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IR Film Review: ONWARD [Pixar/Disney]

The creation of new stories especially from the talent at Pixar is an interesting evolving evolution. The new iterations of IP are the first per se of originals after the departure of John Lasseter. Even though his removal was warranted, and despite the presence of so many of the original creative people, there is a slight hole, however miniscule within the structure. “Onward” works well and bring in textures of mythology but within the context of a modern world. It is intrinsic but, despite the quest motif, almost seems smaller than one would expect. The story works well though maybe a slight more complicated that the usual Pixar but as always deals with some sort of loss that must be regained through the transformation and path of a character.

The story follows the texture of two brothers, one of which Ian (played by Tom Holland) is becoming a man. He lost his father before he ever knew him. Barley, his brother, (played by Chris Pratt) is a fun-loving almost D&D outsider who teases his brother but loves him in his way nonetheless. This is not our world. This is a magical world where winged horses fight over garbage like dogs and cats and homes are sometimes made of mushroom. But modernism has taken the place of magic…which of course is an apt metaphor. The brothers discover a spell that will bring their father back for one day but the initial try (because Ian hasn’t ever tried to use magic) makes it so that only the bottom half of their father is there. In order to restore them they have to find another crystal that goes in a wand to conjure up the other half. Only problem is that the resurrection spell for their father only lasts for a day.

The quest itself is fun but mostly bittersweet. Small gestures by the bottom half of the dad are so small but mean so much which is why Pixar has always been able to translate to multiple languages. Holland plays a variation on his characters that start off meek but find a small degree of confidence by the end. Pratt’s Barney seems much closer to him as a person, even with his van Guinevere, which is an ode to Pratt’s life in his early 20s when he lived in his van in Hawaii. Pratt seems to go off script a little which is great but it seems maybe the animators tried to bridge it at times.

The true magic of the quest and the connection is almost a circle as the film ends in an interesting conundrum of a loop which actually works quite well and is quite existential in a way that “Finding Nemo” was in a way. But the realization in the final moments is handled exceptionally and with poignancy that, despite any shenanigans with the brothers, comes out truly 3-dimensional and formed. “Onward” is a evolving perspective of Pixar in staying with its true mission of stories of redemption while still making it undeniably heartfelt and accessible.

A-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE INVISIBLE MAN [Universal]

The narrative progression of an IP like “The Invisible Man” can take perspective elements on the notion of existence and what it means to be alive. In approaching it in the Blumhouse model, it forces the filmmaker to find that differing approach. Leigh Whannel, known for the SAW Franchise with James Wan, seemed to have figured out something very specific when he made “Upgrade” a couple years ago which premiered at SxSW. He spoke about the difference about having one car for a car chase instead of 10. Working with less makes you approach different things creatively. While this might seem restrictive for some filmmakers who have already made their name, it is also freeing (depending on financial responsibility on who succeeds monetarily with this frugalness).

“The Invisible Man” is much better than it has any right to be but that is because of the committed nature of Elizabeth Moss and Whannel knowing how to work with cinematic perspective for much of the movie without anything really being there…but also knowing not to pull the punches when need be. Despite any genre trappings, there is an emotional resonance with Moss. She gets tossed around but these kind of damaged personas that burgeon to a vicious streak at times make her perfect, giving her that character actor edge. She made “The Kitchen” work at points because she went for it. It is not that her character has abandon, she just fully commits to it. While some might point to an element of overacting, it is a style that works primarily well in these types of films…and Moss knows it.

One crucial point in the film, Whannel does something interesting between the trailer and the actual film which acts to a point of misdirect without even adhering to the big reveal…and it hits hard in that moment to audible gasps. The set pieces feel familiar but also original which is also helped by the fact that the story is set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley yet it was shot in Australia and near Fox Studios Sydney so it has that movie feel of being real but not quite. The continuation of what “The Invisible Man” actually is, of course, reflective of the times but doesn’t make it a matter of scolding, just a state of being. Moss’ character wants to escape an abusive relationship but it is coming to terms with both the mental and physical strain that resides in how she sees herself.

When the genre elements finally kick in, that sense of identity is nicely teetering, especially in one scene after a betrayal of sorts when she is sitting on the floor with a knife in hand staring at an empty room, ruminating on the aspect of why she specifically exists in this space. It may be exposition but it rings heartfelt which makes the next scene really take the fight to a more practical level and thereby makes it more intense. Moss again is great at these points selling them wholesale. The antagonist(s) themselves are fairly thinly drawn, but that angle of the story is not so much central as is the notion of paranoia and control which is very finely detailed.

“The Invisible Man” is an interesting reverse psychology exercise into the diatribe that permeates our times. From the opening credits that tease a noir in certain respects, this approach to the Universal Monster Universe is the correct one: lower budget, using story and acting instead of overarching effects and the essence of psychology which is what made the mid budget films of yesterday so compelling, Making something dynamic is not so much the sum of its parts, but that essence of work between the lines in that what cannot be seen often is scarier than what is right in front of you.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: GUNS AKIMBO [Saban]

The trajectory of high octane, almost video game mentality genre has its great moments. A couple years ago “Hardcore Henry” showed at Toronto Film Festival, the extreme levels from which a lot of ideas could flow. Ryan Reynolds’ upcoming “Free Guy” will appproach it from another perspective but one with more money and mainstream humor. “Guns Akimbo” is much more gritty but takes its point of view from similar approach. Daniel Radcliffe plays a mousy if not slightly passive game/code designer who trolls website with the implication that he will eventually be called on his miscredence. The overarching villain aspect of the piece is a form of Death Death Kill where opponents are set against each other in the real world trying to kill each other. The big winner is Nix, played by Samara Weaving of “Ready Or Not”, going full bore into a nightmare version of Tank Girl mixed with Harley Quinn. One can see glimpses of her uncle, Hugo Weaving in some of her viscosity. After “Ready Or Not”, this almost seems too archaic for her, though definitely powerful and comedic.

Ultimately the progression is about subverting expectations. Although some of plot twists start to play melodramatic so they can be ripped to shreds, the losses and stakes never really add up to much. The pace is fairly fast and furious. Some of the set pieces, especially a road race per se where Radcliffe can barely drive the car because guns are nailed to his hands, uniquely gratifying. These nailed hands is the main visual structure of the piece and Radcliffe embraces them as possible. When it was announced, the film was expected to played to its graphic novel beats. Radcliffe as always picks material not necessarily for the character itself but its concept within the world. Within the trinity trio of Harry Potter, he has been the one who has taken the most risks though Emma Watson has gone for bigger budget fare with varying success. The thematics here of identity and who we want to be and who we think we are definitely integrate into the story. The resolution is typical graphic novel style overload but undeniably entertaining with the set up ripe for engagement and continuation. “Guns Akimbo” is good fun with its tongue-in-cheek, a good sense of itself and a flagrant style.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

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