Review: The Invisible Man (2020)

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The Invisible Man.

Now I’m not usually a horror movie kind of guy but The Invisible Man is different. It’s more like a monster movie, which I can totally get behind. So while it took me a few weeks to finally catch it in theaters, here’s what I thought.

The gist.

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) finally works up the nerve to leave her physically and emotionally abusive boyfriend and tech mogul Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After she escapes from him, she receives word a few weeks later that he’s killed himself, from his brother and estate keeper Tom (Michael Dorman). Things start to get scary, as Cecilia notices strange sounds and sees what she believes is an invisible person in her bedroom one night. She starts to believe that Adrian isn’t dead after all and is instead, terrorizing her as an invisible man. Her sister (Harriet Dyer) doesn’t believe her and her police friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid) don’t believe her either. Will anyone eventually trust this hard-to-believe story, or will Adrian eventually drive Cecilia insane?

What works?

Maybe my bar was low for this movie, but I found myself pleasantly surprised. As a ‘horror’ movie, it’s relatively tame. It’s suspenseful yes, because an invisible person is stalking this poor woman, but I didn’t find it to be too disturbing, so those of you that don’t usually have the stomach for scary movies might actually find this one enjoyable, I know I did.

Elisabeth Moss carries this movie and her decline into insanity is perfectly played. She’s at her best here, showing a whole range of emotions with absolute authenticity. The supporting cast is fine, but this is really her movie.

The other star of the movie is the invisible man himself. These effects are incredible, as we watch Elisabeth Moss literally wrestle with nothing. And they make perfect use of his invisibility, giving us plenty of jump scares and “WHAT THE!” moments. The trailers also showcased some cool parts of the movie, but didn’t give away too much, and even showed sequences cut from the actual movie, so I found myself unable to really gauge where the film was going.

invisible man

What didn’t work?

This whole movie is driven by this man’s obsession with Cecilia (Moss). Yet we really don’t get much information as to why. The first sequence of the movie is her leaving him, so it’s not long before he becomes the invisible man. We don’t get any dialogue, any reason for him to torment her. The reasons we’re given in exposition don’t do much either, so I found myself not really sure what the villain’s motives were. She continually asks “Why me?” and “Why are you doing this?” and we don’t really get a satisfactory answer. As a villain, he’s terrifying but ultimately pretty superficial.

Overall…

This is a fun movie, and I say that from the perspective of avoiding scary movies. This is a good ole fashioned monster movie, with great special effects and plenty of twists and turns. The action is great, Moss’ performance is excellent, and this is ultimately a fun and wild ride, some solid escapism for these uncertain times.

4

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Review: The Way Back (2020)

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The Way Back.

We follow Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), a former high school basketball star that hasn’t really done much since and spends every night at the nearby bar, drowning his sorrows. It’s surprising when the Catholic school he attended asks him to return and to coach the team, alongside the assistant coach Dan (Al Madrigal). Jack’s drinking has been affecting his entire life, including his worrisome sister (Michaela Watkins) and ex-wife Angela (Janina Gavankar). Throughout the movie, we discover what led Jack to this and what might be able to save him from himself.

What works?

This is a powerhouse performance from Ben Affleck, as this movie is really a story of addiction and tragedy. It is absolutely heartbreaking and unfortunately incredibly realistic. There are a few scenes that will likely punch you in the gut.

He’s also surrounded by an incredible supporting cast. Al Madrigal does a great job as the assistant coach, in what might be his first serious role? He began on the Daily Show and co-starred in Night School, but nothing on this level. We also get a few great scenes from Michaela Watkins, a former SNL-alum who stars now on The Unicorn. Great showcases for actors who typically don’t do movies like this.

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What doesn’t work?

The marketing for this movie unfortunately sells it as an inspiring sports movie, like Remember the Titans. This isn’t really about the basketball team. Only one of them even gets any semblance of story. This is a story about Affleck’s character and his alcoholism, not about the sports team, so don’t look for this movie to fill that role.

There are also a lot of pacing issues here, as the movie feels incredibly long and unnecessarily so. There’s a few false endings, which can frustrate you as you already think the movie is too long as is. It could’ve benefited from some excessive cutting and tightening.

Overall…

This is a short review because this is a pretty simple explanation. Affleck’s performance, if placed into a better movie, would be earning him Oscar nominations. However, this movie felt bloated and way too long, earning it an odd March release. There are great things, and then there are things that just didn’t work. I wouldn’t recommend seeing this in theaters, wait for it to inevitably be streaming somewhere.

3

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Review: Onward

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Onward.

