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T.A. Moreland

T.A. Moreland

Us, let’s us down. | What’s The 411 MOVIE REVIEW

There’s a saying: Adulthood is that time in life when you get over your childhood. And that is certainly the case for Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong'o) who suffered a traumatic beachfront experience as a child. Now having married and moved away from that location, she and her family, husband Gabe (Winston Duke) and their two children Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) return to the site to vacation with their friends, the Tylers. The families rent houses down the street from each other.

Adelaide immediately feels creeped-out upon arriving at the house. She tries to suppress the feelings as her husband launches into a fun-loving, we’re-on-vacation mode. That night Adelaide realizes that her queasiness is justified when four strangers appear in their driveway and the group, which looks exactly like her own family, is not there for fun and games.

Us, from writer and director Jordan Peele who scored a huge hit with his 2017 film, Get Out, turns out an utter disappointment this time in Us. I fully expected another different twist to the horror film format. Unique in the way Get Out cleverly intertwined race and terror, in a way not seen before. In Us, the only difference is that it has a black cast.

Us has all the features of the genre that makes these films seem so insipid. The villains are human yet are always a lot stronger than ordinary people. The characters must behave in the most implausible way. For example, the Wilsons arguing over who should drive when they need to make a lifesaving escape. Then there’s Adelaide’s getting out of the safety of the vehicle to confront weapon-carrying killers. My favorite horror film lunacy is how moments after the most terrifying and bloody encounters, the survivors engage in light banter. As if nothing just happened. In Us, after a nearly fatal ordeal, the Wilsons calmly chat, and the son even munches on Skittles.

The dialogue falls into “the who says that?” category. While driving along and listening to music, Adelaide turns to her son, in the back seat, snaps her fingers and tells him to “get in the rhythm”. Is that what a black mother would say to her child? And in describing their attackers’ strategy, the husband, Gabe opines that would take a shit load of coordination!

Peele’s own father was absent from much of his life. Interestingly, the black father character in Get Out had an absentee father. In Us, Peele creates Gabe, a bumbling and childlike parent. It’s almost as if Adelaide has three kids rather than two.

Speaking of Adelaide, Lupita Nyong’o is exceptional. She holds this film together. It’s unfortunate that she wasted her vast talents on this production.

As to cast diversity, we give Us a B+. It has a relatively small group of characters. There are the Wilsons and the Tylers, who are white. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for other performers. Asians and Hispanics are pretty much absent from this production.

Us gets a split rating; if you like horror films, See It! If not, wait and Rent It.

Us is rated “R” for violence/terror, and language, and is 116 minutes in length. At a budget of $20M, which is small by movie-making standards, there is no question that Us is bound to be a financial success.

Wonder Park is wonderful! [MOVIE REVIEW]

June Bailey, played by newcomer, Brianna Denski, is a precocious and creative eight-year-old, visualizes and creates a model for a magical amusement park she calls, Wonder Park. One day while traveling with her math camp class on a field trip, she decides that the outing just isn’t for her. With the help of a classmate, she creates a diversion and exits the school bus and heads home. She takes a shortcut through the woods and what does she find? A place called Wonderland that has all the rides and characters from her imaginary place, Wonder Park. But things aren’t quite the way she dreamed of - and Wonderland residents look to her for answers.

Wonder Park is a computer-animated adventure film full of vivid colors and lively characters and it’s a See It! I like the fact that the genius in this story is a girl. Traditionally these roles have been filled by boys.

The story is busy. June deals with family issues, annoying relatives, a pesky neighbor, not to mention finding her dream landscape is actually a bit of a nightmare. Kids today expect intriguing plots and subplots like this film offers. The days of Bugs Bunny simply trying to foil Elmer Fudd are long gone!

As a parent, one aspect of the film troubled me: June escaping the school trip and then taking a shortcut through the woods to get home. That’s not recommended behavior. The target market for the film is kids and they can be easily influenced.

In addition to Brianna Denski, Ken Hudson Campbell, Kenan Thompson, Ken Jeong, Mila Kunis, John Oliver, Jennifer Garner, and Matthew Broderick, star and provide voices for the characters.

Wonder Park is rated PG for some mild thematic elements and action and it’s 86 minutes in length. Wonder Park is a See It!

The Aftermath is entertaining after all! [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s 1946. World War II has ended. To the victors go the spoils. The winning British are in Germany governing the losing Germans. Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) leads the British efforts to bring order to the City of Hamburg. Morgan’s wife, Rachel (Keira Knightley) arrives from England where the two reunite to begin their post-war lives together. The British Government, as it has a right to do, takes over a mansion owned by a German architect, Stefan Lubert, (Alexander Skarsgård). This becomes the Colonel and his wife’s new home. There are camps set up for displaced Germans like Lubert, a widower, and his daughter who resides with him. However, Morgan, much to his wife’s chagrin, allows the Luberts to stay in the mansion’s attic. From that point, The Aftermath begins, with the characters confronting a range of conflicts and challenges.

The Aftermath succeeds not because it’s an exceptional production, but because it’s a refreshing change from current film experiences. It’s a period piece. And, the re-creation of worn-torn Germany, the story’s highlighting of the continued hostilities between the forces even though the war has officially ended – give the movie a value which underlies the main storyline.

The character conflicts are real and compelling. Lewis and Rachel debate a loss they suffered. Stefan tries to convince his daughter that they are actually lucky to be in the attic. Then there’s tension between Rachel and Stefan. Lewis is often away from home carrying out his military duties. So, one has to question his leaving Rachel in the mansion with the taller and better-looking Stefan.

Each of the lead actors proffers strong performances. Ultimately, The Aftermath comes together in an entertaining and even a bit educational way. And it gets our highest rating, See It!

The Aftermath is rated R for sexual content/nudity, and violence including some disturbing images and is 108 minutes in length.

Greta. No need to be in a hurry to see her. | MOVIE REVIEW

Someone leaves a handbag on a New York City subway. Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) retrieves it and returns it to the owner, Greta, (Isabelle Huppert). The two women quickly form a bond. When Frances learns that their encounter wasn’t the by chance event she thought, she distances herself from her new friend. But Greta isn’t the easy come, easy go, type of woman and becomes obsessed with maintaining a bond with Frances.

Greta contains all of the clichés of horror films. There’s the nice well-meaning victim, Frances and her sinister nemesis, Greta. In this film genre, villains are always capable of feats of great strength, always one step of head of others, and never seem to have anything else to do in their lives but to pursue their victim(s).

It’s also troubling when films have non-credible aspects. Frances is new to New York, gullible and naive to the dangers of big city life. But then she references being from Boston. Really? Boston is not exactly a small town. It would have been easy to have her hail from any of thousands of towns and villages.

As to the acting, to make the film work, Chloe Grace Moretz has to be a character who garners viewers’ sympathy. She does. Alternatively, Isabelle Huppert, in the title role, has to be evil. She is, in the most exquisite way. Together they create the necessary drama and suspense.

Greta gets a B+ in cast diversity. It’s a small cast; so there are a limited number of characters. However, there are many people of color in supporting roles and background scenes.

When films are set in New York City, I always subject them to a New York City Realism Test. In a Gwyneth Paltrow film, she rode the G train through Manhattan. Wrong. The G train only goes between Brooklyn and Queens.

In Greta, nothing stands as not authentically New York. The writers even explain how two young women like Frances and her roommate are able to afford the large, comfortable loft where they live; her roommate’s father bought it for her.

The verdict on Greta: It’s a Rent It. No need to see it now. If you have the opportunity to see later, through some other venue, do it. It’s not a must see now.

Greta is 98 minutes long and rated R.

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