Summer (Movies) In the City

Movies are like Netflix, but you pay more and have to leave your house!

by Frida Oskarsdottir

I go to the movies more in New York City than anywhere else I’ve lived, which is ironic given the prices and wealth of things to do here compared to a lot of other places. Yet something about entering a cool, dark room in which you have nothing to do but let someone else’s best attempt at art wash over you is hard to resist. I know I’m not alone in my affinity; in more than half of the screenings I go to I’m forced to sit in the first row of a sold-out theater because I refuse to show up more than 5 minutes early to anything, really. Here are some thoughts on the 2018 summer films I’ve air-conditioned my way through:

Eighth Grade
Director: Bo Burnham
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Alternate Title: Puberty: A Horror Anthology

Why should you see it? This movie might break you. A specific, unsentimental, smart, profound glimpse into my deepest insecurities adolescence, perhaps the best part about this film is that it clocks in at just over an hour and a half. PRAISE BE – as someone who sees a lot of movies, let me tell you that they just keep. Getting. Longer. CUT IT DOWN, FRIENDS. Brevity aside, I loved Eighth Grade. The euphoria of a new friend, the singular gut-punch of loneliness and the widening chasm between teenager and parent, it all felt a little too real for this formerly acne-ridden viewer. I give it 4 headgears and would pair with an oily appetizer that will go straight to your T-zone.

Most memorable scene: The gloriously specific choices made in this movie are what elevate it past a lot of other coming-of-age films; what especially killed me dead was the perfect casting of Kayla’s love-interest, Aiden (of course his name is fucking Aiden). When this kid materialized at a pool party with his scrawny pale body and icy blue eyes in oversized swim trunks, I went into a middle school blackout, right back to drooling over an equally pubescent Chris Redacted who, looking back, bore more resemblance to Gollum than a man. Aiden holds complete power over Kayla while doing exactly nothing to earn it, which hit so close to home it might have knocked on my door.

Related reading: Eighth Grade’s #MeToo Scene Will Shake You To Your Core by Anna Sillman for The Cut

Emoji Story: 😬🍌😢📱😭


Sorry to Bother You
Director: Boots Riley
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Runtime: 111 minutes

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Alternate Title: Capitalism is Evil: Bet You Didn’t Think There’d Be Horse Penises

Why should you see it? If you’re bored of seeing movies that you can predict the ending to after the first five minutes, maybe check this one out. Boots Riley’s surreal satire is equal amounts comedy, social commentary, and sci-fi, and its unabashedly socialist leanings are sure to entertain viewers fed up with our failed two-party system. Peppered with just-realistic-enough absurdities about workplace culture and income inequality, Sorry to Bother You extends its metaphors gleefully past the place where other films may have stopped, which I always appreciate.

Most memorable scene: Lakeith Stanfield being forced to rap at Armie Hammer’s cocaine-fueled, yuppie-nightmare party was just as horrifying as it was hysterical, and I’m definitely not allowed to recap the lyrics for you.

Related Reading: Searching for Detroit: Sorry to Bother You’s Female Lead Is More Symbol Than Person by Jourdain Searles for Bitch Media

Emoji story: 📞💸👀💀🐴🍆


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Director: J.A. Bayona
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Runtime: 128 minutes

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Alternate Title: Escape from Trash Island: She’s Not Wearing Heels This Time

Why should you see it? You absolutely should not. That being said, if you, like me, have a shitty day and decide to drown your sorrows in a bottle of red wine surreptitiously mixed with a giant Coke (don’t judge, it’s Spanish) and some DINO DNA, go forth my friend. As far as easy to digest action movies with, wow, another crazy hybrid dinosaur go, you could do worse. Just don’t be let down that even a brief Jeff Goldblum cameo can’t take this story back to its 1993 glory.

Most memorable scene: When they reveal 30 minutes before the movie ends that a tertiary character is a clone and everyone in the theater collectively goes “Wait what?” and then you realize that this is the second movie in a trilogy and the stakes could not be lower for plot points that they can wrap up next time.

Related Reading: The ‘Jurassic World’ sequel achieves the impossible: It makes dinosaurs boring.” by Travis M. Andrews for The Washington Post

Emoji story: 🏝🦎🏰👫😑


Ocean’s 8
Director: Gary Ross
Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Runtime: 111 minutes

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Alternate Title: I Wanted To Like This So Badly: A Film Starring Everyone

Why should you see it? Full disclosure, sometime last year I spent the majority of a hungover Sunday watching all three Ocean’s remakes. And I LIKED EM. Part nostalgia, part socially-ingrained worship of charismatic male lead actors, part ignoring Don Cheadle’s unbelievably bad Cockney accent, whatever it was they worked. My point is that this all-ladies sequel was tailor-made for me – I watched the trailer about 30 times. Maybe over-hyping was my downfall, because 20 minutes into this movie, I peered over at my husband to mouth the words “I’M BORED” and was met with his “I already know what you’re going to say and don’t say it because this is a quiet place” look he always does when I inevitably start whispering. But I was bored and I felt bad about it – something about the pacing and clunkiness of the ensemble left me cold. And now you know my darkest secret.

