The Invisible Man

I have long been a fan of HG Wells, whose writing at the end of the nineteenth century including The Time MachineThe Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man established him as the father of science fiction. The latter of these novels chronicles the random and irresponsible violence of a scientist named Griffin, whose research into optics and the refraction of light allow him to become invisible. The classic 1933 film starring Claude Rains employed bandaging to reveal the location of the unseen main character. Special effects have advanced a bit. 
1933 - Claude Rains
So it was with delight in high school English class that I dove into my copy of Invisible Man only to find that it was the Ralph Ellison 1952 novel about individual identity among African Americans of the day. It is a great book, but not what I was expecting.
There have been several remakes of this film, but the current release of The Invisible Man is a great reboot of the Wells concept, starring Elisabeth Moss in a role so reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale you’ll wonder where her red dress and white bonnet have gone. She seems to be accepting very similar roles in which she is oppressed by tormenters and control freaks, reduced to a teary-eyed and hopeless state only to emerge with a can of whoop-ass and deliver herself from bondage with her now classic self-satisfied Mona Lisa smile.
Blumhouse Productions has firmly established its creep-factor reputation with a portfolio of such movies as GlassGet OutThe Purge and the upcoming, controversial The Hunt. They have a talent for generating edge-of-your-seat tension through the use of human monsters, seen and unseen, that are relentless and ubiquitous.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you’re aware that Moss (Cecilia) has attempted to escape from an abusive marriage with a super-rich and ingenious inventor of a method to stalk her even after his alleged death. Cecilia doesn’t buy his suicide for a minute. “This is what he does,” she argues repeatedly. Her brother-in-law reluctantly serves as executor of the late inventor’s estate, granting five million dollars to Cecilia, unless she commits a crime or is judged mentally incompetent. And that’s where this sinister game begins.
Cecilia’s husband is Adrian Griffin (another connection to the Wells original) played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen. He’s done lots of TV work, including Emerald City and The Haunting of Hill House. His brother Tom is played by Michael Dorman, the soul-less assassin from the Amazon Original Patriot. Aldis Hodge stars as Cecilia’s police officer friend and protector. He’s most known as Noah from Underground, but also from What Men WantStraight Outta Compton and an episode of Black Mirror among many other credits.
And that’s where I’ll stop spoiling the many highly calculated plot twists that lead to the film’s eventual climax. Let’s just say, there’s no red garment here, just a little black party dress.
The special effects are good, and the science believable. Of course, web cams and cell phones are important supporting cast members, similar to those we’ve come to embrace or revile in our culture.
Filmed primarily in Australia and written and directed by local boy Leigh Wahnnell, who has successfully made the jump from acting to directing, the use of tight camera shots and darkness heighten the fear factor throughout The Invisible Man. Cecilia spends a lot of time looking over her shoulder, and the audience gets caught up in the search for signs of an invisible predator, often without success. The experience verges on interactive.
One Easter Egg: the code Cecilia punches into a security system is 1933, the year the original film was released.

The Invisible Man (2020) runs 2 hours, 4 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  

