Also known as: Untitled Universal Monster Project (working title) Release Date: February 24th, 2020 (Hollywood premiere) Directed by: Leigh Whannell Written by: Leigh Whannell Based on: characters and concepts by H. G. Wells for The Invisible Man Music by: Benjamin Wallfisch Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Nash Edgerton
“He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him.” – Cecilia Kass
As a lifelong fan of the Universal Monsters film series and all its reinventions (good and bad), this one just didn’t resonate with me at first glance. I thought the marketing was pretty dull and then it came out just before COVID shoved movie theaters into a flaming dumpster.
I’m glad to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this, though.
Initially, I wasn’t a big fan of seeing a modernized take on the classic story but honestly, this is just inspired by the original H. G. Wells novel and is very much its own, unique thing.
This takes the Invisible Man formula and brings it in to modern day, showing a psychotic ex-boyfriend using his ability to be invisible to destroy the life of the woman that left him. Since he’s invisible, he obviously does horrible things that only she’s aware of while her friends start to think she’s going insane. As the film rolls on, the scumbag gets more and more ballsy and eventually, people are aware that the woman (now in an asylum) isn’t lying.
Since this takes place in modern times, the Invisible Man in this is a Tony Stark type of inventor that has made a legit stealth camouflage suit. Also, the suit is really f’n cool looking and inventive, being comprised of what appear to be hundreds of small cameras/projectors. The scenes where the suit is partially exposed come off really damn well and the special effects, as a whole, are pretty seamless, believable and impressive.
What I found most impressive about this movie, though, was Elisabeth Moss’ acting. Man, she stepped up to the plate and hit homeruns in just about every scene. What I sincerely appreciate, as a long-time horror fan, is how serious she took the subject matter and put her all into it, giving one of the most believable performances I’ve seen in a horror picture in a really long time.
My only real complaint about the film was the twist ending. I mostly saw it coming and it felt kind of cheap, ending the way it did. At the same time, you really can’t keep the villain alive, as you don’t know what kind of technological tricks he might have up his sleeve.
This doesn’t end in a way that leaves it open for a sequel and I hope there isn’t one, as it would probably diminish the effect of this single, pretty solid picture. Basically, don’t be like Saw.
Now that doesn’t mean that I’d be against other modern takes on the Universal Monsters properties after seeing how well this one was executed. It certainly blew Tom Cruise’s The Mummy out of the water.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with: the older adaptations of this story, as well as some of the actually good, modern horror flicks.
Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (SVA Theatre premiere) Directed by: Theodore Melfi Written by: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi Based on:Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly Music by: Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge
Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films, 20th Century Fox, 127 Minutes
“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrisson. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.” – Katherine Johnson
I was really looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures. It is a film that tells the true story of the black women who were instrumental in helping NASA get John Glen into space and eventually, getting a man on the moon.
It starred a very capable cast, had a director that impressed me with St. Vincent and really looked to be a film that had all the right things going for it. There really could be only one major thing that might disrupt what should have been a solid film. Sadly, it is that one thing that holds this picture back: heavy handedness.
Going into this film, you know it is about black struggle and not just black struggle but the struggle of women in Civil Rights era America. The whole film itself is the point, the premise is the point. However, the film, as is so common with pictures with similar themes as of late, has to remind you at every single turn that these women are persecuted against. I get it. We all get it. But every single time a white person walks into frame doesn’t mean that there needs to be some sort of hostility towards these black women. Not every single white person was an asshole. If they were, the Civil Rights movement couldn’t have happened. Lots of people were more than just tolerant of blacks and it was those people that helped to usher in Civil Rights. I hate to be all soapbox-y but I feel like films that use this tactic, which is all too common, kind of dismiss the fact that there were good people on all sides of the racial spectrum that wanted equality and respect for all people.
Frankly, this film also cheapens the importance of the work that Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did at NASA by harping most specifically on the race issues. Hidden Figures actually takes some narrative liberties and just makes some shit up to enhance its need to focus on the racism in the film.
