him there as well. Chris tries to escape, but Missy uses her teacup to hypnotize him and send him back to The Sunken Place.

Meanwhile, Rod tries to call Chris but is worried when he doesn't answer. He googles Andre Heyworth, and discovers he disappeared six months ago, and is the same man who was abducted at the beginning of the movie. Rod goes to the police, but naturally they don't believe him.


LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING!

Chris wakes up in the basement of the Armtiage house, tied to a chair. Dean's father appears on a TV in front of him, and explains that years ago, he perfected a way to transplant the brains of sickly old white people into the bodies of healthy young blacks, who he says are genetically superior. He passed this technique down to his son Dean, the neurosurgeon.

We then realize that the Armitage's guests were bidding on Chris, and Jim Hudson won. Dean prepares Hudson for the procedure, so his brain can be transplanted into Chris' body and he'll finally regain his sight. Chris will then be doomed to live out his days in The Sunken Place, as Hudson controls his body. Chris struggles to free himself from his restraints, but can't. He sees a piece of padding sticking out of the chair he's sitting in. Suddenly Missy appears on the TV, stirring her damned teacup in order to knock out Chris.

Jeremy enters the room to take Chris to the Armitage's makeshift basement operating theater. Chris springs out of the chair, apparently having plugged his ears with chair stuffing so he couldn't be hypnotized. He brutally beats in Jeremy's head, Negan-style. He then looks for a way out of the basement, and runs into Dean. Chris stabs him in the chest with the antlers of a stuffed deer head, which is something I don't think I've ever seen in a movie before.

He runs upstairs and kills Missy before she can hypnotize him. He runs outside and jumps in a car and roars off. He dials 911 as he's driving, and accidentally runs down Georgina. He keeps going for a few seconds, but is overcome with the guilt of not helping his mother when he had the chance (feel guilty later and get the hell out of there now!). He goes back and picks up Georgina and puts her in the front seat.

As he drives away, Georgina of course wakes up, and reveals she's really Rose's grandma, who underwent the brain transfer procedure some time earlier. She grabs the wheel and the car swerves out of control, crashes into a tree and kills her. Chris staggers out of the car, and is confronted by Walter and Rose, who's packing a rifle. Walter reveals he's actually Rose's brain-transplanted grandpa, and the inventor of the process. Walter attacks Chris, and they roll around on the ground fighting.

Walter's much bigger and stronger than Chris, and it doesn't take him long to get the upper hand. Suddenly Chris takes a photo of him with his phone, and the flash stuns him momentarily. Walter gets up and tells Rose to give him the rifle, as he wants to kill Chris himself. He shoots Rose in the gut (as his true self takes control), and then turns the rifle on himself, ending his torture.


Chris crawls over to Rose and tries to strangle her, but can't go through with it. Suddenly a police car arrives, and Rose begins weakly calling for help, knowing a white cop will automatically assume Chris killed everyone.

Luckily for Chris, it's actually his pal Rod coming to his rescue. They get in his TSA car and roar off, leaving Rose to die in the road.

Thoughts: 

• The best part about the film is that it's littered with many subtle little clues, which become apparent and obvious by the end of the film. If you're like me, you'll find yourself saying, "Of course! That's what that was all about!" once the movie's over. Note to aspiring screenwriters— take note of this film! This is the way clues are supposed to work!

Here are the clues I noticed (it's possible there were more):

The Armitage's Professions: Dean is a neurosurgeon, and Missy is a hypnotherapist. Not that remarkable, until you find out what the two of them are up to. Then you realize those are the perfect professions for them to pull off their little scheme.

Roman Armitage: When Dean gives Chris a tour of the house, he shows him what appears to be a shrine to his late father Roman Armitage, complete with photos on the wall, along with various trophies and awards. Dean explains that Roman competed in the 1936 Olympic Games, running alongside black athlete Jesse Owens.

Dean goes on to say that Roman was impressed that Owens, with his "exceptional African genes," embarrassed Hitler by beating his "Master Race" Aryan runners. 

This is our first clue that the entire Armitage clan believes that black bodies are genetically superior to Caucasian ones.

Walter's Midnight Runs: Later in the film, Chris goes outside at night for some air, and is unnerved when he sees Walter running toward him at top speed. Or course we eventually find out that Roman's brain has been implanted into Walter's body, which explains his after dark dashes— now that he has a new body, he can run again just like he did when he was younger.

Georgina's Vanity: Chris accidentally catches a glimpse of Georgina staring into a mirror late at night, admiring her reflection. There's nothing particular sinister about this, until we find out that Rose's Grandma is really inside Georgina's head. She was an old woman when she underwent the procedure, so she's now happily gazing at her new, much younger face.

Chris' Smoking Habit: The Armitage's— especially Missy— all seem unduly troubled by the fact that Chris smokes. At first it just seems like friendly concern about his health, but later we realize it's more insidious. They look at Chris as property to be auctioned off, rather than a person, and they don't want him damaging their merchandise!