Most memorable scene: Despite my lackluster review I certainly didn’t hate this movie, which I thought made a lot of clever choices. The best of which is that while the viewers are behind the scenes with the criminals watching the master plan come together, we aren’t totally in on all of the secrets. Watching them unfold at the Met Gala was genuinely fun, the whimsy of which I wish had continued throughout.

Emoji story: 💎👗👠😴

Related Reading: Anne Hathaway Wins Ocean’s 8 by Jia Tolentino for The New Yorker


Hereditary
Director: Ari Aster
Rotten Tomatoes:89%
Runtime: 124 minutes

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Alternate Title: Will I Ever Feel True Happiness Again? Toni Collette Says No

Why should you see it? A lot of people loved this movie, which has a lot going for it. I don’t know that I can use the word “love” about something that essentially held me captive, A Clockwork Orange style, and force-fed me series of deeply upsetting scenes until my body went numb, but it was definitely something. Toni Collette will never fail at anything she does, so she can check “disturbingly unflinching portrayal of a woman on the edge of sanity” off her list and head back to “quirky Australian” now (please).

Most memorable scene: As a fan of Rosemary’s Baby, the homage at the end of Hereditary winked at me, but it also was kind of a let down. The movie was nothing if not original and it felt a little bit like the ending was picked off of a horror-movie dartboard. Oh also, the part where the kid’s head gets chopped off.

Related Reading: It’ll just scare you.

Emoji story: 😱😱😱😱😱💁


Crazy Rich Asians
Director: John M. Chu
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Runtime: 121 minutes

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Alternate Title: Everyone Is Hot: This Movie Was Made of Air and I Still Cried At The End

Why should you see it? If you’re expecting dissent from the praise heaped on this movie since it came out, look elsewhere because I freaking loved it. Simultaneously silly and meaningful, Crazy Rich Asians was just straight-up fun to experience, with the added bonus of knowing it’s proving anyone who thinks people won’t go see movies with a predominantly Asian and Asian-American cast deeply wrong. This film also had a lot of abs, colorful outfits, and jokes, which means I was doomed from the start.

Most memorable scene: Crazy Rich Asians was elevated above a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy for a lot of reasons, but we all still knew how it was going to end. Why then, did I find myself weeping and thinking about how much I loved my family while two very attractive people embraced and brandished a giant ring on screen? Just movie magic, I suppose.

Related Reading: This Twitter Thread by Kimberly Yam

Emoji story: 🌹🌴🍇🍭🌈🌀🍸💅💖

In the Changing World of Entertainment, Minorities are Finally on Their Way to the Top

The past few years have been phenomenal for storytelling by and for people of color.

By Saira Khan

The past few years have been promising for storytelling by and for people of color. On Sunday, at the Golden Globes, Sterling K. Brown became first black actor to win for leading performance in a TV drama, Aziz Ansari became the first Asian male actor to win best leading performance in a TV comedy, and Oprah Winfrey became the first black woman to receive Cecil B. DeMille Award. This recognition comes on the heels of last year’s awards season when at the Emmys, Lena Waithe made history by becoming the first black woman to win for Comedy Writing, Donald Glover became first black person to win the best-directing comedy award, and Riz Ahmed became the first male South Asian actor to win the outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie Emmy.

It’s hard to imagine that it was only three short years ago that an alleged e-mail exchange between Sony Pictures’s co-chair Amy Pascal and film producer Scott Rudin was leaked to the public:  

“What should I ask the president at this stupid Jeffrey breakfast,” Pascal wrote to Rudin.

“Would he like to finance some movies,” Rudin replied.

“I doubt it,” responded Pascal. “Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?” she added,

“Or the butler. Or think like a man,” Pascal continued.

“Ride-along. I bet he likes Kevin Hart,” Rudin answered.

Lest you have forgotten, our president at the time was Barack Obama and all of the films Pascal and Rudin mentioned were films with black characters. The e-mail hack (which may or may not have been orchestrated by North Korea) also told us that Sony executives thought Denzel Washington wasn’t famous enough to sell tickets in a lead role and that Angelina Jolie was “difficult.”

What’s striking about this exchange (aside from the blatant racism) is that these are the people who decide which films get made and which ones don’t; which stories get told and which ones are left out. These are the people who, in the past, decided that the only stories about black people worth telling were those of black pain and suffering, and that all Asian characters should have accents (something that Aziz Ansari brilliantly addressed in the “Indians on TV” episode of “Master of None.”) These are the people who hired white writers to create these roles. These are the people who thought no one would be interested in paying to watch a film about the real lives of people of color. But, maybe, times have changed.

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Viola Davis at the 2015 Emmys

“You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” Viola Davis said in 2015, after winning an Emmy for her performance in the show “How to Get Away With Murder.” For decades, white executives and writers denied people of color the chance to win such awards simply because they didn’t allow roles like the ones Davis won for to exist. The Internet has helped usher us into a time when we don’t need those white executives to give us those opportunities, because we can create them for ourselves. Gone are the days when studio heads and producers like Pascal and Rudin decided, based solely on their perceptions of people of color, whether our stories would be told.

In 2011, a black woman wrote a role for herself, based on her life, and created a web series, called “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” on YouTube. By 2012, the episode had 1.2 million views. She went on to raise $44,000 for the show through Kickstarter and kept at it. That woman now has a hit TV show on HBO and is currently working on another one with the network. She was also nominated for a Golden Globe this year. Yes, that woman is Issa Rae.

