SUNSET – movie review

SUNSET (Napszállta)
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Lázló Nemes
Screenwriter: Lázsló Nemes, Clara Royer, Matthieu Taponier
Cast: Juli Jakab, Vlad Ivanov, Evelin Dobos, Marcin Czarnik, Levente Molnr, Julia Jakubowska
Screened at: Sony, NYC, 1/31/19
Opens: TBD

Poster

The 1950s in America may be looked upon as perhaps the dullest decade of the 20th century but it was also the most prosperous. Politics then were relatively stable. In fact the biggest complaint about the two major political parties is that they were so much alike you could not tell them apart:like tweedeledum and tweedledee. How we wish that were true nowadays when not only the U.S. is divided (Obamacare passed without a single Republican vote), but also Europe with its Brexit, the rise of extreme nationalism, the politics of hate. With “Sunset,” Lázló Nemes unfolds an epic tale about even worse divisions in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, placing the drama in 1913 when the world’s first all-encompassing war was brewing. While the tale, told exclusively through the eyes of Írisz Leiter (Juli Jakab), tunes us into both the active and brewing violence in Budapest, we in the audience cannot be blamed for being confused as to the motives of the gun-wielding participants. At first we figure that the mayhem is based on class warfare: the masses of have-nots resenting the upper-bourgeois merchants whose products cater to the tastes of the aristocracy in the Austrian capital of Vienna. However, given that director Nemes’ previous offering, “Son of Saul,” opened through the point of view of inmate Saul, an Auschwitz prisoner made to bury the bodies of the murdered Jews, we can surmise that there is a Jewish theme in “Sunset” as well.

Here’s why. The backstory of “Sunset,” or “Napszállta in the original Hungarian, is that a high-class milliner’s store is burned to the ground, its two owners perishing in the flames. This looks like a foreshadowing of the Kristallnacht, when in 1938 Nazi thugs broke windows of Jewish-owned businesses, torched synagogues, raided Jewish homes and killed one hundred German-Jewish citizens. You may, of course, have a different interpretation: Nemes, not one to spoon feed the audience, will never tell.

Because of the director’s regard for the intelligence of his audiences, he gives us but an outline of the activities and bursts of anarchy in Budapest on the eve of war. At the same time, given that the film is 144 minutes long, coupled with that deliberate lack of clarity as to motivations of the warring groups, some prospective filmgoers will be exasperated. And others, like me, will be absorbed throughout.

As Leiter (a predominantly Jewish name), Jakab performs as a woman alone traveling from Trieste to Budapest in search of employment in her parents’ store but also following up a rumor that her brother Kálmán (also a Yiddish given name shortened from the Greco-Jewish name Kalonymos, or קלונימוס) can be located there. She never smiles but wears a fierce, determined look as anyone would while negotiating through the personalities of several men, in one instance almost the victim of gang rape. She seeks employment in the millenery establishment that had been owned by her parents but is now under the proprietorship of Oszkár Brill (the Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov). Though Brill does not hire her, he takes her under his wing as the city faces raids by outlaws, though most of the beatings and shootings take place off the set. (Correction: the action does not take place in a set as the director, fearing the loss of individuality and even a humane-ness in our digital world, refuses to use such a convention favored by current filmmakers.) Each time she mentions the name of her brother, it’s as though she has uttered an obscenity worthy of 50 lashes.

Though warned to stay close to the shop, she wanders off, crashing into what we today would call chaotic neighborhoods, including a look at Countess Redey’s (Julia Jakubowska) palace. The countess was allegedly driven mad by her husband, whose had implanted her back with evidence of severe whippings. Continuing to wander about she runs into more parlous situations, hopping a tram now and then, not deterred even after she is almost raped. At this point we surmise that the director, using a script from Clara Royer, Matthieu Taponier and himself, is using Írisz as an Everyman—the suffix “man” applicable to her given her androgynous look and our vision of her in a concluding scene surrounding by men in trenches.

Györgyi Szakács’s costumes are a high point. Women wear hats that could be used by discus throwers given the size of the head coverings, just as American men in the 50’s all wore Fedoras. Mátyás Erdély films in Hungary, specifically in Budapest and Iszkaszentgyorgy, the dust in the air rarely settling as though the town is a pre-war Beijing. Pay close attention, as though you were Írisz Leiter herself, looking in astonishment at a civilization in decay, preparing for a war that will break up the Austrian Empire, a prelude to the last strains of civilization.