Pixar has an incredible record, with many 5-star movies in their portfolio, so when I saw they were making a high-fantasy epic adventure with the voice talents of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, I was beyond excited. Could this movie live up to that potential?

The gist.

Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is turning sixteen, though he doesn’t really have any friends to celebrate with. He has his family though, including his brother Barley (Chris Pratt) and mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). His father passed away before Ian was born, so it’s amazing when his mother reveals a gift that their father left, for when he turned sixteen. It’s a magic wand, along with a spell that can bring their father back for 24 hours. This starts an epic adventure to complete the spell, as it’s halted halfway, leaving their father with only a bottom half. Throughout the journey, they encounter the legendary Manticore (Octavia Spencer), a biker gang of dangerous pixies, and plenty of riddles and puzzles to slow them down.

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What works?

As Frozen has become a staple for sisters, so too will Onward be an important film for brothers. Brozen: Frozen for Brothers. Its best moments are between Pratt and Holland’s characters, really exploring the complicated nature of brothers, especially in the absence of a father figure. This is an incredibly emotional journey, but this is a Pixar film so you should expect that much.

If the emotional journey of two brothers doesn’t catch your attention, then how about an epic fantasy adventure? I never thought I’d see a mainstream film like this, featuring a Manticore, voiced by an Academy Award-winning actress. For fantasy fans, or even moreso Dungeons & Dragons fans, this is an absolute love letter and a joy to watch.

In terms of voice acting, this is obviously a highlight for both Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, delivering incredibly authentic performances. Chris Pratt’s performance is much more over the top, but it totally gels with the character he’s playing, so it works.

For fans of Pixar, this very much hits the same notes and should satisfy in the same ways. It’s a safe bet if you’ve enjoyed their other films, no doubt.

ONWARD

What didn’t work?

For a Pixar film, I maybe expected more in terms of visuals. I mean, look at the above picture. Does the Manticore (the flying lion on the right) look especially good? No, it looks like a lower-tier straight-to-streaming animated film. There’s a few examples of that sort of lapse in quality that felt very un-Pixar to me.

And like I mentioned in the positives section, this feels very familiar in terms of tone and structure. Some of you may find that tiring, some may be okay with that. There’s only a few risks taken, most of this journey feels like standard fare.

Overall…

This is right up my alley. A sentimental Pixar movie with a fantasy theme. It’s got great voice acting, a touching story, and plenty to enjoy, but even I’ll admit it’s not the best Pixar has put out recently. A great time, but temper your expectations and enjoy this for what it is.

4

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Review: The Photograph (2020)

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This story revolves around a woman named Mae (Issa Rae) whose mother has just passed away. Mae always felt distanced from her mother, so she starts to learn about her from a collection of photographs that her mother, a young Christina (Chante Adams), took and kept away. In these photos, there’s a man featured named Isaac (Y’lan Noel and Rob Morgan) that just might have insight into why Mae’s mother did the things she did. We also follow Michael (LaKeith Stanfield), a journalist who is writing about these photographs but also falls in love with Mae in the process. We also see featured Lil Real Howery as Michael’s cousin and Teyonah Parris as his wife.

What works?

This movie is carried by its talent, with really strong performances from most of the cast. Issa Rae is proving herself to be a talent on the big screen and she even brings fellow Insecure actor Y’lan Noel along for the ride, who gives an incredible performance as the young version Isaac. As an older version of Isaac, we have Rob Morgan, and let me tell you what… I think I’m going to join the Rob Morgan fan club because he has been killing it lately. He should have been nominated for his performance in Just Mercy and here, he gives another nuanced yet dynamite performance, as a man coping with lost love and years upon years of regrets.

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While you’d expect this movie to be dramatic, you wouldn’t necessarily expect this movie to be funny. It surprisingly is, usually anchored by Lil Rey (who is funny in nearly everything he does). The funniest moment in the film belongs to one of his character’s daughters and it’s more what she almost says that makes it hilarious. I wasn’t expecting that sort of comedy here but it was definitely appreciated.

What doesn’t work?

While the performances were solid, the movie itself didn’t always work. There are some major pacing issues, as the movie feels a lot longer than it needs to be. There’s an emphasis on feels longer because it’s not the runtime that’s the problem, it’s that the movie just crawls at times.

I also struggled with the chemistry between Issa Rae and LaKeith Stanfield. It didn’t feel earned. They’re essentially strangers, so there’s very little at stake here. I was much more interested in the backstory of the mother and what happened to her (and how that’d impact Issa’s character).

