Sunday 21 April 2019

Film of the week: US

Cert: 16; Now showing

Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us
Lupita Nyong'o, Evan Alex and Shahadi Wright Joseph in Us

The problem with a dazzling debut is that you become your own hard act to follow. Jordan Peele's first film, Get Out, was acclaimed on every level and therefore this follow up, Us, is much anticipated. Where the first film worked better on its allegorical level than as a horror, the second film is a better horror but weaker on the allegory. If you're keen to see it I would suggest you go in knowing as little as possible, suffice to say it is scary, gory, clever, sometimes funny, always beautifully directed and the cast are great.

But, if you insist on knowing more, Us opens in 1986 when a small girl, Adelaide (Madison Curry) gets lost in a Californian theme park. She is gone for only a quarter of an hour but returns traumatised. More than three decades later a clearly still anxious Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) is married to Abe (Winston Duke) and they arrive at their holiday home with their kids Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). When the power goes off and Jason announces that there is a family in the driveway Adelaide knows that these people are related to her growing sense of doom.

For a time the film is scary, jump scares mix with your own worst fears, and some gore, to keep the audience on edge, but expanding to a bigger space dilutes it somewhat. The message is about our worst enemies lurking within, but, like the plot itself, as it moves from the personal to the more general it loses power. It feels a little messy because there are messages that don't seem to get finished. But it is still seriously above average for a horror, Nyong'o is a fabulous lead and the casual race and gender inversions are great. It's a film best experienced rather than overthought. ★★★★ Aine O'Connor

Minding The Gap

Cert: Club; Selected cinemas

The process can often be more instructive than the goal in the arts.

Many cultural jewels have been hewn unexpectedly after their creators just "started" and only discovered what they wanted to say en route.

An example is this engaging US documentary from Chinese-American debutant Bing Liu.

What began as some elegant footage of two skateboarders (Zack Mulligan and Keire Johnson) in his hometown of Rockford, Illinois, became an exercise in panning-back and delving deeper.

Bing zooms beyond the ramps and pavement jumps and finds two contemporaries trapped in deep existential ruts.

Zack is slugging beers and rowing with the equally young mother of his child.

Keire, meanwhile, is unhappy working as a dish pig.

The choices they made in adolescence are coming back to haunt them.

There is much more going on, however, and as Bing chips away it emerges that all three share a common trauma that is to greater or lesser extents affecting their lives.

Add to this the deprivation of post-industrial America, the dearth of prospects, and, in the case of Keire and Bing's immigrant mother, the handicaps that exist for certain participants in US society.

This uniquely insightful and award-winning documentary captures the urgent escapism that skateboarding holds for Bing's subjects - alongside sensitive, patient investigation of the root of that urgency.

A heroic primer for modern US ills. ★★★★ Hilary A White


The White Crow

Cert: 15A; Now showing

For decades the Cold War was an accepted reality but, what a strange time it was. Ralph Fiennes's third film as director is set in the middle of this and focuses on the events leading to one of the most high-profile defections from the USSR, that of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. The resulting film is flawed but enjoyable.

Nureyev (Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko) was born on a train in 1938. Writer David Hare opens with this before jumping to 1961 when the Kirov Ballet have just arrived in Paris with a full complement of KGB officers shadowing their every move. Nureyev proves one of the most rule and curfew resistant members of the troupe and on his outings he strikes up an important friendship with Clara Saint (Adele Exarchopoulos). The film suggests Nureyev's desire to shine is not compatible with the team spirit demanded by communism and this leads to a showdown.

The story jumps a lot from episodes of his childhood to his training under Alexander Pushkin (Fiennes) and his wife (Chulpan Khamatova) to post defection and then to Paris, and although some jumps are flagged by colour changes they are messy. They also dilute the sense of building towards a moment. Clara Saint is written as a plot device rather than a person so she is very flat. However it is a great story and Ivenko does a very good job in his acting debut. There is plenty of ballet too. I liked it, I just thought it would have worked better if it had stayed simpler. ★★★ Aine O'Connor

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