Us Movie Review

Any fears of a sophomore slide are quickly dispelled by we the audience in Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his blockbuster cultural milestone Get Out from 2017. That Oscar nominated debut defied genre. Yes, it was sort of a horror flick but it brought in a racial subtext that got crowds talking. I believe Get Out gets better with every viewing and I suspect this will too.

Us, in some respects, is more of a traditional fright fest in comparison to the auteur’s first feature. There’s more jump scares, and more overall freak out moments. Yet there’s a whole lot of allegorical treatment on (yes) race, but also class and the concept of nature vs. nurture. Peele’s second pic furthers the notion that he’s an immensely talented filmmaker with lots to say. Us also leaves more up for interpretation than Get Out. It’s messier and that’s not really a criticism.

Lupita Nyong’o is Adelaide, the matriarch of the Wilson family. She’s married to the slightly goofy Gabe (Winston Duke) with two young children Zora and Jason (Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex). We first meet Adelaide in flashback circa 1986 as a little girl accompanying her parents to the beach in Santa Cruz. She wanders into a funhouse where she encounters a hall of mirrors. Instead of only seeing her reflection, she encounters her scary doppelgänger. The event literally leaves her speechless for an extended period of time.

We flash forward to over three decades later with her brood and they’re vacationing at their lake house in the same area. She’s talking now and has tried her best to repress that childhood event. The family meets up with their wealthy, boozy, and snobby friends (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) at the same beach. Soon enough, Adelaide is unable to bury what happened in 1986.

It turns out that doppelgänger (named Red) is back and she brings along sadistic doubles of the whole family to terrorize them. Red (naturally also played by Nyong’o) speaks in a genuinely hair raising whisper. Referred to as The Tethered, the versions of Gabe and the two children are also creepy and with murder on their minds. This is the section of the film where the gory action kicks into overdrive.

Without spoiling the rest, Us goes about answering the questions of why characters have these bloodthirsty counterparts. It’s horror, it’s government conspiracy, it’s very funny at times. The use of music (from the terrific Mike Gioulakis score to inventive spins of classic hip hop hits “I Got 5 On It” and “F*** The Police”) is expertly placed.

Lupita Nyong’o, in her dual role, is terrific. Switching between a mom in protection mode of her rather normal family to a mom orchestrating that normal family’s demise, it’s quite a role to pull off and she certainly does. Actors in this genre rarely get awards attention and the Supporting Actress winner from 12 Years a Slave deserves it. Duke (and Moss and Heidecker) bring the comic relief.

In some respects, I look at Us as the Unbreakable for Peele if Get Out is his The Sixth Sense. Why the M. Night Shyamalan comparison? Sixth Sense was a massive hit that also nabbed a Best Picture nod. Unbreakable was his breathlessly awaited next movie. It was appreciated by some and confounded others by not being as easily accessible. Those same issues apply to Us. However, just as the reputation for Unbreakable grew with time, I suspect that will hold true for Peele’s second turn. I don’t know if I’d say Us quite matches the potency of Get Out, but I think it could on subsequent screenings. For my first viewing, it definitely provided a whole lot to appreciate as this director continues to show he’s a force behind the camera.

***1/2 (out of four)

Ma Box Office Prediction

Blumhouse Productions continues its output of ultra low-budget horror pics that could see impressive returns next weekend with the release of Ma. Made for a tiny reported budget of $5 million, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is cast as a homicidal veterinary aide terrorizing a group of teens. Ma reunites its star with her director from The Help, Tate Taylor (whose last effort was The Girl on the Train). Costars include Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers, Luke Evans, McKaley Miller, and Missi Pyle.

The studio has been down this road before with blockbuster efforts like Get Out and Happy Death Day. I don’t expect Ma to reach their levels. While there’s no direct genre competition, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Rocketman could divert eyeballs elsewhere. Yet this could certainly triple or quadruple its budget out of the gate with an African-American audience and a teenage crowd.

Ma opening weekend prediction: $17.2 million

For my Godzilla: King of the Monsters prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/godzilla-king-of-the-monsters-box-office-prediction/

For my Rocketman prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2019/05/23/rocketman-box-office-prediction/

Us Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/19/19): The upgrade has happened from $48.8 million to $56.8 million

Next weekend we will find out if lightning strikes again for director Jordan Peele with the release of Us. The horror pic is Peele’s eagerly awaited sophomore effort and follow-up to his 2017 debut Get Out. That film rode a cultural wave of excitement and critical raves that resulted in a Best Picture nomination and an Oscar for Peele for his original screenplay.

