Produced by: Jodi Matterson, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Keith Calder, Jessica Calder
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Alexander England, Kat Stewart, Diesel La Torraca, Josh Gad etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
While I’m not a massive fan of awards ceremonies, I do check out the nominations for the big ones. The Academy Awards or ‘Oscars’ are obviously the most esteemed annual celebration of commercial filmmaking. But, they often get their nominations, from an artistic and diversity perspective, horrifically wrong. Of course, it’s a matter of opinion, but this year I do not know how Lupita Nyong’o was not nominated for her performances in Jordan Peele’s brilliant horror satire, Us (2019). She is now proving herself to be one of the best actresses around and definitely should have been nominated in the ‘Best Actress in a Leading Role’ category.
As well as Us (2019), Nyong’o also appeared in another horror film released last year called Little Monsters (2019). This one got away from me though because for some reason it did not get a major cinema release in the UK. Little Monsters (2019) is nowhere as imaginative, dark or intelligent as Jordan Peele’s searing exploration of duality, class, race and identity. However, as zombie-romance-comedies go it’s a lot of fun. Nyong’o portrays a likeable, professional and positive school teacher who, along with Alexander England’s failed musician loser, Dave, must protect a group of children from hordes of zombies on a school trip.
It’s an unpretentious, funny and gory comedy romp that owes a massive debt in tone and delivery to Shaun of the Dead (2004). Furthermore, stock genre conventions such as the slow zombies, ubiquitous military nuke ticking time bomb ending, loser character redemption and cute children who “think it’s all a game”, are all relied upon heavily. Nonetheless, the script is fast-paced, witty and has a lot of heart. The direction is effective, although there were probably too many songs in there as filler. Overall, this is a fun film with a brilliant turn by Josh Gad as foul-mouthed children’s TV presenter, and of course, the starry effervescence of ultra-talented, Lupita Nyong’o.
While I haven’t seen it yet, I was slightly intrigued by the release of Will Smith’s action film, Gemini Man (2019).Any film which examines the nature of the double or doppelganger always interests me. As you may be aware the word doppelganger is of German origin. It means “double walker” or “double goer” and I just love it. I love the way it sounds and the mysterious connotations it conjures up. It kind of sounds evil as well; like nothing good can come of it.
There have been many films, books and television programmes featuring doubles. They can occur for various reasons such as: twins, clones, shape-shifters, split personalities, mental breakdown and ghostly or other fantastical elements. We must not forget time-travel or inter-connected timeline plots either. Different versions of the same character existing simultaneously in alternate or exact timelines are very prevalent in fiction also.
In this occasional ‘Six of the Best’ series, I would like to consider six “double” or doppelganger films which are definitely worth watching. To make it interesting I would like to consider the more symbolic, fantastical and unexplained kind of films out there. I cannot avoid the twin or clone plots in certain examples, but the temporal double stories have, sort of, been explored here in an article about time travel films.
***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***
THE ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)
Having done some online research of films featuring doubles, Sam Raimi’s riotous Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness (1992), is cruelly missed from many of those lists. In this gory and over-the-top medieval horror romp, Ash (Bruce Campbell), finds himself in battle against hordes of Deadites. This is all because he gets a spell wrong and splits in two. He then comes face-to-face with his vicious double, Evil Ash. I hate it when that happens – don’t you! While not the deepest of the films listed here, it’s worth watching because you get TWO Bruce Campbell’s for the price of one!
THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991)
The antithesis of the genre joy that is Army of Darkness, can be found in this profound study of identity, directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. It concerns two identical women, Weronika and Veronique (both Irene Jacob), who live in Warsaw and Paris, respectively. Aside from one fleeting moment they never meet, but somehow, telepathically, artistically and emotionally, they are connected to each other. A beautiful, yet obtuse narrative, allied with Kieslowski’s poetic style make this a difficult film to understand. However, it contains fine symbolic power and is open to a myriad of interpretations.
Denis Villeneuve’s directs this adaptation of Jose Saramago’s book called The Double or The Duplicated Man. In it Jake Gyllenhaal plays both a college professor, Adam Bell and his exact lookalike, actor, Anthony Claire. Their two lives become entwined and that’s not the weirdest thing about the film. Part Kafkaesque nightmare and part Freudian examination of the subconscious, this film quietly unhinges the viewer with a slow pace and collection of striking visual motifs. Gyllenhaal is as mesmerizing as ever in this existentially challenging urban horror tale.
