Review – Never Rarely Sometimes Always

FILM REVIEWNEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS. With Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Theodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten. Written and directed by Eliza Hittman. Rated PG-13 for disturbing/mature thematic content, language, some sexual references and teen drinking. 101 minutes.

never_rarely_sometimes_alwaysThe first thing seventeen-year-old Autumn Callahan does after learning she’s pregnant is heat up a safety pin on the gas stove and pierce her nose in her kitchen. She doesn’t explain why, and the movie doesn’t have to tell us. We can already see that this is a young woman’s awkward attempt to assert some sense of control over her body, trying to reclaim a feeling of personal agency after so much has been taken away. Writer-director Eliza Hittman’s extraordinary third feature NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS has a lot of scenes like this, where the characters are revealed through their actions instead of dialogue. It’s a small miracle of inferences and implicit understandings.

Played by the remarkable first-timer Sidney Flanigan, Autumn is a typical teen in run-down rural Pennsylvania, working at the local chain supermarket and coming home to an abusive dad who sulks in the other room with what appears to be an endless supply of insults and cigarettes. Her slightly more worldly cousin and co-worker Skylar (Talia Ryder) dodges party invitations from creepy older guys in the checkout line, while they’re both relentlessly harassed by the store’s sketchy manager. It’s Skylar who puts together what needs to be done, silently packing an oversized suitcase. There’s no place for Autumn to get an abortion in rural Pennsylvania.

After a harrowing tour of what passes for women’s health clinics in such communities — with their chintzy store-bought pregnancy tests, legalese lectures and Christian propaganda videos – the two girls steal away in the dead of night with a fistful of crumpled cash swiped from the supermarket register drops. They’re headed to a Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn, dragging along behind them that large, clunky luggage that serves purposes less practical than metaphorical. The film could easily have been a hectoring screed – an Afterschool Special about young women’s rights, preaching to the converted how laws that claim to make teenage girls safer only serve to endanger them further.

Fortunately for us, Hittman’s approach is entirely experiential. She nestles the handheld camera up close to her actresses’ faces until we can read behind their eyes, inside their souls. Autumn and Skylar don’t talk much, and they don’t have to. We’re not told anything about what their lives were like before the movie began, and we never even learn who it was that got Autumn pregnant. It doesn’t matter because the film exists in the same moment-to-moment, here-and-now headspace as our heroines, just trying to overcome the latest obstacle before the next one comes along, with no time to take a larger view. (Helene Louvart’s gorgeously grainy, cramped cinematography complements the characters’ tunnel vision.) The film feels like a cousin to the Romanian New Wave masterpiece “Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days” by way of Kelly Reichardt’s “Wendy and Lucy.”

It’s such a gratifying feeling when a filmmaker you’ve been following for some time finally knocks one out of the park. I fell hard for Hittman’s debut “It Felt Like Love” at Sundance seven years ago, one of those surreal, only-at-a-film-festival afternoons where everyone from the film you’ve just watched suddenly streams into the bar you’re drinking at. Her follow-up “Beach Rats” won directing and jury awards at the same festival four years later, with “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” earning a Special Jury Award for “Neorealism” at Sundance this past January, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I kid because I worry that such a label gives short-shrift to the artfulness of Hittman’s technique, the skill with which her subtractions become additions in the audience’s imaginations. One need only look at the astonishing centerpiece sequence from which the film takes its title, a locked-down reaction shot of Autumn while a nurse reads through a required questionnaire. Flanigan’s face takes us through an astounding array of emotions, her hardened shell of teenage diffidence cracking and giving way, but only for seconds at a time that reveal her entire world. It’s as stunning a scene as you’ll see all year, breathtaking in its stripped-down simplicity.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always” was at the start of a slow theatrical rollout when cinemas were closed due to the coronavirus. Distributor Focus Features’ parent company NBC/Universal has just put the movie out on Premium VOD for $19.99. Though slightly cheaper than a pair of movie tickets, this is still an admittedly steep charge for a low-budget indie, especially considering how other arthouse distributors are charging far less for rentals and splitting the proceeds with your local theaters. (God forbid a struggling little company like NBC/Universal share the wealth.)