144 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

THE PUBLIC – movie review

THE PUBLIC
Universal Home Entertainment
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Emilio Estevez
Screenwriter: Emilio Estevez
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Emilio Estevez, Taylor Schilling, Jena Malone, Michael K. Williams, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Slater
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/2/19
Opens: April 5, 2019

The Public (2018)

In a recent TV interview Steve Bannon predicted that 2019 will be the most vitriolic year in America since the Civil War. That’s not a far-out opinion given how the fight between Trump and the Democrats is escalating, the Dems moving left while Republicans remain on the distant right. There’s no problem believing, then, that the action in Emilio Estevez’s film “The Public” could really happen. A difference is that while some viewers may think that a demonstration would lead to police violence, Estevez—who wrote, directs, and stars—has a different view.

Estevez holds the featured role of Stuart Goodson, head librarian in a modern Cincinnati library. Librarians are stereotyped as mild, even introverted folks who prefer reading to dealing with people, and at the start of “The Public,” Stuart Goodson performs the stereotypical role. As the story progresses Goodson, a mild-manner man whose co-librarian Myra (Jena Malone) flirts with him while expressing her left-leaning views on the environment—to which Goodson replies that she would have to stop breathing to get the pure air that she champions. More on his wavelength is a love interest, his building administrator, Angela (Taylor Schilling), who gets a break on the rent in return for serving as mechanic.

Physical action opens up on a freezing Cincinnati night when a group of seventy homeless people, deprived of openings in the city’s shelters, pull a sit-in at the library. Rather than call the police, Goodson sides with the underprivileged people, taking no actions to disperse the crowd, sometimes getting advice from Jackson (Michael Kenneth Williams), a big, cuddly teddy-bear of a man. At the same time Goodson tries to deflect the anger of the police under Detective Bill Ramstead (Alec Baldwin), who frequently confers with Prosecutor Josh Davis (Christian Slater), a weasel of a man who is running for mayor on a law-and-order platform. As the sit-in proceeds, TV newswoman Rebecca Parks (Gabrielle Union), on hand when a large police unit arrives, shields in place, ready to storm the library under the belief that hostages are being held against their will.

As the story continues we find out that Detective Ramstead has a teen son, an addict who has disappeared, though the big surprise comes out about librarian Goodson—who claims that his life first got turned around when he began reading books.

The word is that the picture got a standing ovation at the Toronto International Film Festival, absorbing the political soul of the movie—which seems partly improvised, a feel-good treatment implying that police should often do better than to storm buildings and shoot unarmed people. Editing is smooth, and best of all, the public library is given the beneficent treatment that it rarely gets.

122 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

THE LAST – movie review

THE LAST
Plainview Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net with Rotten Tomatoes link by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jeff Lipsky
Screenwriter: Jeff Lipsky
Cast: Rebecca Schull, Jill Durso, AJ Cedeño, Reed Birney
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/16/19
Opens: March 29, 2019

The Last (2019)

Prospective viewers take note. “The Last” features a story that would play better on the stage than on the big screen. Writer-director Jeff Lipsky, whose “Mad Women” features a mother of three daughters who commits a crime of conscience and becomes radicalized in prison, segues into a new movie about one woman who is mad-insane (arguably, at one time), another two who are mad (angry as hell and rightly so), and two men whose views about where to put the great grandma are radically different. Since “The Last” is rich in dialogue, including a stunning forty-five minute monologue by the 90-year-old actress Rebecca Schull as the 92-year-old Claire, could easily fit on an off-Broadway stage with a little sand to represent a beach.

Here is yet another take on the Holocaust, the greatest crime of all time. “The Last” is not likely to be the last look at the atrocity, nor should it be. Lipsky puts an elderly woman on the front burner, rare enough in the movies these days, a character who is quite different from the person her many-generation family thinks she is. The film’s advertising notes that she will reveal some details of her life three-score and ten years ago that has a sobering effect on her family. However, no film critic should destroy the suspense by revealing the coup d’ètat, nor should readers who suspect the revelation to be a shattering read any commentary on the film that exposes this key feature.

