What We Learned This Week: March 30-April 5

LESSON #1: ONE MORE TIME, FOR THOSE IN THE BACK, TRY NEW MOVIES— If you heat anyone pouting that there’s nothing new to consume, tell them they’re not looking hard enough. Don’t watch the same comfort food you’ve seen 30 times. Dig deeper. Challenge yourself. Check out Hoopla, Kanopy, and more. On Kanopy alone, there are 107 of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies.” That’s second to the Criterion Channel and f’n free with a library card. If deep isn’t your speed and mainstream is still your drug of choice, check out HBO’s new free streaming offerings for some excellent options, new Netflix additions for April, and Pixar’s Onward just hit Disney+ on April 3rd. Finally, keep the patience coming. Disney’s Artemis Fowl joins Trolls World Tour and The Lovebirds as the first theatrical movies to announce a straight-to-on-demand release instead of postponement (more on that later).

LESSON #2: SHORT FILMS ARE WORTH YOUR TIME TOO— When it comes to broadening your palette beyond vanilla, I’ll also recommend casting a line for some excellent world of short films. Many that were going to screen at the cancelled SXSW Film Festival are being made available on Amazon Prime. There’s also a massive collection of 66 Oscar-nominated and award-winning shorts being made available thanks to the National Board of Canada. Thanks, neighbors!

LESSON #3: HOMESCHOOLING CAN INCLUDE MOVIES— Raise your hand if, not only are you stuck at home right now, you are being called upon to be a school teacher as a parent for whatever e-learning initiative is thrust upon your children. As a school teacher myself, I’m one of those educational bartenders pouring those stiff drinks, and I feel you. Take this column and lesson as permission from a legitimate professional. There’s no reason you can’t include movies in your lessons (after all, look at my website name). Remember when we were kids and this popular meme was true:

Well, it’s your turn to bring that joy to children. Home is the classroom now and you (or at least you better) control the TV. It’s time to shine. Best Movies Right Now has put together a perfect 50-film Netflix homeschooling playlist that encompasses science, social studies, literature, and more. This gets my highest teacher’s stamp of approval:

LESSON #4: LET THE ADVANCE POSTURING BEGIN— Someday hopefully the blockbusters will emerge from forced hibernation.  Disney took out its bundle of flags and, like an Oklahoma Land Rush, laid claim to new release dates for the next two years and change for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and more. Take a peek:

Just as when there isn’t a stoppage such as this, when Disney lands, they land with bullying authority. That’s a whole bunch of superheroes that will test the fatigue some (crazy) people feel. Their presence will either add competition to what was already there or make everyone else move. More often it’s the latter.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#128)

What We Learned This Week: March 23-29

LESSON #1: IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT A BLOODBATH MADE OUT OF INVISIBLE MONEY LOOKS LIKE…–… go look at the box office numbers for the month of March. If you thought the unfortunate and gobsmacked drop it made during the weekend March 13-19 was something to behold, it’s downright eerie to this weekend and the complete goose egg due to a nearly total industry shutdown. Take a look. This is becoming quite the asterisk in a ongoing record book.

LESSON #2: WHEN WILL THE MONEY RUN OUT?— This lesson names the big question that has to be looming around boardrooms top to bottom in the industry. Most successful companies on the level of studios and theater chains can weather a temporary stoppage, especially when a couple of businesses are offering to open for free to get people back in. One has to wonder when “furlough” (as it is called at AMC) turns into “failure.” There’s already a bankruptcy bill on the table specifically for movie theaters. This big question may turn into an ugly one.

LESSON #3: WE WILL BE LIVING VICARIOUSLY THROUGH THE MOVIES— This week was supposed to be the Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. No matter if your local team had high or low hopes (or something in between like my Chicago Cubs), it feels like something pure and pleasant is missing. I’m glad to see A League of Their Own win the monthly Donor’s Choice vote here on Feelin’ Film. We have to live vicariously through the movies. That’s what we have to do with the loss of something like baseball and the homestretches of the NBA and NHL seasons. I’ll gladly curl up on my quarantine couch, crack a beer or two, and watch the likes of Bull Durham, The Sandlot, He Got Game, Love & Basketball, and Slap Shot. Call all of that cinematic comfort food.

