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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: CATS [Universal]

Musicals are a bit of an odd cat. Initially perceived on a stage, perspective is the inherent necessary component in adapting for the screen. The best in this reviewer’s estimation is when it never diverges from song but to balance this you need both great actors and singers. This is why nearly 25 years later, “Evita” as an adaptation that still ranks among the best as well as something like “Oliver.” With the new addition of “Cats”, it continues a progression of adaptations like “Nine” which didn’t necessarily need to be made. Even with Universal’s “Mamma Mia” and its vastly superior sequel “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again”, there was a balance of tone that needed to be found. That is not the case here but again, that was the essence of the musical as well.

“Cats” wants to be and about something but it just doesn’t know what. Like many of Universal’s films in the past it is a big swing that inherently doesn’t work save for some inspired moments. The music itself, unlike Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Of The Opera,” is more 70s synth inspired so it is not classical based but more a perspective of jazz and funk with an element of acid. Certain sequences that one would think would be more intense like Ian McKellan’s older Gus approach feels flat whereas the Skimbleshanks Tap Cat is absolute glee but with intensity, showmanship and barrel roll pace. It is the only scene where Hooper seems to take the film out of the main soundstage and makes it cinematic. That is what the film is missing most of the time but inherently that would be even more expensive. They were trying so hard to make sure the cats effects on the actors look good, they forgot that it is all about the feeling. The film instead is made for the die hard theater goer and not the broader audience base.

The one person beyond that who perhaps knows what the film needs is Judi Dench as Deuteronomy. As a point of contention, she is the most unlikely member of the cast one would think but she gives a sense of whimsy and weight, especially in the final moments. She has a wink in her eye but it is not as glaringly overplayed as say Minnie Driver in “Phantom Of The Opera”. Idris Elba as the villain Macavity per se has the intention but it plays more to a cartoonish representation slinking around with a sense of mischief. The tone, like with the play, can be all over the place as each cat is so different. Like Skimbleshanks, Jason Derulo doing “Rum Tum Tugger” is fantastic in its own way because it is funk personified. In an overall way, many of the bits as well as the slight off-kilter production design reminds this reviewer of “The Wiz”, another slightly misguided adaptation with whimsy and brilliance peppered in but missing something ultimately.

The one undeniable point which was apparent through and through from the trailer and is the most powerful point of the movie was Jennifer Hudson as Grizabella. Her painful and powerful rendition of “Memories” and its eventual progression is heart wrenching. But again, it is its own movie and a minute amount of screen time in the overall construct. It is the rock of the play but that is all that it is. James Corden and Rebel Wilson’s respective vignettes are their own ideals. “Cats” might have worked better as a music video episodic. It is so many things without being one. While the throughline is becoming a Jelicle Cat is very vague, the stream that is supposed to keep it together is Victoria (played by Franscesca Hayward). She is adequate but her performance shows she is overwhelmed by all around her. While this is part of her character make up, a stronger lead would have helped but again one does not want to overwhelm the main stars.

Taylor Swift, also joins the aspect on centerpiece scene involving catnip. She wants to be a vixen at the center of the showstopper but most of the time, she tries so hard that is never comes off as authentic. She is not that vixen and is not a dancer but almost doesn’t try (possibly for fear of looking awkward). She loves cats in general so her inclusion is completely understood and warranted. It also provides the film its new song “Beautiful Ghosts” which Swift wrote with Webber. A good marketing angle for sure.

“Cats” is its own monster in a sometimes off-putting but undeniably unique way. The blend of too much and too little. For example, the inherent way the cats interact with noses and rubbing their heads together is a creative choice as is much of the choreographing but it almost overbearing but not quite so. The musical scitzophrenia is part of the show’s undeniable draw but also the hardest aspect to adapt. In years to come “Cats” will likely gain a following. The talent is diversified and intensive. The direction shows a world but perhaps one racing too much towards the finish line. When it stops for a moment and breathes, it runs the risk of collapsing under its own intentions.

C-

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: YESTERDAY [Universal]

The texture of “Yesterday” is predicated on a simple idea if one can suspend disbelief in what is actually transpiring. In embracing a diversity structure, the ideal of Hamish Patel as Jack who becomes a leading songwriter after the blinking out of power and earth and him being subsequently hit by a bus sets an alternative history in motion. Films in the 80s did this kind of switch many times without blinking. If one can get past the story of that (there are many other things that change besides the absence of The Beatles but those are on the periphery), then it becomes a fairly cohesive romantic comedy in a way. Balanced between the idea of creative fulfillment and the notion of happiness strikes very real as the film goes on. An undeniable meeting later in the film that acts as a spark point of revelation heightens the heart of the film in an undeniable way but almost seems like a different plane from the rest of the film.

Danny Boyle as a director here does understand the material but interestingly enough Richard Curtis, the writer, who is known for “Love Actually” provides a different access point in terms of the story. Curtis’ strengths blend between relationships with levity and a touch of drama and Boyle sometimes strays towards the darker edges of life. The aspect of his stylistic touches inhabit the beginning of the movie but seem to disappear into the background as the film progresses. The resolution is a foregone conclusion. The different supporting parts listed do well though are sometimes off tone. Ed Sheeran plays himself but comes off simply as a plot ploy more than anything else. Kate McGinnon as his manager via Ed simply mods for the camera while being both chideful and manic in a off-center sort of way. No film yet (save for a bit in “Ghostbusters”) has found a way to channel her correctly. Joel Fry as Jack’s would-be roadie Rocky makes for some funny off-thoughts and character moments like Ewan Bremner as Spud in Boyle’s “Trainspotting”.

The heart of the film is Lily James who works well her but only serves a catalyst for the plot. Her specificity on what she want is very endearing but, there is so much more that lurks below the surface that isn’t truly allowed to brim. However it is Hamish Patel’s Jack who is the focus of the journey and while engaging, his character is more just along for the ride. He may figure it out but the choice elements regarding his path make it almost inevitable. But if you like The Beatles and their music, one can overlook many of the films failings but also enjoy its strengths.

C

By Tim Wassberg

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