Still, I’m happy that the film is at least able to be seen. One of the most important things that movies can do is show us our world through the eyes of another. Far too many people –especially lawmakers—see young women like Autumn and Skylar as abstractions or statistics, pawns to be used in political games. They’ve never stopped to imagine things from any perspective besides their own. A couple of guys I know have complained about the depiction of men in this film, about how there always seems to be a masturbating weirdo in the subway car or a leering creep lurking around every corner. They’re uncomfortable with how unsafe these girls are made to feel in average, everyday situations, which I believe is exactly the movie’s point.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – The Jesus Rolls

FILM REVIEWTHE JESUS ROLLS. With John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale, Audrey Tautou, Jon Hamm, Susan Sarandon. Written and directed by John Turturro. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and brief nudity. 85 minutes.

jesus_rolls_ver3John Turturro’s purple-jumpsuited pederast Jesus Quintana had less than five minutes of screen time in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic, “The Big Lebowski.” Another picaresque digression in a movie that on the surface appeared to be assembled of nothing but such distractions – don’t get me started on the secret structural genius of “Lebowski” or I’ll sound as annoying as its most vociferous fans — Quintana was a throwaway slo-mo gag and a prosthetic penis that clearly meant a lot to Turturro, as he’s spent the past couple decades trying to talk the Coens into revisiting the character. Now 22 years later, with the Brothers’ blessing (though not their creative input), at long last arrives THE JESUS ROLLS.

“Lebowski” fanatics are bound to be disappointed and more than a little confused, which is fine by me because a lot of those guys are as obnoxious as people who love “The Boondock Saints,” except with better taste in movies. Written and directed by Turturro, this curious spinoff has little interest in revisiting the Coens’ zonked Raymond Chandler revisionism and instead turns out to be an almost scene-for-scene remake of Bertrand Blier’s breathtakingly tasteless 1974 counterculture comedy “Going Places,” which starred Gerard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere as what Roger Ebert called “two loutish, brutal and unclean young men” stealing cars and enjoying assorted acts of sexual deviancy up and down the bourgeoisie countryside.

“The Jesus Rolls” was for a long time also titled “Going Places” until the distributor changed it to further emphasize the “Lebowski” connection. But the French title of the original translated to a slang term meaning “Balls,” which was far more fitting as the 1974 film is basically two dumb testicles clanging into each other for two hours and I should probably be ashamed of how hard I laughed at it. Turturro’s remake offers the curious spectacle of scenes from Blier’s film being recreated almost shot-for-shot – right down to identical costumes at times – except now starring Jesus from “The Big Lebowski” and Bobby Cannavale as his lunkhead partner, Petey. (The heedless, wanton sexuality has been tamped down somewhat from “1970s French film” levels but remains off-the-charts for an American movie of our neo-Puritanical era.)

Turturro is 63 years old and Cannavale turns 50 this year, so the horndog shenanigans have a decidedly different, somewhat sadder affect than when they were enacted by the then-twentysomething Depardieu and Dewaere. We are however relieved to learn that Quintana’s infamous incident with the eight-year-olds has been ret-conned to a misunderstanding at a urinal for which he was unfairly imprisoned, and that the enormously endowed Jesus actually has a happy, healthy attitude towards having as much sex as often as possible, but with adults only. He even tries to put the moves on Petey, explaining “it’s okay when friends do it.”

Fresh out of jail, these two hook up with a hotsy-totsy hairdresser played by Audrey Tautou, who despite 347 previous sexual partners and plenty of concerted effort from Jesus and Petey, has yet to achieve orgasm. They’ve stolen a vintage car from her rich jerk boyfriend (Jon Hamm, going all in) who promptly shoots Petey in the behind, grazing his scrotum so that Cannavale spends the first half hour of the movie screaming “Ow, my balls!” and worrying that he’ll never again get an erection.

“The Jesus Rolls” sprints haphazardly through Blier’s loosey-goosey narrative, rushing through an obligatory checklist of “Lebowski” references early on as if getting them out of the way, before ditching the bowling alley altogether for a progression of atonal episodes (and usually group sex) with celebrity guest stars and famous friends of the filmmaker. The finest of these finds Susan Sarandon in the role Jeanne Moreau played in the original picture, bringing much-needed ballast to the lewd proceedings with a mysterious sadness behind her eyes. It’s a killer cameo, and if I may say so, the 73-year-old knockout throws herself into a threesome with great gusto.