Perhaps not since M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (his feature after The Sixth Sense) have we seen a movie that can sold mostly on “from the director of…”. Us centers on a family being terrorized by a brood that appears to be different versions of themselves. The cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker.

Any fears of a sophomore slump were eliminated this past weekend when Us screened at South by Southwest. Reviews are strong with 100% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. Get Out exceeded opening weekend projections two years ago when it made $33 million for its start and legged out considerably to $176 million.

Us doesn’t have the benefit of unknown expectations. Peele’s name and some seriously effective trailers have prognosticators thinking this will exceed the first weekend of Get Out. Whether it experiences the smallish declines from weekend to weekend is a better question as Us should be more front-loaded with its earnings.

I’ll say mid to high 40s is where this lands with $50 million certainly being a possibility.

Us opening weekend prediction: $56.8 million

Oscar Watch: Us

The South by Southwest festival is in full swing this weekend and the most eagerly awaited film premiere has occurred. That would be Us, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to 2017’s Get Out.  The horror thriller is out domestically on March 22.

Early reviews are quite encouraging as it currently stands at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Could this follow in the footsteps of Peele’s debut effort? As you may recall, Get Out premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 to red-hot buzz. It would end up grossing $176 million stateside and garnering four Oscar nods, including Best Picture. Peele won the gold statue for Original Screenplay.

Initial consensus for Us suggests it’s scarier than Get Out, though some reviews don’t quite put it at the level of Peele’s first pic. I’ll say that if Us can resonate with audiences in a manner similar to Out, it could find itself in the Oscar conversation (especially Original Screenplay). And it might be worth keeping an eye on Lupita Nyong’o in lead actress as an outside possibility.

My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Sorry to Bother You Movie Review

In one sense, Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You is conventional with its pro-labor and anti-corporate message. How it gets there is wildly unconventional, often original, occasionally hilarious, and clearly from a new filmmaker making his voice and views heard. Riley comes from the world of hip hop and his political perspectives are unmistakable in short tracks. With nearly two hours to work with here, his words can’t possibly be as tight and controlled. This film is messy, but rarely a mess. Like the best music in the genre, it’s not easily forgotten. Similar to a bass line or lyric that won’t escape you, moments here have the same effect.

LaKeith Stanfield is Oakland native Cassius Green, who’s struggling to find a job that pays the bills. He lives in a garage with his artsy girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). He owes lots of back rent to his uncle (Terry Crews) that owns the property. While the Golden State area looks current, the picture is set in an alternate reality. There’s a massive conglomerate that goes by WorryFree. We see ads on TV that promote a life of not paying bills and free housing. The catch? A lifetime contract of servitude. It’s absolutely an allegory for the director’s view of today’s workforce. While WorryFree seemingly appeals to many, this is not so for Cassius, Detroit, and lots of protesters.

Instead, Cassius finds work as a telemarketer and he initially finds it mundane and challenging. That is until a coworker (Danny Glover) imparts his secret of success. That recipe is using his “white voice”. Those voices are provided by recognizable faces for main characters including David Cross, Lily James, and Patton Oswalt. Cassius suddenly finds himself climbing the corporate ladder once the modulation happens. It leads him to gain the designation of “Power Caller”. That means moving to a swanky floor where only the Caucasian voice is allowed to be used. This also means he becomes a scab to his fellow workers and to Detroit. His financial rise soon puts him in touch with the leaders of WorryFree and its CEO Steve Lift (Armie Hammer).

Once that partnership is forged, Sorry to Bother You veers into genuinely unexpected directions (trust me on this one). Riley, however, never strays too far from the overall message. He’s got a fine cast to deliver it. Stanfield (best known for his supporting role in Get Out) is terrific and we’ve certainly never seen Hammer like this before. There are some genuine laugh out loud moments. One involves a passive aggressive argument Cassius has with friend and coworker Salvador (Jermaine Fowler). Another pertains to Steve’s unexpected reaction to Cassius’s reaction when a key plot point is revealed.

When we get to the third act, its unconventional tone gallops into an entirely new gear. It’s not totally successful, but I found myself admiring Riley’s kitchen sink approach to it. For viewers looking for something that’s often remarkably different, Bother hits those notes with enough frequency for a solid recommendation.

