FILM REVIEW: Jordan Peele’s “Us” is a return to classic horror that demands a second watch – but is it better than “Get Out?”

If you thought Jordan Peele’s 2015 thriller “Get Out” left you with a plethora of theories, his latest feature “Us” (released March 22, 2019) will make for a particularly mind-bending car ride on the way home from the theater. Director and writer Jordan Peele, funny-man turned modern-day Hitchcock, has a lot of weight on his shoulders after his directorial debut “Get Out” was nominated for arguably the most prestigious of film awards (the Academy Award for “Best Picture”) in 2018 and even took home an Oscar for Peele’s original screenplay. But regardless of misinterpretation or even utter confusion at the close of his 2019 follow-up, “Us” is undoubtedly a good film and rightfully warrants the seemingly inevitable flood of comparisons to its predecessor.

Lupita Nyong’o leads as Adelaide, mother of an all-American family (Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright-Joseph, Evan Alex) whose trip to the beach is put through a frightening mirror when a figure of her childhood trauma returns to wreak havoc, bringing along with her a family which bears a striking resemblance to that of Adelaide’s. Nyong’o hands in a equally-powerful dual performance as both Adelaide and Red, whose raspy voice evoked squeals from most theater-goers. Winston Duke’s Gabe is the source of most of the comedy, which is a return-to-form for “Comedy Central” alum Jordan Peele and surprisingly viewers grounded in reality in an otherwise supernatural tale.

Upon a first watch, editing and score are a stand-out. Editor Nicholas Monsour weaves seamlessly between the two families, preventing any reminder to audiences that while there are eight characters in a scene at most times, there are really only four actors, each additionally performing as a darker, soulless version of their characters. After “Get Out,” Michael Abels delivers yet another chilling score, chock-full of plucky violin and orchestral horror moans without straying from originality. Child acting is always a concern in horror movies; not every kid can pull off the horrified expressions of “The Shining” Danny Torrance, but Shahadi Wright-Joseph (Zora/Umbrae) and Evan Alex (Jason/Pluto) never fail to keep viewers captivated, and they do competent work as their “tethered” counterparts.

Amongst its strengths, the film’s ability to jump right into the action may have also been part of its biggest flaw; “Us” is littered with easter eggs and leaves audiences with an absurd number of questions. It is certainly deserving of a second watch, which will draw viewers to attend to the film’s tightly-woven script and glimmering clues tucked away in wide shots and in early quips. Its nature of being open to interpretation may scare away some viewers from asking the bigger questions and thus lose a great portion of audiences, but nonetheless the ambiguity will stir up some great debates amongst film buffs in the future.

It’s rare to see pure originality in Hollywood, which is why regardless of technical opinions, “Us” is an unsettling delight. Despite some late lingering questions that blur the line between hard realism and David Lynch-style absurdity, Jordan Peele’s second (and hopefully not final) film is a blast, and it delivers a surprising message about modern-day society which may actually be an eye-opener to some.

 

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10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2019

Hey, would you look at that! Another post about movies… how original.

 

As I may have mentioned before, 2018 was a pretty garbage year for movies. Other than Thanos’s beautiful ripply purple chin and Hereditary’s Toni Collette making me lose all trust in my own mother, nothing really impressed me on the silver screen last year. But this year’s roster is a goldmine for movie-lovers like me. There are more movies slated to blow people’s minds this year than there has ever been in cinematic history. So I’m going to compile a little list of my personal top ten most anticipated movies in the year 2019. And yes, it’s already March. I’m a little late; some of those movies that I may have previously put on this list have come out already, and thus have no longer need to be anticipated, because I’ve already seen them. But to me, that only makes putting this list together easier because narrowing it down to just ten is a difficult task. So here’s my list.