THE PRESTIGE (2006)
The doppelganger trope is integral to the story here and uses both twins and clones in its compelling thematic and visual system. Yet, these are not revealed until the very end, as the screenwriters Jonathan and Christopher Nolan literally dissect the characters’ souls within the fascinating world of magicians and their mysterious secrets. At the heart of the story we witness the tricks of warring magicians, portrayed by Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, and the lengths they will go to amaze an audience. By the end, the film becomes a chilling and fantastic warning about the dangers of obsession and rivalry.
The incredibly talented Jordan Peele delivered one of my favourite films of the year. It did not contain just one (or is it two) doppelganger(s), but a whole family of them. Working in the horror genre is an ideal setting for the “double” thematic, as the fantasy elements coalesce perfectly with the psychological ones. Symbolically the film is very strong. It can be interpreted on many levels, including as a critique of the United States (U.S. = US – get it?); and a powerful exploration of split identities. Indeed, in Us (2019), the lead protagonists battle external and inner demons, both political and personal, which can plague all of us during our lives.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic psychological thriller is very complex and actually reflects the directors’ obsession with the moulding of an individual to look a certain way. On the surface, the story of a burnt out cop, Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) attempting to overcome his fear of heights, while tracking a friend’s wife, is initially quite simple. But in Hitchcock’s and his writer’s hands it become a tour-de-force of mistaken, double and theft of identity. A tragic figure, Scottie Ferguson is exploited and left bereft of love and comfort as he attempts, like Hitchcock himself, to find that perfect, yet elusive, blonde.
Story by: John Lasseter, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Josh Cooley, Valerie LaPointe, Martin Hynes, Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hales, Keegan Michael-Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Joan Cusack, John Ratzenberger, Timothy Dalton etc.
Production company(s): Walt Disney, Pixar Animation
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
I almost don’t feel qualified any more to review a sequel that was neither expected or necessary. After all, it’s a sequel to a film trilogy which was almost perfect in its’ delivery and execution. But, having paid big bucks for Pixar in 2006, I doubt Toy Story 4 will be the last unnecessary sequel of their products. After all, Disney are in show BUSINESS!!
I also don’t feel qualified as I am so cynical and jaded that the characters of Toy Story do not interest me anymore. In my mind their story is done. Plus, it’s really for kids, isn’t it? However, that isn’t to say that Pixar/Disney have not, once again, created an incredible technical tapestry of some genius. The colour, texture and attention to detail on show are incredible as usual. Similarly, the ultra-talented voice acting of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts etc. are joined by the brilliant Key and Peele, Christina Hendricks and Tony Hales for the latest release.
Hales offers the voice of potentially one of the worst characters Pixar have ever created: Forky. In fact I think they set out to invent one of the worst characters as a challenge to see if they could make it work. You know what? I think they did make it work. Forky is something the toys’ owner, Bonnie, creates on her first day of kindergarten and with the magic of make-believe he becomes, unknown to her, sentient. We then get the experience of watching a fictitious plastic spork suffering an existential crisis and attempting suicide-by-trash. That’s when good old Woody then tries to teach him his worth.
The sheer goofiness of all this strange plotting works for and against the film. It’s so surreal I thought David Lynch had a hand in the story. Having said that the writer and story credits almost number a football team, so the Frankensteinesque patchwork nature of the screenplay is unsurprisingly. The stitching that holds it all together is Woody’s character. Many of the other toys, including Buzz, are almost sidelined for Woody’s hysterical attempts to control everything around him.
There were a myriad of plots strangling the narrative of Toy Story 4, but the character of Gabby Gabby, voiced by Christina Hendricks, was arguably the most interesting. Echoing the villainy and bitterness of Lotso from the previous sequel, her ventriloquist dummy hench-toys were very creepy and her character added a dark heart amidst the kaleidoscope of wondrous colours. I could take or leave Bo Peep’s, Bonnie’s and Forky’s escapades, but Woody’s encounter with Gabby Gabby was my favourite. Oh, not to forget, Keanu Reeves hilarious little cameo as stunt-toy, Duke Caboom.
Overall, Pixar and Disney do this kind of film amazingly well. Once again one marvels at the technical quality of the animation on show. The story, themes and characters, however, felt a bit recycled and if they do more of these films I think they probably need to jump the shark and allow the toys to finally be seen and heard. How many times can the same joke work? I’m not sure. What is certain though, as long as it makes money Disney will have no issues selling it to the kids. I’m just so old and jaded I’m ready for the attic with all the other discarded and tired toys.
Produced by: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex etc.
Music: Michael Abels
Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Orson Welles is reportedly quoted as saying, “A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” Thus, Jordan Peele proves this point with an unstoppable cinematic train ride in Us (2019); that while threatening to career off the rails on occasions, proves to be a thrilling work of horror-meets-social-satire entertainment.