Turturro is one of our finest actors and a most perplexing filmmaker, with an attitude towards onscreen sexuality more in tune with European films of his youth. His oddball 2007 musical “Romance and Cigarettes” had James Gandolfini singing Springsteen songs to woo Kate Winslet at her most hubba-hubba carnal (and yet somehow with this setup it was not the greatest movie ever made.) Turturro also quite generously cast himself as a sex worker servicing Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara in his 2013 “Fading Gigolo,” in which Woody Allen played his pimp. What these movies have in common is that they sound way more entertaining than they actually are, and I suppose one might say the same for “The Jesus Rolls.”

Yet I can’t help but feel a strange affection for this misbegotten picture, while also breathing a sigh of relief that Turturro wisely chose not to replicate the scene from the 1974 film in which the boys cheerfully relieve a teenage Isabelle Huppert of her virginity. It’s just such a screwy idea shoving a random Coen Brothers’ character into one of your raunchy world cinema favorites, like remaking “Time Me Up! Tie Me Down!” with Mike Yanagita from “Fargo.” I must admit that Jesus was never my favorite part of “Lebowski,” but his sunny, anything-goes disposition kind of grew on me here, just hanging out all happy with his hairnet and his giant wang. One might even say that he abides.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past two decades, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – The Hunt

FILM REVIEWTHE HUNTWith Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee. Written by Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof. Directed by Craig Zobel. Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout. 89 minutes.

hunt_ver2THE HUNT is a dark and violent satire that got pulled off the release schedule last year after two mass shootings (in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio). As with some films that got rescheduled after 9/11, it was the right thing to do. Now it can be seen in its own context, and it is an over-the-top take on political extremism of all stripes.

The set-up is that a bunch of people, dubbed “Deplorables” (after Hillary Clinton’s infamous characterization of supporters of Donald Trump), find themselves regaining consciousness in a field. In a variation of the famous short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” they are about to become the prey of a group of politically correct elitists. You may recognize several actors but don’t get too attached to any of them. As quickly becomes apparently, no one is safe.

Eventually we come to focus on Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a veteran with the smarts and fighting skills to survive. She learns not to trust anyone, even those who are supposedly other victims of this plot, as she works her way to Athena (Hilary Swank), a wealthy corporate executive who seems to be pulling the strings. Gilpin is great in the role, and her character is one who earns our respect.

As satire, no one should confuse this with “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag The Dog.” This is more in keeping with “The Purge” movies which, not surprisingly, are also from Blumhouse Productions, a company which gets some top talent to do horror movies on a tight budget. Still, it has some sharp and funny insights as to the way both sides of our current political divide caricature each other. As with the best such material, it has something to offend the hypersensitive of every stripe.

Tightly written, the film clocks in at just under 90 minutes, while offering a knockdown, drag-out fight between the two female leads that’s bloodier and more acrobatic than anything seen in many recent action films. The story is complete, without the need for a sequel, but don’t be surprised – if the film is a big hit – that there’s at least one survivor at the end who could take things forward.

“The Hunt” is a pulpy B-movie that will primarily appeal to the action and horror fans for whom it was made. However, it will also work for those able to accept such trappings and appreciate the wit and cleverness that are invested in the otherwise lurid proceedings. Except for those snowflakes on the left and the right who can’t brook any criticism or incorrectness, it’s a satisfying, visceral send-up of our current politics.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Way Back

FILM REVIEWTHE WAY BACK. Starring Ben Affleck, Janina Gavankar, Al Madrigal, Brandon Wilson, Michaela Watkins. Written by Brad Ingelsby and Gavin O’Connor. Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Rated R for language throughout including some sexual references. 108 minutes.

way_back_ver2In many ways, Ben Affleck – the Burt Reynolds of Generation X – wears his stardom lightly and always seems to be having a better time than you are, creating an easy rapport with the audience that overcomes his rather limited range and an unfortunate penchant for making terrible movies. Like Burt before him, he’s locked into a perpetual comeback cycle and whenever he finds himself solidly back on the upswing has an uncanny knack for mucking things up in spectacular fashion. Affleck’s ubiquitous tabloid travails have made it impossible for him to really disappear into a character, with his best roles these days being thinly veiled considerations of his Affleck-ness. 2014’s “Gone Girl” may have been the ultimate meditation on Being Ben, but THE WAY BACK comes a close second.

