Us (2019) Film: Hands Across America Event Illicits a Strong Time & Place

Hands Across America was a benefit event and publicity campaign staged on Sunday, May 25, 1986 in which approximately 6.5 million people held hands in a human chain for fifteen minutes along a path across the contiguous United States.

Director Jordan Peele uses the time period of 1986 to show a younger version of the main character. Peele utilizes the famous Hands Across America event to bring us into the urgency of the moment.

It’s an oft-used but very solid screenwriting nugget to help flesh out and bring to life a scene: use some sort of promotional material from the recent past, such as when – for example – modern day films sneak in Bush-Cheney campaign posters in the background of shots in order to illicit a certain emotional response or bring up memories of said event.

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” did this well, utilizing a myriad of tools (including but not limited to presidential campaign lawn signs) to re-orient us into a particular time and place, a much-needed tool given the fact that the story moves through many years (decades) of time.

We remember really impactful presidential campaigns (if we were alive and self-aware enough to consciously live through and experience it). Every audience member isn’t going to have the same response to these tokens as the person sitting beside them but if the filmmaker picks a bold and memorable cultural artifact we should at least be able to recognize it and be able to identify where/when it was born into existence in relation to our lives.

It seems like an easy and super obvious storytelling trick to orient the audience to a time and place, but so often it is ignored, misused or underused as an effective filmmaking tool (especially in horror films). Too many movies go the dull and easy route, simply slapping white text across the bottom of the frame and labeling a time as 1976 or Twelve Years Earlier, as easy to pull off as just simply listing ingredients on the side of a soup can. Try harder…

The Magnificent Seven – Film Review

The greatest moments of “The Magnificent Seven” aren’t the scenes where all the magnificent’s are sitting around, talking about their magnificent adventures. Movies should show, not tell, and I agree. But if you aren’t willing to show a characters journey, their past, their present state in the world, then you’ve got to try to tell us a little bit about them.

Cowboys talk in gravely, deep-voiced mumbles, I understand. But not all of them. Josh Faraday, the alcoholic magician played by Chris Pratt (or is it just Chris Pratt played by Chris Pratt?), has a lot to say. The quiet one, Chisolm, played by Denzel Washington, talks and acts as if he were living in an entirely different cinematic universe, a slow-burn, darkly-lit drama photographed by Roger Deakins.

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Luckily for Chisolm, he isn’t required to interact a whole lot with this ensemble, other than the obligatory assembling and introductions of the squad. We’ve got 7 here? One, two, three…I count six. Never mind, the seventh is standing over there, as Pratt’s character says in the beginning of the film, “Oh, good, we’ve got a Mexican!”

On-screen diversity is a hot topic in Hollywood and they’ve responded, if not in any dramatic way. They’re learning that people don’t just want diverse characters, they want actual characters. You know, a person with a motive other than revenge or a skill unrelated to their culture.

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The Chinese cowboy, Billy Rocks, played by Lee Byung-hun, is very skilled at throwing all sorts of sharp, metallic weapons, even his own hair-pin. It’s typical to cast a Chinese man as the prototypical knife-thrower (with a twist, albeit), but at least his stereotype isn’t dull. Billy actually rocks. He’s a quiet character but arguably the most entertaining of them all.

The second most engaging character arc would have to be Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux, a PTSD-ridden sharpshooter who uses Billy as a circus entertainer for the locals, splitting the dividends between them. Their relationship seems very complex: Billy feels bad for Goodnight’s war-torn suffering, while Goodnight takes advantage of a foreign mans abilities for his own gain.

The film doesn’t come close to replecating the greatness of the original film, or even close to The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s original telling of the tale. But beyond the sketchy, loosely-plotted characters, there is a thirty-minute plus action sequence that’s very entertaining. If anything, you can be assured that director Antoine Fuqua hasn’t lost his interest or his touch in direction large scale, dynamite-driven action sequences.

Sucker Punch: To Zach Snyder’s career

4/10

Zac Snyder’s new geek-aimed film, Sucker Punch, first released with the motto that it was “for woman’s rights”. Well, it lost everyone elses in the process, including the girls, through exploitation and depictions of innocent stupidity. However true, it is nowhere near a plus for woman’s rights. The film evokes a feeling of a silent movie, where the prospect of said films sounds riveting, with action progressing through pounding soundtracks in a synthetic, natural linearity. However, this is not the case here; Snyder has tried to copy and paste the feel of a graphic novel onto the screen with terrible dialogue and an uninvolved plot.

The plot surrounds a girl in a psych-unit, who escapes the dreary world through unexplained dreams of epic-fighting and Japanese like dodging. The movie feels like a long music video for a dubstep song, with never ending swirls of noirish imagery and girls’ hips. Blue Jones, played by Oscar Isaac, is a pimp for the backstage girls; he releases his angers through pretensious directing, like wincing with his eyes closed before putting his head up to make his frustrated point. He has a thin-mustache and tries to act seductive, which nastiness would be right for the character, but the actor doesn’t play the role to good effect. The girls are depicted as far too innocent and indecisive; they are in a psyche unit, I would image they would be a little more on the fringe.

As the director of Watchmen, some say he ruined a masterpiece. He no doubt has a knack for wild special effects, but what he does with them is what makes his reputation drown. Sucker Punch stars  Emily Browning as Babydoll, sent to an old fashioned psychiatric unit by her father; the whole institution is filled with prostitutes;the costumer designer definitely makes them look like one, but doesn’t draw the line for who isn’t, maybe everyone; a great thing to look at for a couple hours, no doubt, but once again, Woman’s rights?

The film is redundantly paced and childishly made, featuring Nazi zombies and ninja skirt-wearing ninja girls. The effects become tiring in the noirish swirls of uninspired terror and fear, and even the girl’s pottiness gets tiring,  the actresses effortlessly sad that their director didn’t supply them with a more justified reason to be balling their eyes out. Sucker Punch drags and brings nothing new but an army of red-eyed nazi zombies, a big misfire for effects-director Zac Snyder.