The Invisible Man (2020) Review

For F*** Magazine

THE INVISIBLE MAN

Director: Leigh Whannell
Cast : Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman
Genre: Sci-fi/Horror
Run Time : 2 h 4 mins
Opens : 27 February 2020
Rating : M18

H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel The Invisible Man has captured the imaginations of readers for over a century and spawned multiple adaptations, among the best known being the 1933 Universal Pictures movie starring Claude Raines. Writer-director Leigh Whannell, the co-creator of the Saw franchise, brings a new version of this classic sci-fi horror tale to the big screen.

Cecilia Kass’ (Elisabeth Moss) abusive husband Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a brilliant scientist in the field of optics. Cecilia has been plotting her escape from Adrian for months, finally succeeding with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and their childhood friend, police officer James Lanier (Aldis Hodge). Adrian apparently commits suicide, but Cecilia suspects he is faking his death and can turn himself invisible. When Cecilia tries to tell Emily and James about what’s happening, they do not believe her, with James worrying that Cecilia might harm his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). A desperate Cecilia must prove that her life is being controlled by this terrifying unseen force before the Invisible Man hurts her and those she loves.

Some classic Universal Monsters characters are harder to update to the present day than others, usually because of their basis in folklore and mythology. The Invisible Man lends itself well to a present-day reimagining because of its science fiction element. This version has little in common with the source material besides a man named Griffin who can turn invisible, but Whannell approaches the familiar premise from an interesting angle. He is a good genre filmmaker, as evidenced by 2018’s sci-fi action horror Upgrade. He plays up the tension, paranoia and suspense in a movie that touches on the omnipresent fears of surveillance and that draws parallels between horror movie monsters and domestic abusers. The Invisible Man is the right amount of clever – it puts enough of a spin on the well-worn idea, without straining too hard to be something you’ve never seen before. This is not a film with a huge budget, but Whannell makes good use of the resources available to him.

Elisabeth Moss puts in a thoroughly convincing central performance. We root for Cecilia as we see things spin out of control because we know that she is being tormented by an actual invisible man and that it isn’t all in her head, but the other characters don’t know this. Moss sells the deep anguish the character feels and gives the movie an emotional urgency. Her performance is reminiscent of the parts of Terminator 2: Judgement Day in which Sarah Connor is yelling at asylum orderlies who don’t believe her warnings of Judgement Day.

Aldis Hodge is a warm, reassuring and heroic presence, and it is genuinely frustrating when he suspects Cecilia of awful things she didn’t do, because Adrian has engineered it to look that way.

It’s clear that Whannell and his crew took great pains to not make this a silly movie. Unfortunately, it seems like at least some silliness is unavoidable. There are some quality scares in this movie, but it’s hard not to chuckle at multiple scenes of a gun floating through the air or at characters being dragged across the room, pounding away at nothing with their fists. The movie is also slightly too long – Whannell pushes the suspense, but we all roughly know where it’s headed, so it seems like there are a few too many ominously-framed shots of empty rooms to emphasise their apparent emptiness. While the movie is not exploitative in its depiction of a domestic abuse survivor and is about how Cecilia wrests power back from her abuser, there are times when the movie feels a bit too much like a Lifetime channel movie of the week.

The Mummy (2017) was meant to kickstart the Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe populated by classic Universal Monsters characters. The critical and commercial failure of that film threw a spanner into those works, which led to the planned Invisible Man movie starring Johnny Depp being scrapped. Somewhat confusingly, an unrelated movie called The Invisible Woman is also in development, with Elizabeth Banks starring and directing. A new Bride of Frankenstein film is in the works with John Krasinski attached, while Paul Feig is developing a project called Dark Army that is said to contain multiple Universal Monsters characters.

This new take on the familiar story is largely tense and frightening, even if it takes a while before we get to the scares and the action.  Leigh Whannell skilfully updates the classic H.G. Wells story by tapping on present-day fears and anxieties, helped immensely by a gripping lead performance from Elisabeth Moss. While the movie still feels somewhat slight and a bit repetitive, this is a further showcase for Whannell’s abilities as a genre filmmaker.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Hidden Figures

For F*** Magazine

HIDDEN FIGURES

Director : Theodore Melfi
Cast : Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge
Genre : Drama/Historical
Run Time : 2h 7min
Opens : 23 February 2017
Rating : PG

 

hidden-figures-posterDuring the 1960s, the world was transfixed by the Space Race, during which the United States battled the USSR for the conquest of the final frontier. While attention was lavished on the astronauts, the engineers and technicians who made the missions possible went largely unnoticed. This film sheds light on several real-life unsung heroes who laboured to make Project Mercury a success.

