Hands Across America: A Review of “Us”

https://bit.ly/2tXu8S1

It’s no secret that I adore Jordan Peele’s debut horror feature, Get Out. Needless to say, it’s a film I immediately fell in love with due to its intricate details, stellar performances, and perfectly paced narrative. It went on to be my favorite film of 2017, and I would definitively declare it as being one of the decade’s absolute best films. Having watched it yet again just last month, I’m astounded at the fact that Get Out remains as impressive as ever, and I have been counting down the days until we would get to see what Peele had in store for us with his next film.

Finally, that wait is over. After two long years, Peele is again gracing cinema marquees with his highly anticipated follow-up, Us. I’m going to be up front here: Us is nowhere near as good as its predecessor. However, despite some glaring misgivings I have toward this sophomoric effort, Us is definitely worth seeing. It is, in the end, an extremely well-made and oftentimes very enjoyable horror flick. However, Us is also nowhere close to being as essential as Get Out was. But it should come as no surprise that Peele’s newest work again highlights remarkable acting and gorgeous cinematography, and is based upon yet another inventive, terrifying scenario that’s sure to not only get your blood pumping, but also stimulate your mind in the process.

At the center of Us is a family of four, the Wilsons, which includes mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), father Gabe (Winston Duke), teenage daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and young son Jason (Evan Alex). We join them as they’re pulling up to their comfortable beach house for a summer getaway in Adelaide’s childhood home in Santa Cruz, and we’re allowed some valuable time upfront in order to better align ourselves with these characters and appreciate their relationships with one another. These early moments are breezy, funny, and memorable, as Peele makes it easy to become attached to his likable cast of characters.

Continue reading

Michael Lane’s Top 10 Albums of 2018

Banner credited to Michael Lane

Thought I wouldn’t make it this year, huh? This is really (extremely!!!) late, but I truly enjoy writing and crafting these lists more than you could probably understand, so I had to return for the fourth consecutive year to rank my 10 favorite albums of the year.

I am extremely thankful for a lot of things that this past year has given me, which of course includes all of the superb music that soundtracked such a memorable 365 days. Below you will find the 15 artists and their respective albums that impacted me the most this year, each one an owner to certain months or even full seasons of 2018. These are the albums that surprised me. These are the albums that I listened and re-listened to more than any others this year. These are the standout albums of 2018 in my eyes. As always, my hope with this list is that you will discover some new artists you will come to love just as much as I do. Happy listening!

Honorable Mentions:

  • Twenty-One Pilots – Trench
  • The Voidz – Virtue
  • Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
  • MGMT – Little Dark Age
  • Public Access T.V. – Street Safari

Continue reading

Michael Lane’s Top 10 Films of 2018

Banner credited to Michael Lane

2018 certainly was a year, wasn’t it? I graduated from college, even landed a job just a handful of months after, and in between dreading school, work, and the awful act of applying for work, I still found an unreasonable amount of time to go to the movies. There was originally a sizable list of contenders vowing for inclusion on this list, and while I’d love to talk about each and every one of them, I unfortunately had to slice this thing down to the resulting 15 you see below. There are so many movies I enjoyed this year, and even more that I missed out on seeing completely (perhaps your personal favorites belong in those categories!). And while I enjoyed a large swath of movies this year, it wasn’t until the very end of the year when I found that one particularly standout entry that I instantly knew would top my list. What film is that? Read on, friend, and find out for yourself.

Honorable mentions:

Really some great films on that list there, but 10 others managed to be just that much better in 2018. So, with that out of the way, we can finally get to what you’ve all been waiting for: My Certified Top 10 Films of 2018. I think you’ll like the list, and I especially hope you may find some new movies to watch. Happy viewing, everyone!

Continue reading

HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt” Retrospective: “Demon Knight”

https://bit.ly/2MoNKWx

The glorious 90s HBO horror anthology series, Tales from the Crypt, is a show I hold dear to my heart, so much so that I previously wrote eight extensive pieces about it in the summer of 2015 chronicling each of its seven seasons. And yet, I’ll be the first to admit that Tales from the Crypt is a flawed bit of nostalgia, with nearly as many poor episodes as there were great ones, and plenty of middling entries filling out the 93-episode order. At its highest points, however, the Crypt Keeper’s tales of the macabre remain as spectacular as ever, with some remarkable filmmakers teaming with excellent ensembles and delivering a decent number of short and sweet genre masterpieces. Only one installment — the Robert Zemeckis-helmed “Yellow” — reached above a 30-minute runtime, but was still less than half of the length of a standard feature film. In 1995, though, near the end of the series’ initial run, Tales from the Crypt would finally traverse out of the world of premium television and onto the silver screen with the criminally underappreciated horror-comedy cult classic, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight.

Originally surfacing in 1987 (two years before the debut of the HBO series), the screenplay for Demon Knight would face multiple failed attempts at adaptation into a full production — that is, until Tales from the Crypt producer Joel Silver got a hold of it. While nearly all of Tales from the Crypt’s episodes were based on the EC Comics stories of the 1950s, Demon Knight was a wholly original script, allowing the film to be its own being while still retaining all of the fan-favorite staples that had become expected from something bearing the Tales from the Crypt moniker. A relatively unknown yet nevertheless notable director, Ernest Dickerson, commands an unlikely grouping of 90s stars and instantly recognizable character actors, including William Sadler, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and Dick Miller. The true star of the film, however, is actually its antagonist. The “Collector,” played by a truly awe-inspiring Billy Zane, is a demonic being sent by the Devil in order to collect an ancient artifact that can be utilized in order to unleash Hell on Earth.