***1/2 (out of four)

Gotham Awards Reaction 2018

It’s only mid-October, but the first significant precursor of awards season rolled out nominations today in the form of the Gotham Awards. If you’re not familiar, the Gothams honor independent film in a limited number of categories.

While not as prolific as the Golden Globes or SAG nominations, there has been a correlation with movies and performers nominated here getting Oscar attention. Let’s take a look at the past five Gotham awards nominees and how they matched up with the Academy:

In 2013, 12 Years a Slave was nominated for Best Feature and went on to win the Oscar. In the Best Actor race, eventual Academy winner Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) was victorious here and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Slave) also was nominated for both. Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) was nominated here and went on to win the gold statue. It’s worth noting that the Gothams do not have supporting acting categories (we’ll get to that in a minute).

In 2014, three movies that got Best Picture nods were honored here: Birdman (Oscar winner), Boyhood, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. In the acting races, Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Oscar/Gotham winner Julianne Moore (Still Alice) were included.

For 2015, no Best Actor nominees for the Gothams correlated to Oscars. However, there were actress match-ups with Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) and Cate Blanchett (Carol). Also – the Gotham and Oscar Best Picture winners were the same – Spotlight.

That happened once again in 2016 as Moonlight won the Oscar and the Gotham. Manchester by the Sea was also nominated for both. Casey Affleck’s work in that film won Best Actor at both ceremonies. For Actress, Natalie Portman as Jackie got double nods.

Last year, two Gotham Film nominees got Best Picture recognition: Call Me by Your Name and Get Out. In Actor, it was Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out as a double recipient. In Actress, same goes for Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya). And coming back to the fact that there’s no supporting races, Willem Dafoe received an Actor nomination at the Gothams for The Florida Project while being recognized for Supporting Actor at the Oscars.

So, as you can see, there’s usually some overlap for the two ceremonies. And that brings us to today’s nominees and how I think that overlap will occur this year:

In the Gotham Best Feature race, the nominees are:

The Favourite

First Reformed

If Beale Street Could Talk

Madeline’s Madeline

The River

The average number of Gotham/Oscar film nominees lately has been two and that likely holds true here with The Favourite and If Beale Street Could Talk. The other three are highly unlikely to get Academy recognition.

In the Best Actor race, the nominees are:

Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

Ben Foster, Leave No Trace

Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

LaKeith Stanfield, Sorry to Bother You

Grant is probably this year’s Willem Dafoe and will be recognized by the Academy in Supporting Actor. Adam Driver falls in the same category, but is more of a long shot. Stanfield is out of the running for Actor at the Oscars, while Foster and Hawke remain possibilities. That said – like 2015 – this could well be a year where there’s no matches.

That is not the case with Actress and the nominees are:

Glenn Close, The Wife

Toni Collette, Hereditary

Kathryn Hahn, Private Life

Regina Hall, Support the Girls

Michelle Pfeiffer, Where is Kyra?

Collette is a possible nominee, but it’s Close that seems a near lock for Oscar attention and a possible win. The others? Not so much.

Finally, a Special Jury prize was initiated that honors the three actresses from The Favourite. That would be Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, and Rachel Weisz and all three could find themselves in the mix at Oscar time. The Gothams did the same jury designation for 2014’s Foxcatcher and 2015’s Spotlight. 

So there you have it! My take on how the Gotham Awards will relate to the biggest awards show of all…

 

Hell Fest Box Office Prediction

Set in a Halloween theme park, the horror flick Hell Fest will attempt to bring in genre fans next weekend. It’s directed by Gregory Plotkin, who’s known more for his work as an editor (Get Out, Happy Death Day). He did make Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. The cast includes Amy Forsyth, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Reign Edwards, and Tony Todd (otherwise known as Candyman from that franchise).

Hell Fest debuts in the middle of considerably more high-profile fright fests The Nun and Halloween. Opening on approximately 2200 screens, awareness seems rather low. That said, horror fans can sometimes cause larger than expected grosses.

I’m not seeing it here. I’ll project a mid to maybe high single digits premiere.

Hell Fest opening weekend prediction: $5.6 million

For my Night School prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/18/night-school-box-office-prediction/

For my Smallfoot prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/18/smallfoot-box-office-prediction/