With a stunning performance from nonagenarian Rebecca Schull, perhaps best known for her role in the TV comedy “Wings” about two brothers trying to run an airline from Nantucket, “The Last” opens on the kind of Rosh HaShanah service in which Josh (AJ Cedeño), wearing kippah and identifying as Modern Orthodox, challenges the group by revealing that he does not really believe in God. Yes, there may have been a burning bush, but not one that was lit up by a Divine Bic. Yes, the Red Sea may have seemed to part, but perhaps the good guys escaped from Pharaoh’s army by walking on the rocks. Despite Josh’s skepticism, his wife Olivia (Jill Durso), has undergone a conversion to Judaism, not without feeling embarrassed by her nudity after dunking in the purifying Mikveh baths.

A Mikveh would have been better suited for Claire, who is the least pure family relic, and who in the film’s key middle delivers one of the longest monologues ever to appear on celluloid rather than its more appropriate place on the legit stage. Claire’s tale is of her escape from Germany during the rise of Hitler and her attainment of U.S. citizenship thanks to a marriage of convenience with one Moishe. Her granddaughter Melody (Julie Fain Lawrence), married to would-be graphic novelist Harry (Reed Birney), can identify strongly with Claire, given that Melody lost both of her parents in the war.

When Claire reveals that she is terminally ill and has booked passage to Oregon for a gentle end to her active life, the stage (or rather, the screen), is set for yet another surprise that leads Olivia into a convulsive tantrum, wracked with psychic pain.

While you might expect “The Last” to be targeted to a Jewish audience—it did, in fact, play at a Jewish center prior to its March 29th opening this year—there is every reason for an audience of all faiths or none to find universality in the plot. Despite the low level of histrionics in favor of some carefully written dialogue, “The Last” is a daring film that can be appreciated by a select, sophisticated audience.

123 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B

WORKING WOMAN – movie review

WORKING WOMAN (Isha Ovedet)
Zeitgeist Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Michal Aviad
Screenwriter: Sharon Azulay Eyal, Michal Vinik, Michal Aviad
Cast: Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy, Oshri Cohen
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/16/19
Opens: March 27, 2019

Isha Ovedet (2018)

It should not be difficult to discourage men who harass women (or other men) for sex, stalking, wheedling, begging, demanding, and the like. But when the men (assuming 90-95% of the guilty are men) have something over you, things get complicated. We know from recent exposés by the #MeToo movement and journalists in general how easy it must have been for Harvey Weinstein to get what he wanted from women. As the leading producer of films in the U.S., he could make or break careers. This explains why so many women waited for years before getting the courage to testify against him.

But Harvey Weinstein is only one guy. There are local schlemiels who are able to get away with harassment simply because they employ women. It’s not so easy to fight off an employer when you need his recommendation for a new job. This is why dominant males do not always need to use a great deal of force to touch, even rape women who are, so to speak, under them. Nor is sexual harassment found only in the U.S. and Europe, as Michal Aviad points out forcefully enough with “Working Woman,” or “Isha Ovedet” in the original Israeli title. Aviad, in her sophomore dramatic feature (in addition to documentaries she is known for “Invisible,” dealing with two women who discover that their rapists are in common), illustrates the way that Orna (Liron Ben Shlush) is drawn into the sordidi network of her boss, Benny (Menashe Noy). She is such a valuable employee that one may wonder why she needs him more than he needs her.

As a marketer of real estate property, she has gone beyond her boss’ skills. In the case on view here, she is able to sell apartments in the Israeli city of Rishon La Zion using tactics that Benny would not have thought of. Things get hairy when Benny at first asks her to wear her hair long, then tries to kiss her. Like so many other predators, he apologizes “It won’t happen again.” It does, culminating in a situation in which Benny tries to rape her in a Paris hotel, though Orna, at first trying to fight him off, gives in—only partly because he outweighs her by a hundred pounds. She is probably thinking that since the new restaurant business started by her husband Ofer (Oshri Cohen) may go belly-up, nobody will be around to support her family of five.

That’s the situation, one that must be repeated thousands, maybe millions of time by the male of the species, those who are in controlling situations. And since most business is owned by men, these predators must be having a field day, using their dominance to get what they want.