Missy's Hypnosis: Missy offers to hypnotize Chris several times, ostensibly to cure him of his smoking addiction. Fair enough. Later on though we find out the real reason she wants to hypnotize him— to send his consciousness deep, deep down within his mind, to make room in his head for a new occupant.

Physical Admiration: At the garden party, many of the rich old white people admire Chris' physique, and a few actually reach out and feel his muscles! Later on of course we realize they were "kicking the tires" so to speak, and sizing him up before bidding on him!

The Kings: Also at the garden party, Chris is introduced to Logan and Philomena King, a very unusual couple. Logan's a young black man in his late twenties, while Philomena is a white woman in her sixties or seventies.

They seem like the most unlikely couple ever, until you realize that Logan King is really Andre Hayworth, the young black male who was abducted at the beginning of the movie. Logan had his brain implanted into Andre's body, which is why he's with Philomena (and no doubt hoping she gets a new body soon as well!).

As I said, these clues are all out there in the open for observant viewers.

• There's one thing I didn't understand about the garden party scene. Every guest there is a rich old white person, except for two— Logan King, and Hiroki Tanaka, a lone Asian man. Tanaka actually asks Chris in front of the entire crowd if there're any societal advantages to being black.

I don't understand why Tanaka's at this party, when everyone else is white. Is he the token Asian in the Armitage's neighborhood, and they invited him just to be inclusive? Doubtful, as everyone there is in on the conspiracy. 

If he's in on the secret, then I guess that means he longs to have his brain put into a black body as well. 

Or maybe he's some sort of side experiment that Dean tried. Maybe there's a rich old white brain inside Tanaka's Asian body?

I honestly have no idea what his deal is. It's a WTF moment in an otherwise nearly perfect film.

• Steven Root plays blind art dealer Jim Hudson in the film. This is the second time I can think of that Root has played a blind character in recent years. He played the sightless radio station owner in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

• Jordan Peele's comedy partner Keegan Michael Key has sort of a cameo in the movie. When Chris finds the box containing dozens of photos with various black men, Key's in one of them, appearing as an NCAA prospect.

• As a graphic designer, I have to say that the Get Out theatrical poster is one of the worst I've ever seen! Look at that god-awful Photoshopped disaster! I'll bet the designer spent the better part of an hour cobbling this thing together. Especially impressive is that innovative and intricate logo, which consists of whatever random font the designer just happened to have loaded into Photoshop.

Where's Drew Struzan when we need him?

• One thing that Peele leaves a bit vague is just how the "blackification" procedure works. From what we see in Dean's basement operating theater, it looks like the white subject's brain is removed and physically transplanted into the black host's head.


This is confirmed by the fact that both Walter and Georgina have large ugly scars just below their hairlines. I guess once you undergo the procedure, you have to wear a hat or comb your bangs down over your forehead for the rest of your life.

After the procedure's completed, the black host somehow retains a small degree of their original consciousness. How the heck can that be if their brain's been removed and replaced with another one?

I'm guessing that for some reason, the host needs to retain a bit of their original consciousness in order to keep their body alive. I'm betting that's where Missy comes in. She hypnotizes the host and sends their consciousness down to The Sunken Place, which is most likely the brain stem. Dean then removes the brain and replaces it, and a tiny bit of the original person remains hidden in the stem, where it can occasionally surface and take control for brief intervals (like Andre did when he tried to warn Chris).

This may or may not be what Peele intended, but it sounds like a plausible explanation to me, so that's what I'm going with.

Note that the vagueness surrounding the procedure doesn't really distract from the film. It doesn't matter how it works, we just need to know that it does, and it's not something Chris wants to happen to him.

• According to Jordan Peele, the original ending would have had Chris being arrested for the murder of Rose and her family, and would have reflected all the recent police shootings and turmoil happening in the real world.

He later decided the matter was receiving enough national news coverage, and decided to go with a more upbeat ending for Chris.

• The movie begins and ends with the song Run Rabbit Run. It's a novelty song by Flanagan and Allen, a British singing group from the 1930s and 1940s.

The lyrics go: 
On the farm, every FridayOn the farm, it's rabbit pie day.So, every Friday that ever comes along,I get up early and sing this little songRun rabbit– run rabbit– Run! Run! Run!Run rabbit– run rabbit– Run! Run! Run!Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!Goes the farmer's gun.Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run.Run rabbit– run rabbit– Run! Run! Run!Don't give the farmer his fun! Fun! Fun!He'll get byWithout his rabbit pieSo run rabbit– run rabbit– Run! Run! Run!
It's an upbeat and seemingly innocent little ditty, but when used here in Get Out, it suddenly becomes ominous and creepy, as it eerily echoes Chris' plight.

Get Out is a well-written and directed debut for Jordan Peele, and one of the better movies I've seen this year. It's also actually about something, which is rare in the cineplex these days. I give it an enthusiastic B+.

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