LESSON #4: GET USED TO THE NEW TRAFFIC JAM— Speaking of the lag of life in the struggle to leave the sofa, it certainly appears the strain is hitting the data and network systems that are chiefly providing our new main avenue of home entertainment. The increase in Netflix outages in the U.S. and Europe is alarming and never fun. We’re going to have to learn some patience or lean on physical media. Heaven forbid we have to open an actual book or play a board game. 

 


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#127)

What We Learned This Week: March 16-22

LESSON #1: THIS IS WHAT CUTTING ONE’S LOSSES LOOKS LIKE— This sweeping social distancing (and so to be full sheltering orders) due to the COVID-19 virus has studios buckling on what to do with their current and upcoming movie releases. Most that were slated for theaters are “delayed” or “postponed” for the time being, but the question becomes how long can they wait or hold. Rumor has it Warner Bros. is considering a streaming release for Wonder Woman 1984. Could Black Widow be far behind from Disney? As for the current movies that have been frozen by closed theaters, studios are dropping them on streaming and VOD platforms early, as is the case with Onward, The Invisible Man, Emma, and The Hunt. Being released already, trying to squeeze some VOD rental money is their best chance. Price point will be the challenge, but you know those families of four would likely be OK spending $20 for a night at home versus the full theater trip for $9+ tickets and concessions. We’ll see how these tests of marketing and head honcho hubris patience turn out.

LESSON #2: LEARN WHAT THE PARAMOUNT DECREES WERE— I’ll put my school teacher hat on since I’m stuck at home without a classroom for the foreseeable future. Here’s a quick dose of movie history that faded in November with implications that could loom large with a shuttered theater system right now. There was something called the Paramount Decrees. Back in 1948 in the case of United States v. Paramount Pictures, a decision was made that “studios couldn’t withhold films from certain theaters while granting exclusive rights to others or outright buy theaters of their own.” That has kept top-to-bottom control away from studios. Far forward to now with the AMCs and Regals of the world closing their doors indefinitely without business. I hinted at this last week in WWLTW. Imagine a scenario where Disney buys/builds their own movie theaters to exclusively release their products. That would create an outlet arms race and likely kill indie cinema getting theater space. With weakened theater chains, this kind of turn is possible. Stay tuned to how we recover or don’t from this time period.

LESSON #3: BRING BACK DRIVE-INS– In an effort to avoid the possible bacteria cesspools that are crowded and sticky movie theater seats (don’t lie, we’ve all had our “ewww” moments at a movie theater), could old school drive-in movie theaters (and the dirtiness of our own cars, again, don’t lie) be a new alternative in the post-social distancing era? I think so and it’s a lovely thought. There was a great optimistic read this week published by The Los Angeles Times on the topic that talks optimism and relief. Build some big screens, bring your own concessions, fill the seats, and pipe the sound through the Bose-powered infotainment systems in some of our modern cars and you’ve got a renewed and joyous movie experience.

LESSON #4: EXPAND YOUR HOME VIEWING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS— I love the news of Netflix’s new Netflix Party extension. Turning shared movies into chat room opportunities with friends you’re separated from sounds like a blast. I think we need a Netflix Party with our Feelers ASAP. Let’s get on that, fellow admins.

LESSON #5: SOME STARS END UP BEING GENUINELY NICE PEOPLE— As a school teacher, I can speak to this new hurdler of at-home “e-learning” and the challenges of not just planning it, but delivering it to my students and also my own children as a parent. Everyone I see in my professional community is doing their part, and I’m loving those outside of it that are coming to help. And it’s as easy as reading a book for others to hear. What started with Frozen star Josh Gad nightly on Twitter has expanded to dozens of celebrities chipping in to connect and entertain. Grab a device, bring the kids together on the couch or at bedtime, and enjoy a hearty tale from a familiar and kind face.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#126)

What We Learned This Week: March 1-15

LESSON #1: HEALTHY AUDIENCES BUY TICKETS— What started as film festivals and a very surprising move last week when Sony bumped their big spring tent pole No Time to Die from its so-close-you-can-taste-it first week of April release date seven full months to their fallback spot of November, the mainline movie industry has been frozen by the Corona virus pandemic. Here’s a frequently updated list of the delays and cancellations.  Shocking or not and carrying all the #firstworldproblems level of disappointment, you can’t blame them one bit. If it’s not a good time to maximize reception, wait and hold until when it is. That’s smart business instead of obstinacy and impatience. For the movies, the buzz will only grow.  What won’t grow is Lesson #2.

LESSON #2: THIS HURTS THE LITTLE PEOPLE THE MOST— Big studios have other revenue streams and deep cofers to survive a pause period like this. The people that don’t are the small businesses down the industry ladder. With the lists of closures, lockdowns, and avoidances growing by the day and minute, it’s the day-to-day service workers that depend this steady entertainment industry the most. Disney CEO Bob Iger isn’t losing his paycheck, but every concession worker, usher, ticket taker, and 9-to-5er is. Read an excellent Yahoo article on the implications here. If some businesses lose too much, they’re not going to re-open. This pandemic will pass, but it is going to scar like a forest fire on the tree rings of time.

LESSON #3: IT’S TIME TO DISCOVER THE NEXT LAYERS OF CINEMA— With the A-list and blockbuster parades derailed for at least a month (and likely more), casual fans are going to lament not having any new film content to digest. Sure, you could hit the couch and play a zillion old favorites from physical media collections or streaming services you’ve seen dozens of times. I get that craving for comfort food, but why not dig a little deeper to find something truly new. If there is a tier of cinema that benefits from big studio theater closures, it’s the VOD market. Let this film critic tell you, there is a wealth buried treasure to be had at the B-level of cinema (after you’re done watching Outbreak and Contagion of course). It’s not just the washed-up actor-led straight-to-DVD landscape anymore. Much is worthy indie film looking for an audience. Use the JustWatch website and give a little movie some love. If you’re really crazy and want to dive even deeper, YouTube has legitimate award-worthy short films for days and an obscure cinema aficionado buddy of mine sent me this shared “Cabin Fever” spreadsheet filled with links to free experimental films of all colors and sizes.  The multiplexes might be closed, but we’re never going to run out of content.

LESSON #4: IT’S TIME TO FILL IN THOSE BLIND SPOTS— If swinging into the indie and experimental world isn’t your bag and you’re stuck working from home for the better part of the next month, then it’s time to check off the wish list of movies you’ve always wanted to see. Complete those Letterboxd challenges. Comb your streaming services, borrow discs from the library, or, again, use the JustWatch search engine app to find those egregious blind spots and plot out some rich movie nights at home. For many, this is an unprecedented amount of time off longer than any Winter/Christmas break we had as school kids. Take advantage of it. Get buried in couch pillows, blankets, and whatever preventative measures you fancy, even if it’s just more popcorn.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#125)

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunt

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 29 minutes

Political satire, when done correctly, can be very effective in showing the volatile and idiotic manner of government, serving as a form of humor that calls attention to itself but does the duty of sparking compelling thoughts in your mind about the state of democracy. Humor is a subjective phenomenon just as the opinions floating in your brain are; the same joke can cause different reactions based on how it vibes with the person’s idea of what’s funny and what’s not. If “The Hunt” is an exercise of satire, then it’s better off labeling itself a spoof film because it plays down its impact with self-referential humor akin to the “Scary Movie” series of the 2000s. Adding nothing to the current political discord between Democrats and Republicans, the blood and guts raining down from the mayhem-infused violence do nothing to cover up the woeful writing and flimsy cheapness of its execution. The fierce performance of Betty Gilpin doesn’t carry the imposing muscles needed to carry this feature out of the dungeons of disappointment,

Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse, the two men who lit up last year with the greatness of HBO’s “Watchmen”, stand as the architects of this new thriller. A group of Republican loyalists find themselves fighting for their lives in a location filled with secluded woods and Democrats with an itch for hunting down so-called “Deplorables”. This sadistic game takes a sudden turn when a woman named Crystal (Betty Gilpin) becomes the predator instead of the prey. Laying down a can of you know what, Crystal fights back against the dire onslaught of progressives while uncovering the blueprint for this event labeled as “Manorgate” which has been widely circulated as a theory on online forums and social media accounts. The twisted discourse of favoritism politics wears its mask loud and proud but yet doesn’t do anything noteworthy to warrant all of its controversy.