If it wasn’t for platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., that have allowed people of color to create their own opportunities, would “Insecure” exist?

I’m a South Asian woman from Pakistan. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to be forced to reckon with that fact that you’ve spent your entire life watching, and tacitly accepting, the white-washed stories that Hollywood thought we wanted to hear. Watching actors like Riz Ahmed, Aziz Ansari, Kumail Nanjiani, Hasan Minhaj, and now, Fatimah Asghar (who is currently developing a TV show with Sam Bailey for HBO, based on their web series “Brown Girls.”) tell stories that I understand and can relate to, on a deeper, cultural level, was, at first, jarring and emotional–after a lifetime of being ignored on television, suddenly my people are out here winning awards for playing roles that are actually familiar to me. Suddenly, people who look like me are changing the entertainment landscape. With this new-found representation comes much-needed understanding. For far too long South Asians have been delegated to playing the shopkeeper with an accent or the untrustworthy, is he-or-isn’t-he a terrorist on TV.

We no longer need white executives in the entertainment industry to give us opportunities, instead they need us. Because while those same executives hold the keys to the kingdom, we have the numbers. They can no longer deny the power of storytelling by people of color. We, on the other hand, can go ahead and build our own shit now, without their support and money. It’s clear that the entertainment industry has taken note of this, which is why we have films like “Girls Trip,” “Coco,” “Get Out,” and “Black Panther” and televisions shows like “Atlanta,” “This Is Us,” and “Black-ish.”

By approximately 2020, the Census Bureau says that more than half of the United States’ population will be made up of minority children–which would, of course, no longer make us minorities. With this in mind, it’s preposterous that it took 96 years for a black man to win a Golden Globe for a  leading performance in a TV drama. We’ve made much progress in that past few years in terms of equal representation on television and film, but we still have a long way to go. I, for one, will not be satisfied until every single movie and television show has a substantial character of color. It’s not good enough anymore to have films with all-white casts or to throw minorities into supporting roles just for show. If Hollywood is unable to accept that minorities are woven into every fiber of this nation, then I’m more than willing to change the channel.

Revisiting the Movie “Stepmom”

A play-by-play of the 1998 film, starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. Watch with us.

 

By Frida Oskarsdottir

For those of you who don’t know, “Stepmom” is a 1998 film starring Julia Roberts post-“Pretty Woman” and Susan Sarandon pre-Bernie Sanders. I was 11 when it came out and probably watched it ten times over the next few years. I think I was finally at the age where I could appreciate a good weepy movie and I cried Every. Single. Time. It’s been a few years since then, so I figured it was time to take a look with fresh eyes at a movie that allegedly dives headfirst into divorce, family dynamics, and death, but also has a montage of dancing using hair brushes as microphones and a LOT of horseback riding. So, here I am at the ripe old age of 30 taking another look. Won’t you watch with me?

Fun fact: if you google “Watch ‘Stepmom,’” the 1998 family drama does NOT come up first, but a lot of other “close looks” at “family relationships” do!

We open on a shimmery New York City, quiet before the dawn as a super cool radio DJ narrates that he’s about to play a great record for us. I feel like there are 15 movies from the ’80’s-’90’s that start with this exact introduction. If this were 2017, it would be a podcast.

“Under Pressure” plays and I think solemnly about Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Miss you guys!

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Cut to a flouncy-banged Julia Roberts waking up and smiling for no reason because it’s just so great to wake up in the morning (?) before frantically realizing it’s 7:44 am and she’s LATE and rushing around the house with a scrunchie in her hair.

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She’s yelling names like “Ben!” and you think, oh my does this young blonde-ish waif, in what appears to be the largest apartment in Manhattan, have CHILDREN?! But she’s so beautiful!?

She runs into Ben’s room and is startled to find he’s not there, then heads to another bedroom on a different floor of the same apartment (in this fantasy, apartments have many floors) to find a creature of sarcasm (Anna, played by Jena Malone) going OFF about Purple Shirt Day and how Julia Roberts forgot to wash her Purple Shirt:

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In case we weren’t sure, Julia is STRESSED – “Under Pressure” keeps blaring and toast pops forcefully out of the toaster – EGAD – Ben is located and Julia wrestles him to the ground in attempt to dress him, Anna keeps sulking, and then…

THE VIRGIN MOMMY APPEARS:

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Susan Sarandon, just a few years after being one saucy half of Thelma and Louise, is straight up wearing high-waisted khakis and a canary yellow cardigan DRAPED OVER HER SHOULDERS; GOOD GOD, MAN.

She could not be cooler or calmer and Julia Roberts is a literal Cathy comic right now, which I kind of find hard to believe given her general demeanor. Can you frazzle Julia Roberts? Anyway, now the audience knows that, thank god, Julia has never given birth because, I mean, look at her. Also we learn that Julia Roberts’ name is Isabel because Susan goes “I’ll take it from here, Isabel” and Julia is all “I’m sure you will, Jackie.” A-plus storytelling, really.

P.S. Jackie remembered Purple Shirt Day, she is really out-moming herself

Jackie takes the kids to school in her mommy SUV and manages to mock Isabel in front of her children while also negging Anna when she does the same thing – so, in order to be a good mom you have to be a master manipulator? Noted.