With a stunning principal performance by Liron Ben Shlush and with a direction by feminist Michal Aviad that refuses to degenerate into noisy melodrama, “Working Woman” is able to get the message across in an entertaining format with a direct, narrative style—no animation, flashbacks and the like. The film is in Hebrew and some French with English subtitles.

93 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

THE BRINK – movie review

THE BRINK
Magnolia Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alison Klayman
Screenwriter: Alison Klayman
Cast: Steve Bannon
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 2/20/19
Opens: March 29, 2019

Steve Bannon appears in The Brink by Alison Klayman, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or 'Courtesy of Sundance Institute.' Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

Steve Bannon could use bariatric surgery, a better dentist, and a Brooks Brothers overhaul of his wardrobe. None of these flaws takes away from his charm, and remember that even Darth Vader has been called a charmer by the huge crowds that pack theaters when he’s around. He has been picketed around Europe and the U.S. with the same sorts of signs that greet Trump now and then, though a great deal of picketers are not protestors: anything but. As CEO of Trump’s presidential campaign, he considers himself virtually the sole reason that Trump was able to thumb his nose at the pollsters. Though fired by the POTUS for a side comment Bannon once made in the book “Fire and Fury,” he claims to be on the president’s direct line, and despite his sendoff shortly after the president’s swearing-in, he maintains that he is still treasured by the man with the long red tie.

Since Bannon is a filmmaker among other diverse traits, it was only natural that he would grant producer Marie Theresa Guirgis the thumbs-up for a film about his ideologies and skills at communicating them. Guirgis tapped Alison Klayman to be a fly on the wall, a wise choice as Klayman’s documentary “Ai Wei Wei…Never Sorry” chronicles the trouble the activist has endured from the Chinese government, and “Take Your Pills” puts America’s drug Adderall front and center by people who need the boost to outpace the competition.

That Bannon has been vilified by progressives is no problem for him, in fact he gives the impression that he’d agree with the view that the only bad publicity is no publicity. More specifically, he believes that every time he is trashed by progressives at demonstrations picked up by the media, he gains prominence. Therein lies his welcome of director Klayman, who allegedly spent well over one hundred hours following him around, both in the U.S. and Europe. The best part of the doc is not a rehash of what we already know about him, but the ways he acts informally when nobody but his “fly” is around to capture both his manic moods and his frustrations.

Aside from the idiosyncrasy of wearing two shirts everywhere he goes and, when filming himself with another gent and a woman tells the woman that she is a rose between two thorns, he probably won’t strike you as either an intellectual or a fellow who can easily one-up his company with his wit; and in fact he appears awkward when he speaks to large crowds. Nor does he hesitate to repeat his views before groups of progressives who in one scene loudly boo him, telling them “I have a whole night to convert you.” His attempted conversion leads to a non-hostile laugh from the crowd.

What is his goal? Well, Winston Churchill stated that his goal is victory; victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror.” Bannon smells victory, a strong smell at that, when Trump (thanks to him) won the presidency against all odds. He is a one-note politician, a nationalist, a populist, who insists that he cares not what is your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preferences. Nationalism is generally defined as identification with your own nation to the exclusion of the interests of other countries. In concrete terms, he wants America for Americans, considering that people who come here illegally should be sent back to where they came from, and even better, to prevent them from crossing the border in the first place. He travels to France, Italy, Hungary, Poland, in each case beating the drum for the candidates who want to seal the borders or severely restrict immigration. He believes that high walls make good neighbors and supports Trump’s call to take money needed for schools away from going for more schools for the children of the military.

Given his rah rah USA beliefs, we wonder why he is so motivated to further the interests of far right parties outside his country–in Europe such as the Italian League, The Brothers of Italy, Alternatives for Germany, Spain’s vox, and others, nor does the documentary probe deeply enough into why it’s important for him, a nationalist-minded American, to embrace the ideologies of other states. He does get creds for calling persecutions or Jews and others at Auschwitz, which he visited, a horror. Again, he denies that he is a racist, but then Minister Farrakhan says he is no anti-Semite. Groups like the neo-Nazi bunch—remember, the fine people on that side—eagerly brag that they want a country exclusively of white Christians, but for others, those who are regularly in front of the cameras, that is a no-no. Bannon, in fact, would like to deny that he had dinner with Filip Dewinter of Belgium’s racist party, but thanks to Ms. Klayman, we have documentation.

