Movie reviews by
3 (out of 4)
The Dark Universe is dead – long live individual movies! So by now everyone has forgotten about The Mummy (not the Brendan Fraser one, the one with Tom Cruise, remember? he had like a blue shirt), and if you recall that 2017 embarrassment it’s for no good reason. Soon after Universal’s shared spooky-verse was supposed to include Johnny Depp in the titular role of the movie in question, the next step in the supposed franchise. Next to the 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man was always an appreciable favorite: an oddball madman undone by his own creative ambitions, a genius turned loony, misanthropic prankster. Maybe it's not what H. G. Wells was going for but as a pulpy gothic shock-treatment like many early Universal features were, the manic and now iconic vision of science gone too far was memorable fun.
After many needless follow-ups, reimaginings and remakes in the years since the 1933 inception of the unseen icon, The Invisible Man is revisioned by Leigh Whannell, who after a career built on horror’s painful sequel turnover in the Saw and Insidious franchises found some semblance of artistic purpose in Upgrade, a standout sci-fi action hybrid of late. I wish more of his palpable energy could be located in The Invisible Man, but unfortunately the story – which uses domestic abuse as the ironically conspicuous theme of a minimalist take of the premise – is entertaining before it gets a little self-congratulatory.
Psychological terror and especially feminist cinema has a place in my heart and also in the tradition of horror, and the success of The Invisible Man is lies in timeless, tasteful restraint. The film is slight but by no means exploitative, nor is it excessive in other facets like outrageous gore or pedantic politics. Though if you're a forgiving fan of Paul Verhoven's lesser work, you might be craving the more recognizable sci-fi of something like 2000's problematic but fascinating Hollow Man, it’s hard to deny 2020's fun mental games and procession of inescapable paranoia. The final twists can keep you on your toes and Elizabeth Moss is already too good for the movie star cred she will have fully inherited before the Handmaid’s days are done.
It would be nice to believe Universal is wisely opting for DC’s latest strategy and giving up entirely on duplicating Marvel’s interlocking, monopolizing tactics in favor of director-driven, distinct movies but it's too early to tell. If you want to give me the modest modern auteur versions of Bride of Frankenstein, Creature and a fresh The Wolf Man (with Ryan Gosling no less!) then…. by all means. There’s not really a rule of thumb but something tells me keeping costs low and blockbuster prospects in check will equate to swifter success.
Then again there's nothing more terrifying than cutting short the potential profits of a sleeper horror hit in the wake of an invisible disease spreading across the globe. When (but more like if) things go back to normal, Universal's scary movies will probably have the sheen of Blumhouse surrogates but will, if luck and prudence holds, be much better.
2 (out of 4)
DC’s little renaissance hasn’t gone unnoticed, nor could it have occurred at a better time. Just as the sun was beginning to set on Marvel’s indisputable empire, DC stopped mimicking and started outthinking, using the least likely moneymaker’s – Aquaman, Shazam and supervillain spin-offs – to readily revert their superhero movie empire back to the individual basis. As Wonder Woman 1984 this June should be one of the year’s highest earners, Birds of Prey enters the scene with all the fervor Margot Robbie, as star and executive producer, can commit to. The film is little more than underwhelming, barely taking the time to explore a storyline that would be suitable for a TV pilot. But the talent and budget is there, sadly saddled with a subversion-lite, fairly prudish use of an R rating.
But surprisingly, no one really cares about this movie and there’s really no reason they should. It’s fine next to Marvel's Ford-assembly-model movies, but barely exceeding Ant-Man and the Wasp can’t really be considered much of an accomplishment. Birds of Prey doesn’t have any point and admits it, but isn’t much fun as compensation other than some pretty good stunts and a couple laughs. Though the band of female misfits are all eventually decently developed by the team up, they couldn’t have been scripted or edited together more awkwardly, unless we’re talking about Suicide Squad’s stupidity. I didn’t really care for Deadpool, but that movie does the meta, schizophrenic storytelling thing with more proven relish and popularity, and the sequel made better on the promise of the first. If I could tell certain moments of cute ignorance from the spots of lazy writing with Harley Quinn's movie, there would be more reason to celebrate a finely forthright feminist mini-blockbuster that doesn’t pat itself on the back or smack you with every message, a rarity in a era of increasingly fake-woke pandering.
Maybe I’m just mad that Mary Elizabeth Winstead wasn’t in every single scene I MEAN excuse me oh dear my male gaze is showing. But man, when your best stuff is generic villain crap held up by Ewan McGregor hamfisting every line with casual glee, your little spin-off is in sorry shape. Changing the title doesn’t actually change a thing. With a James Gunn-ified sort-of-sequel Suicide Squad already filming, the disposable quaintness of Birds of Prey feels even more glaring.
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
On the Rocks
The Trial of the Chicago 7
and many more
"So what've you been up to?"
and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice