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Us Doubles Down

Triple Frontier retreats

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Awkward family photo. - US
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  • Awkward family photo.

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US. With the din of the unmitigated success of Get Out (2017) — including multiple Academy Award nominations and a win for best original screenplay — barely receding, talk must turn to writer/director Jordan Peele's follow-up. He has been credited, not unfairly, with redefining the horror genre. How will he do it again?

A stunning debut, as Peele's most assuredly was, cannot help but create elevated, often unfair expectations of an artist. Such expectations are a more accurate reflection of the impatience and impertinence of the audience than of an artist's imagination or ability, turning "What have you been working on?" into "But what have you done for me lately?"

As such, contrivances like "the sophomore slump" and other booby traps of commodification don't hold much water with me. They place artists in the unenviable and mostly untenable position of both defying and exceeding the expectations of an audience that, by and large, has zero appreciation for the enormity of their undertaking.

"Oh, you didn't like the second Strokes record? How come?"

"Well it sounds kind of like the first one."

"But you loved the first one, right?"

"Yeah, it's great. I just wish they'd done something completely different."

"But also stayed the same, right?"

I can't help but think Peele has been overburdened as the subject of private and public conversation charged with circular logic and misplaced critical venom. He came out of the gate with a great movie, something fun and true to its influences that also spoke with clarity and significance about contemporary culture and the dangers thereof. Rather than simply waiting to see what comes next, the reflex reaction seems to be a simultaneous escalation and diminishing of hope — a desperate, caustic desire to have the mind blown but to also be afforded the opportunity to vocally dislike something.

Us might be even better than Get Out. With his second effort, Peele leans into genre convention even more, while expanding his visual palette and the breadth of his narrative. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it might be even better and even more fun for it.

On the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk in 1986, a little girl wanders away from inattentive parents into a carnival funhouse. There she encounters an unseen something that changes her life forever. Thirty-ish years later, that little girl, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is grown up, with a family of her own and a summer home outside Santa Cruz. With husband Gabe (Winston Duke), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and son Jason (Evan Alex), Adelaide intends to spend a quiet vacation in the woods. But Gabe is insistent on meeting up with family friends Josh and Kitty (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), and their snotty twin daughters (Becca and Lindsey Tyler) at the beach. Freighted as it is with troubling memories, the setting (and the weird series of coincidences that begins to play out there) proves too much for Adelaide so the family cuts the day short. Shortly after getting back to the house, though, they are menaced by a family of doppelgangers, horrifyingly clad in red coveralls and open-toed shoes. So begins their (literal and figurative) descent into chaos and, for Adelaide in particular, a grotesque dance with notions of the self and the other. It's also quite charming and funny.  

Tempting as it is to take a run at dissecting the allegorical elements of Us, that spoiler-filled discussion seems best left for another time. And because the movie is so satisfying on its own literal terms (not to mention filled with references to and riffs on too many horror movies to count), it feels unnecessary. Us succeeds as a product of its genre that could not exist without its forebears, but also as the truly unique product of a singular imagination. Peele is synthesizing movies that I can imagine him huddling in front of the TV to watch, scared but too entranced to look away. He is also writing from his own distinctive point of view. And in doing so, he is becoming an authoritative but invigorating voice, not just in contemporary horror but in modern cinema at large. R. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

TRIPLE FRONTIER. I've all but run out of room here but that may be the appropriate thing because as much as I wish there was more to say about this one, there isn't.

Director J.C. Chandor (All Is Lost, 2013; A Most Violent Year, 2014) co-wrote the screenplay with Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker, 2008; Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) about a group of former U.S. Special Forces operators raiding the cash-packed jungle villa of a cartel boss in a dense South American jungle (Colombia?).

The story is ostensibly about the changes a person must necessarily undergo to live as a warrior (well-worn territory for Boal) and the desperation that can attend the lives of soldiers left without a war. This, of course, within the framework of a wide-ranging action movie that scales the Andes.

It's an ambitious undertaking and a well-crafted one, with strong performances by Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund. But its quasi-elliptical biographical storytelling and classic-rock soundtrack create distance from the real stuff of the narrative, and it becomes less impactful and effective than it sets out to be. While still significantly more nuanced and accomplished than most standard combat pictures, it suggests a level of sophistication that it doesn't deliver. R. 125M. NETFLIX.

— John J. Bennett

See showtimes at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

DUMBO. Tim Burton's live-action and CG remake of the flying elephant story. With Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito. PG. 152M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

GLORIA BELL. Julianne Moore stars as a divorced woman and disco devotee navigating a relationship with someone new (John Turturro) in her 50s. R. 102M. BROADWAY.

HOTEL MUMBAI. Dev Patel and Armie Hammer star as a Taj Hotel staffer and guest, respectively, trying to escape the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India. R. 123M. BROADWAY.

THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940). Jimmy Stewart, Katherine Hepburn and Carey Grant as everyone's favorite ex-husband. NR. 112M. BROADWAY.

UNPLANNED. Anti-abortion drama from the director of God's Not Dead and God's Not Dead 2. R. FORTUNA.

Continuing

CAPTAIN MARVEL. Brie Larson's superheroine is literally down-to-earth in a refreshing '90s-era origin story that thankfully takes a break from Marvel's massive scale and delivers more focused action and story. With baby-faced Samuel L. Jackson. PG13. 124M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

FIVE FEET APART. Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse star as young people with cystic fibrosis conducting a romance around their quarantines. PG13. 116M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE GOSPEL OF EUREKA. Drag queens and evangelical Christians put on their respective passion plays in a Southern town. NR. 75M. MINIPLEX.

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD. This installment finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) looking for more creatures like his dragon buddy. PG. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? A documentary traces the roots and history of democracy around the world, you know, before it's gone. NR. 107M. MINIPLEX.

WONDER PARK. A magical amusement park springs to life when a girl discovers it in the woods. Voiced by Jennifer Garner and Sofia Mali. PG. 85M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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