Don’t look for Michael Moore moments but you will, instead, get to know more about Bannon than you could otherwise find in “Darth Vader” sound bites and press releases. As for the title of the movie, President Lincoln noted in a letter “We are now on the brink of destruction,” Lincoln said. It appears to me that even the Almighty is against us. I can hardly see a ray of hope.” Hmmm.

93 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

SOBIBOR – movie review

SOBIBÓR
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Konstantin Khabenskiy
Screenwriter: Anna Chernakova, Michael Edelstein, Ilya Vasiliev, based on the book by Ilya Vasiliev: “Alexander Pechersky: Breakthrough to Immortality”
Cast: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Christopher Lambert, Mariya Kozhevnikova, Michalina Olszanska, Philippe Reinhardt
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/7/19
Opens: March 29, 2019

If you travel to Poland, you will do well to take the day trip from Krakow to Auschwitz, certainly not because there is entertainment to be found there but because the most notorious death camp and its promotion by Germany is part of what is now called grief tourism. The German government has been surprisingly transparent in its vast campaign of owning up what the Nazi government did to the Jews they arrested, most of whom either died in the camps or were summarily shot on location. If the camp at Sobibór is not among the most visited camps today ,it is because unlike with Auschwitz, the Nazis government tore down the camp in 1943 after a dramatic escape by prisoners, making it part of the adjoining forest.

Konstantin Khabenskiy, who directs and stars in “Sobibór” takes on the role of the actual hero, Alexander Pechersky, who led one of the only two successful escapes from concentration camps, standing in as one answer to naïve accusations such as “Why didn’t the Jews do more to fight against the enemy?” Obviously given the way that the guards at the camps crushed not only the spirit of the inmates but did their best to work them to death, Jews were generally in no condition to put up a fight. Given this situation, you can’t blame Russia for commemorating the heroic uprising led by Pechersky, though under an anti-Semitic Stalin, information was kept quiet only because the rebellion was led by Jews. Happily things are different now as we witness the box office success of Khabenskiy’s film, which has among the most gory, bloody scenes of chaos month after month involving German officers living on Cognac and laughing at the humiliations they visit upon the poor prisoners.

Ramunus Greicius films entirely in Vilnius County, Lithuania, standing in for the Polish city of Sobibór which lies southeast of both Warsaw and Treblinka, hugging the border with Ukraine. With a cast including scores of Lithuanian extras, Anna Chernakova, Michael Edelstein and Ilya’s Vasiliev screenplay based on the book “Alexander Pechersky” by Ilya Vasiliev takes us first to the railway where Jews being resettled have allegedly been treated fairly well on the transport to cover up the goal of the Germans. As they depart, they are told “Welcome to your new life,” but instead, most of the women are forced to strip naked and march into the “showers” only to be gassed with carbon monoxide. The men and women who are kept alive are made busy with sewing and chopping, their hard work met with strange rewards including one attempted rape, nonstop floggings, setting Jews up as horses to run the officers around.

As a result of one attempted escape early on, the officers order one inmate of every group of ten to be shot, to discourage further escapes and to demand that the Jews tell the Nazis of any future plan. Among the prisoners is one kapo who is crueler to his fellow Jews than any German, calling them “kikes,” and bringing clear definition to the term “self-hating Jew.” The camp commandant, Karl Frenzel (Christiopher Lambert) does little to discipline the men, even encouraging them to shoot Jews for sport and, in one instance, to allow Berg (Mindaugas Papinigis) to pour alcohol on one prisoner and set him on fire.

Most of the story deals with life in the camps, which the officers find to their liking being the sadists that they are, nobody forcing restraint while the Jews are beaten so regularly that we wonder how they are able to kill eleven officers, duping them by saying that they have beautiful Parisian leather jackets to show them in their quarters and then stabbing or shooting them. It is only during the final twenty minutes that the actual escape takes place, as prisoners take the pistols and rifles that they capture and make their way into the forest. Slow-motion photography adds drama to the narrative. Regrettably, of the six hundred taking part in the mad dash to freedom, most perished, either killed by guards or exploded in the mine fields surrounding the camp. Only 58 are known to have survived, while some are killed by locals and some by Ukrainian guards.

