Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell best known for 2018’s Upgrade, The Invisible Man is a surprisingly excellent modern adaptation of the H.G. Wells 1897 novel of the same name and makes for a truly entertaining and suspenseful experience that is dramatically enhanced by the terrific performance given by Elisabeth Moss. It is a very different story from the original book and the numerous film adaptations in that it takes the perspective of a woman who is physically and verbally abused by her rich and powerful boyfriend and is even terrorized by him after his apparent death. Without giving too much away, Cecilia Kass, played by the always stellar Elisabeth Moss, comes to the conclusion, after several terrifying experiences, that her supposedly deceased boyfriend Adrian Griffin, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, has discovered the ability to become invisible. He uses this unique power to continue to stalk and terrorize Cecilia without any initial explanation because of his apparent suicide and unbelievable skill of actually being invisible. What makes her situation even more horrifying is that nobody believes her, including her sister Emily, played by Harriet Dyer, and her best friend and cop James, played by Aldis Hodge, who she confides in and lives with after first escaping Adrian. The filmmaker is able to transform a relatively cheesy sci-fi story into a powerful metaphor for the constant fear felt by victims of domestic abuse in which they feel they cannot escape their abuser. Through Elisabeth Moss’s character, the audience is always kept on the edge of their seats by not knowing what Adrian as an invisible man will do next and the numerous shocking twists in the plot that follow. The movie’s tension is further heightened by the eerily dark settings, moody music, and the slowly creeping camera movements, all elements typical of a horror film but that is crafted in such a smart way that transcends the genre. Overall, I found it to be a brilliantly creative and emotionally draining cinematic experience that plays more like a thriller that can appeal to both fans and non-fans of the horror genre and is able to vividly portray a terrifying story of domestic abuse, primarily as a result of the gravitas of Elisabeth Moss’s performance.
Directed by acclaimed cinematographer Reed Morano and based on the 1999 novel of the same name written by Mark Burnell, The Rhythm Section is your fairly average action flick with a quite predictable plot but is marked by a terrifically dynamic acting performance given by Blake Lively and has some beautifully shot action sequences. The story follows Stephanie Patrick, played by a gritty and emotionally distraught Blake Lively, who was a typical British citizen until she loses her entire family and eventually embarks on a vengeful and very violent mission targeting those responsible for her parents’ and siblings’ deaths in a plane crash. Officially declared a plane crash resulting from a mechanical failure, Stephanie learns from a freelance journalist that the crash was actually the work of a terrorist group who planted a bomb on the commercial airliner killing all aboard. On her own, she discovers the journalist’s confidential source is a former MI6 agent named Iain Boyd, played by Jude Law, hiding out in the remote countryside of Scotland who begrudgingly agrees to train her to be an assassin and have the skills to go after her family’s killers. Eventually, she travels around the world tracking down and killing everyone connected to the terrorist attack. Along the way, she meets several mysterious individuals, including a shadowy figure living outside Madrid, Spain who traffics in secret information named Mark Serra, played by Sterling K. Brown. Although there are several quite well-done and gripping action scenes that are clearly influenced by the filmmaker’s experience as a cinematographer with its use of frenetic camera work, the film suffers from an unnecessarily slow pace that wallows too much in the anguish and grief of Blake Lively’s very troubled character. Furthermore, the plotline, especially the ending revealing the real bad guy, is way too predictable to make for a genuinely unique action flick. Despite all of the movie’s flaws, Lively should be praised for her physically grueling and dedicated performance that feels extremely raw and realistic as if she really did live those feelings of profound loss and desire for revenge at all costs. Overall, I was fairly disappointed that it did not meet my expectations, established by the movie trailer, for a very entertaining and dramatic action thriller; even with Blake Lively’s terrific performance that could make for a turning point in her acting career, the movie is unable to really recover from the poor pacing and lack of originality.
