(USA 2017)

Netflix surprised me last year with a pair of impressive original films, Okja ( and The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson ( The streak of merit continues with Mudbound, director Dee Reese’s film adaptaion of Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel.

A Southern Gothic soap opera with a bit of social commentary, Mudbound is an interesting story. Written by Reese and Virgil Williams, the screenplay, told in flashback, follows two families, the white McAllans and the black Jacksons, from the Depression until just after World War II.

Fate and circumstance bring them together on a farm in the Mississippi Delta. The McAllans have the upper hand — they own the land — but they rely on the Jacksons, who work as sharecroppers, for more than farming. Mother Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige) bears the brunt of it through sickness, injury, death, and disrespect.

The plot elements are familiar — poverty, church, white only areas, the KKK — but the whole thing is fresh. Maybe its Reese’s objective approach. Her pace is deliberate and slow; frankly, it almost lost me. I’m glad I stuck it out, though, because the momentum picks up after one boy from each family — Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) — goes off to war. A romance that develops between Ronsel and a German woman enlightens him; it serves as a marked contrast to life at home.

Jamie and Ronsel both face challenges assimilating back into Southern civilian life when they return. They become friends, much to the dismay of Pap McAllan (Jonathan Banks) and, like, the whole town. When Jamie refuses to stop associating with Ronsel, things get brutal. While not on the epic scale of something like Roots, Mudbound got to me nonetheless.

With Carey Mulligan, Rob Morgan, Jason Clarke, Kerry Cahill, Dylan Arnold, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucy Faust, Geraldine Singer, Floyd Anthony Johns Jr., Samantha Hoefer, Henry Frost, Kennedy Derosin, Frankie Smith, Jason Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth Windley, Piper Blair, Joshua J. Williams, Claudio Laniado, Charley Vance

Production: Armory Films, ArtImage Entertainment, Black Bear Pictures, Elevated Films, MACRO, MMC Joule Films, Zeal Media

Distribution: Netflix (USA), Diamond Films (Mexico / Argentina), TOBIS Film (Germany), Feelgood Entertainment (Greece)

134 minutes
Rated R

(Netflix) B

Get Out

(USA 2017)

I caught the hype surrounding Jordan Peele’s first feature length film, Get Out, a comedy horror flick that takes on race—specifically, the dynamics of white power and black subordination. He wrote the script and directed the film. I went into Get Out with some doubt and maybe trepidation about how it might come off. The concept is one that seems too easy to go horribly sideways.

I guess if anyone can pull it off, it’s Peele—and I’m relieved to report that he succeeds. With an oddly compelling mix of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, Meet the Parents, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Stepford Wives, he takes on the cultural idiosyncrasies of Caucasian cultural dominance within the constructs of a horror flick. He’s got a lot of points to make, and he gets them across in a sharp but entertaining way. Like the best horror movies, Get Out makes you squirm—but it does so on multiple levels.

New York City photographer Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is black. His girlfriend, Rose Arlington (Allison Williams), is white. She invites him on a weekend getaway to her parents’ home in upstate New York because, well, it’s time for him to meet the fam. Chris agrees, going into it nervously and not without personal baggage. His hyperactive best bud, Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent who always expects the worst, is not helping.

Rose’s parents are, like the quiet town where they live, nice. Or at least welcoming. Dean (Bradley Whitford) drops silly slang, affects a bizarre accent, and praises President Obama. Missy (Catherine Keener) is more direct, asking pointed questions in a weird attempt to get to know Chris. It’s awkward and doesn’t quite break the ice, but it’s harmless. Right?

The family’s two longterm servants, maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and gardener Walter (Marcus Henderson), carry themselves like they’ve had lobotomies. Rose’s younger brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), is, um, aggressively complimentary to Chris. On top of it, the Armitages’ neighbors are not quite right, obsessed with Chris and his virility.

During the first part of Get Out, Peele keeps things light but lets a sense of creepy unease simmer. The laughs are there, but like all of the characters coming and going from the house, something is off. He makes a major shift in tone once Missy insists on hypnotizing Chris, ostensibly to help him quit smoking. What was innocuous up to now becomes nefarious.

Ultimately, the evil here is not a monster hiding under the bed, but rather something more obvious that exists in broad daylight. I could have done without the bloody finale, but it works in the context of the film; Peele plays with genre, so I see why it’s here. Either way, Get Out is a bold move that pays off.

With Stephen Root, LaKeith Stanfield, Ashley LeConte Campbell, John Wilmot, Caren Larkey, Julie Ann Doan, Rutherford Cravens, Geraldine Singer, Yasuhiko Oyama, Richard Herd, Erika Alexander, Jeronimo Spinx, Ian Casselberry, Trey Burvant, Zailand Adams

Production: Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, QC Entertainment

Distribution: Universal Pictures

104 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) B