“Ingrid Goes West”

Aubrey Plaza needs more dramatic work. #Ingridgoeswest.

Plaza plays Instagram stalker, Ingrid. After a stint at a mental hospital, Ingrid becomes obsessed with Instagram model Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) and moves to Los Angeles, stalking Taylor in the process. They become friends (Taylor’s oblivious to Ingrid’s behavior), but what happens when Taylor’s punk brother Nicky (Billy Magnussen) enters the picture? Also, who’s really the villain?

Ingrid Goes West starts as a sharp, darkly funny satire. With its jabs at hipster culture and avocado toast, I found a few good laughs. I also was blown away by Plaza’s brave performance as Ingrid. She’s funny, scary, sad, and brutally honest.

Ingrid is a complex character ; an unhinged person who wants what we all want – happiness. Can we blame her for leaving behind her old life for a better one in California? Despite the wrong reasons, no.

Olsen also turns in another great performance this year (check out her work in Wind River). As Taylor, Olsen plays the phony celebrity gracefully. Taylor’s friendship with Ingrid is one-sided and we can see that Taylor only hangs out with her for her own benefit. We root for Ingrid since she’s too delusional to see Taylor’s true colors.

The satirical edge fades in the second half as Ingrid Goes West turns into a standard romantic comedy. Give me less of Ingrid’s relationship with the Batman fanboy Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and more of the psycho thriller/dark comedy moments. Dan starts as a sweet, quirky love interest, but after the millionth Batman Forever reference, I got bored of their romance.

Ingrid Goes West briefly returns to its dark roots in the final act with a strong message on social media and loneliness. It’s just unfortunate that it went off the rails in its uneven second act. Regardless, I still recommend Ingrid Goes West for Plaza and Olsen alone.

Grade: B-

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“Get Out”

“My man,” “This thang,” and “Black is in fashion,” are just three of the awkward and inappropriate lines Bradley Whitford’s Dean utters to Daniel Kaluuya’s Chris in “Get Out.” This is a horror movie that’s more satirical than most modern horror movies.

The laid back and artistic Chris is seeing the beautiful and independent Rose (Allison Williams). They’re getting serious, so it’s time for Chris to meet Rose’s parents at her grandiose childhood home. Her father Dean is a neurosurgeon who tries too hard to be cool, while her mother Missy (Catherine Keener) is a hypnotherapist who wants to know about Chris’s darkest secrets.

In addition to the awkward dinner, Chris notices some strange behavior from the African American residents, and when he’s bluntly told to “get out,” he finds it’s easier said than done. That’s all you need to know about the plot!

“Get Out”  has everything I want in a horror movie, and then some. Eerie visuals and atmosphere, ominous music, a small amount of gore that isn’t distracting, restrained jump scares, an even balance between horror and humor, and social commentary. “Get Out” is a callback to some of the best horror films of the 70s and 80s, while holding its own.

Jordan Peele of “Key and Peele” shows off his love of horror films in his directorial debut. From the opening tracking shot to a thrilling climax, Peele keeps us white knuckling while laughing simultaneously.

Peele does a great job commentating on racism without being preachy about it. “Get Out” takes jabs at the racists who think they aren’t racist. Just because Dean says, “I would have voted for Obama a third term,” that doesn’t mean he’s the liberal saint he sells himself as.

Each cast member does a great job diving into their characters. Kaluuya plays Chris as a cool-yet-vulnerable man who wants to be treated as a person. Williams is cool and spunky as Rose, who acknowledges her family’s bigotry and won’t stand for it. Whitford and Keener are an even balance of menacing and quirky, taking a unique spin on the overbearing parent character arc.

The standout performance goes to the hilarious Lil Rel Howery as Chris’s friend, Rod. He takes the cliched comic relief best friend and plays him as a concerned secondary protagonist.

“Get Out” holds a rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and rightfully so. It’s a social commentary that humbly states racism is still active, even if people think it isn’t.

Grade: A

 

“Hail, Caesar!”

The wacky Coen Brothers go back to their bizarre and experimental comedic roots with “Hail, Caesar!”. This is when they are at their best.

