OPENING THURSDAY: GET OUT
Remember that Eddie Murphy standup routine about haunted houses and ghostly whispers urging visitors to leave? You can bet Jordan Peele does, lifting Murphy's riff for the title of Get Out (R), his directing debut.
Peele works without his sketch comedy cohort Keegan-Michael Key this time, crafting a horror comedy that turned heads at Sundance last month. Get Out sounds squarely in Peele's wheelhouse: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at the Stepford Wives' Place.
Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) stars as Chris, a successful black photographer dating white, privileged Rose (Alison Williams, Girls) for months when he's invited to her parents' estate for a first meeting. The 'rents (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) seem warmly color blind, but Chris gets strange vibes elsewhere.
He's the only African-American in this manicured community except for a handyman (Marcus Henderson) and a housekeeper (Betty Gabriel), both obedient as zombies. A party brings in well-heeled neighbors, all white except for one black man Chris saw earlier on a "missing" poster. As Murphy would suggest: Get out.
The movie was praised at Sundance as a satirical allegory of slavery and a blood-gushing thriller daring to "go there."
Read a review of Get Out at tampabay.com/movies.
OPENING FRIDAY: ROCK DOG
Seriously, parents, you must have something, anything else to do with your children this weekend than seeing Rock Dog (PG). I skipped the screening and have seldom felt so grateful for having a previous engagement.
Luke Wilson voices a Tibetan mastiff named Bodi whose chance encounter with a radio leaves him dreaming of rock 'n' roll stardom. Bodi leaves his monastery existence for the big city and you can guess the rest.
One attaboy for Rock Dog is casting Sam Elliott's baritone as a character named Fleetwood Yak. Nice handle, not enough to pull me in.
Rock Dog is an undisguised attempt to mine the burgeoning Asian marketplace digging any movies the United States sends its way. At the same time, Rock Dog doesn't appear, based on trailers, to operate at the level of animation quality to which Americans are accustomed. They didn't buy it in China and South Korea; we needn't try it here.
HOLLYWOOD AWARDS NIGHT: THE OSCARS . . .
Check out our Academy Awards preview at tampabay.com/movies for a look at the jam Oscar's in.
Does the academy surrender the best picture prize to La La Land in an era it doesn't reflect? Is Moonlight the only alternative? Or is there a best-picture nominee right for our times that also could smooth the academy's image issues? We'll take a look.
At age 100, Olivia de Havilland is the oldest living Academy Award-winning actor. In 1980, a young fan wrote her a letter, to which the two-time Oscar winner replied. A brief yet inspirational pen pal relationship began.
That girl grew up to be Tampa Bay Times staff writer Katherine Snow Smith, whose memories of de Havilland are appropriate for the Oscars occasion.
All that, plus Oscars trivia, and my lifelong quest continues for a perfect 24-0 score in Academy Awards predictions. You can follow along and make your own picks on our handy ballot. Plenty to enjoy before Jimmy Kimmel tosses out the first joke.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 John Wick: Chapter 2: Keanu Reeves is the new Chuck Norris.
2 The LEGO Batman Movie: Taking apart the Caped Crusader's legacy interlocking piece by piece.
3 Hidden Figures: True story of African-American women making NASA go 'round. Three Oscar nominations.
4 Fences: The roles that deservedly won Oscar nominations for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
5 Split: M. Night Shyamalan returns from the dead with a wicked thriller.
(Dates subject to change)
March 3: Logan; The Shack; Before I Fall; Table 19; The Last Word
March 10: Kong: Skull Island; Raw
March 17: Beauty and the Beast; Free Fire
March 24: Power Rangers; King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
March 31: Ghost in the Shell; The Boss Baby; The Zookeeper's Wife