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Cut to Isabel on set of a fast-paced, New York City photoshoot complete with 80 kinds of fruit trays, bright lights, and not an autumn hue in sight – this is how we know she is a Childless Woman with a Real Job, and that job is being the most high-powered photographer of all time. She takes a single polaroid and then DEMANDS THE DIGITAL CAMERA RIGHT NOW. She has a genius idea of shooting the models in a non-traditional way and then says “that’s a wrap everybody” after roughly 2 minutes.

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Uh oh, but Isabel is in hot water because she was late and didn’t shoot very long and her boss is nervous in front of…the investors? The board? There are like 30 People in Suits milling about who seem to be really interested in this single photo shoot. This tension proves to us that in order to be successful you must first and foremost have no children, because children make you late. Thank god this has only happened to Isabel once and her boss is willing to look the other way – I’m sure it won’t happen again or become a central theme of the movie.  

At one point, Isabel makes a joke about her boss hiring her even though she wouldn’t sleep with him but LOL dude is literally wearing an homage to Elton John, but I guess this is the 90’s.

Isabel runs to edit her genius photos on the first Macintosh computer invented:

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Finally, her brilliant idea is presented to the clients. First, the men say they like it and then the only woman jumps on board and agrees in a super progressive, very cool way. Cue Julia Roberts’ Million Watt Smile!

Later at a parent teacher conference we meet DAD played by Ed Harris, whose beeper goes off immediately but he’s all “I won’t get that” and you can see in Jackie’s eyes that no sir this is not the first time that beeper has gone off. A pattern emerges wherein the audience realizes that if you have a job (re: Dad and Isabel) you do not get to love your children or any children but you do get to roll in the dough and buy clothes for yourself that aren’t yellow, unlike Jackie.

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The reason Dad and Jackie are meeting with the school is that little Anna has been spreading QUITE the rumor that her parents are getting remarried and moving to Switzerland (the scamp!). But what could she be acting out about?

Don’t worry, as becomes apparent throughout the rest of the movie there is literally nothing this family can’t handle with a heart-to-heart chat! All conversations take place in their mansion in a faraway land called “Outside the City,” in a kitchen designed by Beatrix Potter. After her mom looks at her for approximately one second in the eyes, Anna realizes the error of her ways and basically self-therapists herself: “I guess if I just said it out loud I thought it might come true.” How old is this freak supposed to be again? The most well-adjusted 12-year-old of all time.

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Anna comes to this conclusion while working on her watercolors (as 12-year-olds do) as her brother reaches Peak Precociousness practicing his magic routine – quick question, have the creators of this film ever seen a family?

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No, no they haven’t. This child is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

Later in a different, sleek, city-slicker kitchen, Dad and Isabel have some sexy kissing time and there’s a super funny joke about Isabel not liking to cook because duh she’s a HIGH POWERED CAREER WOMAN GOD DAMNIT how can she cook with all the photos that need taking?!

Dad ruins sexy time by bringing up the kids – yawn – and Isabel gets annoyed he doesn’t trust her. This is a good time to point out that to date Isabel’s crimes against humanity are:

  • Waking up late
  • Not washing the Purple Shirt

As their discussion gets more heated the phone keeps ringing but the person calling is hanging up. Finally Isabel answers, “What is your problem asshole?” and the caller turns out to be Anna, who in five minutes went from mature watercolor angel to bratty stepchild and goes, “YOU ARE MY PROBLEM.” ZING. Then Isabel goes “Call your daughter,” and they reconcile and she goes “Lol don’t fight with me when I’m hungry,” even though she totally just called his kid an asshole?? Isn’t that kind of a big deal??

Sidebar: I still wish I owned basically everything Julia Roberts wears in this movie – it is ’90’s gold. These white baggy pants, have I died and gone to Express heaven?

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So because everyone in this family hates Isabel so much she gets the kids a puppy. Again, because she dares to exist and date their father THREE YEARS after a divorce, she has to prove her worthiness with a golden retriever. Anna is less than impressed and tells Isabel she smells like a dog; very cool. Obviously, that bandana is going in my look book.

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This movie seems to be a series of picking up the kids and dropping them off. The next morning, Anna CAN’T EVEN because she walked in on Isabel and Dad getting it on in the shower (unpictured, stupid PG-13 rating). When Isabel explains to Jackie, she shames her for not having a Harrison family conversation about it (Harrisonation) and Isabel gets to drop the one f-bomb of the movie:

“I’m not June-fucking-Cleaver”

No you aren’t Isabel, this blazer/shirt combo make that crystal clear:

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Oh, did you want to know what Jackie is wearing? NO PROB:

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Poor Susan Sarandon, we all know what she’s got going on underneath all that squash coloring.

Later, Jackie is toiling over Anna’s custom-made Halloween costume when Anna walks in and says “A hippie? That’s what I wanted to be last month.” As in, “Mom, you created this from me for scratch but I’m changing my mind on a whim” and Jackie JUST GOES WITH IT AND LAUGHS ALONG AS ANNA TELLS HER SHE WANTS TO BE ELVIS HA HA HA YES DARLING I WILL NOW MAKE YOU AN ELVIS COSTUME?!??!?!?! I don’t know if anyone else reading this has a mom but if I had told my mother after she sewed me a couture Halloween costume that I wanted to be something else I wouldn’t have fingers to keep writing this with. Jackie. Get a grip.