The Rhythm Section

It’s difficult to judge audience enthusiasm on a Monday night, especially when the audience is comprised of two people, including my wife and I.
If Blake Lively was hoping to jumpstart her lagging career, this won’t be the ticket. In The Rhythm Section she plays Stephanie Patrick, a top-of-her-class Oxford student whose family changes plans to include her on a vacation, with disastrous results. The plane crashes, killing all on board, including the father of two children who occupied her unused seat.
Wallowing in guilt and grief, she proceeds to self-medicate with drugs and prostitution. You know, the usual choices. A journalist who has dedicated himself to researching the accident discovers that the plane was bombed, and he is closing in on those responsible. He just needs Stephanie’s help, but it is never really revealed why. What he has uncovered is a sinister human cocktail of terrorists, information brokers and bomb-builders, some existing only as shadowy code names like U-17. Didn’t Olivia Newton John sing about that? Or was it B-17? It doesn’t matter. The journalist’s source is known only as “B.” Even he recognizes that Stephanie has become a human cliché.
If this doesn’t sound ludicrous and contrived yet, imagine a Rocky Balboa-like sequence in which Jude Law (B) bullies and manipulates Stephanie through a training program that fashions her into an Atomic Blonde who lacks any real skills. At one point she strips to her underwear and walks into an icy lake to prove how tough she can be. Shiver harder Blake, you don’t have any goose-bumps. But she’s smart, resilient and desperate for revenge. And “B” is an ex-MI6 agent whose wife was murdered by one of the bad guys involved with the plane incident, so he has ulterior motivation.
The movie begins with a relatively unimportant scene in Tangier, and then flashes back eight months earlier to the beginning of the tale. During a handful of transitional scenes we are treated to a rather bizarre series of tunes, like when Stephanie, who has now adopted the identity of a dead assassin named Petra, marches off to fulfill her latest contract hit to the song “It’s Now or Never” by Elvis Presley. If this was an attempt to do something artistic, it came off more like a junior high school film project.
Sterling K. Brown does a nice job as a villain in his role as “Serra,” very unlike his This Is Us character. Reed Morano directed this forgettable film. We’ll be satisfied with his work on The Handmaid’s Tale. And the producers of the James Bond series can now return to their previous assignments.
Despite a warning from B to Stephanie that success in this quest is “not worth it,” she and others who provide financing for her escapades seem pretty satisfied with the results. So, don’t go looking for messages of redemption or forgiveness here.
The Rhythm Section (2020) runs 1 hour, 49 minutes and is rated R.
Should you see this movie?  

The Gentlemen

Following a weekend that featured the Academy Awards’ annual look back, it’s refreshing to dive into films that represent the year ahead. And in the wake of the seeming mass hysteria over Parasite, a sleeper like The Gentlemen is especially enjoyable. I won’t compare the two films other than to say that I like the latter much better. But I doubt that it will be nominated for any awards next year.
It’s always nice to have no expectations walking into a theater. Our choices are so frequently made based on “what’s playing at 7pm” that we tend to see movies less hyped and of shorter shelf life. Seeing two or three movies per week, we get tired of trailers we view over and over again. Not so with The Gentlemen. It crept onto our local theater’s screen seemingly without warning, or maybe teased with a poster or two in the lobby.
Matthew McConaughey along with his legendary good looks, rumored body odor and smarmy, self-absorbed Lincoln auto commercials is not a draw for me. But he perfectly suits this film as Mickey Pearson, a charming American ex-pat who has built an undetectable marijuana production empire under the expansive grounds of a dozen British royal properties. While the royals sit sipping tea and parenting monstrously over-privileged heirs, they benefit from the proceeds of a business literally beneath their feet that Mickey is trying to unload for 400 million pounds. It’s a cozy, symbiotic relationship, one that attracts the attention of other “gentlemen” of business and their gangster support systems, but one from which he wishes to retire.
The story is intriguingly unfolded as a pitch for a movie script by Hugh Grant as “Fletcher,” a backstabbing dandy who flirts with his primary mark Ray, played by Charlie Hunnam. Throughout the film, Fletcher strings Ray along with irresistible tidbits, photos and back stories that culminate in a sophisticated blackmailing scheme. Fletcher has been doing his homework, less like a journalist than a desperate gentleman wannabe. But Ray is devoted to Mickey, and ultimately it is loyalty, not connections, that rules the day.
The plot is initially difficult to follow. All of the main characters have nicknames, and their relationships are revealed at points of intersecting evil deeds. Even Pearson’s wife Rosalind (Michelle Dockery) runs an all girl exotic auto emporium and machine shop. And she turns out to be the one thing in Pearson’s ice-for-blood world that causes him to come unglued. Until then, his antisocial ruminations remain his controlled inner fantasies, while frequent self-narration stills his darkest waters.
The cast is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, but with a smattering of panache. Familiar faces, like Henry Golding as “Dry Eye,” upstart of the Asian enterprise; Colin Farrell as “Coach,” trying hard to raise a gang of street fighters to do good, despite their occasional need to lapse into evil; and the utterly creepy Jeremy Strong as “Matthew” who thinks he has it all figured out.
Guy Ritchie, who has two sons with Madonna and never attended film school, wrote and directed this intellectually challenging whodunit, or perhaps better expressed, who-done-what? Coming on the heels of Disney’s Aladdin last year, he appears to have stored up a warehouse of violence and profanity, particularly the “C” word, so popular with British “gentlemen.”
The Gentlemen is categorized as action/comedy. The comedy is very, very dark, the kind that makes you feel somewhat ashamed for laughing, but also provides needed relief in a relentlessly sinister journey that loops back on itself in unexpected ways. It’s unlikely that anyone could effectively spoil this film for you with one or two revelations, but see it soon just in case.

