Posted in Film Review, 2020-2029

The Invisible Man (2020)

Image is property of Universal and Blumhouse

The Invisible Man – Film Review

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Director: Leigh Whannell 

Synopsis: After her abusive boyfriend commits suicide, Cecilia (Moss) finds herself being tormented by a mysterious presence that has her convinced that somehow, he’s still alive, and is out to torment her…

Review: Shared cinematic universes certainly became all the rage following the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it left many studios wanting to get their own shared universes off the ground. Universal’s plans for a Dark Universe certainly offered much potential, but as its first film tanked, down went the hopes of getting it truly off the ground. A reboot of the 1933 film The Invisible Man was among the projects lined up for the doomed universe. While those plans never come to fruition, thanks to a combined effort of Universal and Blumhouse has brought it to the big screen.

Cecilia is in a relationship with Adrian (Jackson-Cohen) which has ultimately deteriorated beyond repair due to his extensive abuse and she consequently becomes determined to leave him once and for all. When she learns that he’s committed suicide, Cecilia is initially elated that she’s finally free of him. However, her joy immediately turns to horror after finding herself being subjected to some inexplicable, and traumatic events. She soon becomes convinced that Adrian is not dead, and that somehow, he’s the one tormenting her as revenge for trying to leave him.  

As the woman at the centre of this nightmare, Elisabeth Moss gives a truly outstanding performance. The film is reliant on her ability to convey the true horror of this inexplicable nightmare that she finds herself in, and she rises to the occasion magnificently. In many instances in the film, she is acting against a presence that cannot be seen, but she is convinced that there’s something there. Even as everyone, even those really closest to her, think that she’s lost her mind, and is completely paranoid. She is unwavering in her belief that this imperceptible presence that is subjecting her to this torment is somehow, Adrian himself. While Moss is the unquestioned star of the show, each member of the supporting cast all deliver from Harriet Reid as Cecilia’s sister, to Aldis Hodge as her childhood friend James, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).

In the era of the Me Too movement, the decision to frame the titular character as a vicious, domestic abuser was a brave decision that could have backfired. However, thanks to Moss’s excellent performance and Whannell’s sharp screenplay and direction, it serves as an effective means of telling this suspenseful, and thoroughly gripping story that has a lot to say about relationships, and the consequences that can happen when they turn abusive. With every moment of the film’s two hour and five minute run time, the excellent camerawork helps to build up the tension masterfully. Even such numerous every day scenarios as making breakfast are utilised to build suspense and dread among the audience leaving them, fearful as to what fresh horror this unseen menace will unleash on Cecilia next. 

While at the time, Universal head honchos would have undoubtedly been immensely frustrated with the Dark Universe falling apart after just one film, it has ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of pouring all their efforts into crafting a pulsating action packed cinematic universe juggernaut that are a dime a dozen nowadays. It’s safe to assume that a decision was made to pull back and instead utilise their efforts to craft a story that’s doesn’t rely on well worn horror tropes. Furthermore, by grounding it in such timely subject matter, it serves as a sharp reminder of the stark consequences of domestic abuse, and how it can reap devastating consequences on the lives of those who suffer from domestic abuse.

Combining timely subject matter to a classic story, mixed in with excellent camerawork and a terrific, wounded lead performance all results in a perfect example of a reboot done just right.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

Director: Dan Scanlon

Synopsis: After receiving a gift in the shape of a magical staff, two young brothers set off an exciting quest to discover if the power of magic could give them one last day with their late father….

Review: A world steeped in fantasy is something that human beings seem to be intrinsically drawn to because regrettably they are worlds that we will never get to experience for ourselves. Perhaps this is why stories set in places such as Middle Earth have that everlasting appeal. But what if you took a modern day metropolis and mixed in some fantasy elements, and add in a society that has consigned such elements to the past be just as enthralling? Thanks to the brilliant wizards at Pixar, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

In the town of New Mushroomton, where magical beings have very much settled for a life of the ordinary routine, reside the Lightfoot brothers, Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) living with their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus). Barley is the typical emo/grunge type who’s just a little bit too much into into his fantasy board games, who pines for a return to the bygone fantastical era. Meanwhile, Ian is someone who isn’t quite sure of himself yet. As a gift from their late father, they’re given a staff that was not to be opened until Ian’s 16th birthday. When they discover the staff has magical capabilities, the two brothers set off on a quest to discover if the magical staff could be used to bring their late father back to life for one day only.

