By Vernor Rodgers
Find out where it's playing
Jordan Peele made a splash in 2017 with his
race-themed horror movie "Get Out," and has followed it up with a
challenging scary project in "Us." Aside from being creepy and
unnerving, "Us" is laced with symbolism and references and homages
to other films.
It is best to just summarize "Us" by
revealing only what is presented in the trailer. In those we see
that a family -- a couple with a teen daughter and adolescent son --
is terrorized by what appears to be dopplegangers of themselves. To
elaborate beyond that would do a disservice to those who are yet to
But here are some observations to assist in
The number 11 has a significant role in
explaining the story. Other sympbolic aspects of the film include
scissors and rabbits as well as the song "I Got 5 On It."
There are historical and movie references
throughout. Two characters are named Dahlia -- a nod to the famous
Black Dahlia murder -- and Tex, a possible take from Manson Family
member and murderer Tex Watson. A set of twin teen girls mirrors the
creepy, ghostly Grady twins in "The Shining." One scene takes place
on the famous Boardwalk of the Santa Cruz beach supposedly at the
time the iconic beach concert scene from "The Lost Boys" is being
filmed. Other films making cameos are "C.H.U.D." and "The Goonies,"
offering hints to the key plot elements of "Us."
Now a nod to the cast. Oscar winner Lupita
Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") is outstanding as Adelaide Wilson, wife
of Gabe (Winston Duke) and mother of Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph)
and Jason (Evan Alex). These four performers also play the
dopplegangers of their characters, but it is Nyong'o who has the
more difficult task, as her doppleganger, or Tethered, named Red, is
pretty much the terrorist in charge.
Peele's imaginative script also contains
very realistic interaction between the family members, peppered with
humor and some misfires, particularly by Gabe in his attempt to give
the family a nice, relaxing vacation.
"Us" does not neatly wrap things up and in
fact superbly leaves the viewers guessing. The ending is such that
it hints of a sequel, but Peele would be wise not to even consider
that. The open-ended finale of this movie really packs a wallop and
is best left alone.
Of course it would be Tim Burton to accept
the challenge of presenting a live-action film about the lovable
little elephant whose oversized ears help make the animal airborn.
As with any Burton film, whether in color or black and white,
viewers can count on a visually energetic adventure.
The Dumbo character was introduced in a
story by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, which served as the basis
for the Disney animated feature "Dumbo" in 1941 that in turn became
a popular ride in the early years of Disneyland.
Burton's "Dumbo" is a different take on the
story, as written by Ehren Kruger, who has penned three of the
"Transformers" movies. But it does take place in a circus.
It is hard to not be romantic over movies
about circuses and carnivals. They appeal to the underdog in us, a
tendency to be empathetic towards those who lives ARE the circus or
carnival; misfits and people burdened with deviated physical
characteristics whose home and family consists of others similarly
cursed. They are showcased solely to entertain the masses. The lucky
ones may have skills that lead to applause; others are there simply
"Dumbo" is very much a typical circus story.
Taking place in 1919, it has all the earmarks of the struggle a
traveling troupe of entertainers faces. The owner / operator of the
Medici Bros. circus, Max Medici, is living a lie. There are no other
Medici siblings. Feeling the lingering effects of World War I and
the flu epidemic, Max is barely able to keep the circus going. He
has to sell the horses that were part of the show, and in their
place he purchases an elephant. He soon finds out the elephant is
pregnant and it gives birth to what seems to be a disaster --
a baby elephant with oversized ears. Max immediately seeks to sell
the mother elephant back to its previous owner.
Also involved in this is Holt Farrier (Colin
Farrell), a war vet returning to the circus but now with a permanent
disability. On top of this, he is recently widowed and now a single
parent of Millie (Nico Parker, daughter of Thandie Newton) and Joe
(Finley Hobbins). Aside from dealing with his grief and adjusting to
his physical difficulties, Holt had been reliant on his late wife to
do the parenting and keeping the family unit stable.
Holt previously was the equestrian expert
in the circus, but with the horses gone, and with them his act,
Holt's only option presented by Max is to handle the elephant. So
naturally the staggering Farrier family is ripe to bond emotionally
with the baby Dumbo, especially after the elephant is separated from
It is the Farrier children who learn Dumbo's
huge ears are sturdy enough to lift and propel the elephant into
flight. Soon enough, Max incorporates Dumbo into the circus
attractions, with mixed results and huge publicity.
The circus is visited upon by V.A.
Vandervere (Michael Keaton), a visionary entertainment mogul who
foresees the decline of the traveling circus and tenders Max an
offer for a more stable existence -- to be permanently housed in a
massive theme park called Dreamworld. Vandervere oozes charm and
optimism and even has another ace in his hand -- the beautiful
aerial acrobat Colette Marchant (Eva Green from "Penny Dreadful").