The Gentlemen (2020) runs 1 hour, 53 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?  

Parasite

Honestly, are you at all reluctant to see movies with subtitles? I have to be in the right mood. They require a certain amount of mental work and you can’t look down at your popcorn for even a few seconds for fear of missing something.
Our viewing of Parasite was at noon on a Saturday, since our very un-art-house Regal 16 apparently felt that two hours of precious screen time early in the day was all that could be spared for a film that doesn’t have star power, explosions or talking animals. And if Parasite had not been nominated for Best Picture it’s unlikely we would have been given any chance to see it at all.
Metaphors abound, or are at least proclaimed to be in abundance by numerous characters in the opening scenes of Parasite. One particular “Scholar’s Rock” continues to make appearances like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a gift to the Kim family from Min, a friend of son “Kevin” who asks for a favor that sets the entire plot of the movie in motion. Min is about to study abroad, but has a crush on the daughter of the wealthy, very westernized Park family. He needs Kevin to fake credentials in order to become her English tutor, essentially keeping an eye on her in Min’s absence. Sister “Jessica” has graphic design skills that allow her to pose as an art teacher and therapist for the Park’s spoiled and energetic young son.
We meet Kevin’s family in a tiny, squalid basement apartment in Seoul, stealing WiFi from nearby sources, dependent on their cell phones and attempting to eek out a living by assembling large quantities of pizza boxes for an area business. They live at the end of an alley where drunks urinate outside their window, a window they leave open to benefit from free fumigation for stinkbugs. If we feel pity for the family of four, that’s about to change. They have a plan.
What evolves is a web of deception involving each member of the family in a complicated scheme to prey on the gullible wealthy occupants of a former architect’s mansion. The home has a secret of its own, shielding another breed of parasites that eventually emerge to battle for survival. But the Kim’s apartment imbues them with a lingering stench that betrays their true status, a station in life that comes back to haunt them, and from which there is ultimately no escape, only another plan. But as it is stated in the film, “The only plan that cannot fail is no plan at all.”
In an IMDb interview writer/director Bong Joon-Ho reveals that the idea for Parasite was just “in my brain” kind of like a parasite. The interviewer struggles to extract answers to basic question from him and two main cast members. Is this a language problem, or does he rely entirely on a deep talent for stitching together visually engaging scenes with a script that pulls the best from his actors. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s accomplished this. In 2013’s Snowpiercer, based on the French science fiction graphic novel of the same name, the few survivors of a second ice age Earth travel around the globe in a train for seventeen years. Here too, class plays an important role, elevating or oppressing characters as they struggle within the confines of the vehicle, almost like a play.
Parasite is gathering almost universally high marks from critics and audiences. It has the feel of a Guillermo del Toro production, minus the monsters, unless monstrous human actions are tallied. Its improvisational approach takes you to the edge of your seat with anxiety as a house of cards begins to crumble and characters mount a frantic attempt to cover up their antics ala Risky Business. It is an unusual mix of light comedy, crime and drama that will leave you thinking about deeper meaning long after viewing. Greed, wealth, poverty and desperation form a toxic stew conducive to parasites in this South Korean film. See it before someone spoils it for you.
Parasite (2020) runs 2 hours, 12 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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