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Then she has a sex talk with her (re: steamy shower scene that the audience was deprived of) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 12-year-old enjoy talking about sex with her mom so much?? She like begs her to describe it and then says she likes talking to her mom about “stuff”??? WHAT IS HAPPENING?? There is such a thing as TOO well-adjusted.

Next scene, Isabel is shooting another masterpiece in Central Park. Naturally the kids are there because for some reason even though everyone thinks Isabel is completely inept at handling children THEY’RE ALWAYS ALONE WITH HER?!

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Because the “light is so good” and other photography reasons, she loses track of the kids and Manic Pixie Boy plus puppy vanish. But it’s fine because in this movie children and puppies alike are instantly found by helpful police officers.

While Jackie yells at Dad about Isabel, Isabel interrupts and goes,“Don’t take this out on him.” FAT CHANCE LADY. I’m pretty sure nobody in this movie plans on blaming anyone but you for anything. “Is it about to rain?? Fucking Isabel.”

Later, Jackie explains again why the family hates Isabel so much (re: how dare she lose my precious baby), this time perched atop a horse in another unbeatable sweater khaki look.

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Manic Pixie Ben asks if Isabel makes a lot of money at her job, and Jackie answers “People like Isabel who only think about themselves often do make a great deal of money.” DAMN! Then Pixie goes, “Mommy if you want me to hate her I will.” BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. JACKIE, YOU ARE PLAYING A DANGEROUS GAME.

She realizes she may be mommy-ing too hard, so when Dad asks her to go easy on Isabel and not call the lawyers she says, “I’m going to give you one last chance,” a line people say all the time outside of movies. 

Back in the Manhattan photo-loft, everyone is making art and wearing black. Isabel and her Elton John boss are fawning over her photos while listening to pop music and discussing cosmopolitan things with this going on in the background, because photography:

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The phone rings and turns out Perfect Mom forgot to pick up the kids I mean who can you trust in this movie? To her boss’s dismay, Isabel rushes out because she cares about these kids more than literally anything. I’m beginning to think she’s only going out with Dad to get to hang out with the kids? This movie should be called “Who Loves The Kids Most: Not Dad.” Anyway, Isabel goes to pick them up and pretends like SHE’S the one who forgot the kids since she doesn’t want them to be mad at mom, what a damn hero.

But SURPRISE! Out of nowhere JACKIE SHOWS UP, barely glances at Isabel, doesn’t thank her, and takes her precious angels home to roost. Later, Jackie scoffs when Isabel asks her if she can take Anna to a Pearl Jam concert. If you’re keeping track, now we’re on Isabel’s side.

BUT NOT FOR LONG because like in any movie where our sympathy for the characters starts to wane, enter Cancer:

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So Jackie invites Dad to dinner to tell him she’s sick but before she does he says HE has news (oh, Dad, you rascal) and that he’s going to ask for Isabel’s hand in marriage. Wait, they weren’t married yet? Why the hell is she raising his children? Jackie is all “her?” and he’s like “she’s special” and Jackie hits him with this face:

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Jackie is such a babe in this scene, her eyes are all cancer-crying-shiny. Anyway, then she doesn’t tell him. Asking someone to dinner specifically to tell them something and then saying “Oh, it was nothing” is something that happens explicitly in movies. This has never happened in real life. What do you do for the rest of the meal?

Cue Engagement scene: Dad is really ahead of the times with this elaborate but tasteful proposal (no flashmob) wherein he tricks Isabel with this:

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But then makes a metaphor about strings and relationships and I wasn’t really listening and then BLAM:

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Isabel is IN. TO. IT.

Anna, not so much:

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She’s child acting her little heart out when she hears the news, very rage-ful, very teary. However, after another perfect five-minute family discussion she decides she’s cool with it because otherwise everyone will be sad. Manic Pixie Son is cool with it, too. These kids are TOO MATURE. You know the trope of casting 30-year-olds to play teenagers in “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Saved by the Bell”? This is exactly the opposite of that.

Then Isabel and Anna have a small bonding moment because Anna is having a hard time with her watercolors (normal 12-year-old problems) and everything seems to be wrapping up nicely – EXCEPT that they bond over drawing more realistic trees but do these look like realistic trees to you??

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Also, Isabel said she learned the technique after taking “an art class when she was at N.Y.U.,” Uh…ok Isabel, I guess you just happened to learn that one specific tree-realifying method. REAL CONVENIENT. Also these are her pants:

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*Kisses fingers* Perfection.

During a classic car sing-a-long (I’m telling you 96% of this movie takes place in a car), Anna puts on some of Isabel’s lipstick. When she gets home, Jackie goes “Well, you don’t ordinarily see that color on in the afternoon except for on working girls!” DUDE do you have a professional joke writer? This is fire. Isabel gives her this look, and this hat:

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THEN JACKIE STRAIGHT UP EVIL SURPRISES ANNA WITH PEARL JAM TICKETS LIKE IT WAS HER IDEA. MOM?!