Directed by French filmmaker and son of Malian immigrants Ladj Ly and nominated for an Oscar for Best International Feature Film, Les Misérables is a riveting look at the gritty slums surrounding Paris that powerfully presents the systemic issues causing friction between the immigrant populace and the mostly white French-born police officers. To underscore the social and political injustice that are the underlying issues of the film, the filmmaker cleverly decides to name the movie after the famous Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables that chronicles the social ills of 19th century France and setting the story in the predominantly impoverished French commune east of Paris named Montfermeil in which part of the 1862 book took place. The fairly simple plot follows the police officer Stéphane Ruiz, played by Damien Bonnard, who has just transferred into the SCU’s anti-crime police brigade and is starting his first day with the corrupt white squad leader Chris, played by Alexis Manenti, and his longtime black partner Gwada, played by Djibril Zonga. We witness the xenophobic and ruthless Chris alongside his complacent partner on a relatively normal day terrorizing the slum neighborhood, all to the shock to Ruiz who has worked his entire policing career in a relatively peaceful French town. Eventually, things go out of control and a young black kid named Issa is inadvertently injured by Gwada during a confrontation in which the kid is accused of stealing a lion cub from a circus led by the violent Zorro. Eager to make sure there is no evidence of the attack against the juveniles, Chris and Gwada with the help of the begrudging Ruiz go to extreme lengths to finding a boy who recorded the whole episode on his aerial drone. The film vividly depicts the brutality of the small group of officers, especially the strikingly immoral leader Chris, against kids who act out criminally the result of their dire circumstances living in poverty and surrounded by crime in the slums. This one particular incident shown taking its course over the movie is designed to depict just one example of the serious problems plaguing the predominantly immigrant communities of suburban Paris and the degree to which justice is practically non-existent for its impoverished residents due to political indifference and police corruption. Overall, I found it to be a sobering dramatic film that effectively visualizes the social and political problems that have beset societies since the beginning of time, especially for the unprivileged, while also exploring the very real current events taking place in France, including the recent yellow vests protest movement and the simmering animosity between migrants and the native French.
The third installment in the Bad Boys franchise that first started in 1995 and later with a 2003 sequel, Bad Boys for Life is a highly entertaining action comedy that revitalizes the long-running movie series anchored by the charismatic duo of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence and has a perfect mix of explosive action sequences and comedic banter between the two very different characters. The plot follows two old-fashioned police officers Detective Lieutenant Marcus Burnett, played by the very funny Martin Lawrence, who is contemplating retirement after the birth of his grandson and Detective Lieutenant Mike Lowrey, played by action super star Will Smith, who still wants to remain a cop and has no desire to settle down with a family. Their long-serving boss Captain Conrad Howard, played by character actor Joe Pantoliano, assigns Marcus and Mike to the newly-created tactical division AMMO led by Mike’s ex-girlfriend and well-respected lieutenant Rita, played by Paola Núñez. Being part of the joke about their age, the team is made up of younger police officers with technological knowledge and include a character who is played by Vanessa Hudgens. Their mission is to help solve the murders of several law enforcement officers involved in a drug cartel case years ago and track down the suspected killer Armando, played by Jacob Scipio, whose mother Isabel, played by Kate del Castillo, is a ruthless drug cartel leader living in Mexico City. Like its predecessors, the movie is filled with over-the-top action sequences in which gun battles and explosions are going off all over the place throughout the city of Miami and eventually Mexico. Things go terribly wrong for both Marcus and Mike that make them reconsider retirement and think about their future lives together and with family. In between the thrilling action scenes, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are perfect as buddy cops as a result of their believable chemistry and hilarious rapport in which they make fun of one another but no matter what see themselves as brothers. The movie was a nostalgic look back on the 1990s and early 2000s when theaters were filled with action comedies, including the original Bad Boys and other action flicks starring Martin Lawrence. Overall, I found it to be a first-rate action comedy that is much better than the original two versions of the Bad Boys franchise as a result of its effectively timed action and comedy that makes for a fun and exciting blockbuster movie.
Co-written and directed by Josh and Benny Safdie best known for 2017’s Good Time starring Robert Pattinson, Uncut Gems is a fast-paced and thrilling drama about a jeweler in New York City who is spiraling out of control as a result of his gambling addiction and debts to dangerous loan sharks. Played by Adam Sandler in an Oscar-worthy performance, the Jewish Howard Ratner is in the middle of brokering his biggest jewelry sale after he acquires a very large uncut gem from Ethiopia and is desperate to sell it in order to pay off his large gambling debts. He owns a small jewelry shop in the frenetic New York City Diamond District and caters to famous clientele, including Boston Celtics basketball star Kevin Garnett, played by himself, who are brought to him by the well-connected Demany, played by Lakeith Stanfield. By following the very unlucky Howard over the course of several days, the filmmakers are brilliantly able to take the audience on a dizzying adrenaline-fueled chase through the city as Howard tries to survive one big misstep after another while on the run from his angry loan shark Arno, played by Eric Bogosian, and his thugs. What makes the movie work so well is the rapid-fire dialogue in which characters speak over one another as if in real life and the switching very quickly from shot to shot and edit to edit. It also feels authentic because it films in the actual Diamond District that is notoriously cautious of outsiders and shows the real gritty and fast-paced world of a very particular kind of jeweler whose lives and livelihoods depend on making deals on a daily basis. As he deals with his very deadly gambling debts and losing possession of the gem that he believes will turn his life around, Howard’s personal life is equally tumultuous as he balances time between his estranged wife Dinah, played by Tony winner Idina Menzel, and his much younger mistress Julia, played by Julia Fox. The unexpected brilliant performance given by Adam Sandler, who is known for juvenile comedies, terrifically illustrates how his character’s entire life is nothing but a series of gambles: there are bets that pay off and others that incur great debt to volatile individuals. Overall, I found it to be a non-stop and exhilarating one-of-a-kind cinematic experience that both entertains and leaves the audience on the edge of their seats; the hyperactive cinematography and filmmaking along with the believable and committed acting performances make for a brilliant movie.
Written, produced, and directed by Rian Johnson best known for 2005’s Brick and 2017’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Knives Out is a modern take on the classic murder mystery whodunit that has a brilliant script with many twists and a terrific ensemble cast, making for one of the most entertaining movies in recent memory. Similar to an Agatha Christie murder mystery, the story revolves around the mysterious death of a wealthy crime novelist named Harlan Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer, whose entire dysfunctional family are gathered together for his 85th birthday in his remote grand old mansion in Massachusetts. After discovering his body in what looks like a suicide, the police led by Detective Lieutenant Elliot, played by Lakeith Stanfield, as well as a stereotypical Southern private detective named Benoit Blanc, played by a very memorable Daniel Craig, begin an investigation to see whether there was foul play so they begin interviewing each member of the family. There is the oldest daughter Linda, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, who has an air of self-importance; Linda’s husband Richard, played by Don Johnson, who may be having an affair; the youngest son Walt, played by Michael Shannon, who runs his father’s publishing company but feels underappreciated; and the daughter-in-law Joni, played by Toni Collette, who always tries to ingratiate herself to her father-in-law who financially supports her and her daughter. Equally unique characters, the younger generation is comprised of the spoiled socialite Ransom, played by Chris Evans; the conservative Internet troll teenager Jacob, played by Jaeden Martell; and the liberal college student Meg, played by Katherine Langford. Detective Blanc, very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s famous detective character Hercule Poirot, is a rather funny character who is brilliant but sometimes is a over-the-top buffoon throughout his investigation in which nobody is eliminated as a suspect. An unexpected central character of the plot is Harlan’s young Hispanic caregiver Marta, played by Ana de Armas, who genuinely cares for Harlan unlike his rather unpleasant money-grubbing family. The filmmaker does an excellent job of having the eccentric characters play off one another as they are really competing to see who will benefit the most financially from Harlan’s will. Besides the excellent cast, what really sets the movie apart is the script full of entertaining surprises and unexpected twists that harks back to the classic murder mystery movies that relied less on bloody violence. What makes it different is it is much more of a comedy that pokes fun at upper class families who are very much out-of-touch with the rest of the world and only think about maintaining their wealth and status. Overall, I found the film to be true cinematic gold that is so entertaining that one feels as if they are a part of the investigation and playing a game of Clue. Rian Johnson creates something that feels so new and extraordinary for such a old-fashioned style mystery; he was also blessed by a wonderful cast that really pulled the whole thing together. Three words: go see it!
Directed by Bill Condon best known for 1998’s Gods and Monsters and 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, The Good Liar is an above-average British crime thriller that is somewhat predictable but is a devilishly fun showcase for the critically acclaimed actors Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren. The story follows the con artist Roy, played by British Oscar nominee Ian McKellen, who preys on the gullible using fake identities to make away with large amounts of money. Eventually, he meets the well-off widow Betty, played by British Oscar winner Helen Mirren, and decides to make her his latest mark by earning her trust through a romantic relationship. Over the course of their companionship and possible dating, he cleverly manipulates her to allow him to stay at her house pretending to have a knee injury. After a trip to Berlin in which Roy reveals surprising facts about his real background brought forth by Betty’s suspicious grandson Steven, played by Russell Tovey, Roy tries to convince Betty to create a joint bank account with the help of his long-time accomplice Vincent, played by Jim Carter best known for his role in Downton Abbey, who is posing as a investment accountant. The real fun showing the chemistry between the actors comes towards the end of the film when the intentions of both Roy and Betty are finally brought to life through a series of plot twists connected to their lives as teenagers during World War II. Overall, I found it to be an entertaining movie to pass the time that does not really add much to the genre but is worthwhile to watch simply for the brilliant performances given by Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren in their first movie together.