It is Vandervere's idea to team up Colette with Dumbo, an act he
predicts will be a hit.
Vandervere, however, is an "ends justify the
means" kind of guy, and this leads to betrayals of Max and his
troupe, and in a tactical error, alienates Colette.
Thus "Dumbo" becomes a story of an unlikely
group of people (and animals) that bond together to topple a
seemingly invincible foe.
Storywise, this is nothing new. But "Dumbo"
is an amazing visual show. Dumbo looks very real and conveys
emotions via expressions and body language, and the flight scenes
The acting is competent enough. Farrell does
OK as Holt, a character that tries your patience, waiting for him to
grow a pair and become as courageous as his children. Young Parker
obviously has inherited some of her mother's acting chops and
presents Millie as the most reality-accepting character in the
story. Keaton slips comfortably in the role of the money-oriented
and essentially self-serving Vandervere, while DeVito garners some
sympathy as Max, who faces a dilemma of gaining financial security
but at the cost of his loyalties.
"Dumbo" has its sad moments but of course
emerges as a nice feel-good movie. It likely will not match up with
other Tim Burton classics, but it is a worthy effort.
Just like last year's "The Sisters
Brothers," "The Kid" is a Western that has been put into theaters
with little promotion, assuring a thin box-office take with the only
redeeming prospect of it being discovered later on DVD/Blu-ray and
"The Kid," which at this writing already has
completed its theatrical run, is directed by Vincent D'Onofrio
("Full Maetal Jacket" among many others). It is his second
directorial effort although he may want to forget his debut, a
disastrous horror-musical titled "Don't Go Into the Woods."
Penned by Andrew Lanham ("The Glass
Castle"), "The Kid" focuses on the days surrounding the capture of
Billy the Kid by Pat Garrett and his posse, the Kid's subsequent
escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse during which time the
outlaw fatally shoots deputies J.W. Bell and Bob Oliger, his flight
back to reunite with his girlfriend at Fort Sumter and finally his
fatal encounter with Garrett.
Added to this story is that of Rio (Jake
Schur) and Sara (Leila George), two teen siblings fleeing from a
vengeful uncle, Grant Cutler (a barely recognizable and heavily
bearded Chris Pratt) after Rio shoots to death his abusive father
who was in the process of fatally beating his wife.
The teens are headed for Santa Fe in hopes
of hooking up with a friend of their mother's and starting a new
Stopping at a shelter for the night, Rio and
Sara wake the next morning to discover a handful of men have also
taken up in the shack. Turns out is is Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan
from "Chronicle") and his group. Rather than being rowdy savages who
could easily have beaten or killed Rio and assaulted Sara, Billy and
his group are content just to hole up with the teens.
But then the shack is surrounded by Garrett
(Ethan Hawke) and his posse. In the ensuing shootout, Billy concedes
he has to surrender, but urges the teens to flee while he creates a
But Rio, like many people of the time, sees
Billy as a celebrity and folk hero and also surrenders in order to
stay with Billy, leaving Sara with no option but also to give up.
Sara makes up a story, saying are en route to Santa Fe but have been
separated from their father. Garrett is skeptical but agrees to let
them tag along as Billy and his group are transported to jail.
DeHaan's Billy pretty much matches the
accepted beliefs as to who the man was -- often seen as a Robin Hood
type and a white-hat rebelling the black hats worn by the
politicians. Billy seems bemused by his celebrity status and
snarkily claims most of the stories about his exploits are lies.
Billy himself lies to Rio. Once the teens
get to Santa Fe, they learn that their mother's friend isn't the
person they were told she was. In limbo, they linger long enough
that Uncle Grant catches up to them. He abducts Sara but leaves Rio
to fend for himself.
Meanwhile, Billy is in custody but
confidently predicts his escape and invites Rio to come along, that
he will help Rio track down Grant and his sister.
Of course Rio gets a dose of reality once
Billy is free again, learning that Billy has his own aganda and it
does not include a rescue mission.
Eventually Rio has to turn to Garrett to
help him get his sister back.
"The Kid" is a fairly low-key Western
despite some bursts of violence. Like other movies about Billy the
Kid and Pat Garrett, the outlaw and the lawman are seen here as
familiar interpretations of their characters. The Kid is still
portrayed as a likable guy, if morally ambiguous and focused on his
own desires and goals. Hawke's Pat Garrett is a man sworn to his
duty, not an easy task, as in addition to facing the prospect of his
own death while trying to apprehend bad guys, he encounters
territorial jurisdictional issues that always threaten to explode
D'Onofrio displays a respect for Westerns
here, showing the paradox of what defines a bad guy versus the good
guy, with the obvious blurs between two sets of behavoral patterns.