Because the film so boldly displays the misery dished out to the Jews, who never know whether they would survive the day, it stands as a great tribute to Alexander Pechersky without whose leadership all might have been either killed or too petrified even to attempt escape. English subtitles provided for languages spoken: Russian, Polish, German, Dutch, Yiddish

117 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+

US – movie review

US
Universal Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net with a Rotten Tomatoes link by: Harvey Karten
Director: Jordan Peele
Screenwriter: Jordan Peele
Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Evan Alex, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker
Screened at: AMC Empire, NYC, 3/19/19
Opens: March 22, 2019

With the rise in antisemitism and racism that we’re seeing not only in the U.S. but in Europe as well, you will get the allegorical point of “Us.” There’s “us” and there’s “them.” “Them” are the people that “us” perceives as enemies, perhaps too smart, or even too uneducated. Hillary had the idea when she spoke of the “basket of deplorables” that expected to vote for Trump, a speech that helped to seal her fate. Now, it’s not as though “us” and “them” are in two separate worlds, never to see one another, never to work with one another. The “them” are “tethered” to the “us,” serving us resenting us, and yet the “us” are too wrapped up in ourselves, too sure that we are actually helping “them,” serving as their saviors, that “us” are completely unprepared for what’s in store. Maybe the “them” could even outvote “us” and elect the politicians that allegedly speak for “them”? Nah.

Us Movie Poster

This commentary is all in the service of understanding what may be going on in Jordan Peele’s mind during the couple of hours that he entertains us. We’ve been looking forward to his first sequel since, after all, didn’t he write and direct “Get Out,” one of the great horror pics of contemporary times? Truth to tell, while “Us” has a lot going for it in the way of film-making, it falls way short in the way of story-telling. Yet our disappointment is tempered by the idea that this is effective as horror; it’s entertaining, in parts it’s funny. And it’s remarkable how the four principal performers play both roles, both “us” and “them,” and as the story unfolds we see that Peele does not depend on the cheap tropes of standard horror films. He doesn’t have the false starts, the McGuffins. And his major foursome are well up to the task of providing fun and games for our stomachs and allegory for our brains.

It takes quite a bit of time for the movie to get into the terror groove, but that’s all in the way of allowing the audience to get to know the personas. Adelaide is a girl of about eight at the beach with her family during the summer of 1986. She strays from them to explore, goes into a haunted house like the kind you still find in Coney Island, and gets the shock of her life as she is confronted by her double. Wide-eyed, she is segued into the present day where Lupita Nyong’o takes over the role. She is a young mother, married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and has two kids, Zora Wilson (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason Wilson (Evan Alex). Though Gabe is eager to take the family to their summer beach home in Santa Cruz, Adelaide is at first opposed, given the shock she received thirty-three years back. But soon enough Gabe, Adelaide, Zora and Jason are on the way, where they join their neighbors Kitty Tyler (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh Tyler (Tim Heidecker). Gabe supplies the story’s humor, but Adelaide is Peele’s focus.

They are confronted by a foursome standing still outside their home, refusing to move despite Gabe’s warnings. Soon they are under attack by… their doubles! The most impressive is Adelaide’s double, with make-up like the rest of the invaders to look like the normal folks only scarier. Near the conclusion, Lupita Nyong’o’s doppelgänger delivers a raspy lecture that explains the action of the invaders, noting that “It’s our time now.”

Could Trump’s election and the rise of large proportions of forgotten Americans be on Jordan Peele’s mind in composing the script? I would like to believe this, but then again, this would give our current situation in America too limited a perspective. Peele posits two classes, as stated above, the have’s and the have not’s, the latter overthrowing the smug, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, bland, middle-class types, taking on the prejudices of the “overlords” that they have served but now abandoning their peaceful demeanors.

“Us” represents filmmaking that is more active and frantic than in “Get Out,” but then, Peele’s debut is one of the miracles of the 2017 film year. Peele is probably aware that his public expects another stunner, perhaps surpassing a debut, but may realize that he has given himself too high a hurdle to leap. Look for some agitated cinematography from Mike Gioulakis, some masterful editing from Nicholas Monsour, and trust that Michael Abels’ score will help keep you on the edge of your seat.

110 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B