The film centres on an everyday normal family of four — the Wilsons: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children — as they visit their summer home by the beach. Haunted by a scary incident in a hall of mirrors when a child, Adelaide is afraid to return to the beach where it occurred, until her husband’s goofy enthusiasm wins her over.
Events begin to turn and twist askew when their son, Jason, seems to go missing for a while. Even though he returns, paranoia and fear sneaks into Adelaide’s psyche. Things become even stranger when a mysterious family of four appear in the Wilsons’ drive in the dead of night. This is when the true face of horror surfaces and a pulsating home invasion and prolonged chase sequence ensues.
Peele has clearly seen a lot of horror films. As such the early scenes build tension perfectly with: stormy weather; a strange drifter with biblical sign haunting the boardwalk; creepy hall of mirrors; the choral soundtrack reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968); the son, Jason wearing a Jaws (1975) movie t-shirt; the flock of seagulls on the beach echoing Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); and so it goes.
Such horror tropes build a huge wall of tension so effectively it’s almost a relief when released during the big doppelganger reveal. Subsequently, the blood-letting ensues in some meaty fights and exchanges involving weapons, such as: baseball bats, metal pokers, ornaments and golf clubs. The doppelgangers themselves are clearly a reflection of the self; twisted visions of humanity turning against the characters, as they literally become their own worst enemies.
The cast are expertly marshalled by Peele, as he gets doubly great performances from all the actors. The logistics of shooting doubles must have been tough, especially so many at a time. The featured cast are very good, notably Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson. He offers some light, comedic and physical humour amidst the gore. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o steals the show in the dominant twin roles of Adelaide and the nefarious Red.
It’s Adelaide’s personal journey of double/split identity which provides the spine of the film. As she fights to save her family she must also literally battle the demon inside and outside herself. This thematic is the most powerful of the film for me, as Nyong’o’s acting is full of emotional resonance.
Perhaps, not as successful, when compared to Get Out, is the attempt to marry the personal conflict to the socio-political landscape. While Peele’s first film was an overt satire of slavery and white America oppression and exploitation, Us’ targets are intellectually more ambiguous and open to interpretation. I mean take your pick from: class, capitalism, consumerism, race, de-politicization, narcissism, over-population, split personalities, government conspiracies; and over-arching fear of ‘the other’.
These and many more themes are on Peele’s radar, as is his overall critique of the United States (U.S. = US – geddit!). That they don’t quite gel coherently is not a criticism but a positive indictment of his ambition. Conversely, while I felt the underlying power of Peele’s call-to-arms and desire for human unity in Us, one could argue the fire, smoke and mirrors of these ideas subtract from the power of the families’ personal struggle. Moreover, what is the solution to the government copying us or burying our doubles underground? Is it to kill the others and hold hands in unity? Who knows? What I can say is such naive idealism in horror has never been so entertaining.
After the success of the slavery-soul-swapping and genre bending thriller, Get Out, Jordan Peele has tasked himself with trying to top that fine movie. Well, if Get Out was the starter, Us is the main meal. In fact, one could argue the film is so full of ideas that it threatens to fail due to sensory overload. However, Peele is such a multi-talented storyteller he skilfully delivers, wholly thanks to great writing, masterful film production, an exceptional soundtrack and an incredible cast.
Produced by: Jason Blum, Spike Lee, Raymond Mansfield, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele, Shaun Redick, Jordan Peele
Written by: Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cinematography: Chayse Irvin
Let’s just say right off the bat that films like Black Klansman (2018) are the reason I still go to the cinema. Even from the trailer I’m like wow: a black police officer goes undercover and infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan!! That is a story I need to know about! How the hell did he do that? What follows then is the how, who, why and what-the-fuck-happened story of Ron Stallworth and how he managed to get between the “sheets”, as it were, of one of the nastiest clubs every to deface the fabric of society.
Racism or prejudice of any fashion is deplorable. There is no place for any oppression within a civilised society. Rising up out of the poisonous embers of defeated Confederate army members, in or around the 1860s, the Ku Klux Klan has sought to manifest hatred and bile since then. Murder, violence, vandalism, hangings and burning crosses became its’ nefarious stock and trade as it sought to make toxic the societal waters. In more recent decades, from the 1950s on, the Klan found a politicised voice seeking power through government. It is here that the story of the Black Klansman (2018) joins. It is 1979 and the civil rights movement continues seeking justice and equality for all. The Ku Klux Klan does not agree. They want purification. They are hatred.
