The Art of Gaslighting (The Invisible Man, 2020)

Invisible_Man_2020_PosterWhen the Tom Cruise update of the Mummy crumbled, so did the planned Dark Universe that Universal was placing hopes on. Instead, Universal penned a deal with low budget horror production studio Blumhouse.  They brought in director Leigh Whannell to make a lower budget re-imagination of the character.

Whannell moves the focus to Cecilia Kass who is trying to escape an abusive relationship with a famous optics tech scientist.  She tries to hide from him until she is informed that he has committed suicide. At first, things start to look up and improve…but suddenly, mysterious occurrences begin to occur that slowly cause Cecilia to unravel…she is convinced that her ex Adrian is still alive (the film does not hide this, both the trailers and film make it clear that Adrian is messing with Cecilia).  However, she cannot convince anyone of this.  Adrian starts to escalate things, severing her relationships and interfering with all attempts to move forward.

Moving the focus from a mad scientist to the victim of an obsessed stalker is highly effective.  Whannell constructs an incredibly intense opening sequence, with no effects beyond the use of sound and the motion of the camera.

The whole film uses angles, shots and general camera movement that causes you to distrust your eyes.  And it is incredibly impactful for the viewer as we search the screen for what is…wrong.

Moss gives a terrific performance.  We know she is not crazy, but her descent into obsession with proving Adrian is still alive is visceral and shocking.

I also really liked Aldus Hodge who is a police detective friend allowing Cecilia a home in which to stay.

The Invisible Man is an excellent thriller and I highly recommend it.

Give It All Away (Brewster’s Millions, 1985)

Brewsters_Millions_PosterBack in 2008, Bill Gates retired from the day to day of Microsoft and had the plan to devote his fortune to charity. Twelve years of giving charitably, Bill Gates is now worth more than he was in 2008.

Monty Brewster is a down on his luck minor league baseball player who discovers he had a long lost rich uncle.  Monty is the last living relative and is set to receive $300 million on one condition.

Monty is required to spend $30 million in thirty days. At the end of thirty days, he can only have the clothes on his back.

Monty takes the challenge, but finds quickly discovers the odds are against him. The Law Firm dispensing the money will gain all of the estate if they fail, and so they set about trying to sabotage him. His friends enjoy spending the money with him, but Monty has the problem that people assume he does not want to go broke and he cannot tell them why he is spending like a madman.

The seventh adaption of a book from 1902, this version is written by Timothy Harris (who wrote Trading Places, another “rich men put the poor through the ringer” story) and directed by Walter Hill (48 Hours and the Warriors), this version is a vehicle for the late Richard Pryor.  And it is a fun vehicle.  The antics as Monty tries to spend his way to being broke is supported by terrific cast.  John Candy is Spike, Monty’s best friend.  This is pure Candy charm at work, emphasizing a nice and goofy nature with just a hint of being a womanizer.  Lonetta McKee is the person assigned to keep track of Monty’s spending, but unaware of his full situation, she is repulsed by his squandering of money when it could be used for good.

Thirty five years later, Brewster’s Millions still holds up as a fun comedic farce.


The Rich Eat the Poor Eat the Rich (Parasite, 2019)

Parasite_PosterParasite opens with a family struggling to find access to someone’s wi-fi so they can use their phones. Comical and relatable it is also clear the Kim Family are constantly trying to find ways to make money and cut costs.

When a friend of son Ki-Woo asks him to take over a job tutoring a girl from a rich family for him while he is away at college, the Kim family gets an idea.  They plot to infiltrate the family via employment.  They find ways to get the current employees of the rich Park family fired and take their places.

Parasite is one of the more clever and nuanced looks at class and really the entire system of capitalism.  Bong Joon Ho weaves a tale without heroes. Instead, we follow the families and see how different the worlds they live in are and yet how interdependent those worlds really become. It is not a critique of the rich.  The rich in the film are not direct evil. We Americans tend to be more comfortable with clearly delineated good and evil.  But Parasite looks at the economic system of capitalism and suggests it makes us all parasites.

The cast is terrific, with all great performances.  The writing is wickedly funny and emotionally charged. Parasite earned it’s Oscars and is a film I highly recommend.

Fast Cars and Overheating Egos (Ford Vs Ferrari, 2019)

Ford_vs_Ferrari_PosterI confess…the subject of the film is not close to my heart. Cars are a utilitarian tool for me. So, I confess, the trailers did not excite me much. Damon and Bale are pretty proven variables…and Mangold has shown himself to be a skilled director.

Dramatizing the events of Ford’s attempts to beat Ferrari in racing and the team Ford assembled to pull it off, this got pitched as a dad movie.  Which, I mean, I guess dads will like it… but really it is a film that fans of creative innovations and risk will find appealing.

