Get Out is a horror-comedy for Black History Month. Be warned, spoilers follow.
What was it, exactly, that the all-media screening audience at the new movie Get Out was cheering for when the black protagonist killed an entire family of white folks one by one? Get Out isn’t simply a revenge thriller; it’s a state-of-the-divided-nation movie. In this horror-comedy, 26-year-old middle-class black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) travels with his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to her family’s idyllic exurban home and discovers a racist cult intent on siphoning black men’s mental and physical energy. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets Rosemary’s Baby meets Meet the Fockers. Hollywood high-concept goes low — and unfulfilled. The horror side of the story shows writer-director Jordan Peele (Keegan-Michael Key’s costar on Comedy Central Network’s Key & Peele) imitating the slave-era terror of 12 Years a Slave. Peele’s plot jacks up that film’s existential paranoia, a modern response to the helplessness of enslavement that politically naïve kids now dread as a modern American reality.
The comedy side churns out trite “post-racial” ironies that have defined political humor for the past eight years (protecting and defending former president Obama) and that now threaten to continue in bizarre guises like this. Rose informs Chris that her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) “would have voted for Obama a third time if they could.” Any audience who laughs at that is either scornful or regretful, so why the applause at the murderous finale? Peele wants to have it both ways, as in the TV series Key & Peele, in which the biracial duo capitalized on how Obama’s biracial identity was reformulated as “black.” As if celebrating social enlightenment, they concocted unfunny routines deriding black paranoia and white superstition. Get Out shares that opportunistic misconception. Its slug’s-pace opening (using an inept subjective point-of-view angle) replays the Trayvon Martin incident: A lone black male (LaKeith Stanfield) on a cellphone walks through an unfamiliar suburban community when he’s attacked. The movie never clearly explains the Stanfield character’s origin; the implications of both his introduction and reappearance merely set off obsessive social fears. In Larry Cohen’s more coherent horror-comedy Wicked Stepmother (1989), Bette Davis reappears in the person of Barbara Carrera, but the change is clearly presented and fully explained, while the introduction and reappearance in Get Out are not.
Get Out is an attenuated comedy sketch in which serious concerns are debased. Pushing buttons that alarm blacks yet charm white liberals, Peele manipulates the Trayvon Martin myth the same way Obama himself did when he pandered by saying, “Trayvon Martin could have been my son.” That disingenuous tease is extended in Peele’s casting of Daniel Kaluuya. Son of Ugandan parents, the handsome, round-faced, British-born actor triggers sympathy (he has the young, clean-cut buppie co-ed look that brothers Branford and Wynton Marsalis rocked in the ’80s). But Kaluuya’s strongest historical associations must come from Peele’s subconscious: The actor’s dark-skin/bright-teeth image inadvertently recalls the old Sambo archetype. Kaluuya frequently goes from sleepy-eyed stress to bug-eyed fright. Surely Spike Lee would have recognized the resemblance to Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland, and Willie Best, the infamous comics who made their living performing Negro caricatures during Hollywood’s era of segregation. Peele seems too caught up in exploiting modern narcissism to notice old repulsion. Sambo lives matter. Question: Will Kaluuya’s wild-eyed consternation be equated with James Baldwin’s bug-eye perspicacity in I Am Not Your Negro?