But since this movie can’t make up its mind and insists on making its characters complex we’re BACK TO SYMPATHIZING with Jackie as she starts her chemo treatment. She gets weepy on the phone at the hospital with Pixie Magician and suddenly, it’s kind of dusty in here. Anyway, next scene.

Later Pixie Ben is injured after falling off the jungle gym and Isabel is hanging with him at the hospital, and he says “Will you sing to me? My mommy always sings to me when I’m hurt,” which is really too cute, but then Isabel straight up HAS A MOMENT with this little kid staring him in the eyes singing Emmy Lou Harris. He just scraped his leg, you don’t have to get so intimate.

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But really:

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No woman has ever loved children this much. I don’t think this is what Ben bargained for when he asked for a song.

Jackie walks in and this is where the movie takes a turn from bitchy to sad – I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this charade up of mocking it. 

Moving on, Sharon Stone smoking a doobie in her leaf-strewn garden wearing a beret is everything I want to be. Also, yes, I typed Sharon Stone and I don’t even care.

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She deserves to smoke some pot and enjoy her garden in her brown getup. Because she has cancer, sure, but also because she has not one friend outside of her bi-polar kids, ex-husband, and his fiancé? Thing are tough for Jackie.

Pixie is home from his friend Tucker’s birthday party and runs out of the car wearing a problematic Native American headdress. Tucker’s mom, I’m putting you on blast!

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Isabel does some espionage looking through Jackie’s mail and figures out she’s sick. This is in all sincerity some excellent acting between two gifted ladies and makes me miss when actors acted. Their outerwear is also, as always, on point.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag it’s time for, you guessed it, another Harrison Family Meeting. When they tell the kids that Mom has cancer Anna’s reaction is to scream “I COULD NEVER BELIEVE YOU AGAIN,” and “MOM’S DYING ISABEL IS OUR MOTHER NOW,” but then 6-8 minutes later this is them:

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Now it’s Thanksgiving! Because it’s 1998 we see more problematic Native American costumes and a familiar Pilgrim narrative, and because I am an insane person, I recognized a cameo of Susan Sarandon’s daughter in this scene. For those of you watching at home see if you can spot her! It’s fine, I’m seeking help for my celebrity obsession, moving on. 

Suddenly Isabel and Jackie are best buds? They’re gossiping about Anna’s torrid affair with THIS GUY:

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Honestly, you should watch this movie just for this scene and the genuinely hilarious description of what it’s like to “go out” with someone in the 6th grade. Anyway, Blonde Face BROKE UP with Anna in front of everyone after two weeks of going out and she is humiliated. 

Later, she asks her mom for advice and she tells her to take the high road and ignore him. Solid Mom tips from a solid Mom in a solid sweater:

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So at this point, if the question was am I going to cry even though this movie is pretty ridiculous – like, where is Dad? – the answer is yes. Because it snows and Jackie gets introspective and takes Anna horseback riding in the snow in the middle of the night in a perfect Cool Yuppie Mom move. I wept. I’m also going to skip over a lot of the cute sweet stuff because my shriveled heart can’t handle it. If you watch, you’ll know. 

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Speaking of weeping, Isabel doesn’t cry when her boss FIRES HER for dating a guy with kids, basically. She does wear this hat though. 

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Anyway, she loses her job and that is the last we hear about it for the entirety of the movie. Like, her career is gone so now her transformation into Stepmom is almost complete? Great!

So turns out Jackie’s advice didn’t quite work out because Anna is crying because Blonde Face called her “Frosty the Snow Bitch.” Isabel offers to help and Anna gets in one last jab before their bond is solidified. Whew, good because I think the movie is ending soon so we better wrap up all these loose ends and decide who likes who now. 

So Isabel of Genius Ideas comes up with a Genius Revenge Idea for Blonde Face, namely teaching her a bunch of cruel things to say to him and then hiring a male model to meet Anna out in front of school and pretend to be her boyfriend. I’ll admit I still think this is pretty bad ass, although like many things it’s now completely infeasible since the Internet exists.

Other thoughts I have about this whole scenario now that I’m an adult include how young Anna is, like, Jesus Isabel chill out you’re making her say the words LIMP DICK! This is one of those cool things in theory but IRL if your stepmom was like “lol ‘I’m gonna hire a male model to pretend to be your boyfriend,” you’d be like “uhhh Linda lay off the Bailey’s, ha ha where’s Dad?”

So, the hiring a male model and shaming your ex scene unfolds perfectly. Anna, flanked by her girl squad, delivers the perfect monologue with just enough swearing to be edgy (she says ass).

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Blonde face reacts accordingly:

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This kid has the worst friends ever – his ex-girlfriend humiliates him and they just laugh and laugh. Actually, I guess that’s par for the course in middle school. OK, well done.

Oh, did you want to know what 1998 deemed the hottest fantasy dude to play the role of hired hunky teen? Wonder no more!

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OF COURSE this Twilight extra is wearing a beige turtleneck. Clean up on aisle 4, right ladies?? Anyway, Anna killed it. All is well. Or is it?

Not in this movie! Jackie is MAD because Isabel taught her angel not to take the high road. There are words exchanged, meaning a heated argument which basically boils down to who really loves Anna most. But five minutes later they make up with a real love fest at the neighborhood restaurant and I fully admit my face looked a lot like theirs during this scene.