(Honorable mentions: Shazam, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Joker, Hellboy, Dumbo, Pet Sematary, Hobbs & Shaw, Brightburn, It: Chapter 2, Untitled James Bond Sequel, Wonder Woman 84)

  1. Aladdin

One of the tapes that my pudgy applesauce-caked little hands crammed into the VHS player more than any other was Disney’s cartoon adventure, Aladdin. The colorful set-pieces, the music, and Robin Williams’s iconic Genie performance can still nourish my cinematic tastebuds to this day. So why am I excited for 2019’s live-action edition? Well… I’m not. I never said excited. The first trailer for this film, which features a bloated Blue-Man-Group Will Smith as the genie and a wimpy Jafar, has an absurd amount of dislikes on YouTube. I’m not necessarily excited… curious, is probably a better word. Like, will it do any justice to the source material? Will it just be cash-grab shlock? The need for resolution is killing me, and that’s why it gets a slot at the very outer rim of my list.

  1. The Lion King

Wow! Would you look at that! Another potential shot-for-shot remake of an untouchable Disney classic! Isn’t my taste in movies just so refined and thoughtful? Listen, there’s a reason Aladdin and this movie are at the bottom of my list– but if CGI Childish Gambino Simba can get up on Pride Rock and give me goosebumps, then I’ll have gotten my money’s worth.

  1. The Irishman

What more can I say about this one? Martin Scorsese teaming up with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci? And it’ll be on Netflix, which means I won’t have to PAY for it?! Count me in.

  1. John Wick 3

The John Wick franchise is something that works against all odds, but it’s one that I’m rooting for and that I hope continues to expand. They’re cheesy action movies– but by cheesy, I mean everything is cheesy except the action part. Don’t come see these movies expecting anything other than action. And if that’s what you came for, then you’re in for a treat. I just hope they can replicate the gorey cinematography and stunning visuals in this third installment.

  1. Star Wars: Episode IX

I had a bit of trouble figuring out where to put this movie on my list. I love Star Wars. I always have. I found promise in J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, but I was severely disappointed with it’s sequel, The Last Jedi, which involved Rian Johnson thinking that the greatest formula to a Star Wars movie would be to… not give the fans what they want? But this third (or should I say ninth) film in the iconic series includes the return of J.J. Abrams, and I’d love to see if he can clean up some of the mess made in the preceding film.

  1. Toy Story 3

I’m not going to lie, the trailers for this movie have not impressed me at all, but… it’s Toy Story. I grew up with Toy Story, and even though I think Toy Story 3 was a beautiful send-off, I’m willing to open up to some more of Tom Hanks’s breathy banter (and most likely some tears toward the final minutes).

  1. Detective Pikachu

This movie probably wouldn’t have even found its way onto this list, had both of the trailers not have blown me away. Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu?! What genius made that phone call?! The trailers seem to advertise a movie that somehow captures all of the nostalgia of Pokèmon, and if you can get me excited for a movie about Pokèmon, then you can take my money.

  1. Spiderman: Far From Home

The first film to kick off the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4, Spiderman: Far From Home looks like a blast. With Tom Holland reprising his role, Sam Jackson being in his two-millionth movie, and Jake Gyllenhaal (one of my favorite actors) playing a comic book villain, this film looks like it’ll be a good time.

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I love Quentin Tarantino. He didn’t even have to put out a trailer for this movie, and I’m still on board. To see Tarantino join forces with Leo DiCaprio is a dream come true, and I can’t wait to see what magic the two are going to put together.

  1. Avengers: Endgame

Without being too dramatic, I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited for a movie before. I remember my heart pounding walking into the theater to see Avengers: Infinity War— I can only imagine what I’ll feel like walking in to see a movie and knowing (spoiler alert) that half of my favorite heroes DIED in the last movie. Marvel Studios is being extra mysterious about what the plot of this movie will be; all of the promotional material is essentially recycled footage and shots that give absolutely NOTHING away, which is perfect for a superhero movie fanatic and film conspiracist like me. The potential final portrayals of Iron Man and Captain America by Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans actually mark the end of a 10-year period in my life that I will cherish forever. I know that one day I’ll have these movies queued up for my kids to watch (I’m not giving them a choice, they’ll thank me later). So I couldn’t be more excited for the 22nd film in the MCU. 

I hope you enjoyed this list! Even if none of these movies end up impressing me (which is highly unlikely), the build-up this year is worth it. No matter what’s going on in the world, movies can serve as a fantastic escape, which is part of the reason I love them so much. Plus, there’s always Game of Thrones Season 8 and Stranger Things 3 to tide me over if I’m unimpressed.