Having spent the last few years mostly focused on sequels, it’s always exciting to see the Pixar Brain Trust turn their creative minds into something fresh and original. As their previous films such as Inside Out and Coco demonstrate, when creating original content is usually when they strike gold. Yet again, their streak continues as Onward is further proof that they still have that magic touch, quite literally. As the two brothers at the centre of this quest, the voice work of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is exceptional. Due to the strength of the voice work, the brotherly relationship that these two have immediately comes to the fore, and it helps to flesh both of them out as layered characters that you can empathise with.

The argument could definitely be made that there’s perhaps a formulaic nature to this story of two siblings going on a quest to establish and develop a great understanding between themselves. However, the screenplay by Scanlon and co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tell it in a manner that brilliantly utilises the modern aspects of our society, and simultaneously the elements of a fantasy world to drive the story forward. This also provides scope for them to brilliantly weave some humour, into what is yet another emotional story from this studio that has an everlasting knack to tug on your heartstrings.

With so much focus being on the brothers and their quest, it does mean that the supporting characters, such as their mother Laurel and a legendary former magical creature (Octavia Spencer), are relegated to sideline roles. However, the main quest and its impactful messages of the significance of brotherhood, will certainly not be lost on those who grew up with a brother in their lives. Even more so for those who have a brother that they look up to, and whose support when growing up can be of immeasurable value as they reach the adult years of their life.

Bolstered by excellent voice work, and a humorous blend of modern and fantasy ensure that those wizards at Pixar produce yet another magical and touching piece of storytelling.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Queen & Slim (2020)

Image is property of Universal, Makeready and eOne Entertainment

Queen & Slim – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Synopsis: A young couple’s first date takes a considerably unexpected turn after being pulled over by the police…

Review: It’s hard to look past the inescapable fact that the United States has had, and continues to have, a major issue with racism. Similarly, It’s also an inescapable fact that endless number of stories that emerge of police officers who will be instantaneously overly aggressive/hostile in the most minor of situations, especially towards people of colour. Given that incidents such as these have caused innocent black people to lose their lives, it’s ripe for a filmmaker to use these injustices as an inspiration for a thought-provoking, powerful statement.

A young couple that we initially only know as Queen (Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya) are on their way home after a first date. After being pulled over by police for a supposed infraction, it doesn’t take long for the officer to get aggressive towards them. After pulling his gun following a tense exchange, it has disastrous consequences as he is shot dead by Slim in self-defence. As the police launch a manhunt and arrest warrants for the pair, knowing that they face a very severe punishment if they’re caught, the two of them have no choice but to go on the run and flee for their lives.

As the pair of tragic lovers at the centre of this, Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith both give layered, terrific performances. Kaluuya, following his Oscar nomination a few years ago, continues his hot streak with as he produces another sublime performance. Similarly, after a few bit part roles in a few films, this is Turner-Smith’s moment in the spotlight and she grabs it with both hands. Given that they’re initially on a first date, their chemistry isn’t exactly strong at first. However, as their journey goes on, you can feel these two grow closer together. Furthermore, if their characters not compelling on-screen presences, the film would run out of steam pretty quickly. However, they carry the film on their shoulders magnificently.

Matsoukas, having been quite prolific directing music videos, makes her feature film debut with real aplomb. She brings a bold vision to the film, that’s aided by some gorgeous cinematography. Whilst visually stunning, she imbues it with grittiness and realism, given that the events depicted feel very grounded in a 21st century America. However, the Achilles heel of the film is the script. Penned by Lena Waithe, while the film weaves important social themes into its script, it does suffer from pacing issues in a couple of places. There’s one intense scene in particular that puts the struggles that Queen and Slim, face into a much wider, and important context. Yet the decision made to pitch this side by side, with another scene that feels like a complete tonal mismatch, that adversely affects the pacing.

It would be easy for a film with subject matter like this to just rely on its timely, and urgent, social commentary. While that by itself is not enough to carry the film on its own, it simply doesn’t rely on these to tell its compelling story. Furthermore, the growing anger towards the treatment of African Americans at the hands of the police, that has fuelled movements such as Black Lives Matter gives the film some significant emotional significance. It’s powerful, for the simple reason that this is, inexcusably, an event that is all too common in modern day America.

Fuelled by extremely compelling lead performances, combined with powerful and relevant social commentary. Queen & Slim is tragic love story that is unequivocally unafraid to pull any punches.