Forced to stop racing Carroll Shelby is recruited by Lee Iacocca (for Henry Ford II) to create a race car that can beat Ferrari in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He reaches out to his friend, driver Ken Miles to help.  Reluctant at first, as he gave up racing to focuses on his life with his family, Miles becomes dedicated.  However, execs at Ford are not keen on having Ken as the driver, believing him too difficult.

The drama is terrific in the film, with the hard work, successes and disappointments as they fight to succeed against the odds. Damon and Bale have a very real connection as friends with a somewhat adversarial relationship.

There is some really solid cinematography on display here.  One of my favorite shots is Ken sits on the training track with his son as the night is falling. Just beautiful. I also thought the racing sequences were nicely played out.

Ford vs Ferrari is an engaging film worth watching, whether you are a dad or anyone else.

Quiet Regrets (The Irishman, 2019)

The_Irishman_PosterMartin Scorsese has given us countless cinematic classics. It stunned the world of film when it was announced his next film, the Irishman, would be a Netflix original.

The Irishman follows the life of Frank Sheeran, a mid level mafia type who…well, when all is said and done, loses the important things in his dedication to the empty life being offered by the family.

Like Goodfellas or Casino, we see lives of toxic masculine bravado and the damage it does to families. But this time, Scorsese opts for a more quiet and lamenting approach. Less focused on the brutality, this film is about a man who tries hard to not acknowledge his faults. It ruins his relationship with his daughters, yet he is unwilling to truly take the steps to fix the situation. He has regrets, but not the will to become a truly responsible man.

With a three and half hour runtime, I suspect that it may not be as effective for casual viewers.  This is a good film, though not Scorsese’s best.  It boasts strong performances, with this being one of Joe Pesci’s finest moments of his career.

The film makes big use of de-aging technology.  When characters are sitting around? It is really good. Screen shots look fine. But when there is action and a lot of movement required…well, it may *look* like 35 year old De Niro…but he moves like 76 year old De Niro and that is hard to ignore.

As I said, this is good, but not a great Scorsese film.  I am glad he made it, I liked it.  But outside of Scorsese die hards, I am not sure this film will garner near the appreciation.

Life of a Neighbor (a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, 2019)

ABDITN_PosterLloyd Vogel is an investigative journalist known for exposing the truths people would rather not have exposed about themselves. He is a new father. His relationship with his own father seems damaged beyond repair. Lloyd is shocked when he is given a puff piece by his editor for Mr. Rogers in an upcoming Esquire issue dedicated to heroes.

Lloyd is caught off guard when he learns Mr. Rogers was the only person that would even consent to an interview with him. And early on, Lloyd finds himself skeptical of Mr. Rogers and especially his seemingly unending decency and kindness (this prompts his wife Andrea to ask him not to ruin her childhood with his story).

A fictional account inspired by the real life article written by Tom Junod, there is not a real Lloyd Vogel.  Junod notes that Lloyd shares a lot of his life, but they are not simply the same guy and plenty of the events are fabricated.  This realization could have worked against the film…made it seem fake. And yet, it effectively reaches for the heart strings.

This is not a film about Mister Rogers.  It is about how he impacted people that came into his orbit. Or rather those whose orbit he came into.  In spite of having no resemblance Mister Rogers, Hanks fully embodies him.  The kindness…the generosity and the love that seemed to be so much the core of him is fully embodied in Hanks’ performance.

Director Marielle Heller and writers Micah Fizterman-Blue and Noah Harpster frame the story as an episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, which, for those who grew up with the show instantly bring back those childhood memories. The visual transitions of the film are beautiful model creations inspired by the models from the introduction of the old show, and they even use the 4×3 screen format. This is a brilliant bit that helps the film stand out.

The is a childlike innocence to the score by Nate Heller that works beautifully.

The one critique I have of the film, as it really does not give Lloyd the  proper recognition that he is justified in his resistance to his father’s attempts to come back into his life. His father was terrible, but the film almost feels like it believes Lloyd is wrong to refuse to connect back with his father.  I am not saying that the film following a redemptive path is bad or wrong.  But Lloyd’s feelings and anger are fully justified.

However, I still feel a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a powerful and worthwhile film.  It overcomes it’s flaw with heart and soul in it’s performances.



Quick Dive (Underwater, 2020)

Underwater_PosterSo, this was a film that seemed to get a lot of doubt cast its way before it opened.  It had a lot going against it. There is a group of people out there dedicated to just hating on Kristen Stewart due to her role in Twilight.  The film sat on the shelf for nearly three years.

But I was still curious from that first trailer…I love a good creature feature. Especially undersea monster films. And so I refused to let the naysayers get me down. And you know what?

This is a good deep sea creature feature.  It kicks in with the action right away, and keeps things moving quickly.  The characters are not all that complex, and if the film slowed down much, that could be a problem. But it really only pauses to set you up for what is about to take place or clarify what has happened. I really had fun watching the film and it is effective in all the ways I wanted, with enough of mystery surrounding the monsters that I was curious to learn more.