 

Staying Sane: What a Rutgers Student Can Do During Free Time

College can be tough. For me, over here on College Avenue, life sometimes feels like a fever dream of last-minute assignments, Academic Building staircases, and Brower’s General Tso’s Chicken. But one of the things I’ve found about college that’s differed drastically from high school is that I’ve gotten a great deal of free time. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone; if you feel like college courses haven’t even left you enough time to breathe, then maaaaybe just disregard this blog post entirely. However, I’ve learned that there are a great many things that you can do in your spare time at Rutgers to keep your life feeling fresh and orderly. And yes, it goes without saying that you should be studying during free time– but sometimes we need a break. So I’ve put together a small list of things that a Rutgers student can do during those breaks to keep us from feeling like we’re melting into insanity.

Enjoy!

1. Hit the gym.

There are no excuses for not getting out there and pumping some iron– Rutgers is practically throwing its gym facilities at us! If you’re a goal-oriented person (like I am), making an effort to get over to the gym is a great feeling– heck, for some people, it’s a walk right across the street! Not to mention, exercise is a fantastic stress-reliever.

2. Check out a movie.

$5 movies?! C’mon people. You literally can’t find a deal like that anywhere else! For someone like me who’s a big movie lover (you can check out my other blog posts for proof), hopping on that LX and seeing a movie for about a third of the price of a typical ticket is a great deal and can make for a fun afternoon. Or, since it’s timely, go support Rutgers students and see something at the Rutgers Film Festival!

3. Meditate.

I know, I know, it may seem a little weird. Meditation seems to be reserved for stoic spiritual nuts nowadays, but in truth, it can really come and handy. Sitting down and focusing on your breathing for say, 15 minutes a day can really lower your stress levels and put you in the right mentality to churn out that research paper.

4. Read!

Reading books is another thing that our current generation has detached from a little bit. I heard my friend say the other day that he hasn’t read a book in nine years. Yikes. But reading has plenty of benefits: mental stimulation, memory improvement, and stress reduction. It isn’t too late to make some amendments to that New Year’s Resolution– try reading a book every month. Give it a go, see what happens.

5. NAP.

Many will tell you that napping during the day is super unhealthy, but as long as you do it right, it can be good for you! A 10 to 20-minute power nap can really be an energy boost if you’re feeling drowsy and have a class coming up, and studies show that a 60 to 90-minute nap can improve memory and creativity. So when those eyelids feel like sandbags and you’ve got a window of time, just set an alarm and give in!

6. Stay off social media.

This isn’t necessarily an activity, but it’s something that I’ve tried lately, and I’ve gotta say, it’s really worked. Social media is great for staying in touch with friends, but it’s also a huge distraction and can get very toxic. Cutting social media out of my life has given me a lot of time to focus and has taken a lot of unnecessary stress out of my life. Who needs streaks?! Stop trying so hard to maintain your digital appearance and focus on the real world! It may not be as bad as it seems.

7. Study a new subject.

Okay, this may be the deal-breaker for those who feel like they’ve got enough on their plate, but we have the whole Internet, people! There’s so much to learn at our fingertips! If there’s something you find really interesting that you haven’t been able to fit into your schedule, put your curiosity to work and do some research! It’ll be like having your own personal class, without having to worry about making it to class (or homework!). Looking into something online that I find truly interesting and beneficial makes me feel a whole lot better than re-binging the Office for the third time or watching YouTube all day.

8. Learn a new language.

If you’ve ever felt like you’ve wanted to learn a new language but have never been able to fit it into your schedule, there’s plenty of places to learn. Alongside Italian courses at school, I’ve been using the app Duolingo (which is free) to learn Italian; all I have to do is take 10 minutes out of every day to study, and it’s super helpful and easy.

9. Listen to some new music.

Music is the greatest escape of them all, and can flip your mood in seconds (well, it can for me at least). Try a new genre and expand your artistic horizons! There’s a lot of great music out there, from mumble-rap to Beethoven. I’m constantly listening to music and it’s a big mood-changer for me.

Well, I hope this list was helpful to any of my fellow Rutgers students. If it wasn’t, no worries! These activities don’t work for everyone. But we’re in this together– I’m here to help! Don’t make life difficult for yourself; college is stressful enough sometimes! There are so many things to do that are entertaining and healthy at the same time.

 

Why ‘Black Panther’ and the Films of 2018 Will Completely Change the Oscars

2018 was a bad year for movies. There, I said it.

In my last blog post, I listed some movies that came out last year that I felt were worth a watch. None of them were really masterpieces. After making that post, I watched Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which has proven itself to be the only Oscar-caliber movie of the year. And what do I mean by “Oscar-caliber?” I’m talking about a movie that doesn’t boast a high production budget, grand special effects, or even an epic plot, but still manages to pack the emotional punch that the old white men of the Academy are hungry for. That’s what Roma did for me. I found meaning and beauty in a rather simple story, as most others also will. But other than Cuaron’s black-and-white foreign drama, there was pretty much nothing else of note movie-wise in 2018. A Star is Born? A solid film, but any other year, it wouldn’t get as much recognition. What about The Favourite? BlackkKlansmen? Green Book? Once again, great movies, but not necessarily typical “Oscar-caliber.” I’ll give Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther a pass for changing the course of cinema culture, but there weren’t really any other standouts. How ‘bout Adam McKay’s Vice? Eh. Bohemian Rhapsody? Certainly wasn’t deserving of any awards buzz, in my opinion; I found it to be a mostly-stale imitation of any other biopic, and it didn’t bring anything new or transformative to the table.

But what do all of these films have in common?

They’ve all recently received arguably the highest honor in film: a nomination for the Academy Award for “Best Picture.”

And as I mentioned, of the eight nominees, Roma is truly the only film deserving of that shiny golden statue. The seven others are just kinda… there.

But that isn’t a bad thing.

Sure, movies were lacking in overall quality this year, so atypical movies received nominations.

But this year’s group of “Best Picture” nominees actually represents something much greater for filmmakers: a break from the creative limitations which the Academy has been imposing upon the film industry.

There has always been “Oscar bait” throughout the history of film; in other words, there has always been a specific genre or style of film that the Academy is more likely to nominate for its largest awards. In the past few years or so, there has been a tendency for the Academy to pick both small-budget dramas (Call Me By Your Name, Room, Phantom Thread, The Artist) and large-scale biopic dramas involving a great historical figure (Lincoln, Darkest Hour, Selma) as nominees, but this pattern has been mostly consistent since the very first Academy Awards. Only three times has a film labeled “science fiction” or “horror” actually won the “Best Picture” award in the history of film, and each of them stray from the genre just enough to fit the Oscar formula and catch the eye of the Academy (The Silence of the Lambs, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The Shape of Water).

But a Marvel movie being nominated for “Best Picture?”

To some, this may not be a big deal, or even a surprise. But to me, it was. Regardless of Black Panther’s cultural impact and the fact that I love Marvel’s superhero films, I never thought the Academy would actually nominate a superhero movie for its highest award.

But it did. And it’s a big deal.

The nomination of Black Panther and the lack of impressive small drama films that came out of 2018 represents a change in “Best Picture” nominee selections, and thus a break from the “Oscar-bait” formula. For a moviegoer like me who wants to see more awards and recognition across genres, this is a huge deal. For example, I felt like Mission: Impossible – Fallout deserved some Oscar nominations this year, just like how last year I thought Blade Runner 2049 and Baby Driver deserved more recognition, but seeing that a movie like Black Panther can get a number of big nominations restores my faith that a great action or science-fiction movie can get more recognition in the future. And not only will this change in formula simply satisfy movie-lovers like me– it will also provide more incentive for production companies to put more effort and talent into films that wouldn’t traditionally even be up for a “Best Picture” nod. We as consumers will hopefully start to see a slew of better-quality action and superhero movies as a result of the critical success of Black Panther, just as Jordan Peele’s Get Out did for the horror genre last year with its own success.

Even though 2018 hasn’t necessarily been a standout year for cinema, it marks a great change in opportunity for creators to expand their imaginations, and it weakens the harshly-imposed genre stereotypes which have limited creativity and plagued the Academy Awards for generations.

Who knows what next year’s “Best Picture” ballot will look like?

It’s an exciting time for movies.

10 Movies from 2018 to Check Out

Hey, would you look at that! 2018, the year we never thought would end, is finally coming to a close. Although the cash cow that is Hollywood still insists on hastily spewing out reboot after reboot, an abundance of great films came out of this year, both big and small. A preface to this list is that no film is objectively better than others (in most cases; pitting The Godfather up against The Emoji Movie is another discussion), so they won’t be in any order or ranked in anyway. Also, these aren’t necessarily the “best” movies of the year, but rather movies that came out of this year that are definitely worth a watch. This list is based on my own personal preferences and not just which films received the most critical acclaim. Enjoy!

 

Avengers: Infinity War – Arguably the biggest movie of 2018, the third Avengers installment and like, 7,000th Marvel movie brought together a ridiculous ensemble of comic book characters and mashed together a big steaming heap of Hollywood talent pretty seamlessly. An abundance of great and surprisingly long-lasting memes arose out of this movie (which obviously has nothing to do with the quality of the movie itself, but I thought I’d mention it). Coming from a huge nerd, Infinity War defied my expectations and proved itself to be extremely rewatchable.

 

Hereditary – I’d like to specifically give this film credit for reinvigorating my love for the horror genre, after a slew of trashy, jump-scare filled flicks have stunk up the box office for such a long time. Hereditary is a great movie for both general film-lovers and for horror-lovers (though it may not be for general audiences). Toni Collette certainly deserves more recognition for her frighteningly-good performance (I’m looking at you, Academy!), and Milly Shapiro turned in a terrifying performance as well.

 

A Star is Born – Probably the biggest surprise on this list, A Star is Born had everything working against it. An A-list actor’s directorial debut, a Grammy-award winning artist in her first leading film role, and the fact that this movie had been literally made three times already apparently had no effect on the power and emotion that this film brought us. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga demonstrate a raw and intense chemistry that is one for the ages, and the music is quite memorable as well. And for those of you who felt too manly to go see a romance movie with singing in it, go check it out– it’s worth a watch.

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout – For some weird reason, this series just keeps getting better. The sixth Mission: Impossible movie ended up being quite possibly the greatest action movie I’ve ever seen. Loaded with twists and turns and mindblowing set pieces, this film defied the notion that a grand finale must be saved for the end of a movie. Tom Cruise once again puts his life in danger (literally, the man does his own stunts) as Ethan Hunt in this spy-thriller action flick.

 

Beautiful Boy: A slow burn, this movie gets a slot on this list because of the fact that it’s stayed in my mind months after having watched it. While this movie may not go down as one of the best of this year, it contains two fantastic performances (Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet) and expresses a raw and important message about drug abuse and addiction.

 

Sorry to Bother You: Somehow, the marketing for this movie managed to advertise it as something completely different than it is. I don’t want to spoil it either. Just go check it out, it’s a wild ride.

 

Upgrade: Another crazy action movie, Upgrade follows discount-Tom Hardy (Logan Marshall-Green) as he’s followed by some bionically-enhanced super-assassins in a dystopian world. This movie contains some stunning camera work, impressive choreography, a super-cool soundtrack, and a plethora of moments that will leave you in shock. You’ll have to get past some cheesy dialogue, but this movie is a great pick if you’re ever bored and want to watch something with your friends.

 

Unsane: The fact that this movie was allegedly filmed entirely on a smartphone just makes it that much more creepy. Unsettling close-ups and fuzzy, dimly lit cinematography make for a pretty great combination. This film is a weird hybrid of The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and a bunch of other B-list horror films. Claire Foy hands in a great performance as someone who literally never has things go her way. And the guy who plays the stalker in this movie will give you nightmares.

 

Game Night: This is another film that would be a great choice for someone who’s looking for something On-Demand at 11:00 on a Saturday night (that’s how I found this movie). Game Night is the perfect blend of comedy, action, and thriller, and it took a number of risks that impressed and surprised me the whole way through.
Mid90s: This movie was chock-full of child performances that just aren’t seen in Hollywood today. Sunny Suljic leads a pack of skater kids in this nostalgia-filled coming-of-age movie. With a great soundtrack and some fun moments, Mid90s was a blast.