Also, there’s a few reveals that are meant to be third-act twists, that are telegraphed way early and kind of undercut the actual reveal, since I was expecting the moment throughout the whole movie. Not sure if this makes the movie worse, but it definitely lessens the impact of the reveal for sure.

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Overall…

The Photograph is good. It’s a solid drama, with great performances across the board. However, I was a little underwhelmed by the chemistry between Issa and LaKeith’s characters and the big third act reveal was something I saw coming since the first few scenes. It’s a movie you’ll enjoy but likely won’t remember in the long run.

3

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Review: Sonic the Hedgehog

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Sonic the Hedgehog.

Yes, I may have a soft spot for this character, growing up on the old Sega Genesis games. I remember vividly playing the first three or four of these games. However… There were a few hiccups in this movie’s production, including the complete overhaul of Sonic’s character design. Add to that… it’s rare that video game movies are even decent, they’re usually aggressively bad. So could Sonic defeat these odds? Let’s see.

The gist.

We follow Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz), an alien hedgehog-like creature that has been living on Earth in isolation. When the government detects a huge blast caused by Sonic, they send in their wildest agent, the super-genius Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey). Sonic is being hunted, aided only his new human friend, a police officer named Tom (James Marsden). We also have supporting characters played by Tika Sumpter, Natasha Rothwell, and Lee Majdoub.

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What works?

I know the bar is incredibly low, but this might just be one of the best video game adaptations yet. That doesn’t make this a stellar movie, by any means, but it means there’s a lot working here.

Sonic himself is an incredibly lovable creature. The visuals worked perfectly, paired with Ben Schwartz’s high energy voice. He’s been living on Earth, so he’ll spout pop culture references and they mostly always hit. He’s also a character you really root for. He learns what a ‘bucket list’ is throughout the movie, then becomes obsessed with completing his list of items. They really nailed it.

The cast around Sonic totally works as well. As the human lead, James Marsden is relatable and funny, probably the funniest he’s been since Enchanted. The real mystery factor here was Jim Carrey, who’s somewhat turned away from the wacky hijinks that made him famous and instead has been doing serious or deeper dramas. Well, if you’ve been missing Ace Ventura, that same energy returns here. And you know what? It works. It’s wild, yes, his take on Dr. Robotnik is out of control, even including a dance number. But the whole movie is dialed up to 11 so it fits right in and it’s a blast to see Carrey having this much fun. A true return to form.

Also, there’s a mid-credits scene that gave me goosebumps. Imagine that!

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What doesn’t work?

This is ultimately a movie for kids (or at least our own inner child) so you shouldn’t expect a masterpiece here. It’s fun and lighthearted and has some pretty interesting action sequences, it’s not here to win Oscars.

So temper your expectations… There will be pop culture jokes that don’t age well and there’s way too many moments where Sonic ‘flosses’ as he’s dancing, so just expect a kids movie with a lot of heart and decent jokes.

Overall…

As a fan of the Sonic games, this was everything I could’ve wanted. I laughed often, and the jokes came from all directions, almost every character contributed. The action sequences were vivid and interesting, while there were also quiet moments with a lot of heart. As a movie for kids, it knocks it out of the ballpark. As a movie for adults, it also does a really great job and had me entertained the whole time.

4

 

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Review: Birds of Prey

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Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn).

The DC Extended Universe has been a rocky journey, including the surprisingly good Shazam and Wonder Woman movies, but also having the (my opinion) atrocious Suicide Squad. The best part of Suicide Squad was undoubtedly Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, so it’s understandable that they’d want to capitalize on that and give her a sequel, now with a new cast of misfits.

The gist.

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has parted ways with the Joker (a never-shown Jared Leto). In her downward spiral, her drunken antics lead her to cross paths with a dangerous mob boss named Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor). Sionis is looking for a diamond, worth millions, and will do anything to get it. Quinn must reluctantly work with an odd assortment of heroines (or villainesses) to stop him. She pairs up with a metahuman named Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a rogue police detective named Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a crossbow-toting vigilante called the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and a pickpocket orphan named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Sionis seeks this diamond with everything he has, including a maniacal killer named Zsasz (Chris Messina) who delights in absolute torture.

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What works?

This story belongs to Harley Quinn and Margot Robbie (again) kills it in this role. This movie is rated R, as opposed to Suicide Squad’s PG-13, so Harley is able to be even wilder. You can tell Robbie is having a blast here, the movie is electric.

Now, when a movie gets a R-rating, you might think it’ll veer towards the dark and grim (ala Logan). Instead, Birds of Prey gets an infusion of life, full of color and vibrancy. Yes, it’s violent and the language enough to make most of you blush, but it is thoroughly exciting from start to finish. The art style is incredible, playing with the fact that Harley’s reality may not be reality, so we get animated sections, musical numbers, it’s all happening so fast.

