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Review: Unhinged (2020)

Cast:

Russell Crowe               The Man

Caren Pistorius              Rachel

Gabriel Bateman           Kyle

Jimmi Simpson              Andy

Happy New Year everyone! I know it has been a few months since my last review, but hey, I’m busy with my life in retirement! However, having said that I have my promised my brother “aka, the Chairman” of Notinhalloffame.com that I would give him reviews of shows from time to time. Over the last little while though, there has not been much on tv or Netflix/Amazon that I felt like reviewing. Come on, it was Christmas time, so we were inundated with a plethora of syrupy Christmas films that my wife likes to watch. Ok, there are a few that I did not mind as there were enough sarcasm, comedy, or gratuitous sex scenes peppered in so that I could sit through the film. But in the genre of Christmas films, these things are sometimes hard to find. No matter how much I tried to tell my wife that Die Hard and Lethal Weapon are Christmas movies, she does not seem to get it!

So here we are, a new year and a new review. For this blog’s selection, I decided to pick the movie “Unhinged” starring Russell Crowe as “the Man” or nemesis in the film. The reason for this selection is as follows:

  1. Russell Crowe usually makes great films, i.e. The Gladiator, Proof of Life, Cinderella Man, Broken City, Robin Hood to name but a few. (ok there were a few crappy ones too, Noah comes to mind)
  2. This movie was actually released during one of the small windows of the pandemic that the cinema’s opened. So my thought was that if the movie industry was brave enough to release it during Covid, it was worth a try.
  3. I had seen Pistorius before in “Offspring” a show that both my wife and I loved, and thought, hey she was ok in that, she might be alright in this film.

Unfortunately, my reasoning for watching this film were found to be erroneous.  I was wrong on so many levels. I know that you say, this can’t be true! Wrong on an opinion about a film before watching, say it isn’t so! But alas, “Unhinged” joins a long list of films that over promised, under delivered, and were just large piles of fecal matter. 

Before continuing on what I did and did not like about the film, let’s give a general outline of what it is about. The prologue of the film is a series of clips that outline how much road rage is hitting the country and that really no one is safe from it. Then the film really starts with a close-up of an obviously distressed man. At first glance, I thought it was John Goodman from years past, but no, this is a rather plump, heavy, bearded Russell Crowe. He is full of angst, popping some kind of pills like they are tic-tacs while looking at a home. Finally, he loses his proverbial shit, goes up to the house, breaks in, kills the occupants and sets it on fire. Then he returns to his truck and drives off. 

Cut scene to see a family trying to have breakfast. We are now at the home of Rachel, which she shares with her son, brother and I think his girlfriend. We are seeing all kinds of scenes on where they are trying to live a normal life, well almost normal for Rachel (Pistorius) for whom we find out that she is in the middle of divorce proceedings and her ex is trying for everything, and her career is in the proverbial toilet. Of course, she is now late for work, late for dropping off her kid at school and just basically having a crappy morning. So taking the freeway, she gets stuck in traffic and tries to find another way to try and recover her timings. In the process she pulls up behind the aforementioned truck. Still in a hurry, which the truck driver does not seem to be as he waits through a light, Rachel (Pistorius) goes nuts on her car horn, swerves around the driver while giving various hand gestures to the driver of the truck. Of course we know the driver is “the Man” (Crowe). He follows her, cuts her off a few times and then the fun begins. So, without giving out the whole storyline, we know that it is a serious case of road rage and fixation between “The Man” (Crowe) and Rachel (Pistorius), and that it will naturally end in a way that will be violent, bloody and oh so predictable. So as you can see from the quick synopsis, there is nothing here that screams Oscar winning storylines, or even acting. 

What did I like about the film…well not much really. The story line was weak and predictable, the dialogue appeared forced and there was little to no chemistry between any of them. But wait, I said what did I like about it. I would have to say the character of Andy, played by Jimmi Simpson. It does not matter what role I see him in, I always enjoy his slimy character portrayals. There is something about his characters that I always like. Unfortunately, he did not have much screen time and his character did end up as another victim of the man, sorry for the spoiler readers. But two minutes into the film, you would have figured it out anyways.