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Minus the pillowy lips and perfect skin, obviously. They’re just SUCH GOOD ACTRESSES and I know this entire live-blogging experience has been an exercise in irony but I am being completely serious. Also why are these two characters having this meaningful conversation about the future of the children after Jackie’s death without the other half of the kids’ biological parent? WHERE IS DAD?! He showed up at one point a few scenes ago to put up a Christmas tree for Jackie and gives her a shiny-eyed stare and I guess that’s it? Meanwhile Isabel is literally POURING HER SOUL OUT TO HER and they aren’t even MARRIED YET. If you’re keeping track: women feel things, men put up Christmas trees.

If you’ve seen “Stepmom” as many times as I have then you probably remember the last few scenes: they are meant to gut your insides and they succeed. I kept putting off watching the ending of the movie because I knew it would get me good, I mean look at these:

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Jackie sticks around on planet Earth for a final family picture and Isabel sits next to her wearing what is the first primary color of her entire life. She is: Stepmom.

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Fin.

 

 

“Get Out”: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

“Get Out” shows us that the scariest thing racism makes you lose is yourself.

By Monica Torres

Spoilers Ahead

It’s dark. You’re walking down a sidewalk in a quiet suburban neighborhood, the kind with trimmed shrubs, bay windows and manicured front lawns. People from Norman Rockwell paintings live here, but not you. You’re a visitor. A white Porsche Boxster with tinted windows starts following you. When you stop, it stops. You sweat, you move faster, but you don’t run. Why don’t you run? Maybe if you’d been born fifty years earlier, your instincts would be better, but by the time you remember, it’s too late, the driver’s side is open, but the driver isn’t there, he’s right behind you, BAM—

I saw “Get Out” on the fifth anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s killing, and in the opening scene of the film where Andre gets kidnapped by a neighborhood vigilante in a car, the film takes us back to that time. George Zimmerman’s reasoning for calling 911 on a 17-year-old black boy, tailing him in his car, then fatally shooting him, was that Martin was “just staring…just walking around the area…looking at all the houses.” Under racism’s illogic, a black boy walking back to his own home is “not a citizen of a democracy, but the subject of a carceral state,” as Justice Sotomayor warned, made guilty by his very existence.

Next time we see Andre, who is played by LaKeith Stanfield, he is worse than dead.

We learn that his mind has been trapped into the Sunken Place, while some Crazy von Cracker has taken over his body. He’s worse than dead, because even though his body has been hijacked, some part of Andre’s mind is still aware of what he’s lost. In the movie, the Sunken Place is depicted as a black hole that the victim is endlessly falling through. As you’re falling, you’ll see an open door where reality plays out in front of your mind’s eye. Maddeningly, as a victim to the Sunken Place, your escape is always within sight, but never within reach.

W.E.B. DuBois’ concept of double-consciousness, “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” is taken to terrifying extremes in the movie. DuBois was talking about how racism wears on a black person’s psyche, the need to always present a false mask to a white world that does not see them as human. Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar describes this survival mechanism in his poem “We Wear the Mask”:

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

In “Get Out,” the villains have built a mask that its victims can never take off. But the monsters who would build this psychological horror are not outliers of society; they’re your neighbors.

The Armitages are a liberal family who would’ve voted for Obama for a third term. They’re not wearing white hoods but they’re still white supremacists who are buying and selling black bodies as their property. They do this by transplanting the minds of their white friends into the bodies of black people like Andre, who they capture.

The movie follows their latest target. Rose Armitage, played by Allison Williams, has invited her new boyfriend, the film’s protagonist Chris, who is portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya, to meet her parents at their house. She said she hasn’t told them that Chris is black. That makes Chris nervous, but not nervous enough to run. Chris’ friend Rod, who is played wonderfully by Lil Rel Howery, is the audience’s surrogate and he isn’t buying it: “White people love making people sex slaves and shit!” he warns in one of his scenes of welcome comic relief.

Rod is right. When the Armitage patriarch greets Chris, as “my man,” it’s not a clumsy attempt at brotherly slang, it’s a possessive foreshadowing of the body-swap horrors to come.

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More creepy than a monster wanting to kill you is a monster who wants to own you. That kind of trauma is neverending. “I want your eyes, man,” Jim, the blind artist who wins the bid to “buy” Chris and take over his body tells him. He denies that he’s doing this because Chris is black, he just wants “those things you see through.”

This is colorblind hypocrisy taken to another level. Jim wants the cultural capital of being black without any of the work of being black: ‘I want those things you see through, all your sensibilities, your sexual prowess, your strength, your cool, everything but you.’

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Unlike every other black character trapped in the Sunken Place, Georgina, the Armitage’s “housekeeper,” breaks through the hypnosis without needing the external trigger of a camera flash. I keep thinking about this small breakthrough, wanting a whole story just on Georgina, the one black woman in the film trapped in the Sunken Plane, whose grief and terror was big enough to be seen on its own. It’s the movie’s best scene.

This breakthrough happens when Chris tells Georgina privately, one black person to another, “If there’s too many white people I get nervous.” Hearing this admission, Georgina goes rictus-still. She smiles so wide it splits her face in two. And yet as Claudia Rankine reminds us, “the body has memory…[t]he body is the threshold across which each objectionable call passes into consciousness—all the unintimidated, unblinking, and unflappable resilience does not erase the moments lived through.” However much you school your face, it won’t erase the toll of the moments and years endured.

Tears slip through the mask of gentility. Even as she’s smiling, Georgina begins to cry.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Georgina says in defense of the white family she serves and each no is an exhortation, a plea, a lie, a demand, a cry from deep within. “They treat us like family.”

Georgina, split in two, leaves Chris alone after that moment. After Georgina leaves, Chris tells himself and the audience “that bitch is crazy!” and it’s played for laughs, but those tears are the last real sympathy and solidarity Chris will be shown in that house until the end of the film.

Later, after Chris finds the box where Rose keeps photos of her previous conquests, we see the first and only look of the original Georgina. In the photo, Rose is entwined around the original Georgina, and their smiling faces are close enough to be lovers. There’s no 1950’s hairdo and no apron of servility. This is a Georgina who had her whole life ahead of her.

The horrors black women face in “Get Out” are never seen on screen. How did Rose lure Georgina into her haunted house? Did she tell Georgina the lie she told Chris, that Georgina was her first black lover? When Georgina’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” moment arrived, was she also asked to maddeningly represent her whole race: “Do you find that being African American has more advantages or disadvantages in the modern world?” At what point did Georgina know, did she try to fight back, and who, if anyone, is looking for her missing body?

These are the questions writer-director Jordan Peele never answers, and what some critics rightfully point out are disappointing erasures. The film makes the case that inaction is just as much a betrayal as what you do. But Peele gets implicated too in his inaction to center certain stories over others.

When Georgina is later killed, it’s graphic and bloody. She had the soul of a murderous white grandmother, so it’s gratifying to see her die, but it’s also a moment of loss. Because when Missy Armitage, the controller of the Sunken Place, is killed, the camera pans away:

the intentional framing and editing choices Peele makes to conceal and work around the explicit deaths of Missy and Rose show that white women are still valued as fragile and occupy a unique cultural privilege…even in the blackest horror film of this decade.”

Besides Georgina’s tears, the next kind thing an ally will do for Chris is shake his arms and scream at him to “GET OUT!” When Chris takes a photo of Andre, the camera flash jolts Andre out of the Sunken Place. Andre’s nose bleeds as he yells at Chris to leave. But with another dose of hypnosis, Andre goes under again and is back to being “Logan.” Chris is the only person who experiences the Sunken Place to escape it with his mind intact. And the only people who help Chris out in the end are black people.

When faced with the order to kill Chris, Walter, who has been taken over by the Craziest von Cracker, uses the brief mental disruption from Chris’ camera flash to take over his own body to shoot Rose. Walter then turns the weapon on himself and chooses death, a final resting place free from masks.

The body-swap is fiction, but for Peele, the layered anxieties it represents are very real. “We’re all in the Sunken Place,” Peele said about his film, implicating us all. Junot Diaz elaborates on the two-forked devilry of racism: “white supremacy’s greatest trick is that it has convinced people that, if it exists at all, it exists always in other people, never in us.”

But that fantasy is a trap. It’s why it took so long for Chris to believe that Rose could kiss him, defend him against police, and lead him to his psychological slaughter, all in the same breath.

“Rose, give me the keys!” Chris begs, even after he sees the photos that prove she was in on the plan to steal his body and mind.

“Get Out” turns a lot of horror film conventions on their head. Black men are not sacrifices, “Magical Negroes,” or bestial monsters; they’re vulnerable young men. White women are not damsels in distress, but predators. Unlike Night of the Living Dead where a black hero escapes a house of crazy white people, only to get shot by the police; in “Get Out,” a black hero finally makes it to the end of the movie.

But what’s especially unsettling about the film is what still remains the same.

The tension for the audience watching Chris attend an all-white dinner party is just as high as when he’s strapped to a chair about to undergo a lobotomy. The strongest scenes in “Get Out” draw upon the familiar, everyday indignities of racism, those off-hand comments and backhanded compliments that divide the world into us and them, turning friends and lovers into strangers: What did you say? What did you just say? You already know the answer, but you don’t run because it’s 2017 and you’re tired and you want to be proven wrong.

Racism drives its victims crazy. When it happens to you, people stare at you like you’ve lost your mind. ‘You’re being paranoid. He didn’t mean it like that.’ In “Get Out” there’s no ambiguity. He did mean it like that. It does not see the best in well-intentioned white people. That’s why I described the film to my friends as “grimly satisfying.” You’re not crazy here. The film takes all of your fears and anxieties of being The Only One in a room of white people and brings those nightmares to life.

When Chris’ friend Rod comes to save the day, he is glad to see Chris alive, but also, man, he called out white people from day one: “I told you not to go in that house.”


Further feedback I’ve enjoyed:

This roundtable: “Get the Fuck Outta Here: A Dialogue on Jordan Peele’s ‘GET OUT’

This academic syllabus: “‘Get Out’ Syllabus

This podcast: “The Horror, The Horror: “Get Out” And The Place of Race in Scary Movies

This criticism: “What Becky Gotta Do to Get Murked? White Womanhood in Jordan Peele’s Get Out