Continue reading

Marvel’s Greatest Hits: A Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

https://bit.ly/2FFMTg8

For 10 years now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been a web of interlinked films full of connections, crossovers and cameos, becoming a remarkable and bold film franchise unlike any other before it. With the latest blockbuster entry, Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel Studios has promised a sort of culmination of the past 18 movies-worth of stories and characters. While it isn’t without its faults, Infinity War makes good on its promise and remains a solid entry in the oversaturated series due to its high-stakes story, captivating characters and luscious visual effects.

Coming off of great successes with 2014’s Captain America: Winter Soldier and its 2016 follow-up, Civil War, Joe and Anthony Russo graciously return to direct the 19th entry in the long-running series (with a direct follow-up slated for next May). It’s almost disingenuous to merely label Infinity War as an “Avengers” film, however. Whether they’re an Avenger or not, nearly every major character in the MCU as well as their sidekick is featured here — including Black Panther, Spider-Man, Scarlet Witch and the entire Guardians of the Galaxy roster — and it’s honestly awesome to see so many of these characters sharing the screen together in a single film.

Continue reading

Living in the Sunken Place: An Analysis of “Get Out”

https://bit.ly/2Hdv1z8

If you look back on the history of horror cinema, you’ll find that many make use of timely social issues in order to convey powerful commentary on their respective subjects. The late, great visionary horror director George Romero continually did it in his legendary Dead series, with Night of the Living Dead tackling race relations during the height of the Civil Rights movement, while Dawn of the Dead took shots at consumerism and its power to basically turn society into zombies. Recently, The Purge series of films delves into classism, the classic Rosemary’s Baby is related to feminist ideas, and the cult-favorite They Live looked at the power of the media.

Get Out, which comes courtesy of comedian-turned-horror director Jordan Peele, is the latest and greatest example of how horror films are often utilized to depict poignant social commentary. While we’re a year removed from the initial release of Peele’s debut horror subject, Get Out, it’s a film I still can’t seem to shake from my head. It’s never apparent as you watch it, but Get Out is Peele’s first time being in the director’s chair for a film, as well as his first foray into the horror genre. Get Out is so successful in so many aspects that it ends up not only being one of the most impressive debuts of the last decade (so much so that Peele actually was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), but also perhaps the most socially charged mainstream horror film in that timespan as well.

Get Out’s central character is Chris (played by the excellent Daniel Kaluuya), a 20-something black man in an interracial relationship with his white girlfriend, Rose (played by Allison Williams), who plans to take him along for a visit at her family’s classical Northeastern estate for a family get-together. You’ll see that Chris is noticeably skeptical about the trip, and coyly asks Rose if her parents are aware that he’s black, implying that he believes he may not feel welcomed by Rose’s family because of the color of his skin. Rose’s on-the-nose rebuttal attempts to strike down his fear: “My dad would vote for Obama for a third term if he could,” she replies, with the punchline of the joke landing a handful of scenes later when Rose’s father recites this line verbatim to Chris.

And it’s moments like this one, I believe, that make up one of the best attributes of Get Out: it remains a biting satire plainly hidden beneath a rotten exterior. Peele has certainly looked at similar issues concerning race relations in the past through his various comedic avenues, such as in his former Comedy Central show Key & Peele, but here he takes a much more subdued approach to his comedy. While the film is foremost a psychological horror-thriller, and displays its fair share of horrifying scenes dealing with serious themes, Peele regularly intersects the built-up tension with well-timed jokes and often funny reactions from the characters. However, Get Out can and should scare you, especially in its final act when all of its cards have been laid out in front of you, and definitely after its credits have rolled and you’re allowed to reflect on its potent themes. But to Peele’s credit, you may find yourself crying from laughter just as much as you’ll be sweating in terror.

Continue reading

Whatever You Do, Don’t Read This Out Loud: A Review of “A Quiet Place”

https://bit.ly/2GXyuBu

In the horror genre, sound is an essential feature that filmmakers frequently utilize in order to create tension and execute on jump scares, be it through a lack of sound or perhaps the violent sting of a violin as the scary sight shocks audiences. It’s often that we watch characters in these films shush each other and emphasize remaining completely silent, or else the boogeyman (or alien, or deranged killer, etc.) may hear them — and we all know what comes next. The latest high-profile horror release, A Quiet Place, from actor-director John Krasinski, takes this idea and pushes it to its limit in a taut thriller based around a family who must make as little noise as possible, resulting in one of the most innovative and emotionally reverent horror films of the past decade.

The film’s efficient opening introduces its minuscule cast of characters and the intricate relationships they share, as well as the barren, post-apocalyptic world which they inhabit. We’re afforded an explanation as to what went wrong as we quickly come to discover that fierce alien creatures have decimated much of the world’s population. These blind, armor-plated beasts resemble the Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise, possessing nimble bodies and intense strength, but what makes them truly terrifying is their ultra-sensitive hearing capabilities that allow them to hunt their prey with ease.

At the outset, the film places us in the company of the Abbott family, which consists of five members, as they scavenge for supplies three months into life post-invasion. There’s parents Lee and Evelyn (played by real-life husband and wife John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), as well as their three young children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward). If it isn’t enough that Lee and Evelyn must care for three children in such a hostile living situation, they also must account for Regan’s deafness (admirably, Simmonds, the young actress who portrays Regan and does a wonderful job here, is deaf herself). While this introduces some problems, her disability actually presents a unique advantage for the family as well: proficiency in sign language. Much of the film’s dialogue is presented through signing (aptly translated into subtitles), allowing the characters to communicate without making any sound. This is vital to their survival, as the creatures, while not necessarily large in numbers, pose a lethal threat at all times through their ability to hear even the slightest of loud noises from large distances.

Continue reading