One example that I’ll give is Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is actually three different people pushed together into one character. He’s the “nice yet still casually racist white person that needs something to open his eyes” archetype that these sort of films all have. I guess Kirsten Dunst is the same thing too. Anyway, Costner’s Harrision is smacked in the face by a truth bomb from a very frustrated Katherine (in a tremendous moment of acting by Taraji P. Henson, mind you) about the racist bullshit at NASA. So Harrision walks down to the Colored Women’s Bathroom and violently knocks down the sign in front of a crowd of whites on one side and blacks on the other. Then he proclaims that there are no more colored toilets and no more white toilets at NASA. It’s a great feel good moment in the film but it never really happened and the whole subplot about Katherine having to run a half mile with mountains of files just to pee a few times a day, isn’t accurate. Segregated bathrooms at NASA were abolished in 1958, this film takes place in 1961.
I don’t want to be the asshole that just dwells on this shit but the point is, this had the makings of a beautiful and great film had it stuck to solid truths and focused on these women’s actual contributions and their incredible minds. Yes, that stuff is in this film but it doesn’t seem to be the most important statement. This is a picture trying to make a political and social statement about Civil Rights America and the racial divide that still exists on a level even today but there are already dozens, if not hundreds of films that have been tackling the subject for decades.
Point being, if you are an American, you know all of this. You don’t need it spelled out to you every second like your getting your first history lesson. And if you are a decent person, which I believe most people are, you already reject racism and bigotry against all types of people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you.
The acting in this movie was pretty damn good. Especially from the three female leads but none of them have really disappointed me in anything that they’ve done thus far. I also loved Mahershala Ali in this and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors working today. He’s just got this electric charisma and he’s a stunning looking man with a powerful presence.
It was weird seeing Jim Parsons in this because I have never seen him in anything outside of The Big Bang Theory. I’d like to see him get other work, as his character of Sheldon Cooper is already one of the most iconic characters in television history. While I liked him in this, his NASA engineer character just seemed like an unfunny and bigoted version of Sheldon.
Despite my criticisms, I definitely liked this film more than it may appear. It was well made, well acted and was about science and history. I just wish that it would have been more accurate and focused on telling a story instead of feeling the need to make a statement we’ve all already seen countless times over and are very well aware of.
Rating: 6.75/10 Pairs well with: For similar themes about the black struggle leading up to and through the Civil Rights era: A Raisin in the Sun, The Great Debaters, Malcolm X… there are so many.
Release Date: August 11th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere) Directed by: F. Gary Gray Written by: Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff, S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus Music by: Joseph Trapanese, N.W.A. Cast: O’Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Paul Giamatti, Aldis Hodge, Neil Brown Jr.
Legendary Pictures, New Line Cinema, Cube Vision, Crucial Films, Broken Chair Flickz, Universal Pictures, 147 Minutes
“They want N.W.A, let’s give em N.W.A.” – Eazy-E
*Written in 2015.
I have been waiting for this film to come out since I first heard about its development a few years ago.
N.W.A. is a group that I listened to almost since their inception and they had a big influence over me as a kid. Sure, my parents didn’t like me listening to them when I was in middle school but I really didn’t care and record stores didn’t really police their sale of explicit products to minors in the early ’90s. Well, some stores did but I avoided those.
This film was pretty fantastic. In fact, I’m going to go on and say that this is my favorite film of the year thus far. It was, by far, F. Gary Gray’s finest work as a director. Being that he has been a long time collaborator with the men who were the subject of this film, made it feel real personal and he had legitimate insight into the relationships of these guys. Additionally, with Dr. Dre and Ice Cube consulting heavily on this film, we got one of the most accurate music biopics ever made. Granted, I’m sure they filtered in their own bias.
This, above all else, was a film about friendship – even more so than the history of N.W.A., Ruthless Records and Death Row. It showed five close friends coming up together and challenging a corrupt and oppressive system. It showed how they fought for freedom of speech and how they became the voice of a generation that was fed up – transcending their neighborhood and their race: effecting millions of people all over the world. Even when friendship dissolved, in the end, the love was still there and through all the bullshit and really bad blood, they were still brothers.
The acting was on point. Ice Cube was played by his real life son and he looked and sounded exactly like his father. In fact, most of the time, you only see him as Ice Cube and get lost in the performance. Pretty damn impressive for a kid who has never acted. Jason Mitchell was perfect as Eazy-E, Paul Giamatti was a great choice for Jerry Heller and Neil Brown Jr. truly felt like DJ Yella. Corey Hawkins was good as Dr. Dre but was the weakest of the main actors. Aldis Hodge was okay as MC Ren but I felt like Ren really got the shaft in this film, as he was just in it. He wasn’t shown as a character of significance and someone of Ren’s presence, which he has a hell of a presence, should have been featured more. This film makes MC Ren just seem like the odd man out of the group and maybe that is because he never found the individual success of Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E.
Arabian Prince was completely shafted. He wasn’t even mentioned in the film. But if you remember the cover of the “Straight Outta Compton” album from 1988, there were six men in the photo. He was the sixth man, lost to history and forgotten. And I guess his role was so minimal, they really didn’t need to include him in the movie.
I did like how they featured the D.O.C., Warren G, Snoop Dogg, 2pac and mentioned Bone Thugs. I like how they tied in the Rodney King beating and the L.A. Riots, showing how N.W.A.’s music was almost prophetic without the film beating you over the head with it. The scene featuring the unity between the Bloods and Crips against the police was beautifully shot and executed.
Moving on, there are a few things I have to nitpick about with the film. For one, in 1986, Eazy-E is wearing a black White Sox cap. Well, the White Sox didn’t wear the black uniforms until 1991 or so. In another scene, which takes place in 1993, Eazy-E is using a cordless phone model that didn’t come out until around 2000. I know, because I owned that same phone. Also, 2pac was recording “All Eyez On Me” in the studio with Dr. Dre while Eazy-E was still alive in the film. Eazy died in early 1995 while “All Eyez On Me” was recorded late in 1995 and released in early 1996. There were a few other weird discrepancies but I’ll stop being an asshole.
Besides, the film’s narrative was strong. The movie told a great story and that is the most important thing.
While I do feel that the film shows both the good and bad of Eazy-E and Jerry Heller, I feel like this is through the eyes of Dre and Cube, which it is. I wish Eazy would’ve lived and would’ve been able to consult and flesh out his side of the story in the same way that Dre and Cube were able to do with the director. But to be fair, despite Eazy’s faults, he is still shown as a loveable yet tragic character and Dr. Dre and Ice Cube honored him for who he was.
The only big plot point that I felt was missing, was showcasing how heated the beef got between Dr. Dre and Eazy-E. For those that experienced it, it was a big deal at the time and from a fan’s perspective, the beef felt irreconcilable. Dre and Eazy both expressed regret about it in the film but it wasn’t shown or discussed in any sort of detail.
Also, the film jumps over the whole NWA & The Posse era.
I feel that it is also important to point out how funny this film is. It isn’t a comedy but there are so many great comedic moments throughout the picture. Yes, it is a serious film that has very dark moments for each character but their is a light-hardheartedness about this film that really showcases the soul of these men.
In closing, Straight Outta Compton is a spectacular film whether or not you even care about hip-hop. For those that do care about this group, it gives you an intimate look into their lives and shows how everything went down, as accurately as can be portrayed on film. And being that I am a person that lived through all of this and remember it from the perspective of a fan, it is impossible to not fall victim to nostalgia. But in that nostalgia, one walks away feeling more intimately connected to something that has been a part of your life for a long time. This was a film just as much about those of us who rode along with N.W.A. from 1988-1992, as it was about the band itself.
F. Gary Gray, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube truly have a piece of work to be proud of. Don’t take your family though, unless you want Little Jimmy yelling “Fuck the Police” as he walks out of the theater. Then again, I was once Little Jimmy and I turned out just fine.
Rating: 9/10 Pairs well with: Any top tier music biopic, really. This is just as good as the best of them.
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