Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Invisible Man


Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) escapes from her abusive rich scientist boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and holes up with her friends (Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid) in their house in abject terror. She's sure he'll find her; he said she could never leave him. Finally, her sister (Harriet Dyer) brings the news that Adrian has killed himself, and everything's okay now. Tentatively, she starts to feel more comfortable. But why does she still feel like she's being watched? Slowly she discovers the truth; Adrian isn't dead, he's just invisible. Either that, or she's crazy!

This modern re-imagining comes from Leigh Whannell, the writer/director of Upgrade.

I loved Upgrade and was hoping The Invisible Man would be a similar, self-contained and lean thriller. It's not, but it doesn't totally fail to produce a palpable style of its own either. That being said, cleaner plotting could have only been an improvement. There are several threads that I waited to get answers on that were simply ignored--as if I wasn't supposed to expect explanations at all. I was out of sync with the movie's direction. And that came through with Cecilia's decisions sometimes, too. The movie is good to not expound on her every inner thought, but she often did things where her reasoning was foreign to me. It took the movie in unexpected directions, but also left me playing catch-up more than once.

The good comes directly from the premise. A stalking ex with bad intentions that the heroine literally cannot see. The best scenes are the ones where you know he's there--somewhere!--but cannot tell where. These scenes play like horror movie that have slow rising tension that leads to a chilling moment, and one step closer to breaking for the protagonist. And seeing that from what's technically a science fiction thriller is a pleasantly unique experience. I wish more of the film had been like that, because when the movie is less restrained, it leaps over into ridiculous territory for a frustrating decline of smarts and quality. 

We're told that Adrian is a genius, but the way he turns Cecilia's sister and friends against her is so mind-bogglingly simple that it belongs in A Cinderella Story 7: A Disney Channel Original, not movies with rational adults as characters. This movie sacrifices reason and the semblance of reality to heighten the stakes and tension, but for me, it deflated my investment in the story. What I wound up enjoying instead was the technical aspects of the film. Style, the building of tension, acting, and the unique appeal of the scenes where evidence the invisible man is present. Even that decays; but ultimately the final act sets everything back on track and closes the film out in a concise way, in line with the best of the film.

I liked when the camera would show you all this extra space like this and ask that you look for what's not there. 

It ended so well that I almost forgot about all the threads I wanted answers for but wound up being skimmed-over plot holes. I wouldn't mind so much, but several of the unanswered questions are asked by the movie itself. Whether it was meant to be tidy or not, the messiness was a distraction to me, and a detriment to the film. Yet Cecilia is a good character and Moss plays her engagingly, on the line between sure and insane. The insanity seeps over to the audience with strong visual design, and several well-crafted moments. In short, the movie delivers what it promises--just not 100% of the time. And you'd think a film that has cracked the code to invisibility would be more adept at hiding its flaws. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Upcoming Movie Roundup - June

I didn't do one of these posts for April or May, and that makes me sad. Nor did I see the movies I was most interested in for March because of cancellations. I watched Onward on demand, and was glad I did, because I liked it enough to watch it twice. In fact I rather loved it. (Review here!) And I just rented Bloodshot the other day. If I don't completely regret that $6, it certainly is close. It was not a good movie. (Review here!

I didn't pay attention at all to the VOD releases in May, and one worthy film, The Vast of Night -- a stylish and impressive sci-fi flick with absolutely wonderful characters (review here!) -- nearly slipped past my radar because I wasn't paying attention. So I decided to get back to it, even if the pickings are slim and theaters are still closed. There's at least two things in June that I'm eager to see at home.

Hope you're all doing well amid the chaos that is 2020! What have you been watching lately, and what are you looking forward to seeing in the future?

The King of Staten Island
on VOD June 12th
This movie is the main reason I decided I had to get back into this post series. This was meant for theaters, but is instead going to "Theater at Home" VOD. Now, I've never seen a Judd Apatow movie. Or seen Pete Davidson do... anything. But as soon as this trailer started playing as a YouTube ad I knew it was something I'd be interested to see. I love the vibe it gives. Kinda like The Way Way Back, coming-of-age-dramedy, but more mature. I didn't realize all the true-to-life aspects of it, and that makes it even more appealing. That it's parallel to Pete's real-life experiences. I really expect it to be good and would even consider paying $20 to rent it. (Idk if it'll be that high, but some Theater at Home releases have been.) Either way, I'm determined to see it eventually, and wouldn't be surprised if it cracks my top 5 of the year. High expectations. We'll see how it goes. (Trailer contains language.)

Artemis Fowl 
on Disney+ June 12th
I wanted to see this, but don't have (and will not get) a Disney+ subscription, so that's too bad. I wonder if it'll be available to rent elsewhere... I don't have much hope it'll be good, but I enjoy sci-fi (and goofy spy capers) in all shapes and sizes. And ages. And yes, this is decidedly a kids movie, in the way that give me little reason to think that adults could enjoy it very much. So I'll probably be disappointed, but for some reason that knowledge doesn't dissuade my curiosity. 

on VOD June 19th
This looks pretty interesting -- an Australian, family-centered drama starring Beth from last year's Little Women (Eliza Scanlen). I tend to enjoy Australian dramas, so I'll keep an eye on this, even if it does have that "sick teen" element that isn't quite so appealing. It looks well-acted if nothing else. Ben Mendelsohn is always a plus!