Winner of the highest award the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Parasite is a brilliant dark satirical drama that reaches the heights of filmmaking as a result of the truly extraordinary craft of the Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho who is already critically acclaimed for 2013’s Snowpiercer and 2017’s Okja. The film follows a poor working-class family living in a decrepit basement apartment in South Korea who are unable to find work, but, eventually, come up with a fraudulent plan to get themselves all employed at the residence of the wealthy Park family. The son decides to pretend to be a English tutor after his friend must take a leave from the job tutoring the high school daughter of the Parks. After his plan works, his family devises a plan to trick the extremely gullible mother of the extremely wealthy family to hire his sister as an art tutor, his father as a driver, and his mother as the housekeeper. In rather absurd fashion, all of the previous employees need to be replaced as a result of the lower class family’s shenanigans. Everything goes according to plan for a majority of the film until a rather shocking twist takes place in which the conniving family is put in jeopardy and could be caught by the Park family. The true artistry of the film is the filmmaker’s effective ability to mix satire and the twisted dark parts of the movie with the very dramatic and tragic elements of what impoverished families must struggle with on a daily basis. Overall, the movie is a cinematic masterpiece that takes a scalpel to better understand the deep wound of income inequalities that take place even in today’s modern society and does so by presenting a highly entertaining story that is both darkly humorous and painfully sad. Even if you do not usually enjoy subtitled foreign language films, I would still highly recommended seeing this movie for its mesmerizing use of cinema to tell a truly important story.
Co-written and directed by Todd Phillips best known for his comedic work, including The Hangover trilogy first released in 2009, Joker is unlike any other movie based on a comic book character because it is much more of a character study of a very dark and deranged individual who eventually becomes the predominant arch-nemesis of Batman. Similar to the iconic 1976 Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver, the story follows a clearly mentally ill man who eventually descends into violent madness after feeling persecuted by a morally bankrupt society that constantly bullies him for his idiosyncrasies. Living in the corrupt and economically depressed fictional Gotham City in 1981 based on the gritty New York City of the time, Arthur Fleck, played by the terrific Joaquin Phoenix in a very committed and disturbing role, works as a hired clown in the city and lives in a dingy apartment with his sick mother. His feeling of hopelessness and the pervasive depression surrounding him in the decaying city filled with a wealthy and greedy elite contribute to his horrifying psychological breakdown towards the middle of the movie. What really sets him off is seeing his comedic idol and late night television host Murray Franklin, played by Robert De Niro whose portrayal of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver very much resembles Arthur Fleck, make fun of his inability to be a stand-up comic. Dressed up as a disheveled cloud who wants to be referred to as Joker, Arthur finds himself in a extremely violent situation that eventually spirals out-of-control and leads him to a destructive and terrifying psychosis. His actions eventually lead to a citywide protest against the rich, particularly mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne who is better known as father to Bruce Wayne later to become Batman. At the end, the entire city devolves into chaotic riots in which several people are brutally killed. Overall, I found it to be a disturbing yet well done anti-hero psychological drama that is led by a truly remarkable performance given by the extremely talented Joaquin Phoenix. It is definitely not for the faint of heart because it does contain a fair amount of violent moral depravity that has made the movie somewhat controversial with critics and audiences alike.
The third installment in the John Wick franchise with the release of its first movie in 2014 and directed by Chad Stahelski who was Keanu Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix franchise, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is a high octane and over-the-top action movie that rises above the rest of the genre as a result of its magnificent choreographed fight sequences and creative storyline. It follows the titular character John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, who is an internationally-known assassin working under the secret organization known as The High Table but is excommunicado, an unprotected status in which the other assassins can kill him for a bounty, after an unauthorized killed in the previous movie. He is no longer given immunity while staying at the hotel for assassins in New York City known as The Continental run by the manager Winston, played by Ian McShane, and the concierge Charon, played by Lance Reddick. Eventually, a very large contingent of assassins chase John Wick in order to get the 14 million dollar bounty on his head. Over the course of the film, he is engaged in very stylistic and elaborately choreographed fights in which he kills off many men using a variety of tactics, including gunplay, knife fights, and martial arts. Eventually, he travels throughout the world trying to get protection from a powerful criminal leader played by Anjelica Huston and later a fellow assassin played by Halle Berry. Eventually, John Wick teams up with Winston and a fellow assassin leader known as the Bowery King, played by Laurence Fishburne, who are both punished by The High Table and its representative The Adjudicator and hunted down by a group of hitmen led by the ruthless assassin Zero, played by Mark Dacascos. What sets the movie apart is the heavy use of practical stunt work instead of the usual CGI bloat common with superhero movies, all the while taking place in a very different world that is extremely stylish and filled with secret organizations. Overall, I found the third movie in the franchise to be as good as the original as well as the sequel, and I still believe it to be one of the best action movie series due to the martial arts talents of the subdued Keanu Reeves and the unique yet violent visual style.