“Let me give you a tip. You wanna make some money here? Use your white voice.”
An off-beat comedy about white privilege, worker exploitation and personal greed, Sorry to Bother You is the impressive debut feature from writer/director Boots Riley, and stars the excellent LaKeith Stanfield (of Atlanta fame). Riley’s approach to unsettling the audience through the black perspective of navigating social interaction is reminiscent of Get Out, though he also channels Michel Gondry in his loose approach to realism, overtly referencing the director in a stop-motion animated sequence. It is the absurdist notes — like the fact that the “white voice” which propels Cassius’ career is not simply a posh accent spoken by Stanfield but is very obviously dubbed (by David Cross) — which demonstrate Riley’s unique voice as a film maker but arguably distract from Sorry to Bother You’s core messages.
Hinging on a revelatory dramatic performance from Adam Sandler (whose “comedic” antics I find more tedious than amusing), Uncut Gems is an intentional cacophony of a film that draws you directly into the mind of its protagonist, a New York jeweller with a gambling addiction. His powerful self-belief and perilously weak grip on the reality of his situation make it difficult for the audience to follow or relate. Uncut Gems is an exhausting experience, reminiscent of Birdman but with the incessant snare drum replaced by Howard’s constant chatter. Uncomfortable as it may be to watch, it is all constructed with clear intent by the Safdie brothers, the freewheeling nature serving to keep things unpredictable even as we know Howard is out out of his depth. The result is likely to be unwatchable for some, but it is ambitious and original.
Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s modern remix of the classic whodunnit. The traditional elements are present: a deceased patriarch, a squabbling family with secrets and a large mansion with plenty of space for intrigue. Whilst Johnson’s love for the genre is evident, he highlights some of its contrivances like the idiosyncratic civilian detective inexplicably given free rein to investigate. As in his debut, Brick, the language often jars with the modern setting, but his flair for dialogue makes it fit this specific world. Unusually our viewpoint is not that of the sleuth (Daniel Craig with a distracting Southern drawl) but rather the deceased’s nurse, Ana de Armas wonderfully portraying both vulnerability and determination. The ensemble cast is delightful, deriving humour largely from the absurd, although its sporadic placement results in a slightly uneven tone. The mystery itself is expertly plotted over the course of two hours which rapidly fly by, and some secrets remain until late in the proceedings without a sense of cheating. The result is far superior to the recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The height of praise for this sort of film is that — even where I could anticipate certain elements — watching them unfold remained entertaining. With its eccentric characters, stylised dialogue and constrained setting, Knives Out feels theatrical rather than cinematic, but that should not diminish one’s enjoyment whatsoever.
“This is uncharted territory for them. You know, I don’t want to get chased off the lawn with a shotgun.”
Jordan Peele’s directorial debut wants to get under your skin in every sense. As is often the case with high concept horror, the less you know going in the better. Thematically, though, this is about the racial paranoia of being a minority in a white space — Chris reads into every cue, is made uncomfortable by the most casual of remarks, but is constantly second-guessing his own reading of the situation. It is an astute depiction of how exhausting such social interactions can be. The film’s opening scene is a statement of intent, with a black man walking through an affluent suburb, trying to avoid confrontation and clearly terrified of being shot. Like his comedy writing with Keegan-Michael Key, Peele is intent on confronting contemporary racial issues directly in order to provoke discomfort and conversation. In that, Get Out is a resounding success.