Lost Bullet
on Netflix June 19th
This is a French action flick, I believe, that's coming to Netflix. Netflix is overloaded with non-English-speaking films lately. Before, you could count on the foreign films they included to be good, because there was a demand for them to be there even with audiences that are notoriously hesitant to watch something that requires subtitles. Now, I'm not so sure. But this teaser trailer looks good and stylish enough to grab my interest, and even if it's not great it could make for a nice Sunday afternoon watch anyway.

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga 
on Netflix June 26th
I have no clue what this movie is actually about, but this "trailer" is Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams singing a weird song with over-the-top dramatic cheese, so let's just say that they have my full and complete attention. 

Dark Season 3 
on Netflix June 27th
And this is my must-watch of the month. If you know me you know I adore this beautiful, moody scifi show, and peddle it wherever I can, because it's the best thing in Netflix, and criminally under-watched. Season 2 wasn't as shockingly spectacular as season 1, but doesn't ruin it by far. It's is still one of my favorites and I can't wait to see what cool twists and turns come next -- and last, since this season apparently will wrap things up. I haven't watched the below teaser and do not plan to. (Or any subsequent trailers.) I don't want to get my preconceptions going, and am already as guaranteed to watch it as is humanly possible!

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Vast of Night


What if... a 50's era scifi B-movie... but artistically?

That's the question that serves as pitch and premise for The Vast of Night. It introduces itself like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Then the camera moves into the TV world and we meet Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick). It's the night of the big basketball game in small-town New Mexico, and everyone's going but them. Everett is the local radio station DJ, and Fay is manning the telephone switchboard. The two are friends because of a mutual fascination with sound, and the technology that allows them to record and broadcast it. When Fay hears a strange sound interrupt Everett's show, and then come through the phone lines, they team up to find out what it is, where it comes from, and what it means.

An Amazon Original, available on Prime.

And the movie delivers exactly what it promises -- an artistically built scifi tale that feels like it jumped straight out of the 1950's. The first thing you'll notice is that there is constant dialogue, particularly in the opening and set-up, as important information is fed through casual conversations. Packed full of 50's jargon, and delivered at speed. Second thing you'll notice is that the camera is very particular. It follows its characters as is it were an invisible entity stalking them, with many long takes and tracking shots, often keeping its distance. And the third thing, is that the lighting is dark. Really dark. The movie seems interested to highlight the audio element -- and why not considering its premise -- and to that end, it cuts to a black screen at least twice so that we have no choice but to exclusively listen to what's being said.

The dark, and the stalking camera are for me, both admirable and frustrating. For one, I love when the frame is allowed to open up and isn't always right on the characters faces. I like to see where they are (in the world and in relation to each other) and be able to observe body language. I also like when characters feel slightly obscured so that I'm naturally compelled to pay closer attention to see and understand them. If it's possible to go too far with that, this movie may have found the line. There was no moment that didn't feel obscured. Both leads wear thick-rimmed glasses that seem intended to hide their eyes, even in closeups. But the camera knows what it's doing. There's always a glint; a flash; and just enough light to show you what you need to see.

And as an admirer of details I appreciate that careful dedication.

This method would fall flat if the acting weren't up to snuff. Good thing it is. And not just passable; the performances, characterization, and casting -- though it's a smaller movie and the leads are unknowns -- are all quite frankly fantastic. The thing that impressed me the most. It took about ten minutes for me to fall in love with Everett and Fay. Their developed personalities, the way they're written, the way the bounce off each other, and the easy-going, full-bodied performances the actors give all adds up to what won me over about this tale. Even though I kept searching for more, the movie never failed to convey what it wanted, and without ever going overboard. No slamming ideas on your head. No blatant exposition. No overacting. The craft is undeniable.

The movie is as perfect as it set out to be. It achieved what it intended, and I applaud it for that. For me though, there was something wanting. Something that's hard to pinpoint. I watched the movie over again to think it through, and liked it even better, but it was still there. Or, not there. What it lacked for me, was a moment of truth. A thematic conclusion; a reason for the story to have been told. And I think the movie did intend there to be one. It's spoilers so I won't say, but like the rest of the movie, it was subtle, and implied, but clear. Still, I felt a lack. I wanted more. Because the movie holds your attention so well and because the characters are so lovable, that lack doesn't destroy the film. Still it frustrates me to think of what might have been.

If it had been made more for my sensibilities, this could've been a new favorite. But in a way, it still is. 

2020 is an oddball year to put it lightly, and this is the first new film in a full two months that I'm certain to remember by the end of the year. Personal lack or not, this movie gave me joy and is extremely welcome. There are some technical aspects to it that I'd like to see how it was done. The tone is both familiar and old-fashioned. It builds smoothly to a visceral climax, always with a frantic undercurrent that keeps you engaged. And though I still want more out of the conclusion, I can't deny that it fits with the rest of the film and the goals it set for itself. So -- what if a 50's era scifi B-movie, artistically? That sounds like a sound worth hearing!