In Get Out, just as Obama did, Peele exploits racial discomfort, irresponsibly playing racial grief and racist relief off against each other, subjecting imagination and identification to political sway. Get Out’s routines — Chris identifying with a wounded deer, Chris being introduced to clueless, suspicious, patronizing, dishonest, and rapacious whites — paint a limited, doomed picture of race relations. Like a double-dealing demagogue’s speech, there’s just enough pity to satisfy black grievance and just enough platitudes (Rose back-talking a white cop) to make whites feel superior. When an Asian party guest asks Chris “Is African-American experience an advantage or disadvantage?” it reveals Peele’s own biracial anxiety. That question is too heavy for a film so lightweight. Peele depicts Chris’s sense of isolation, of “living in a sunken place.” (After Rose’s mother hypnotizes Chris, he’s shown adrift in a limbo without any attachment to the real world except a sorrowful memory of his parents’ death.) Chris’s detachment from real-world social status brings to mind the cluelessness of the Hope & Change generation, in dire need of a reality check; instead, Millennials rely on the Obama era’s civil-rights bromides and social-justice aphorisms. Get Out does not rank with America’s notable race comedies — Brian De Palma’s Hi, Mom!, Ossie Davis’s Gone Are the Days! (Purlie Victorious), Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope, Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback, Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, Rusty Cundieff’s Fear of a Black Hat, Skin Game or any of the genre spoofs by the Wayans family, particularly the ingenious Little Man, or the recent Eddie Murphy films (The Klumps, Norbit, Meet Dave, A Thousand Words) that are so personal and ingenious, they transcend racial categorization. But unlike Eddie Murphy, a masterful actor with a mature sense of humor, Peele fails because has not created credible characters. Chris and his ghetto friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), who works for the TSA, are attitudes, not complex beings. The other blacks Chris encounters as servants on Rose’s family estate are no better than Trayvon Martin–type effigies — zombie-like when not sorrowful and tearful. Exploiting black people’s tears, paranoia, and pain without providing reflex is offensive — whereas the great “Be Black, Baby” sequence of Hi, Mom! caught audiences in their own racial prejudices and forced them to laugh. (Here, LaKeith Stanfield’s impersonation of comic Dave Chappelle’s still-puzzling neurosis is too alarming to laugh at.) Peele’s self-congratulatory revenge humor has one particularly notable irony: It’s tailored to please the liberal status quo. His pace seems slow largely because the jokes are obvious: Bitch-goddess Rose trolls black sports websites in her bedroom, which is covered with basketball posters, recalling Scatman Crothers’s Afro erotica in The Shining. Chris even gets confined in a symmetrically furnished den with a 1960s TV console, Kubrick-style. Once again, the 1960s serve as a race hustler’s vengeful reference point. But when the get-whitey genre was initiated in those blaxploitation movies made after the turmoil of that decade, artists from Melvin Van Peebles and Larry Cohen to Bill Gunn and Gordon Parks toyed with various genres to dramatize American social and economic circumstances. Black political consciousness was being realized on screen for the first time. Get Out is the recrudescence of Obama-era unconsciousness. Reducing racial politics to trite horror-comedy, it’s an Obama movie for Tarantino fans.
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^National Review (NR) is a semi-monthly magazine founded by author William F. Buckley Jr. in 1955. Although the print version of the magazine is available online to subscribers, the free content on the website is essentially a separate publication under different editorial direction. The online version, National Review Online, describes itself as "America's most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative news, commentary, and opinion."
In other words Stormfront and Trump people.
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^ Either the review has some interesting points to make or it doesn't. Where it was published does not necessarily define it wholly. The Author of the article, Armond White has some conservative tendencies but he is also known to be independent minded, contrarian and not unpredictable.
Detroit born Armond White writes about movies for National Review Online and received the American Book Award’s Anti-Censorship prize. He is the author of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World, The recently published New Position: The Prince Chronicles on the pop singer Prince and the forthcoming What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about the Movies. Other publications that have carried his work include Film Comment, Variety, The Nation, The New York Times, Slate, Columbia Journalism Review, and First Things. White is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and New York Film Critics Online. He was the three time chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle (1994, 2009 and 2010), and has also served as a member of the jury at the Sundance Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival and Mill Valley Film Festival and was a member of several National Endowment for the Arts panels. He has taught classes on film at Columbia University and Long Island University. White claims to watch "five to 10 movies a week" and "as many as 400 films a year".
In January 2014 White was expelled from The New York Film Critics Circle for allegedly heckling director Steve McQueen at an event for the film 12 Years a Slave. His review, had dismissed as “torture porn.” A number of witnesses who were within earshot quoted him as loudly calling McQueen an “embarrassing doorman and garbageman,” and saying, “Fuck you, kiss my ass!” White has claimed, to writers from The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times, that he wasn’t heckling, that he and others at his table were just talking amongst themselves. (He has also denied that he said any of those words.) White maintained his innocence, and characterized his expulsion as a "smear campaign". White received an "Anti-Censorship Award", as a part of the 35th annual American Book Awards, because of his being "unfairly removed" from the New York Film Critics Circle.
by ARMOND WHITE December 30, 2016 4:00 AM @3XCHAIR Denzel Washington’s Fences confronts Black Lives Matter.
Before the Black Lives Matter craze exacerbated contemporary attitudes about race and black social continuity, playwright August Wilson’s Fences articulated a black tribal viewpoint of the ambition, grievance, and assorted religious, sexual, and political beliefs borne by African American experience. The play focused on Troy Maxon, a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh, who regaled his wife, their two sons, his brother, and a best friend of his personal feelings and beliefs, constantly recalling the things he’s gone through as a black American male. (He’s affectionately described as “Uncle Remus. Got more stories than the devil got sinners.”) Maxon’s tough, defensive attitude stemmed largely from his failed athletic career — an abiding frustration explained by the stifling segregation of the Jim Crow era. Maxon is Wilson’s archetypal character, a beyond-eloquent mouthpiece for the bitterness Wilson felt about the existential inequities suffered because of American racism. Although Fences derives from the black oral tradition, its ideas were by no means obscure or marginalized, but in fact are so familiar to American theatrical practice that the play received two celebrated Broadway productions, the first in 1987 starring James Earl Jones, the second in 2010 starring Denzel Washington. Now Washington directs the film version of Fences (he repeats the role of Maxon) as an established classic of American theatrical literature rather than another Obama Effect film reflecting the opportunistic recent events (denoted by Ferguson and Black Lives Matter) that set a new paradigm for thinking about race.
By these terms, Fences is a conservative movie — which is unfortunate artistically and interesting politically. It feels dialogue-heavy because Washington doesn’t command the cinematic rhythm of movement and imagery that makes the best film adaptations of plays (David Lean’s Blithe Spirit, Sidney Lumet’s Long Day’s Journey into Night) seem perfect, absolutely natural, visual records of behavior. But it is that dialogue — Wilson’s deliberate, elaborately staged poetry, Maxon’s machine-gun rattling of self-shaped philosophies — that gives the play its conservatism. Although Wilson’s writing was contemporary (he died in 2005), his ten-play output — a cycle set during every decade of the 20th century — chronicled black American history. Each drama used the background of gradual social progress, yet every story was rooted in earthly frustration, high and low spiritual aspiration (best evinced by Seven Guitars, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone), and political reality. In portraying the latter, Wilson commemorated how black folks recognized the evidence of ineradicable racism and still got on with their lives. His richest characters, like Maxon, believe in the principles of hard work, self-reliance, personal obligation, and ethical achievement.
These specific, sometimes lyrical African American truths contradict the inexact, sentimental grievance thrown up by Black Lives Matter. Wilson’s conservative narratives, with their heartfelt emphasis on personal relations, demonstrate the difference between entitlement as earned historically by human effort and the empty radical postures assumed by facile cultural inheritance. That’s the source of the conflict between Maxon and his older son, Lyons, an itinerant musician, and his younger son, Cory, a pouting, willful schoolboy. Fences’ rebuttal to a pseudo-political social movement occurs inadvertently, as a benefit of Wilson’s concern with experience-based black values rather than political fashion. The difference is both temperamental and generational, but it is ironic that Wilson came to prominence during the rise of hip-hop culture; as if he felt the same inspiration as the post–Civil Rights, crack-era generation of America’s damaged black youth who were beginning to articulate and romanticize their own experiences. Fact is, the ingrained traditions of comprehending and surviving racism can be expressed in different idioms. Wilson has said that his writing was inspired by black poet Ishmael Reed, whose own vernacular (part of the 1960s Black Arts Movement) is as different from Wilson’s as it is from Public Enemy and Geto Boys, yet they all work the same territory. They recognize the black ethical history that Black Lives Matter (if not all contemporary liberalism) has abandoned.
Nothing in Fences fits the political moment. It poses sense (homegrown black perspectives on principle, indebtedness, and love) against nonsense (using victimhood to define black political identity). The one female character, Maxon’s wife, Rose (Viola Davis, doing her snot-bubble thing), also represents a traditional faithful matriarch who contends with Maxon’s errant infidelity. That every character is a paragon demonstrates Wilson’s humane vision and his dedication to respecting the complexities of black experience, but this also brings us back to the play’s — and the film’s — artistic failing. Too much of Fences sounds like it’s Wilson’s Exposition Play or Position Paper, setting out terms of his conventional (as opposed to conservative) theatrical presentation. Except for frequent, colloquial N-word repetitions, this lesser Wilson work too obviously offers excuses for its flawed protagonist as a figure of American male hubris. It unfortunately recalls Arthur Miller’s overrated Death of a Salesman. Sometimes Wilson’s poetry reeks of Miller’s malapropisms. (Sexual tension reduced to “fall down on you and try to blast a hole into forever,” heredity materialized as “Pop’s a shadow sunk into your flesh.” Thankfully, Wilson’s poetry became less forced by the time he wrote Seven Guitars.) And just as Death of a Salesman was Miller’s apology for the Depression and World War II, Washington uses Fences to apologize for his largely disgraceful Hollywood career, which succeeded by offending every black American virtue. He’s the wrong sort of actor to play simple, gregarious Maxon. Washington always shifts into truculence, not friendly camaraderie or principled experience. The big father–son talk scene shows more macho posturing than loving wisdom. Only Russell Hornsby, who plays Lyons, has the easily underestimated homeboy grace that Wilson particularly understood and often presented as an everyday African-American herald. Washington needed a real director to transform Wilson’s theatrical conceits into cinema. He makes a puzzling cultural choice to have a jazz song play over the newly added scene of church missionaries praying for distraught Rose. If it’s intended to account for Wilson’s religious ambivalence, it needs the extraordinary cultural contradictions that Spielberg fully expressed in the great “God is trying to tell you something” scene in The Color Purple. Instead, this musical contrast is Spike Lee–cynical. Yet when flawed Maxon is eventually sanctified by his noble-idiot brother (Wilson’s most unfortunate character idea), Washington goes for a cheap imitation of Spielberg uplift that’s too embarrassing to describe here.
Wilson’s traditionalist sensibility first made it to the screen in the sharp-witted, morally compelling urban tribal heist film Next Day Air (2009). Made by music-video director Benny Boom and screenwriter Blair Cobbs, paying homage to Wilson, Next Day Air originated surprising, satirical variations on Wilson’s essentially conservative values of economics, property and self-reliance — which mainstream media have succeeded in ignoring or denying as black American virtues. (In thrall to Black Lives Matter, the media uses victimhood to define black political identity.) Rich as it was in characterization and language, Next Day Air was not a hit, but it will be interesting to see if Fences (which is receiving tremendous promotional hype) does reach the popular audience by similarly going against today’s fashionable grievance mode to reflect basic feelings of underclass-and-working-class striving. Audiences who see Fences would do well to recall Lorraine Hansberry’s superior A Raisin in the Sun, where the older generation chastises the younger, “You was supposed to be my harvest.”
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I have seen the movie, it's near great for it's type. Except for the Birds and Psycho, Hitchcock has not done better. For a first timer, it's quite an accomplishment. Btw - the comment about a slow start is true.
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