‘Us’ Review

Anyone who follows my reviews knows I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies. I get scared very easily and I particularly hate anything that has exorcisms or involves the rape/murder of women. However, in the last few years I have been trying to expand my pallet so that I am a well-rounded critic. For the most part this has been a great experience and one of the highlights of this journey is Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out. It’s a movie I liked well enough to start but it stayed with me and I kept thinking about new layers beyond the fun scares. In the end, it ended up being one of my favorite movies of 2017.

Naturally I was pretty hyped for Pelle’s follow up film Us (especially after a fantastic trailer!).

So with all that hype what did I think of Us? Well for the most part I really enjoyed it. I also think, like Get Out, the problems I have could become less important upon multiple viewings so take this review with a bit of a grain of salt.

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Let’s start with the positives. Us is centered around a family of 4 that goes to the beach for a summer holiday.¬† Unfortunately their family fun is interrupted by a zombie-like doppelganger family just like them attacks their home. This makes it both a home invasion and zombie horror movie and there are a lot of chilling moments. I was definitely very scared by Us and that’s a fun experience when done well.

I also thought the entire cast did an amazing job playing both normal and zombie versions of their characters. Lupita Nyong’o is especially strong pulling off so many notes in her 2 characters. But everyone was good including all the child performances.

Us also uses music (Michael Abels) very well with a wonderful haunting score and carefully selected soundtrack tunes.

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What didn’t work as well for me in Us is the final act where we get a lot of the allegory explained to us but I honestly still didn’t quite get what Peele was trying to say. Perhaps he meant it to be a little ambiguous or maybe I’m just dumb but it didn’t quite make sense. Subsequent viewings may elaborate this for me but for now I don’t really get it.

Also, my audience kept laughing and for the most part I didn’t really understand why? I was scared but never laughed¬† so who knows? The humor in Get Out wasn’t my favorite so perhaps it’s just my sense of humor doesn’t jive with this style? Who knows?

But overall, Us is a good time at the theaters. It’s scary with great performances and engaging kills/action. It definitely earns its R rating with strong language and violence but if you can stomach that then check it out.

 

7.5/10

smile worthy

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Queen of Katwe Review (Spoilers)

queen-of-katwe-posterOne of my favorite trends in the house of mouse is their live action sports section. In my opinion, they have made one great inspiring movie after another including Miracle, Million Dollar Arm, The Rookie and most recently McFarland USA which I especially loved.  Some may view these films as trite and cheesy but I love them. They are the only thing keeping Disney small. Oh how I wish they would have a similar small animation department. Their recent entry, Queen of Katwe, cost only $15 million and it is very special.

queen-of-katwe-8I said on twitter about Queen of Katwe “If you like this kind of thing you will love it. If you don’t like this kind of thing, you might still love it”. I don’t know if it is just because it is about chess but if there was ever a sports movie that could please everyone this is it. Sure it hits the predictable ‘inspirational true story’ notes but then it also went places I didn’t expect it to go.

Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutes (Madina Nalwanga) a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess master. She grows up in the slums of Katwe where she sells corn and other vegetables to make ends-meat rather than going to school. Her mother Nakku Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is a widow and trying desperately to keep her family together both spiritually and physically.

nullOne day Phiona comes across an after school type group set up by Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) and she starts learning how to play chess. As she grows in her skills she also is taught by Katende’s wife how to read and think for herself. The movie does a good job showing the how hope can be a good and bad thing and how Phiona’s life isn’t anything but peaches and rainbows after her successes in chess.

The slums aren’t sterilized for a Disney audience like you might expect. There is a landfill close and there is a devastating scene where a flood comes through and nearly takes Phiona’s brother away in the water.  There is another scene where Nakku sells her mother’s dress to a skeevy man who propositions her, which I thought was pretty brave for a Disney film. disneys-queen-of-katwe-champion

Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakku is not the perfect mother you might expect from this film. She is scared, gritty and weak at times. There is a brutal scene where her son is in a hospital and she can’t afford to pay the bill so she removes the IV and sneaks him out only to come to their shack and be evicted by the landlord. If that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings you have more self control than I do. It’s not just that these events happen but that I felt for these people. They felt real and whole with flaws. lupita-grabMadina Nalwanga is also excellent as Phiona who goes from shy and awkward to a bit of a diva to completely devastated and back around in the film. There is a devastating scene where she asks David Oyelowo’s Robert Katende if good things are for the city kids because things hadn’t changed and then he tells her about losing his mother. It was really moving stuff! queen-of-katwe

Some will say this film is predictable and by the numbers but at least for me it went places I wasn’t expecting it to go. We learn about Phiona’s sister Night (Taryn Kayze) who is basically with a pimp for the lifestyle perks. Nakku is spiritual but not preachy. She is prideful but also weak, particularly when it comes to Night and Phiona.

There’s a great scene where Nakku thinks her children are being trained to gamble instead of competing in chess. Nyong’o’s ferocity in that scene is awesome. David Oyelow is also tremendous as the chess coach who is real but also ready to give the pep talk.

There is also basically no time spent with the rich kids bullying the Katwe teams. That was very refreshing. Also we get only a brief scene of the ‘jerk governing body embarrassed by the poor team’ like you typically get in these movies (think John Candy ‘they’ve earned the right’ speech in Cool Runnings).  There are also basically no white people in the cast except a couple briefly seen chess competitors. So no white savior storylines this time around.

Director Mira Nair has done a wonderful job taking the inspirational movie formula and creating something special. Go see it. I know you will love it!

Also, I normally hate the ending scroll text in these movies telling you the rest of the story because it takes me out of the movie, but in this case I thought they handled it just right.

Here is the trailer to give you an idea for the film:

Overall Grade- A