It is a strong film that accomplishes what it needs to in a way that should appeal to any creature feature fan.

Oh the Horror! (Cats, 2019)

Cats_PosterCats has a scene where Rebel Wilson’s Jennyanydots unzips her fur to reveal more fur and a costume and she eats cockroaches with human heads.

This is a nightmare.  And I do not know where the responsibility all is falling too.  The story is pretty odd and nonsensical. And the film never really justifies the nonsense. The visual effects work against the film as they are largely creepy and sometimes feel incomplete.  I don’t blame the effects artists…they were over worked and trying to deliver for an incomplete vision. The cast is amazing and practically the only person who seems to care is Ian McKellan, like everyone feels as if they are in a different movie.

I really cannot think of anything I liked.  I mean, some of the songs were enjoyable?

Cats is already going the Rocky Picture route, so maybe see one of the Cats Rowdy Screenings at an Alamo Drafthouse? I mean, I would consider watching it again there.

Moving On (Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey, 2020)

Harley_Quinn_BoP_PosterThe DC Extended Universe Films have struggled. A lot.  By the time Justice League came out the only film that had seemed to be a solid success with critics and audiences. Wonder Woman was joined by Aquaman and Shazam! as viewed through a largely positive lens.  Of course, Shazam! was a bit of a disappointment in the box office, which is too bad considering it is a fun and entertaining film.  Harley Quinn had it’s own issues facing it… a spin off (it is not really a sequel to Suicide Squad in any sense of the word) to a poorly received film (Suicide Squad made nearly its entire haul opening weekend) that went for an “R” rating.  The only character appearing in this film was Harley Quinn. Mind you, Margot Robbie is often cited as one of the best parts of Suicide Squad, mainly because she was.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is a pretty messy title, and considering this is a Harley Quinn movie, rather misleading.  The focus is Harley Quinn and her life post Joker. But Harley discovers that life outside of the Joker actually makes her a big target for the underworld. Her biggest Danger is the Black Mask, Roman Sionis. He is after a unique jewel that was stolen by the pickpocket Cass Cain.  But things get complicated and Harley finds it hard to turn Cass over to Sionis.

Alongside are several interconnected side stories, Black Canary is working for Sionis, Detective Montoya is trying to take Sionis down and the Huntress is out for revenge on Sionis and his goons. Which means they will all have to team up together.

As I said, this is Harley’s movie. She narrates the film and will constantly suddenly decide we need to learn more of the story.  While this could lead to a complete mess, it kind of works as an aspect of Quinn’s personality.

I really like the characters in this film.  In fact, I found myself wanting more of Black Canary and the Huntress. Ewan McGregor is clearly having a good time playing an off the rails villain. Of course, Margot Robbie is making the character her own, becoming identifiable in the way Ryan Reynolds is with Deadpool or Hugh Jackman is with Wolverine.  She is so much fun in the film.

The action scenes are very well constructed and make for a whole lot of fun to watch.  The film is incredibly colorful, there is one scene where she is in the local jail taking people down with glitter pellets and other “silly” takes on weapons that is gleefully played out. They also use a visual queue similar to Suicide Squad…except they do it far better.

The “R” rating does not feel necessary and the film goes a little long. But it was a really entertaining time, and frankly, I wish this was the type of movie Suicide Squad had been.

Live Your Fantasy (Fantasy Island, 2020)

Fantasy_Island_PosterFantasy Island is a show mainly remembered for Ricardo Montalban as Mr. Rourke and his assistant Tattoo played by Hervé Villechaize. The show was an anthology series where every week, guests would arrive to fulfill a fantasy. Usually it was for an adventure to address a regret. The show was remade for television in 1998 with Malcolm McDowell stepping in as a more sinister Mr. Roarke.

Twenty Years later Blumhouse has given us an updated version that may or may not be meant to begin a franchise. And…

Well, I did not hate it.

But to be clear, it is not really that good either.  Now, the big deal made was that this was a horror re-imagining of the series.  Except, not really.  It follows the formula pretty closely. People arrive to live out fantasies that seem impossible. There is a sentimental story, a live the big life dream, an adventure and petty revenge. The petty revenge ends up being the horror plot (as was common on the series, Fantasy Island often had at least a few scary episodes each season). And the fantasies turning on themselves is totally part of the franchise.

The movie brings everyone together at some point, all their fantasies coalescing into a fight for survival. Most of the cast is okay, though I really was bummed that Michael Peña is so…well, not invested.  He constantly feels like he has a better role lined up so he is just delivering his lines as fast as possible so as to be done with the film.

The twists are somewhat predictable, but fine…save one.  The film’s biggest twist requires a scene that has to happen to keep the audience in the dark…but the minute you discover the twist, that scene makes absolutely no sense.

The film is pretty much TV movie level, and hey, maybe rent it when it hits streaming or Red Box?

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