Already a trailblazer as the first black detective in Colorado Springs, Ron Stallworth proves he is an intelligent and reliable undercover officer. Then having seen an advert in the local newspaper for the KKK’s desire to recruit new members, he, rather incredibly, calls to make an appointment. From then on his unbelievable scheme gathers pace and a team is assigned to infiltrate the Klan. These include Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish cop, portrayed with his usual laidback brilliance by Adam Driver; and it is Zimmerman who provides the physical version of Ron Stallworth to the Klan members. Indeed, Driver and John David Washington, as the real Stallworth, form a great double-act during the operation. While Zimmerman takes his life in his hands spying on the fascistic group, Stallworth himself builds relationships on the phone with the head of the Klan Charter, David Duke. Duke is the political arm and portrayed with efficient zeal by Topher Grace.
Black Klansman (2018) is a complex film which expertly mixes many genres and tones. The humour of Stallworth’s phone calls to the KKK members are hilariously delivered by the charismatic Washington; while the horrific language of the Klan and danger Zimmerman finds himself in levies this humour, creating a flux of emotions. Moreover, Spike Lee, a tremendously confident director, infuses musical, thriller, Blaxploitation and documentary genre styles within the film, making it a joy to experience. One could argue the romantic subplot doesn’t quite flourish amidst the main plots but Laura Harrier gives a fine performance nonetheless within a great ensemble cast. Plus, I must not forget the killer soundtrack which bleeds soul and verve into every shot.
Spike Lee has never been afraid of experimenting with cinematic style and with this film his alchemy perfectly combines form and content. Overall, this is one of the best films I have seen in 2018, both entertaining and thought-provoking; as the final reels of news footage demonstrate that fascism is still among us and as dangerous as ever. Yet, this film is never preachy for the sake of it and uses humour most often as a weapon to undermine the senseless ideologies of the KKK. Indeed, in ridicule there is hope they may eventually be side-lined to the shadows of history.
CAST: DANIEL KALUUYA, ALLISON WILLIAMS, CATHERINE KEENER, LIL REL HOWERY
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Written and directed by the very talented Jordan Peele – known for his sketch comedy work on shows such as: Key and Peele and MADtv– Get Out is a humdinger of a horror-thriller-satire. It concerns Chris Washington and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage on a “meet-the-parents” getaway weekend. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behaviour as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses we get the terrifying truth about the situation.
The narrative is a tremendous mash-up of horror and social satire following in the footsteps of films such as: The Stepford Wives (1972), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and They Live (1988) which used horror stories as a means of social commentary. Moreover, Peele’s screenplay brilliantly sets up some humorous and awkward scenes between the overly politically-correct white characters before twisting into darker territory. However, there are many laughs to be had also especially from Chris’ best friend portrayed by Lil Rel Howery as a dogged and profane Trans-Airport security employee.
The cast, notably Daniel Kaluuya, Catherine Keener and Allison Williams, are all excellent but most impressive was the writing. I watch so many TV and cinema presentations which over-write dialogue or include extraneous scenes, yet nothing in Peele’s script is wasted with an impressive set-up-punchline-call-back structure within a plethora of visual, verbal and performance set-pieces.
Recent films such as Twelve Years a Slave (2013) and Birth of the Nation (2016) took audiences to very serious places in regard to slavery, however, Peele’s contemporary vision of modern society and racial tensions brilliantly satirises middle-class America and entertainingly highlights the culture experiences with many genuine scares to boot.
In a new strand I have decided to have a look at some future film releases and reasons why they may be worth catching at the cinema.
TITLE: GET OUT
DIRECTOR/WRITER: JORDAN PEELE
RELEASE DATE (UK): 17 MARCH 2017
GENRE: Thriller, Horror, Social Satire
PITCH: Chris Washington (DANIEL KALUUYA) and his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (ALLISON WILLIAMS), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, so she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy (CATHERINE KEENER, Captain Phillips) and Dean (BRADLEY WHITFORD).
At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries leads him to a truth that he could have never imagined.
FIVE REASONS THIS COULD BE GOOD!
It’s written and directed by the very talented Jordan Peele; known for his comedy, TV and sketch work on shows such as: Key and Peele and MADtv.
It’s produced by Blumhouse who are known for excellent lower budget films such as The Gift (2015), the Insidious series, Whiplash (2014) and most recently Split (2016).
It stars Daniel Kaluuya who was brilliant in Black Mirror and Sicario (2015). Plus there is fine support from Allison Williams and the incomparable Catherine Keener.
The narrative sounds like a tremendous mash-up of horror and social satire following in the footsteps of films such as: The Stepford Wives (1972), Night of the Living Dead (1968) and They Live (1988) which used horror stories as a means of social commentary.
Films such as Twelve Years a Slave (2013) take audiences to very serious places in regard to the treatment of slaves. The more contemporary vision of modern society and racial tensions in Get Out (2017) satirises middle-class America and thrillingly highlights such cultural and racial experiences within the thriller genre.Check out the trailer: