‘The Invisible Man’ Review: Unseen horrors in the #MeToo era

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

If H.G. Wells’s 1897 novel “The Invisible Man” imagines that the scariest thing is that which is unseen, Leigh Whannell’s new big-screen adaptation realizes the scariest force is that which is unseen and perhaps not even in front us—but internalized, agonized over and shaped into an object by which we are made to interrogate our sense of reality.

The legacy of Wells’s story through the decades has been diluted to the elevator pitch of its title, serving as the inspiration for many a film, most recently the simple-minded “Hollow Man” movies of the 2000s and, on a more elemental level, 2003’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.” More often than not, foundation tends to be the whole story when it comes to invisible men on the screen. Whannell’s iteration, however, is savvy enough to know that while the implications of its title can make for inspired set pieces, it can also be stretched into something more resonant than a one-note story. That doctrine has produced a great movie that is smart, satisfying and totally subversive in its recalibration of a 19th-century story into a modernized parable for the #MeToo era. Continue reading →

‘Gretel & Hansel’ Review: There’s evil in the wood, but maybe something more, too

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

In virtually every respect, Osgood Perkins’s darkly atmospheric “Gretel & Hansel” could not be more different from the last major effort to borrow the Grimm Brothers’ mythic siblings for the big screen, Tommy Wirkola’s bombastic fantasy actioneer “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” That movie – starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as crossbow-toting heroes evoking the rock-em, sock-em spirit of “Van Helsing” more than a children-oriented tale of foreboding – was released just seven years ago, but “Gretel & Hansel” shows how seven years is more than enough for Hollywood’s creative minds to steer in entirely new directions, and for the industry to transition into new epochs.

The switcheroo of the title is the first sign of a new interpretation of the 200-year-old Grimm story, and it bears out in a visually-stunning, ideologically-enticing fairy tale that echoes a feminine spirit without betraying its source material’s grim (pun fully intended) sensibilities. Bringing the focus back onto Hansel and Gretel as young children – though they’re not as naïve as we might expect – Perkins’s movie trades the leather-clad “Underworld” Effect for the quieter, creepier influences of latter-decade horror. It owes much to Robert Eggers, Luca Guadagnino and occasionally Yorgos Lanthimos as well, what with its entrenching visual style of dark shadows stabbed by neon and keen self-awareness about the magnitude of folklore. Continue reading →

‘1917’ Review: Sam Mendes’s technically triumphant war film often gets in its own way

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

For a film that eventually gets around to showing the grim and gory fallout of war in often-exemplary audiovisual fashion, Sam Mendes’s “1917” opens with a peaceful image: Soft wind caressing a field of flowers against an unbroken blue sky, two young men peacefully dozing away.

A tip for the viewer: Bask in these early moments as much as you can, as quick as you can. It isn’t long before a military commander wakes the two British soldiers, Blake and Schofield. In short order, we learn their mission: To travel some miles away to the frontlines and warn the commander that hundreds are about to waltz into a trap. At stake: 1,600 lives, including Blake’s brother. But the details of this mission, nor the two corporals undertaking it (Dean-Charles Chapman and George McKay, grimy and bloody and dread-stricken), never feel as important as how we see it unfold on the screen—via the illusion of a single unbroken shot, with the camera rarely blinking as Blake and Schofield creep, run and trudge through the battlefields and carnage of World War I Europe.

The presumption is that Mendes and his camera’s conductor – Roger Deakins, more magician than man – are on their own mission to make as immersive a film as the genre has ever seen, to make the viewer feel the rattling stress of second-to-second unpredictability to the same chaotic levels as those on the screen, and to burden us with the same preciously scarce moments of reprieve. You might recall “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s frenetic, claustrophobic war film that is a technical wonder in its own ways, and a movie which “1917” will unjustly be compared to. Continue reading →

‘A Hidden Life’ Review: Quiet acts of superheroism

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here.

 

Although “A Hidden Life” takes place in early-1940s Austria – an era of hell on earth for much of Europe – the sound to be wary of in director Terrence Malick’s latest film isn’t sirens signaling an incoming blitzkrieg, but the chirp of a bell. A bike-riding messenger makes increasingly regular visits to the idyllic mountain valley village that is home to August Diehl’s Franz Jägerstätter, who exchanges concerned looks with his wife, Franziska. They’re awaiting the inevitable, and the day they’re dreading eventually arrives: There’s a message for him. It’s time to march for Hitler.

But he’s concrete in his resolve to abstain, even through arrest, imprisonment and abuse. The idea of being on the frontlines doesn’t frighten him; rather, he refuses to swear loyalty to nationalistic attitudes that have begun to invade the consciences of the other farmers he has worked, drank and lived alongside all his life. Exercising free will, Franz insists, has to be more than swearing blind allegiance. For him, that extends to challenging it.

With “A Hidden Life,” Malick has his most exceptional work in years, even as his devotion to impressionistic storytelling increasingly goes against the grain of cinema on the cusp of a new decade. Set to release in late December, this may very well be the last film of the 2010s worthy of the term “profound.” It’s a different kind of war epic (clocking in at nearly three hours, it’s the director’s longest movie in 21 years), one in which ideologies are the artillery, perseverance the battle strategy and victory achieved through martyrdom in the dark. Continue reading →

Movies in the 2010s largely captured, and warned of, our moments of reckoning

This article was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

Spoiler alert for “Parasite” and other recent movies

In “Parasite,” Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s newest masterwork that identifies class warfare as as much a fact of 21st-century life as Twitter and streaming entertainment, there’s no telling where a plan will get you.

For a time, a plan gets the destitute Kims – who can’t afford wi-fi and resort to constructing pizza boxes around the dinner table for scant income – into the cavernous home of the wealthy Park clan. The plan then, cruelly, leaves them homeless, having not been there to salvage what was in their sewer of a home when a biblical flood overtakes it.

“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all,” Song Kang-ho’s Kim Ki-taek tells his son when asked what the plan is going forward.

The domino effect that results from another invasive element having thrown the Kims’ lives into an even higher state of disarray than before is a bloody series of unfortunate events, one that leaves the Kim patriarch virtually imprisoned, his daughter dead and his son vowing to one day free him. “I made a fundamental plan…” he tells him in a message, and even before we see the best case scenario played out on the screen, “Parasite” has betrayed our yearning for catharsis. Joon-ho, after all, has just shown us where plans get people hoping to break out of the confines of systemic capitalism. Art has confronted reality.

More than perhaps any other shared characteristic, this decade’s standout movies often reflected onto us the inevitability of a reckoning—of recognizing systems and histories whose massive consequences have started to be magnified through the communicative avenues of a world that has never been more connected. Movies have always been conversation starters, but the medium takes on a different might when the conversation is everywhere, as the bullhorns of Twitter, acute polarization and slow erosion of privacy standards have ensured is the case this decade. And take on that power cinema has, in ways sometime subtle, in ways sometime extravagant and in ways almost always irrefutable. The line between fiction and non-fiction has never felt nimbler when it comes to the movies. Continue reading →

‘Waves’ Review: A24’s new family drama will shatter you, and help put you back together

This review was first published on KEN5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

Trey Edward Shults is allegedly the director of the new A24 drama “Waves,” yet it’s impossible to imagine anyone “directing” this intensely naturalistic movie – the year’s most unbearably honest – in which storytelling agendas takes a backseat to the mysterious, often-dizzying pulse of life itself.

For those who go to the movies seeking temporary escapes from reality, “Waves” will perplex: There’s no place for traditional structure or plotting in its observations of an ostensibly ordinary black American family. Consequences and implications stretch far, far beyond its 135 minutes. And the most easily-discernible decision by Shults in guiding the movie’s events – the thing I found myself responding to with shifting loyalty before giving in during the film’s sublime final half-hour – is a complete submission to the idea that the movie’s events should actually guide him. That experimental nature, at first, feels like it limits “Waves.” Then it becomes the air under its magical wings, lifting it into something wondrous in its universality—and into the upper echelons of 2019’s most memorable movie-going experiences.

“Waves” anchors its start on high school teen Tyler Williams (a stunning, go-for-broke Kelvin Harrison Jr.), though nothing about our meeting him is anchored, really. We’re lurched into the frenetic pace of life as a 17 or 18-year-old in the social media age, cinematographer Drew Daniels matching the seductive thrum-thrum-thrumming of Tame Impala with a camera that spins through cars and classrooms and adolescent impulse with such boundless energy that you may not want to eat lunch 30 minutes beforehand. Whirlwind images of wrestling practice, meeting his girlfriend’s eyes, scream-singing in a car on the highway with eyes everywhere but the road—we’re not just watching Tyler experience life. “Waves” insists we experience it with him, by forcing a bottle of cinematic Adderall down our throats. Continue reading →

‘Dark Waters’ Review: Mark Ruffalo does battle with systemic corruption in grim, slow-burn drama

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

“Dark Waters” spends its two-hour runtime desperately searching for something to be hopeful for. Many scenes early in Todd Haynes’s enraging, dispiriting corporate-greed-run-amok truth-teller of a story have the feel of an ecological horror – the teeth of an American heartland town’s denizens are blackened, a cow inexplicably turns on its owner, a chemical plant lingers like a beast of steel and steam – in which hope extends as far as putting up a fight for as long as you can.

Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) knows all about refusing to put down the sword. As the events of “Dark Waters” depict with slow-burn intensity – and as the details of the Nathanial Rich-penned New York Times article on which the screenplay is based show – a substantial part of the lawyer’s career was devoted to holding the American company of DuPont to account, after discovering it had for years knowingly contaminated water resources. Lives were endangered for the sake of that common American drug: Profit.

It’s one of the movie’s many ironies that Robert, up to the start of his crusade (1998, sparking an in-movie chronology that stretches unbearably close to present-day), started his career defending chemical companies like DuPont, which is presented as less a company and more a harbinger of American essence—and excess. It isn’t a stretch to say that his life – professional and personal – is turned around after a farmer with loose familial connections seeks him out with concerns that something is wrong on his property. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Ad Astra’ sees Brad Pitt explore the cosmos, and his emotions

This review was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

To strap into the vessel through which writer-director James Gray chooses to explore the cosmos in the meditative “Ad Astra” is to understand the emotional turmoil endured by the astronaut we’re accompanying, Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride.

Despite its opening notes and frames being injected with a just sense of grandiosity that we’ve come to expect from modern space movies, Gray’s latest film is just as much an introspective journey as it is an intersteller one. The premise is straightforward – astronaut must travel through space and communicate with his long-thought-dead father, who may have a role in ongoing Earthly catastrophic phenomena – but this space odyssey is contemplation and adventure in equal measure, guided by one of the year’s most effectively somber performances and a startling level of self-awareness on Grey’s part about Hollywood’s historical teachings on the isolation of intergalactic exploration.

The “Lost City of Z” and “We Own the Night” director also offers up a counter-argument to our perhaps-overzealous ambitions of reaching the stars as a pinnacle of human achievement, one we should have been considering all this time: Why should we expect humanity’s problems to be bound to Earth? Continue reading →

‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ Review: A sweet friendship is formed while on the run

This review was originally published on KENS5.com and can be viewed here. 

 

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” was made for August. The movie, a soulful gem about the connection between a man with Down Syndrome and someone who believes his future has been discarded by his past, has a dog-days-of-summer feel to it—it’s unvarnished by needless complexity and through-lined with a potent tenderness as deeply felt as the humid environments Zak and Tyler walk, swim and float through on their journey.

At a time when young filmmakers are churning out ambitious genre fare, directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz (also the film’s writers) have opted for the simple and endearing in their feature debut, the kind of American tale with a remarkable warmth that shines in its attraction to the seemingly unremarkable.

One of the more prominent roles by an actor with Down Syndrome in recent years, Zack Gottsagen plays Zak in “Peanut Butter Falcon” with enough energy to keep the lights on at a power plant. But at movie’s start, Zak can only focus that energy on one thing—breaking out of the assisted living facility he’s forced to stay in. Continue reading →

“Alternate Endings” Review: HBO doc chronicles contemporary ways of approaching death, and of meeting it

This review was originally published on KENS5.com and can be viewed here. 

 

“I’m here for my daddy: Adam. He used to tell mommy to shoot him into space when he dies!”

The confidant joy with which a young boy says that to a room full of strangers in “Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America” is the thesis of the new HBO documentary from co-directors Matthew O’Neill and Perri Peltz. A movie about the unmistakably modern ways people are choosing to approach the end of their life – explored through six individual vignettes – O’Neill and Peltz succeed in encouraging us to have conversations about the inevitability of our last days and, more poignantly, showing that we can be the ones to begin that conversation instead of leaving it to our loved ones after we’ve already passed.

It’s a disquietly tradition-breaking idea, something the unassumingly straightforward “Alternate Endings” makes note of at the start. The movie explains that unorthodox methods of memorialization – ranging from the environmentally-conscious to the completely strange, and sometimes going off with a literal bang of a rocket – have disrupted a funeral business that rakes in $16 billion a year. That’s the sole statistic in a documentary fueled by empathy, appearing during a prologue set in a funeral convention (yes, really) where marching bands play alongside displayed coffins, cemetery brochures have the sunny disposition of open house catalogs and morbidity is a corporate commodity. Continue reading →