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Tuesday , December 11 2018

‘Out’ two-faced horrors of racism – ‘Contemporary Color’ a hypnotic concert film

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Catherine Keener (right), and Bradley Whitford in a scene from ‘Get Out’. (AP)
Fifty years after Sidney Poitier upended the latent racial prejudices of his white date’s liberal family in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” writer-director Jordan Peele has crafted a similar confrontation with altogether more combustible results in “Get Out.”

“Do they know I’m black?” Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) asks his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) as they get ready to leave their city apartment for a weekend at her parents’ rural estate. “No,” she replies. “Should they?”

“It seems like something you might want to mention,” he sighs. “I don’t want to get chased off the lawn with a shotgun.”

It’s a joke but it’s also foreshadowing — and just a hint of the frights to come. In Peele’s directorial debut, the former “Key and Peele” star has —as he often did on that satirical sketch series — turned inside out even supposedly progressive assumptions about race. But Peele has largely left comedy behind in a more chilling portrait of the racism that lurks beneath smiling white faces and defensive, paper-thin protestations like, “But I voted for Obama!” and “Isn’t Tiger Woods amazing?”

Those are the kinds of things that Rose’s father, Dean (an excellent Bradley Whitford), says as he and his wife, Missy (Catherine Keener), heartily welcomes his daughter’s boyfriend. “How long has this thang been going on?” Dean asks with forced emphasis on “thang.”

But the warm welcome is only skin deep. A deeply bizarre atmosphere takes hold at the house, where all the hired help is black. They are a spooky, robotic bunch, with dead eyes and zombie-like demeanors that would have stood out even in “The Stepford Wives.” Something clearly is off, though Peele takes his time letting the mystery thicken.

“Get Out,” produced by Jason Blum’s low-budget horror studio Blumhouse Productions, is serious, even sober in its horror. But its archness has moments of creepy levity. When Chris is given a tour of the house, Dean points out the sealed door to the basement. “Black mold,” he says.

Things get even stranger when Chris meets some of the family friends, who all appear oddly frozen in time somehow. Some ogle him with lust, feeling his biceps. The most paranoid (and funny) character in the movie is Chris’ friend, Rod (a terrific Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent who — dubious from the start — grows increasingly concerned with every update from Chris.

Eventually, the truth comes out, things turn bloody and, as you’d expect, we get a look at that basement.

It’s long been a lamentable joke that in horror films — never the most inclusive of genres — the black dude is always the first to go. In this way, “Get Out” is radical and refreshing in its perspective. The movie is entirely from Chris’s point of view; his fears are ours.

Conceived

Peele originally conceived his long-planned film as an Obama-era horror, one that revealed the hidden racism that the country had supposedly overcome. “Get Out” instead comes out at a time where few still hold any belief in a post-racial America. The dark forces unleashed in “Get Out” came out of hiding long ago.

“Get Out,” a Universal Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.” Running time: 103 minutes. Three stars out of four.

 

In 2015, former Talking Heads front man David Byrne staged an unconventional show in which he paired up 10 contemporary musicians and performers with color guard teams — those baton and saber twirling staples of small town parades and high school football games. The musicians, including the likes of St. Vincent, Lucius, Ad-Rock, Zola Jesus and Nelly Furtado, composed original songs that the color guard teams then used to choreograph a corresponding routine. The unique spectacle, which took place at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, is chronicled with experimental verve in the documentary “Contemporary Color,” from filmmaking brothers Bill and Turner Ross.

Narrative is of little consequence in “Contemporary Color.” The Ross brothers show some interest in the excitable high school students from various parts of the country who have devoted most of the free time of their young lives to their color guard teams. This strange, high profile gig will also be the last time many are performing together. But the audience doesn’t get to know any individual well enough for that to have any sort of emotional impact.

Maybe it’ll remind some of their long lost high school passions, but the most remarkable thing about these youngsters is what happens when they’re on the stage moving in tandem in an eye-popping swirl of sequins and flags. You forget that just a minute ago they were giggly and emotional and inarticulate in that way that most normal people are when a camera is pointed at them.

The Ross bros employ various techniques to keep the sights stimulating, dreamily overlaying images and sounds in hypnotically retro fashion. They were right to keep “Contemporary Color” on the experimental side, but the film isn’t immune from dragging some. After a handful of performances, they do start to blend together a bit. Perhaps that’s because they have the unenviable task of documenting the entire show for an audience who will be watching it separated by a screen, making it that much more difficult to convey the actual energy of a live performance.

Off stage, too, the film can’t help but stumble onto the high/low divide between the color guard art that they’re purportedly celebrating and the fact that many of the students and coaches participating simply haven’t heard of some of the indie musicians they’ve been paired up with. The film isn’t out to mock anyone, nor is Byrne, who seems genuinely delighted by the color guard troupes. And yet I couldn’t help but feel a slight queasiness watching three grown men standing in the hall of a high school having to tell the camera that they had not heard of the act How to Dress Well.

The Ross brothers have established themselves as distinct and lovely voices in the documentary world. Their three previous features, “45365,” “Tchoupitoulas” and “Western” are lyrical and humanistic. “Contemporary Color,” constrained by an established story, exists outside of that. They put their own spin on the concert film, but I’m not entirely convinced that “Contemporary Color,” despite its earnest intentions, will hold the attention of anyone who wasn’t already interested.

“Contemporary Color,” an Oscilloscope Laboratories release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “brief strong language.” Running time: 107 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. (AP)

By Jake Coyle

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