An inspirational sports drama directed by Gavin O’Connor – whose “Miracle” and “Warrior” were both about as good as this genre gets – the film stars Affleck as a California construction worker who begins every morning with shower-beers and at night the regulars all help carry him home from his neighborhood dive bar. A star basketball player back in high school, he walked away from a full-boat scholarship to spite his dad and has seemingly devoted the rest of his life to screwing up in one way or another, until his old alma mater comes calling, looking for a new coach.

The screenplay (which the director wrote with Brad Inglesby) is pretty boilerplate stuff. Think “Hoosiers” with Dennis Hopper as the head coach, or “The Bad News Bears” if Buttermaker’s alcoholism was supposed to be sad. But the thing about formulas is that they work, and it’s impossible not to get swept up in the familiar beats of the misfit coach turning around a losing team just in time for the playoffs. O’Connor knows how to low-key sidle up to triumphant moments on the court, making them feel earned instead of obligated. The grainy cinematography and rough-and-tumble production design scuff up the script’s Disney slickness, as does Affleck’s habit of bellowing f-words in front of priests at this Catholic school for boys.

He’s terrific in this, by the way. Burly and bearded, exuding the same shambolic gravity he brought to his shockingly effective turn in last year’s nifty “Triple Frontier,” Affleck is finally aging into the soulful screen presence he couldn’t pull off in his self-directed performances. (There’s a reason the best movie he’s helmed stars his little brother.) Playing a jock gone to seed is the perfect use of a persona that in his early stardom too often came off as callow or fratty. Consequences look good on him.

The film plays footsie with Affleck’s real life, excessively well-documented substance abuse issues, to a point where I felt like his confessional promo campaign bordered on distasteful. But boy can this guy crush a drunk scene. Exhibiting the same elan with which in “Triple Frontier” he slipped his breakfast beer into a cozy before driving his daughter to school, Affleck has a showstopper of a sequence here when he houses a 24-pack, rattling around his empty apartment at night, rehearsing his half of imaginary conversations while making sure to always pop the next can into the freezer so it’ll be ice cold when he drains this one.

Unfortunately, in its second hour the film veers from the tried-and-true. Right when we’re really rolling with the team and getting to know the players, “The Way Back” drops a surprise tragic backstory for Ben and pulls our attention away from the game. It’s a development that’s honestly too big for this modest movie to bear, throwing everything that follows out of whack and cheapening the character’s self-destructive tendencies by explaining them away. As it becomes more overtly melodramatic, the film becomes less emotionally effective, straining for massive moments as if Affleck had gotten jealous of kid brother Casey’s “Manchester By The Sea.”

The kids and the game that we’d become so invested in are all but lost here, and it feels like crucial scenes have gone missing during the runup to the playoffs. (Curiously, initial press materials listed the film’s running time as 29 minutes longer than it is now. A last-minute edit, perhaps?) I’m not often one to complain about movies being too short but this one feels awfully tight around the middle.

I wanted more time in the paint. As with his superlative hockey scenes in “Miracle,” O’Connor is excellent at conveying the strategy of sport without just letting an announcer to explain to the audience what’s going on. There’s a great bit in which Affleck sketching out a play is intercut with the team pulling it off, and of course it’s pure gold every time our coach cusses out the referees. “The Way Back” barely puts any emphasis at all on the big game, by then mired in off-court drama that’s decidedly less interesting. But I guess there’s something poetic and in character about such a solid Ben Affleck comeback vehicle finding a way to screw everything up.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past twenty years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Spenser Confidential

FILM REVIEWSPENSER CONFIDENTIAL. With Mark Wahlberg, Winston Duke, Alan Arkin, Iliza Shlesinger, Bokeem Woodbine. Written by Sean O’Keefe and Brian Helgeland. Directed by Peter Berg. Rated R for violence, language throughout and sexual content. 111 minutes.

Parker smothers

spenser_confidentialLeaving fingerprints smeared with Wahlburgers’ grease all over a beloved Boston institution, SPENSER CONFIDENTIAL takes Robert B. Parker’s sly, sophisticated private eye and dumbs him down into another one of its star’s patented, know-it-all knuckleheads. Immortalized in 40 Parker novels, three seasons of ABC’s “Spenser: For Hire,” a bevy of TV-movies and spinoffs along with a sorely missed bookshop on Newbury Street, the dashing detective was the most erudite self-described “thug” in crime fiction. A former boxer and ex-cop, the mononymous Spenser was also a gourmet cook with a penchant for quoting poets when he wasn’t busting bad guys’ heads. Now, though, he’s just an asshole.