From the onset, this story immediately comes off as anything other than the butt of its own joke. Some moments engage with dialogue that feels lifted from a comment section underneath the tweet of any political figure or pundit. Terms such as “snowflakes”, “rednecks”, “crisis actors” and disposable monologues are used and represent a lack of cleverness and reek of a style reminiscent of a tone-deaf social media user that wants to sound smart but comes off painfully lacking in awareness. Was the research of this film done by siphoning from the wide and jumbled world of social media apps? The narrative doesn’t know what direction it wants to go, opting for a misshaped “equal opportunity” offender angle that aims to disarm any harsh labels this film may receive from either side of the political arena. Does the film want to make fun of the vast conspiracy theories and stereotypes the parties lob at each other or the right’s fear of a scenario involving the left attacking them draped in some legitimacy? Maybe “The Hunt ” wants to make fun of both sides trying to be the high and mighty winner of an unwinnable dispute, but the film makes it very hard to figure out what the purpose entails. For a misguided and clunky screenplay to come from Lindelof is the most shocking piece to take away from this trainwreck.

Violence is as vicious and full-frontal as the MPAA allows it to be with limbs, guts, heads, and eyeballs being taken down or disintegrated with bullets, blunt objects, and any weapon that can be found usable. On par with a Jason Vorhees gorefest, this is the primal center of human conflict with a slapstick comic book aesthetic. Some of the CGI can be iffy but these passages of mainstream action aspirations do add some jolt and curiosity. Director Craig Zobel’s manner of using so many quick cuts and erroneous angles that leave the audience missing out on the impact of hits and final fatalities is a bummer to watch on the big screen. If there was one thing that could conjure me to give this film a watch recommendation, it would have been the selling point of action sequences. Sadly, that is far from the final results.

Shock and disbelief serve as my final words for this fail of a satire. All of the anticipation and excitement has been for naught because the resulting film is a frustrating disappointment that is baffling by the fact of having writers and actors with trustworthy track records behind the helm. “The Hunt ” will be forgettable once the uproar about its subject matter cools down and what will stand in my memory is how much of a farce it makes of itself trying to lend an opinion to the American political climate.

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Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Way Back

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 48 minutes

Director Gavin O’Connor is a master of the sports drama, previously hitting home runs with films about both MMA and ice hockey. Like in those films, his newest is a story that uses the backdrop of athletic competition for a character study. Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) is a blue-collar worker and alcoholic, separated from his wife, and drinking his way through life one beer at a time. One day, Jack receives a call from his alma mater, a Catholic High School where Jack was once a basketball star destined for collegiate glory, asking him to come in for a chat. It’s then that Jack is offered the head basketball coaching position for the rest of the season, where he will take over while the current coach recovers from illness. Jack, who has never coached before, reluctantly accepts and must find a way to connect with and teach the young undisciplined and under-talented players of the team, all the while still struggling with his addiction and a haunting past. 

In “The Way Back”, Jack’s alcohol use is front and center much more so than basketball. He always has a beer or a fifth of vodka in his hand, to the point where it might almost seem indulgent on the filmmaker’s part. But what Gavin O’Connor does is never let us forget that alcohol is a part of Jack’s life at all times. Jack is seemingly a good person, not one of the usual physically violent alcoholics we are used to seeing in the movies. His addiction is shown for what it is, a disease that can’t be controlled without intentional steps and help. A disease that finds a person drinking on the job, drinking on the drive to the bar after work, and then carrying a beer can into the shower because having a drink in hand has literally become a physical part of who the person is. Jack, like all alcoholics, drinks for a reason. Jack is angry about his past, something he can’t escape, and like so many who struggle with alcoholism, it has him in a dangerous downward spiral that is ruining his life.

Most films in this genre drive toward a final “big game” in which the sports team or individual must compete at the highest level, overcoming whatever obstacles were in their path to get there and earning redemption along the way. “The Way Back” is slightly different, instead alternating more often than expected between the excitement of Jack’s coaching up his team during the basketball season and the dramatic revelations about pieces of his past that have come to define him and lead to his current relationship with alcohol. O’Connor certainly still gives us time with the team. We get to know the various kids, their strengths and challenges, and a few of them are developed in meaningful (though fairly cliche) ways. But their stories are never the focus of the film. It’s always about Jack, and his life mirrors that of a real one, with ups and downs, wins and losses, belief that things have gotten better and devastating mistakes. It’s a relatable and smooth-transitioning narrative, one that never stopped being compelling.

Affleck’s performance is right there with the best he’s ever given. It’s an emotionally affecting, and clearly very personal, one that rarely goes over-the-top but has power in its subtlety. Coach Cunningham’s journey with the team is inspiring, even as we see his character flaws gradually revealed. It’s easy to have empathy for and root for his redemption, something I craved even more than seeing the team have success. Credit should also go to O’Connor and cinematographer Eduard Grau, whose outstanding use of beautiful close-ups really draws the viewer into some very vulnerable moments, both on Affleck alone and in deeply affecting scenes between him and his estranged wife Angie (Janina Gavankar). The film’s score by Rob Simonsen is absolutely gorgeous and almost ever-present, strings and piano keys nudging our hearts in various directions as Jack’s journey is made.

“The Way Back” is not without its typical sports cliches in the personalities and stories of the basketball team players, but it is also a film that completely subverts them when it comes to its overall primary character arc and ending. It’s an addiction drama about how we cannot change the past, but how we can affect the future, one step at a time, and of the impactful part relationships and passions play in that process. It is simultaneously a feel-good basketball story with a dose of exciting in-game action, some hearty laughs, and plenty of sincere feels.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: February 23-29

LESSON #1: BOB IGER’S LEGACY IS ONE OF ACQUISITION— The biggest news of the young year on the business side of the movie industry dropped this week with the planned retirement date of Disney CEO Bob Iger. Without a doubt and spending with deep pockets, he turned the most popular family brand niche around into a media powerhouse. The purchases of LucasFilm, Marvel, Pixar, and 20th Century Fox were during his leadership tenure, as were numerous additions and expansions like a theme park in Shanghai and everything surging with Disney+.  I know Walt’s name is on the sign, but you could start naming a few streets and board rooms after Iger and the honors would be warranted.

LESSON #2: NO, SERIOUSLY, STOP WATCHING TRAILERS— I feel like little suds from my usual soapbox are going to always be around. That is especially true when I see another story of a meddlesome studio over-selling a film and ruining its potential essence. The case this time is Leigh Whannell’s wishes for Blumhouse not to further advertise the twists and action of The Invisible Man. I’ve heard critics report that too many scares from the movie are tipped off from the trailer. I feel like horror films have it worse with this problem than other genres. Expect it to continue until you be a discerning consumer that avoids trailers. Let’s start rubbing the worry stone right now for Candyman. That’s another teaser that, even with quick editing, shows too much.

LESSON #3: IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT HELP YOU STAND OUT— We’re seemingly getting to a saturation point with the streaming services where they all need to look the same and work the same to get customers comfortable.  I remember hearing about the Netflix-like screen functions that folks clamored to have on Disney+ after its launch in November. While content and price point always win, I do appreciate little nuances that can make something stand out. As a physical media fan and special features nut, I dig what Amazon Prime Video is doing with their Trivia Section. I love the easy information right there at viewers fingertips. Maybe little perks like that can get us off of our devices to watch and learn all in one place. Nice work, Amazon.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#124)

MOVIE REVIEW: The Invisible Man (2020)

Rating: R / Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes

Going back to its original roots as a novel by H.G. Wells and one of the original Universal Pictures Classic Monster Movies, the story of “The Invisible Man” involved a man whose experiments make him unseeable and eventually lead to a descent into madness and violence. For this modern reboot of the film franchise, writer/director Leigh Whannell brings the character crashing into the #MeToo era by centering this story on not The Invisible Man himself, but rather his primary victim. Whereas previous entries have been all about how a person deals with the effects of a strange new ability, Whannell’s film focuses on the perspective of those who suffer from a maniac’s abuse of power and control.

The film opens with an absolutely stunning night-time sequence of Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) suspensefully escaping the gorgeous, isolated home she shares with her brilliant, extremely wealthy, Optics scientist partner Adrien (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Right from the start, Whannell lays out the kind of experience this film is meant to be, relying on skillful precision in cinematography by Stefan Duscio and a powerful, terrifying score by Benjamin Wallfisch to always keep the audience intensely on edge. Cecilia is a woman who we immediately understand is the victim of awful and frequent abuses. She is clearly terrified and we hold our breath while silently praying she gets away from a man we literally know nothing about yet. And this is merely the beginning.