“Hail, Caesar!” is an episodic dark comedy set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, starring Josh Brolin as fixer, Eddie Mannix. Mannix is a neurotic man who acts tough, but is soft in a rough industry. We get a glimpse at a day in the life of Mannix, as he sorts out a pregnancy scandal with a single actress (Scarlett Johansson), manages a cowboy star’s (Alden Ehrenreich) miscasting in an art film, and searches for a missing debauched Hollywood favorite (George Clooney); all while keeping twin journalists (both played by Tilda Swinton) off his back.

“Hail, Caesar!” is likely the Coens’ most polarizing film since “The Big Lebowski” and it’s just as weird, due to its episodic format and semi-confusing plot. It’s also a movie that satirizes the movie industry while delivering jokes that require your undivided attention. Sure, it’s a bit drawn out and semi-heavy handed, but it’s damn good!

The Coens craft “Hail, Caesar!” as a part Film Noir, part Hollywood satire, and a part political satire, and it all works for the most part. Each cast member delivers rich and funny performances, as expected in a Coen Brothers movie.

Brolin delivers one of his quirkiest performances, portraying Mannix as a tough guy who’s overly concerned with whether or not he’s a good person, stressing over bad habits like smoking. Clooney is always his best with the Coens and delivers a hilarious performance as the dimwitted, egomaniac Kirk Douglas-type. Ehrenreich steals every scene as a Texan star who can’t deliver a simple line as directed, and Channing Tatum dances in a terrific cameo as a musical star with a mysterious background.

The Coens load “Hail, Caesar!” with great sequences, including movies within the movie (these are more introductory sequences for our cast), a smart banter between different religious figures on how Jesus should be portrayed, and some beautiful imagery (the film is shot by Roger Deakins of “Skyfall” and “No Country for Old Men”).

Some sequences and characters aren’t as well developed as others, particularly Tatum’s. With his character (not spoiling anything here), we should have either had more of him or none of him, despite the golden dance sequence.

The Coens vary between dark and violent thrillers like “No Country for Old Men” and Fargo, and quirky comedies like “Raising Arizona” and “The Big Lebowski”. “Hail, Caesar!” falls under the latter and is for anyone who loves movies or film history.

Grade: A-

“The Big Short”

Did you know that a small group of bankers predicted the economy crashing before 2008? Did you know it started with these bankers predicting the housing market crash? Well, I didn’t know until I saw “The Big Short”, which is an insightful  look at the events leading to the recession.

“The Big Short” is director Adam McKay’s (“Anchorman”) introduction to dramatic filmmaking and stars Christian Bale, Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, and Ryan Gosling as the  bankers who saw the financial disaster coming. Bale plays the eccentric Michael Burry, who first predicted the recession and bet the housing market would crash while everyone laughed at him. Gosling and Carell play bankers Jared Vinnett and Mark Baum, who learned of Burry’s deal and invested in it. Brad Pitt is a retired banker named Ben Rickert, who mentors two greedy young kids that want in on the short.

“The Big Short” is part docudrama and part satirical comedy, occasionally scoring some laughs (this is the guy who directed “Anchorman” afterall). It doesn’t always hit its mark due to dizzying camerawork and a lack of focus.

Bale delivers a brilliant performance as Burry. He’s a one-eyed man with a lack of social skills who’s focused entirely on numbers and metal music. He’s by far the most interesting character in this movie, but here’s the problem – he’s hardly in it! Carell gives one of his angriest and most human performances as Baum, a man overwhelmed by the flaws in the system and survivor’s guilt.

Pitt and Gosling are both the cool guys as usual, with Pitt portraying Rickert as a health-conscious retired banker, and Gosling acting as the film’s narrator. Vinnett’s narration scenes are funny in a dark and condescending way as he turns the scene over to several celebrities as guest narrators.

McKay’s strong point in “The Big Short” is showing us the horrors of the impending recession, but then finding a funny and cartoonish way to explain it to us. One scene involving Carell’s horrific realization with “Sweet Child O’Mine” as background music, followed by an explanation comparing a black jack game to the recession crumbling is the highlight of the film.

Sadly, there’s just not enough humor or balance between McKay’s cinema verite approach and his dark comedy angle. Not saying McKay should go back to what he knows because he made a good movie, but he does have some room to grow.

Grade: B+