The new film, so I’m told, is very loosely adapted from one of eight Spenser novels penned by author Ace Atkins since Parker’s death in 2010. (I confess I haven’t read any of them, but then I never read Parker’s Phillip Marlowe books either, as I don’t like estate-sanctioned literary fanfic.) It’s an origin story of sorts with Wahlberg playing a hot-headed uniformed cop we first meet beating the crap out of his crooked captain. “The son of a bitch deserved it,” he explains to the judge. Released after five years in Walpole, our hero wants nothing more than to graduate from tractor-trailer driving school and relocate to Arizona, but unfinished business in the old neighborhood keeps conspiring to get in his way. Especially when that old commanding officer of his is found massacred in a school bus parking lot.

“Spenser Confidential” basically just borrows a few names of characters from the Parker novels, with Alan Arkin phoning it in as cantankerous boxing coach Henry Cimoli and Winston Duke reimagining Spenser’s suave sidekick Hawk as a dim-bulb MMA fighter who doesn’t know how to throw a punch. (Of course, Wahlberg teaches him how to fight. As per what must be a clause in the star’s contract by now, he spends a good deal of the movie walking around correcting people, occasionally interrupted by underprivileged folks from the neighborhood stopping to tell him what a great guy he is.) During an early scene, Spenser is glimpsed wearing glasses while reading a book and I was terrified for a moment that we were about to hear Mark Wahlberg recite poetry, but luckily that personality quirk was abandoned along with the detective’s affinity for fine dining.

The central whodunit is hardly a headscratcher, with a criminal mastermind so inept he leaves a chewed toothpick at the murder scene. There isn’t a great deal of gumshoe work in the scenario, just lots of shots in which the camera circles worshipfully at a low angle under Wahlberg as he gazes up into the sun, nodding like he’s just figured something out. (I guess they thought this was more cinematic than simply having him say “A-ha!”) The rest of the time he’s getting the crap kicked out of him by four or five guys at once. I suppose having the star lose so many fights is intended to make him seem more down-to-earth, but considering the outrageous odds stacked against him, Spenser always holding his own for tediously long periods of time somehow feels even more egomaniacal.

It’s a surprise Wahlberg and director Peter Berg were allowed back in town after their loathsome 2016 “Patriots Day,” a crassly exploitative wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the star singlehandedly solved the Boston marathon bombing and received effusive thanks from a grateful Commonwealth. “Spenser Confidential” isn’t nearly as offensive (how could it be?) but rather merely content to traffic in exhausted Southie stereotypes and the usual donkey Irish burlesques, most characters carrying on like that Casey Affleck Dunkin’ Donuts commercial from “Saturday Night Live.” The low point is probably a brawl at a replica of the long-closed West Broadway bar Slainte during a Sox game while everybody’s singing “Sweet Caroline.” This is the kind of quote-unquote Boston movie you’d expect from a couple of Lakers fans.

Berg’s direction is uncharacteristically enervated, with a good-enough-for-government-work vibe to the slapdash staging. (Like a lot of Netflix movies, this one is also egregiously overlit. It looks like a pilot for a TNT show.) Any mystery reader will be at least a half-hour ahead of our characters, and the broad, cartoonish attempts at comedy don’t mesh with the mawkishly sentimental salutes to our hero’s fundamental decency. Berg lazily tosses in so many hacky music cues from local bands like Boston and Aerosmith, I can only assume that the Dropkick Murphys have become prohibitively expensive.

Re-watching a few early episodes of “Spenser: For Hire” this week I was taken all over again not just with the air of worldly melancholy Robert Urich brought to the detective or the smooth, Clarence Clemons-esque charms of Avery Brooks’ Hawk, but also with a vision of our fair city that’s constricted considerably as its big-screen profile has expanded. The extensive and impressive location shooting on the ABC program showcased a Boston of universities, fancy restaurants and upscale cultural institutions existing alongside the inevitable underworld shenanigans. The elegance was aspirational, as was the characters’ educated banter, unlike the loutish shouting of fuckwords and meathead, street-smaht posturing that dominate “Spenser Confidential.”

For the love of God, don’t let these people anywhere near “Cheers.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Over the past twenty years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Onward

FILM REVIEWONWARDWith the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez. Written by Dan Scanlon & Jason Headley & Keith Bunin. Directed by Dan Scanlon. Rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements. 102 minutes.