After living in fear for a few weeks, Cecilia learns that her ex has committed suicide, and she is free to begin healing from the horrible domestic and sexual abuse we learn he committed. But she doesn’t really believe it, and it isn’t long before mysterious things begin happening, signaling to her that someone, or something, is stalking her from outside her view. It should come as no surprise to anyone that’s seen much of Moss’ filmography that the actress is as good as they come, and her performance here ranks among the best she’s ever given. For most of the film, she is in a growing state of panic, slowly losing her sanity, and displaying every emotion one could possibly imagine a victim of these evil crimes might experience. Her ability to convey fear, distrust, and deep deep pain via facial expressions and voice inflection is incredibly impressive and also extremely difficult to watch. 

Despite support and assistance from loved ones like her sister, a childhood friend who is conveniently now a police officer, and his teenage daughter, Cecilia struggles mightily when no one believes her claims that an invisible man is out to get her. The terror he eventually begins to reign on her is some of the best supernatural horror you’ll see. It’s minimalistic for so long in a way that makes the special effects extremely impactful when they do happen, and the same can be said for the film’s reserved use of physical violence. For most of the film, it’s emotional and psychological abuse that Cecilia faces the most, but you can always feel the intensity building to something. Eventually, there are a few spots where brief outbursts of bloody action occurs, often in rather shocking fashion. The film is never too gory, though, so viewers fearing an all-out slasher flick need not worry much. 

I can’t express enough just how wound tight “The Invisible Man” is from start to finish. This is a pressure cooker of a thriller where your body is constantly clinched as you are made to feel as if you know where this hidden assailant is at all times, just waiting for the moment when something extreme is going to happen. Sure, it’s got its share of jump scares, but most are effective and play very well with an excited audience, as does the action choreography, a continuation of the great work Whannell did in 2018’s “Upgrade”. Fight sequences with The Invisible Man are especially wonderfully crafted and very memorable.

“The Invisible Man” puts a new spin on a classic horror property with a sci-fi twist, plenty of surprises, and an all-too-real story from the perspective of someone who is tormented by her long-time domestic abuser. It is not always easy to watch, and trigger warnings definitely apply, but for those who can stomach the painful brilliance of Moss’ exceptional traumatic performance, catharsis and a genuinely unnerving but entertaining experience is to be had. Universal has finally figured out what a new line of monster movies can look like, with truly evil and unredeemable villainous fiends and social metaphors delivering a contemporary vision all their own. Let’s hope this is the start of a great franchise and not just a splendid flash in the pan.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

What We Learned This Week: February 17-22

LESSON #1: THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA DOES NOT HAVE GOOD TASTE WHEN IT COMES TO MOVIES— It’s rare this column space goes political but the reaction of Donald Trump to Parasite deserves admonishment. His jeer-laced and mocking misunderstanding of the South Korean Best Picture winner and his dog whistle call for returning to Gone With the Wind are just another chapter of his deplorable and ignorant public nature.  The man has no taste in movies, let alone much taste in anything else, but that’s for a different website. Meanwhile and by contrast, let’s long for the days where we had a POTUS with actual acumen and a discerning eye for good film. In case you missed it, Barack Obama made cinephiles proud with his eclectic and topical best of 2019 list of movies and television. Someday, intelligence and grace will return to the Oval Office.   

LESSON #2: GET YOUR KOREAN ON— Want to be smarter than the Cheeto-in-Chief, bone up on and absorb some fantastic international cinema. There are riches to be found and, thanks to Parasite, all things South Korea are hot right now. If you don’t know where to start, check out one of the many buzz-worthy and click-bait-sourced “must see” lists (one, two, three) that have been crafted for South Korean selections. The commonalities and picks are solid anywhere you look.

LESSON #3: SOMEWHERE IN THOSE BUTTONED KNICKERS, MICKEY MOUSE AND DISNEY MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE BALLS— A large section of the entertainment audience has groaned for a long time, and not just with the company’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and their catalog of darker material including Alien and Deadpool, that Disney does not have the courage to release or even create movies with stiffer ratings. They get called sanitized quite often. We have argued that they don’t realize worthwhile and solid stories fitting of their image can still have PG-13 and even R-rated content. That will change ever so slightly with Mulan at the end of March. It will be the first of Disney’s line of re-imaginings to carry a PG-13 rating. While our female Chinese warrior isn’t lopping off heads anytime soon, this is a step in the right direction and sign that Disney may be beginning to take some of these grander stories seriously.  

LESSON #4: CUT A GUY A BREAK— The interminable roller coaster production history of the DCEU has gotten a great deal of click bait, but not enough shared honest truths. Even when legit news comes out, it gets questioned and twisted like crazy by fan agendas and haters. Look no further than the Zack Synder saga of his departure from Justice League. People and speculation were far from kind. The next guy in that universe that needs to be cut a break is Ben Affleck. Reading him in The New York Times describe his personal struggles with alcohol and other vices while wearing the cap and cowl is eye-opening, sad, and humbling. Too many so-called fans shout and nitpick at every little detail and too often forget the people underneath and the inordinate pressures put on them. Speaking of Batman, let’s not do that next with Robert Pattinson over one snippet of test footage and some set photos.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based and Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson. His movie review work is also published on 25YL (25 Years Later) and also on Medium.com for the MovieTime Guru publication.  As an educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical. He is a proud director and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle and a member of the nationally-recognized Online Film Critics Society.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film now for over two years, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends while chipping in with guest spots and co-hosting duties, including the previous “Connecting with Classics” podcasts.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on Facebook, Twitter, and Medium to follow his work.  (#123)

MOVIE REVIEW: Onward

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 54 minutes

Coming hot on the heels of Pixar’s Best Animated Picture Oscar victory for 2019’s unwanted yet somehow still exceptional “Toy Story 4″, “Onward” is the first of two original stories by the revered studio to hit the big screen in 2020. With fairly light marketing going in, many will find themselves entering a theater in the same position that I was – unexpectedly unexcited. But fear ye not, good peoples of Earth, because that Pixar magic is alive and well (literally in fact, because ya know this story is about wizards and stuff).

“Onward” is a beautifully colorful film set in the fictional city of New Mushroomton, part of a world full of fantasy creatures like centaurs and sprites, that despite once being filled with magic and champions on heroic quests is now taken over by scientific and technological advancement. Mastering magic was “too hard” and innovation for convenience won the day. The story centers around two elf brothers, Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland) Lightfoot, who on Ian’s 16th birthday are given a present from their deceased father. This gift is a magical item that if used correctly will allow the boys to spend one last day with their Dad, which both of them desperately desire. Because he passed away from illness while they were young, Barley barely remembers their time together and Ian has no memories of his own at all. It’s something that both haunts and drives him, as he continually makes lists of things to accomplish in life hoping to make his father proud. In the old days, an epic quest was a staple of someone’s 16th birthday and after Ian’s attempt to use the item goes terribly wrong, the brothers set off to retrieve a mythical stone so that they can try again. Before the sun sets, of course. Every good quest needs a time limit.

To reveal any twists and surprises of the story would be completely unfair because the emotional journey Pixar takes viewers on is a truly wonderful one. Pratt and Holland have perfect chemistry as the brothers, who in lieu of a true antagonist for the film have a relationship that is both loving and also filled with many differences of opinion that lead to some exciting situations. Barley is a walking mishap who drives a van named Gwynevere, spends his time in role-playing games or protesting the destruction of historical sites, and generally reminds everyone he comes in contact with about how magic used to rule the land and they’ve gotten away from their true nature. Ian, by contrast, is smart but timid, socially awkward, and thinks his brother’s obsession is mostly lunacy. It makes for a ton of great banter throughout the film as the two embark on a daring quest that features all of the elements you might expect, including but not limited to finding a quest giver to get a map, solving tricky puzzles, and overcoming dangerous beasts with legendary weapons of power.

Yes, “Onward” is basically Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft with a heartfelt and deeply poignant story of brotherhood and parental loss layered into that world, and it’s incredible just how powerful the emotions it evokes are! Make no mistake, at multiple points during the fun adventurous quest full of monsters, spells, and swords, the tears will flow and the heart will pound. This dramatic quest for family grieving is non-stop clever and charming along the way, and with “Onward” Pixar has a truly magical start to 2020 with a film that families (and especially fantasy fans who will enjoy the film’s many references) are going to find themselves enchanted by.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.