And the action is better than anything Suicide Squad attempted to deliver. All of our leads have moments to shine and the movie smartly zooms out and lets us see these action sequences, instead of fast cuts and editing to trick us into thinking the action is impressive.

While Harley is the lead, our other women leads are fantastic too, though definitely underutilized. Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco get significant screentime, while Smollett-Bell and Mary Elizabeth Winstead get a tad less. When they get screentime though, all of our ladies manage to impress. And then we have our villains, played by Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina. They are out there, especially McGregor, but at least it’s interesting. They’re not boring villains, but they also don’t really get much motivation. Is money the only reason they’re trying to murder all these people? They serve their purpose, but they’re not going to be remembered among the best comic book movie villains out there.

I also appreciate that DC is going places where Marvel won’t. They embrace the R-rating and introduce us to multiple LGBT characters with no hesitation, which is a big win for representation (especially considering the one or two lines of dialogue in the entire MCU given to a throwaway supporting character).

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What doesn’t work?

If you’re a fan of the comics, you’ll be both delighted and disappointed here. Some characters feel much more true to their comic roots than others, though casual fans won’t even know. Harley, Montoya, and Huntress all feel pretty true to form, aside from maybe comedic beats from Huntress. There were significant changes to Black Canary and Cassandra Cain. Cain especially feels like a completely different character, they just needed a young girl. So know that going in.

Also, some of the outlandish performances may rub you the wrong way. I’ve seen a lot of division over Ewan McGregor’s performance. I thought it was lively, hilarious, and sometimes terrifying, but you may find it a tad over the top. I didn’t mind.

And while I’m giving this movie a good score, it’s because it is a fun movie, which is what it set out to do. It’s not an award-winner (though I guess, if Suicide Squad won an Academy Award, anything is possibly). Temper your expectations and have a fun time.

Overall…

I enjoyed nearly every moment of this movie. It’s bright and vibrant and fun, so if you’re looking for escapism and some big colorful explosions, this movie will absolutely do it. Fans of the comics may be disappointed by some changes, but if you’re unaware or can leave those concerns behind, this film will leave you smiling. It’s got great action, plenty of humor, and is a refreshingly fun take on an R-rated superhero film.

4

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Review: Underwater

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Underwater.

This movie’s premise is incredibly simple. There’s an underwater drilling base in one of the deepest places in the ocean. There is a minimal crew there, when an accident starts to break the complex open and flood it. We follow Nora (Kristen Stewart) as she attempts to find and rescue other crew (including Jessica Henwick, T.J. Miller, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., and Mamoudou Athie). They soon realize this catastrophe is not man made, but rather some subterranean threat.

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What works?

If you’re a fan of this genre, you should have a decent time here. By ‘this genre,’ I mean the types of films that focus on a small cast who must somehow survive some external threat (see Alien, Predator, Pitch Black). The threat here is actually two-fold, so we get plenty of jump scares involving this deadly monsters, but the water itself is incredibly deadly, giving us a sense of claustrophobia as the water surrounds the cast. The premise is interesting and luckily the mystery isn’t answered too quickly.

The cast does their job. No one flexes any new muscles, but Kristen Stewart, T.J. Miller, and Jessica Henwick all manage to make the most of it.

UNDERWATER

What doesn’t work?

The director William Eubank is a relative unknown, with only a few minor films released, that I’ve never heard of. Under his direction here, something went awry.

There’s a problem that this movie never manages to answer. “How do you shoot horror sequences underwater?” There is an inherent claustrophobia and terror caused by the darkness, but this darkness doesn’t really translate well to the screen. So the moments that I thought were ripe for tension instead felt confusing. You easily lose track of characters and they all look the same in their giant underwater suits. There were multiple times when I got so turned around, I couldn’t figure out which character was just dragged away or which one was just killed.

Likewise, there was a problem shooting the horror involving our subterranean monsters. Every time they’d attack, it’d be a jump scare, accompanied with this high pitch scream to try to scare us. And then it would immediately disappear, again leaving me confused as to what just happened. BAM, there’s a monster, it does something! Where’d it go? Rinse and repeat. The horror is all artificial, forced on you by these jump scares.

Overall…

Underwater had an interesting premise and decent performances, but the movie devolves into a mess of unrealized potential. The action is messy and sloppy and the ‘horror’ elements are artificial and misused. I spent most of the movie trying to figure out what was happening, as opposed to being invested in the journey.

2

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