Brothers in charms

onward_ver11When Pixar is at its best (“Up,” “Inside Out”), its animated movies can make us laugh one moment and tug at the heartstrings the next. ONWARD is similarly pedigreed and lives up to that high standard. It should appeal to viewers of all ages.

The story is set in a magical suburbia. The inhabitants are all fantasy figures like elves, unicorns, and centaurs, but we’re told that many have forsaken magic for the conveniences of the modern world. Ian Lightfoot (voice of Tom Holland) is turning 16 but is shy with few friends, and often overwhelmed by his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt). Their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) presents Ian with a wizard’s staff and a message from his late father, whom Ian never knew. The message contains a spell that will allow their father to return for a single day.

So where are the laughs? Something goes wrong with the spell and one half of Dad comes back… the bottom half. Now Ian and Barley are off on a mission to get a replacement gem for the staff so they can complete the spell before it’s too late. This adventure will have many twists and turns, bringing the brothers closer together in the process.

The level of invention is impressive, including biker gang fairies and the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), who steals the film. In mythology, a manticore had a human head, a lion’s body, and a scorpion’s tail, and was a fearsome beast. Here her once-dreaded lair has been turned into a themed family restaurant. Barley, somewhat of a slacker, is obsessed with a role-playing game called “Days of Yore,” insisting he and his brother are off to prove themselves on a quest. The filmmakers even borrow (with permission) the “gelatinous cube” from the real-life RPG, “Dungeons & Dragons.”

It’s the filmmakers striking that balance between pathos and goofiness that makes the movie work. When Pixar goes too far in one direction (as in the sappy “The Good Dinosaur”) or the other (as in the frantic “Monsters University”) they lose their way. Here, while there are plenty of laughs, we care what happens as the brothers deal with their family issues in the course of their quest. The movie reaches a satisfying if somewhat unexpected conclusion as the story comes full circle.

As a result, while it may not break new ground in animation or storytelling, Pixar continues to move ever “Onward.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Invisible Man

FILM REVIEWTHE INVISIBLE MANWith Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell. Rated R for some strong bloody violence, and language. 124 minutes.

Sleeping With The (Invisible) Enemy

invisible_manUniversal Pictures was once well-known for its monster movies in the 1930s and 40s, with Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man in their stable of staples. Some of these movies became classics while later entries seemed like phoned-in cash grabs. A few years ago, the studio announced they were going to reintroduce these characters to 21st century audiences in a shared concept dubbed “Dark Universe.” Then, after the 2014 disappointment “Dracula Untold” and the 2017 flop “The Mummy” came out, the powers that be decided that maybe that wasn’t what audiences wanted after all.

Which brings us to the new THE INVISIBLE MAN, a movie with only a tangential relation to the H. G. Wells novel or the 1933 movie. And that’s all to the good. Taking the concept of a man being able to turn himself invisible, writer-director (and “Saw” creator) Leigh Whannell then turns it on its head by making the story not about him, but about the woman he terrorizes. The only universe this film is in is signified by the hashtag #MeToo.

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is in an abusive relationship with wealthy scientist Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). At the film’s start she manages to escape with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and mutual friend James (Aldis Hodge) who works for the police. She’s in such bad shape that she goes into hiding, fearful that he will somehow find her and force her to return. Then she receives word that he has committed suicide and left her a substantial amount of money, contingent upon her keeping her sanity and not committing a crime.

It seems suspicious and, of course it is. As strange things start happening, she finds out he has faked his death and is now stalking her in a suit that renders him invisible. This not only puts her in fear of her life but makes those around her wonder about her mental stability. After all, no one can see the source of her peril.

The film has two things going for it. First are the special effects. It’s a mix of old school practical effects and modern CGI mesh to make us “see” the invisible Adrian. Just as important, if not more so, is Moss who carries the weight of the film as the story is really about her journey and struggle. What’s impressive is that she has scenes “with” Adrian where she’s really on screen all by herself.

“The Invisible Man” is rated R for “some strong bloody violence” and deservedly so. There are scenes where the squeamish may want to shut their eyes. The on-screen killings are key to the story but will be hard to take for some viewers.

It may be sound oxymoronic, however if you’re a horror/thriller fan, you will want to see this “Invisible Man.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.