It is 1962 and Katherine Goble (Henson), a mathematics prodigy, works at the West Area Computers division of NASA’s Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia. Katherine’s colleagues and friends Dorothy Vaughn (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monáe) are also part of a group of female African-American “computers”, who performed complex calculations manually before computers as we know them today were in widespread use.

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Katherine is assigned to the Space Task Group overseen by Al Harrison (Costner), becoming the only black woman amongst the group of white engineers. She earns the contempt of head engineer Paul Stafford (Parsons), whose calculations she double-checks. Dorothy appeals for a promotion to supervisor, which is rejected by her manager Vivian (Dunst). Concerned that the installation of the IBM 7090 computer will render her and her team obsolete, Dorothy teaches herself the programming language Fortran and trains her colleagues in it. Mary yearns for an engineering job at NASA, but is required to take extra University of Virginia classes, which are held in an all-white high school, to qualify. Mary makes her case to attend said classes before a judge. With the Americans and Soviets neck-and-neck, the contributions made by Katherine, Dorothy, Mary and their peers are key in the success of the American space program.

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Hidden Figures is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s non-fiction book of the same name, which is subtitled ‘The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race’. Lee’s father worked as a research scientist at the Langley facility, and she grew up among African-American families with members who worked at NASA. Lee’s book was adapted for the screen by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, with Melfi directing. True stories like this are why the biopic subgenre exists, and the story of the African-American women who launched a rocket through the glass ceiling is one that absolutely deserves to be told on the big screen.

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The obstacles that stood in the way of these women were numerous, seeing how they were marginalised for both their race and their gender. Hidden Figures provides ample historical context, with Katherine, Dorothy and Mary standing at the intersection of the Civil Rights movement and the Space Race. Because this is a story about mathematicians, it can get dense and technical at times – this reviewer will be first to admit to being terrible at and intimidated by maths. The film does not dumb down this crucial element of the story, and great pains are taken to credibly portray the process of calculating trajectories or programming the IBM 7090.

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Henson’s lead performance is engrossing and mesmerising. She portrays Katherine Goble as someone who is as passionate as she is hardworking, since Katherine did not have the privilege of merely coasting on her innate talent at mathematics. After her husband James dies of a brain tumour, Katherine and her mother Joylette (Donna Briscoe) are left to care for Katherine’s three children. The film’s romantic subplot, in which military officer Jim Johnson (Ali) woos Katherine, is just the right level of sweet.

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While Henson’s Katherine gets the most screen time out of the three leads, Dorothy and Mary get their own satisfying arcs as well. Dorothy’s drive in getting ahead of the curve so as not to be displaced by the newly-installed machines is rousing, while Monáe brings a confident feistiness to Mary, the most outspoken of the trio. Between this film and Moonlight, singer-songwriter Monáe is proving that she possesses not only impressive pipes and stage presence, but considerable acting chops too.

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Costner is a dependable presence as the firm but fair director of the Space Task Group. However, the supporting characters are where some of Hidden Figures’ authenticity is eroded. Composite characters are common in films based on a true story, and it turns out that “Al Harrison” is an amalgamation of three different directors at NASA’s Langley facility. This was done because Melfi was unable to secure the rights to portray the real-life NASA director. Both Parsons’ and Dunst’s antagonist characters are also fictional. They serve to embody the general prejudices of the times without being over-the-top villains, but also give the story a slightly Hollywood-ised feel. On the other hand, there’s actual historical figure John Glen, portrayed with winsomeness and good-natured charm by Glen Powell.

Hidden Figures is by no means a subtle film, but the racism of the time was far from subtle. This is a prestige picture that does not radiate hollow self-importance, but shines a light on little-known heroes who had the deck stacked against them. Thanks to this film and the book on which it is based, the contributions of Katherine, Dorothy and Mary remain hidden no longer.

 

Summary: While it’s fashioned as an awards season crowd-pleaser, the importance of Hidden Figures can’t be denied. More than just a history lesson, this film is genuinely inspiring and its message is as pertinent as ever.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

For F*** Magazine

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Director : Edward Zwick
Cast : Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Danika Yarosh, Austin Hebert, Patrick Heusinger, Aldis Hodge, Robert Knepper, Holt McCallany
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 58min
Opens : 20 October 2016
Rating : NC-16 (Violence)

jack-reacher-never-go-back-posterEnigmatic loner Jack Reacher (Cruise) is drifting back into theatres in this sequel to the 2012 action thriller. Reacher has been in contact with Major Susan Turner (Smulders), the commanding officer of his former Military Police unit. Turner has been assisting Reacher with cases across the country, and they’re finally about to meet face-to-face. When Reacher arrives in Washington, D.C., he discovers that Turner has been framed for espionage, after two of her men die in Afghanistan under mysterious circumstances. In the meantime, Reacher learns that a 15-year-old girl named Samantha (Yarosh) may or may not be his long-lost daughter. Reacher, Turner and Samantha go on the run, pursued by Captain Espin (Hodge) of the Military Police and a deadly mercenary known only as ‘the Hunter’(Heusinger). The Hunter reports to former general James Harkness (Knepper), who runs the private military firm Para Source, and who will stop at nothing to prevent the firm’s illegal activities from being exposed.

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Never Go Back is based on the 18th book in Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher series. Fans of the novels cried foul over Cruise’s casting: was there no one more suited to playing the gruff, blonde, 240 lb, 6’5” bruiser? Anyone who was dead set against Cruise as Reacher the first time will likely be unconvinced this time around. Replacing Christopher McQuarrie, the first film’s director, is Edward Zwick, who previously directed Cruise in The Last Samurai. This is solid, meat-and-potatoes action thriller stuff, layered with military procedure that’s mildly compelling at best. We do get some satisfyingly crunchy hand-to-hand fights and a tense foot chase set against a Halloween parade in New Orleans, but nobody’s intent on reinventing the wheel here. Things keep moving at a nice clip, but when the villains’ scheme is finally revealed, it’s rather underwhelming.

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While the action thriller beats are mostly generic, the character dynamics in Never Go Back shake things up a little. Reacher, Turner and Samantha are thrown together as an ad-hoc family unit: the strong silent type, the woman in charge and the moody teenager. Zwick finds just the right pitch such that the film has its intense, violent moments, but there’s also room for humour. The result is a movie that isn’t as downbeat and self-serious as it could’ve been, this lighter approach helping to offset the humdrum predictability of the main plot. There’s also a bit of a light shone on the plight of veterans who end up homeless or drug addicts after returning from combat abroad. Not an in-depth exploration of that serious topic by any means, but a glimpse of sobering reality in a largely inconsequential genre piece.

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There’s not too much to say about Cruise’s portrayal of Reacher because he never really becomes the character, he’s just Tom Cruise: action star. That’s not entirely a bad thing, because Tom Cruise the action star brings with him the charisma, confidence and physicality we’ve come to expect. At 54, he seems to be sprinting as fast as ever. It’s just that as portrayed in this and the previous Jack Reacher film, our hero is altogether too close to Ethan Hunt, Cruise’s character from the Mission: Impossible film series, when Reacher as described in the books should arguably be a little older and more wizened.

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If there’s one revelation out of this film, it’s that Smulders should totally be headlining more action flicks. In Never Go Back, she gets to kick significantly more ass than she has as Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Turner uses a meat mallet and a garden hose as combat implements; Smulders acquitting herself well in the action scenes. She’s a performer with an innate likeability, and because Smulders isn’t as unyielding and severe as the stereotypical image of military woman is, it helps make Turner more of a well-rounded character. There’s a bit of a screwball back-and-forth between Turner and Reacher, and at no point does Turner come off as the designated love interest. This is something that we should be seeing more often in action thrillers.

Yarosh’s Samantha is the annoying tagalong kid through and through, but the character’s rough upbringing does earn her a bit of slack. It’s a role that would’ve been played by Kristen Stewart ten or so years ago. Hodge’s Espin, the guy whose job it is to pursue our protagonists but is just following orders, could’ve been plenty boring, but Hodge does bring the right amount of liveliness to the part.

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Never Go Back does suffer in the villain department: private military contractor bad guys are, by now, pretty old hat. Heusinger’s Terminator-esque assassin, sporting scary black gloves, is occasionally frightening but lacks truly formidable presence. Harkness, the general-turned-PMC boss, is a typical Robert Knepper character, which is to say, slimy and shady. Alas, he’s far from a match for Werner Herzog, who made quite the impact as The Zec in the first film in spite of his limited screen time.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is unambitious but never unwatchable. While Cruise’s talents were certainly put to better use in last year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, it’s great seeing Smulders in action heroine mode, more than holding her own opposite a star of Cruise’s wattage.

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Summary: You’ve seen the military procedural stuff done better on TV, but a good number of action sequences and the somewhat unconventional action hero pairing of Tom Cruise and Cobie Smulders make this worthwhile.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong