Can you see The Invisible Man?

I was surprised and delighted at the start of The Invisible Man to see the Blumhouse studio animation, and then the pointed, smartly-executed titles. I like good titles. And I felt like I was missing out on the other current Blumhouse picture, Fantasy Island. This way I could get my BlumHouse in, and with the promise of something a lot better than Fantasy Island. Not that I’m a rabid, die-hard Blumhouse fan; there’ve been some clunkers, to be sure, and I refuse to partake in any of The Purge due to the ridiculous premise. But there’s a lot of fun, cheap thrills too, and I admire the Blumhouse spirit.

So it was that I was with The Invisible Man from the get-go, if it seemed a little slowly paced. Something less than captivating. Like the titles, the film is very well executed. Capably done. Elisabeth Moss, as usual, was very good. But with one major exception and maybe another minor one, the story was predictable and not terrible original, and worse, flawed in places. For example: often the invisible man seemed to exhibit super-human strength. Hmmm.

LESS THAN CAPTIVATING

The Invisible Man definitely didn’t wow me. There were certainly some excellent parts to it, even excellent story elements. Good but hardly great. Just wondering if I should still go for Fantasy Island, even with the cavernous ratings aggregate… 6/10

* * *

Oodles of Comparison Notes: first and foremost, Sleeping with the Enemy; Gone, Gone Girl, The GiftTerminator 2, Upgrade, Rebecca (Hitchcock), Side Effects, Bloodshot (yes, the movie that hasn’t even been released yet), Us, Get Out, Searching, Prisoners, Thoroughbreds, A Simple Favor, Gaslight (credit the Times for reminding me: this story goes back to 1938), and credit to the otherwise inferior A Quiet Place: when you walk, jump, or stomp around, you make sounds, invisible or not. There are hints of sounds in The Invisible Man, but you need more sounds.

Gaslight was a little different story, though. Tricks were being played on her, and a cloak of invisibility didn’t factor in. The whole film was much more clever. And it had set-up. Set-up was seriously lacking in The Invisible Man — another symptom of overall story weakness.

That was also the thing with Sleeping with the Enemy: a lot of good, crucial set-up. No, Manohla Dargis, The Invisible Man is not some profound statement on the #MeToo movement. This is just a remake/take on Sleeping with the Enemy, from almost 30 years ago, long before #MeToo.

Film Brief: The Lodge

The Lodge presents a lesson in a lesson taken too far. It’s not with a couple flaws, and has a cliché or maybe two; nonetheless, it’s compelling and does a couple things that are new and interesting. Compelling, yes, but not quite “scary as Hell,” as the poster touts. On the low side of 7/10

Comparison Notes: Hereditary, The Uninvited, First Reformed, Misery, The Blair Witch Project, Criminal Lovers, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Paranormal Activity, The Mist

Sketch a Portrait of a Lady on Fire

First off, a small quibble on the title. The French is Portrait de la jeune fille en feu, or portrait of a young lady/girl. No big deal, but is it too much to ask to have the same title? Does everything have to be marketing? The movie’s in French, so stick to the translation.

That aside, I liked this movie. I very much liked it, though I’m not over-the-moon as so many critics seem to be. Peter Travers:

Some critics have referred to the film as “Call Me by Your Name with corsets.”  But Sciamma, whose exemplary work on Water LiliesTomboy and Girlhood mark her as a major talent, paints the movie with unrivaled delicacy and feeling. From the costumes by Dorothée Guiraud to the stunning camera work by Claire Mathon (who deservedly won the cinematography award from the New York Film Critics Circle), Portrait of a Lady on Fire is enthralling on every level. In her hypnotic and haunting film, alive with humor, heartbreak and swooning sensuality, Sciamma has created nothing less than a timeless work of art

A little much, methinks. Recalls how critics tripped over themselves with Much Ado About Nothing. Very different film here, of course. And not to give any more credit to the dismal Academy Awards than necessary, but the French didn’t even enter Portrait as their official submission — so they didn’t consider it some great masterpiece. Timeless, masterpiece — give me a break.

But did I mention I really liked it? 8/10

PS: That would put it in the top 5 of 2019, but I am annoyed at all this late release nonsense. When it’s time to make my 2020 list, I’ll decide where to put Portrait.

Comparison Notes: Phantom Thread, The Lighthouse, The English Patient, The Little Hours, Shakespeare in Love, Il Postino, La Cérémonie

Anti-“Office” Assistant

Wanting to go to a movie Sunday night, my choices came down to Fantasy Island and The Assistant. Fantasy Island is as close to a sub-zero rating as possible on the Tomatometer, but the Tomatometer is usually broken. Fantasy Island looked kinda fun, and it’s a Blumhouse production after all. But reviewing the zero percent Tomato reviews among top critics convinced me otherwise.

The Assistant, on the other hand, looked like a drag. I didn’t even watch a preview, but the ratings were high. The one factor that drove me to see it: the film’s star, Julia Garner. I hadn’t seen her since Electrick Children, where I said “expect to see more of her.” Finally, lo these years later, I did, and I was happy.

Boy it’s a smart movie. I like movies where stuff happens, and it does here — but not the kind of stuff you think. And it’s a movie-movie. I mean I’m sitting for an hour straight riveted. And I can’t quite explain why — it’s just following her around the office.

Toward the end there’s a falter. A little on the fence on this one, but for now: a high 7/10

Comparison Notes: Secretary (James Spader, 2002), Swimming with Sharks (Kevin Spacey, 1994), Sleeping Beauty, Wall Street

Nowhere to go but Downhill

I oft disagree with the New York Times, and specifically A.O. Scott, but I was amused at the headline “‘Downhill’ Review: A Small Disaster in the Snow,” with the caption “Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus star in this timid remake of a dark Swedish vacation comedy.” From his write-up:

“Downhill” is a vacation-gone-wrong comedy that lives up to its ill-advised title.

“Downhill,” directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (whose previous vacation comedy was “The Way, Way Back”), is a remake of “Force Majeure,” a 2014 Swedish filmdirected by Ruben Ostlund. Comparing the two is a dispiriting exercise. Ostlund’s version is a sharp, relentless satire of masculine insecurity and middle-class complacency, threading genuine discomfort among improbable laughs. The humor in “Downhill” is broader, which is fine in itself, but the movie is also sloppy, timid and unsure of its tone. It isn’t disturbing, just annoying.

I didn’t know that there was a crossover into The Way, Way Back, a small comedy from a few years ago I was quite fond of. Nonetheless, I was immediately irked when I started seeing snippets of Downhill, which even with a very quick glance was an obvious and unnecessary remake of Force Majeur. This is one of those times when I will not be giving the English-language remake the benefit of the doubt. Nope. I don’t need to watch Downhill to be annoyed by it.

My advice: check out the original — one of the better films of that stellar movie year, 2014.

Film Brief: Uncut Gems

An initial note: all the press accounts of Uncut Gems played up the idea of this as the first serious role for Adam Sandler, which is utter nonsense. Sure he’s known for his goofball roles, but: Punch-Drunk Love, Spanglish, Reign Over Me, and Men, Women & Children.

It’s such a sad state when even the mainstream (TV) press from which so many people get their information is so wrong so much of the time — at least on stuff like this. The whole Oscars So White balderdash they play up too. 12 Years a Slave, anyone?

Onto the movie…

Uncut Gems features a good pace, with a fringe on mania. The Safdie brothers have an idea. Style with no substance carried Good Time to something much less than the title promised; style and a whirlwind, stream-of-consciousness storyride propelled this much-improved follow up. 7/10

Comparison Notes: Aronofsky films (Mother!, e.g.); Hustlers, Joker

Fresh & Fit, Queen & Slim

There’s a lot to like in Queen & Slim. The base story is not particularly original, but the film has a fresh feel and authenticity to the relationship of our couple on the run. The romantic development is nicely handled, and it’s got a good vibe.

Never did the film slip into corniness, but neither was it ever quite edge-of-your-seat, except during that first pullover scene. You’re invested into these two, but the whole journey isn’t as harrowing as it ought to be. The worst part was that the theory of the rope is played a little two often, and the conclusion is trite. There’s also a sense I had in a couple moments that the movie was pandering to a black audience. Michelle Goldberg, an opinion columnist, not a film critic, of the Times wrote:

I left a recent matinee of “Queen & Slim,” the mesmerizing new outlaw romance directed by Melina Matsoukas, astonished on two levels. The film itself kept me rapt; I cried through the end and left the theater with the dazed, disoriented feeling you get when a movie makes you momentarily forget everything else in your life. But as amazed as I was by the experience of watching the film, I was equally amazed that it got made at all.

Talk about overstating it. I wonder what one of the better Lars von Trier films would do to her. It’s almost like this was only the eleventh or twelfth movie she’s ever seen. That hackneyed ending should not make anyone who reads my blog cry.

(Minor) SPOILER ALERT: Side note: where did this title come from? Neither character is ever referred to as Queen or Slim in the entire picture. And I get the Queen thing, but Daniel Kaluuya isn’t particularly slim. He’s not overweight or anything, but neither is he a string bean. I really like the title, but can you throw me a bone sometime during the movie?

END (Minor) SPOILER

I was at a 7 for most of the film, rising to an 8 at times, but the conclusion was a letdown. A lot of lovely elements, including the settings and the music. A dance-club scene takes you under its beat. By the end the swampy story elements add up to a knock-down. 6/10

Comparison Notes: Thelma & Louise, Wild at Heart, Breaking the Waves