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By Vernor Rodgers
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"THE INVISIBLE MAN"

Expectations were high when it became known that a remake of the old horror-thriller classic "The Invisible Man" was going to be penned by screenwriter and sometime director Leigh Whannell. It was Whannell who introduced us the hideous concept in "Saw" and eventual creation of Jigsaw that has propelled Tobin Bell into horror movie superstardom with that Jigsaw characterization. Whannell also brought to the screen the iconic psychic Elise Rainier, played by Lin Shaye, in the "Insidious" series.

Now updated with all the technology at the hands of even the common folk, "The Invisible Man," which Whannell also directed, is an excellent modern rendering of a classic.

Under Whannell's script and direction, "Invisible Man" is very much the showcase of a capable actress, Elisabeth Moss ("The Handmaid's Tale), who plays Cecelia, who on the surface seems to have found a dream life. A graduate in architecture, Cecilia is now married to Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a wealthy technology wizard. They live in a vast home overlooking the Pacific Ocean up in the Northern California.

But as the movie begins, we see Cecilia in the middle of the night carrying out a detailed plan to leave Adrian, and we see that this home is more like a fortress and a prison. She manages to escape, thanks to some help from her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and finds refuge in the home of a close friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge), a police detective and single father of a teen daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).

Cecilia has a savage case of agoraphobia, terrified Adrian might track her down, but has to break out of that when she learns Adrian has committed suicide. Cecilia has a hard time believing a controlling narcissist like Adrian would kill himself. Nevertheless, she meets with Adrian's brother Tom (Michael Dorman), who has been tasked with executing the will. Cecilia will get $5 million provided she does not commit any crimes or show signs of mental stability.

Naturally, Cecilia starts experiencing strange things that are pushing her already strong notion that Adrian, not only a techno genius but a master psychological manipulator, rigged his death and still is going after her.

As Cecilia gathers evidence to prove her theory, of course she starts sounding crazy, and things are happening that alienate Cecilia from the people closest to her, shutting down her support system. And events take a deadly turn.

Whannell is spot on in creating suspense and tension and hits the audience with a couple of terrifying and unexpected scenes.

It is Moss, however, who brings this story to life. Throughout the movie you root for her, while also getting exasperated by some of her dumb actions. And you wonder if she is ever going to wise up and turn the tables on her pursuer. Moss also took a physical as well as emotional beating as Cecelia, and  really has to dig deep and develop some resolve and cleverness to survive.

The supporting cast is excellent as well, with Dyer as the skeptical sister having to wrestle with the belief Cecilia has gone mad; Hodge as Cecilia's friend who as a trained police detective finds it hard to swallow what she is declaring and also tends to admit the woman has gone crazy; Reid, who was so good in the underappreciated "Don't Let Go" last year, offers tender moments as a young lady is has become sort of a little sister to Cecelia. Although Jackson-Cohen has very little screen time, his Adrian character's evil has been cleverly mirrored in the actions of Dorman as Adrian's brother Tom, who is not what he seems.

"The Invisible Man" is a rarity these days in being a mainstream horror-thriller film that actually is pretty good. Blumhouse, the top horror movie studio these days, doesn't always put out good scary flicks (see "Fantasy Island" below), but it does come through at times, such as with "The Invisble Man. 

"THE INVISIBLE MAN" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/WO_FJdiY9dA

 

"THE LAST FULL MEASURE"

Although it has run its course as a theatrical release, grossing only $2.8 million, "The Last Full Measure" is worthy of a viewing when it shows up on other platforms. Written and directed by Todd Robinson and featuring a stellar cast, it is the story of how a Vietnam War hero is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, thanks to the efforts of a Department of Defense official.

Sebastian Stan, known for his work as Marvel's Winter Soldier, is a different kind of fighter in "The Last Full Measure." As Scott Huffman, he is a rising star in the DOD in the late 1990s who is given what is considered a quick-solution throwaway assignment of placating a Vietnam vet named Tully (William Hurt), who has been lobbying for an Air Force para-rescue colleague, Airman William H. Pitsenbarger, to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions that cost him his life during one of the deadliest days of the war in Southeast Asia. Pitsenbarger already had been a decorated airman for his actions in Vietnam, but had been overlooked for what is the highest honor bequeathed upon a person in the military.

Huffman, a family man with a young son and another child on the way, is reluctant to do a follow-up on this case and initially agrees with his direct supervisor, Carlton Stanton (Bradley Whitford, "The Handmaid's Tale"), that this should be wrapped up quickly.

However, as Huffman interviews vets who were in the deadly battle in which Pitsenbarger was killed, he becomes more drawn into the story, and when he meets with Pitsenbarger's gracious and dignified  parents,  Frank and Alice (Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd), he goes all in to see to it the late  young airman receives the honor.

Each of the vets Huffman talks to carry scars, emotionally as well as physically, in addition to some amounts of guilt. Takoda (Samuel L. Jackson) and Ray Mott (Ed Harris) in particular have been burdened with an inability to forgive themselves for that day and how they dealt with it later. And Jimmy Burr (the late Peter Fonda in one of his final roles) is so messed up he can barely function, still mentally in the war.

"The Last Full Measure" shows the mire that is a government bureaucracy, and as Huffman becomes more invested in the Pitsenbarger case, he is warned by Stanton to ease up, be a good little government employee and don't make waves. But Huffman believes whatever sacrifices he makes in his career are worthy of an effort to see that Pitsenbarger is honored.

On that fateful day in Vietnam, soldiers are ambushed and some miscalculations make the horror worse via misdirected friendly fire. Pitsenbarger and Tully are Air Force para-rescue specialists sent in to extract wounded soldiers. When the platoon being attacked loses its medic, Pitsenbarger rappels down to the fighting zone to treat the wounded, and when it comes time for the Air Force choppers to leave, Pitsenbarger elects to stay on the ground, where he is later killed when his takes up a weapon and fights.

There are several emotional moments in this movie. Late in the investigation, Huffman goes to Vietnam and meets with Kepper (John Savage), who takes him to the actual site of the battle. Keppel has managed to find peace and urges Huffman, whose empathy has grown strong, to let it all out. In another scene, reminiscent of when Conrad (Timothy Hutton) comes to grips with his survival guilt in "Ordinary People," Hurt's Tully is finally able to accept that his survival really is a tribute to his fallen hero.

Eventually, Huffman comes through and the Medal of Honor  is presented at a ceremony attended by not only those who lived through that hellish day, but other vets as well, and those who did live because of Pitsenbarger's bravery finally are able to come to terms with it.

The script offers this pro cast a chance to shine. Fonda is stunning as the damaged Jimmy Burr, who luckily has a dedicated wife, Donna (Amy Madigan) by his side. Harris as Mott offers some nice moments as a vet-turned-school bus driver who motors that bus everywhere he goes, and then gets some redemption when he finally gets a chance to carry out a final request by Pitsenbarger.

For William Hurt, this is one of his biggest movie roles in years. I am old enough to remember when he exploded on the movie world in the early 1980s with  "Altered States" and "Body Heat" and then had a run of critically acclaimed roles in "The Big Chill," "Broadcast News," "Children of a Lesser God," and his Academy Award performance in "Kiss of the Spider Woman." Plummer seems to be great in everything he is doing these days, showing age does not always diminish skills. And kudos to Madigan, Ladd and Alison Sudol (as Tara Huffman) for their perspectives as supporting mates.

"The Last Full Measure" is a lump-in-the-throat movie and but ultimately despite the brutal realities of war, leaves you feeling fulfilled.

"THE LAST FULL MEASURE" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/Go8zI2sytEc

 

"THE RHYTHM SECTION"

"The Rhythm Section" is based on the first of four Stephanie Patrick novels written by Mark Burnell, and even with Blake Lively in the starring role, it looks like any hopes of there being any additional Stephanie Patrick movies are, like the shark Lively battled in "The Shallows," dead in the water.

The script was written by Burnell himself and the movie directed by Reed Morano ("The Handmaid's Tale"), but when it hit the theaters in February, it garnered a paltry $891 per screen in its first week and is pretty much played out as a theater run.

It is an OK thriller, and Lively put a lot of physicality into the role as Stephanie -- she even broke her hand during filming -- so one can hope it reaches an audience via other platforms.

Lively's Stephanie Patrick is a woman who is suffering from richly deserved survivor guilt after her family is killed in a commercial airplane crash. She deals with this tragedy in a predictable way, turning to prostitution and drug addiction to cope.

Her way out of this mire comes when she is approached by an investigative reporter, Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), who informs the addled woman that the fatal crash was not an accident but a result of terrorism -- and the perpetrator is still on the loose. Proctor's flat is wallpapered with research on the crash, and once Stephanie clears her head she soaks up some of this information and now becomes energized by a drive to gain revenge on the man who built and planted the bomb on the plane.

Her clumsy initial foray into fighting terrorism is understandably amateurish and ends up tragically. However, Stephanie learns of a reclusive former intelligence operative, B (Jude Law) and manages to convince him to train her to become a lethal agent herself. B finally realizes she is totally dedicated to her objective and works her hard. Upon finishing the training, B gives her a new identity as Petra, a professional killer now missing and believed dead. B gives her a final test assignment and even though it doesn't turn out like B would have preferred, he allows her to continue the pursuit of the bomber and whoever else might be linked to the attack.

Lively, married to Ryan "Deadpool" Reynolds and the mother of three children, has proven she can handle physical roles with "The Shallows," and while Morano does handle the action scenes with flair, he gets bogged down in too many places where Burnell's script becomes too talky.

Overall, "The Rhythm Section" minimally does what it set out to do. But in the end, there really is no desire to see Stephanie/Petra in action again.

"THE RHYTHM SECTION" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/0Uq_5bYGYoY

 

"FANTASY ISLAND"

This looked intriguing. A horror version of the 1970s television series "Fantasy Island" that featured Ricardo Montalban and HerveVillechaize. I mean, it WAS going to be a horror adaptation, right? After all, Jason Blum and his Blumhouse studios was behind it, this company being a factory of scary movies.

Well, this "Fantasy Island" is NOT a horror movie, or if it is being marketed as such, it's pretty tame.

It's hard to say exactly what it is. Yes, there is violence, some action, and island employees who have zombie-like powers to come back to life. But the death toll is minimal at best.

It starts out like a horror movie, with a woman, Sloane (Portia Doubleday) running for her life, in vain of course, through a jungle. She is dragged away to some unknown but likely hideous fate.

Sometime later, THE PLANE (or "De PLANE!" as Villachaize's Tattoo would exclaim) arrives on this tropical island and the lucky five people who are going to have their fantasies fulfilled are greeted by Mr. Roarke (Michael Pena) and his assistant, who is not Tattoo, but a young lady named Julia (Parisa Fitz-Henley). Roarke gives them a brief orientation with the decree that the fantasies must come to their logical conclusion without any revisions.

The fantasies include a party-booze-women-(and men) scenario, a chance to be a war hero, an opportunity to rectify a turned-down marriage proposal and a chance to avenge being tormented by a bully.

Featured in the trailers was the revenge scenario in which Melanie (Lucy Hale from "Blumhouse's Truth it Dare") gets to inflict painful punishment on the person who picked on her when she was a teen. Turns out to be the previously seen Sloane, and soon Melanie, who believes that the Sloane she is punishing is only a hologram, realizes that it is the actual woman.  Before long, former adversaries Melanie and Sloane are united in quest to flee the island.

Meanwhile, Damon (Michael Rooker, looking like he just wandered off "The Walking Dead" set) is lurking about in the forest, but has his own agenda that does not include stalking and killing people. Oh, well.

It is Maggie Q's character Gwen who wants to alter the agreement, realizing that her fantasy really is unfulfilling and begs Roarke to allow her another fantasy that will liberate her psychologically. Against his better judgment, Roarke relents.

I will credit the writing team of Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach and Jeff Wadlow with an interesting premise that ties these five people's lives together, but they write themselves into a trap. "Fantasy Island" ends up a revenge movie with some plot holes that are best not to mull over. Otherwise you'll be saying, "wait a minute."

"Fantasy Island" is not a bad movie. It has some problems with its tone and is one of those films that will easily be forgotten within months by those who saw it.

"FANTASY ISLAND" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/OEw_PACCFf4

 

"BRAHMS: THE BOY II"

Well, we knew this was coming. At the end of "The Boy," which hit theaters in 2016, Brahms, the lifelike doll that a couple was raising as if it were alive to cope with the death of their real child, is smashed to bits, but the closing scene shows someone putting the doll back together. So the cards were dealt -- a sequel was very likely.

Thus here it is. With the same director and writer (William Brent Bell and Stacey Menear, respectively), at least there might be some continuity to the story. But really. Is another chapter needed here?

Well, "Brahms: The Boy II" twice had its release date postpone. That hinted trouble.

The death toll in "Brahms" is two. Its creep factor is zero. Thankfully it runs only 84 minutes.

Katie Holmes stars as Liza, a happily married woman with a young son, Jude (Christopher Convery). After a traumatic experience in which Liza is nearly killed and Jude, who witnessed the horror has become withdrawn and does not talk anymore, just communicating via notes, Liza and husband Sean (Owain Yeoman) decide to take up residence in the country and end up at the guest house of the Heel shire Mansion, where all these bad things centering around Brahms took place.

There, Jude finds the Brahms doll buried in the woods near the mansion. Why it is buried there is a mystery, but Jude becomes quite attached to the doll and treats it as if it were alive. Sean and Liza are a little concerned about this but consulting with the psychiatrist treating Jude, they are told this could be a way for Jude to mend himself.

Naturally, paranormal things begin to happen and Jude's behavior gets more erratic and we see Liza doing the usual online searches wherein she learns about the sinister history of Heelshire.  A bit too late, unfortunately.

But the overall effect of "Brahms"  is, basically, boredom. Sadly, the end is a hint that another "Boy" movie is being considered. Now THAT is scary.

"BRAHMS: THE BOY II" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/ytxEldPKnyA

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