What didn’t I like? Well, it was nice to see Crowe in another product, but who knew we were going to see so much of him. I know that some actors gain/lose weight for roles, and I applaud them for that. However, in some instances is it really necessary for the story-line? In this case I don’t think it was necessary, he could have still portrayed the man who has lost it all with nothing left to live for without the massive weight gain. In my opinion that portion of the character was not really required. Hmm what else was there beside wooden performances from all of the characters…yes, the predictability. I felt like Nostradamus while watching this film, I could predict with uncanny accuracy what would happen next. There was no mystery for the film, no, what will happen next. See scene, know within 10 seconds what will happen in that scene and the next. For example, introduce young man at the gas station who offers our young heroine some help…you know his life span will only continue till the end of the scene and that he will be run over. No mystery here. There are so many examples of bad storytelling in this film that I could write a small book on them. Instead, I will content myself with this review. 

There were a few throwaway characters in the film, besides Andy (Simpson), the brother and his fiancée were included in the film to be merely cannon fodder for the rage of “The Man” (Crowe). You didn’t know why they were there in the first few minutes, thus I knew their characters would meet an untimely end in the film. If there was a little bit more mystery and maybe fleshing out some of the characters, it might have proved to enhance the film. I also found some of the technical aspects of the film to be way off base. For example, our young heroine starts her Volvo, and the dashboard has warning lights blazing that would put a Christmas tree to shame. Yet, she takes it on the highway and while being pursued by “The man” she drives it through hurdles that I am sure I saw on the Dukes of Hazzard. It really made me want to buy a Volvo, if it had that many issues and still could do all that…man, I need to buy me one! Also, for an individual who complained about the traffic and whose driving skills did not seem to be the best, she did learn fast and I was impressed on how the traffic would always clear for her when she was going down the congested road. A little too fake for my tastes.

Also, I found the role of the son, Kyle (Bateman), to be a little under developed. There seemed to be little to no chemistry between him and his mother. Yes, the character is important as there is nothing that can drive a storyline like a mother defending her child, in this case it just did not seem to work for me. 

As the characters in this film were so shallow, that the depth was that of a small puddle, I won’t go into how they were portrayed and what was good or bad about them. Just leave it to say that this was not a shining moment for Crowe (pretty much on par with his character of Noah in the film of the same name). I really hope that in Gladiator 2 (that is supposed to be in development) that he finds his mojo back and he returns as the actor that we all know that he is.

As for Pistorius, this is only the second character I had seen her in, and I hope that her choice of roles improves as to me, this was not a great leap for her, and did not display her talents. Will see what comes in the future.

Would I recommend this film, was I entertained? No on both counts. I would not recommend this film to anyone, even die-hard Crowe fans. Unless you can’t find anything else to watch on Netflix or Amazon, then maybe give it a try, other than that, I would give this film a hard pass and maybe watch an old classic with Crowe, i.e. Gladiator, Master and Commander to name but a few examples. 

Our rating: 2/10

If you are interested in any other GOOD film starring Russel Crowe, please consider the following recommendations.

Gladiator, Robin Hood, Master and Commander, Proof of Life, The Nice Guys, Broken City, The Next Three Days, A Beautiful Mind, Cinderella Man, L.A. Confidential

Till Next time!

Review: No Time To Die (2021)

Cast:

Daniel Craig                  James Bond

Ana De Armas               Paloma

Rami Malek                  Lyutsifer Safin

Lea Seydoux                 Madeleine

Lashana Lynch              Nomi

Ralph Fiennes               M

Ben Whishaw                Q

Naomie Harris               Moneypenny

Christoph Waltz            Blofeld

Jeffrey Wright               Felix Leiter

Hello again! Time for another review of “Was I Entertained”! For this edition, instead of perusing NETFLIX, Amazon Prime, or even my own Movie collection, we ventured out to the cinema’s to catch a new release. Due to COVID, we have not managed to see very many films in the theatre (naturally they were all closed) and going out to a movie, you almost have to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for the tickets, popcorn and pop. Where are the days that I used to the movies with 2 dollars, buy my ticket, pop, popcorn and a chocolate bar and still have change? I must be getting old! Anyways, we had luckily won a gift certificate for the Cineplex from a charity lottery and this was the first time we were able to use it in the last 2 years.

There were a few movies that piqued our interest at the local movie theatre, and we had narrowed it down to 2 selections, Dune or No Time to Die. I wanted to see Dune as I was a big fan of the original series and the precursors that were written after Herbert’s death. However, my wife was not familiar with the series and stated that we should watch that one at home when it gets released to smaller screens so that if she bored she can pick up her tablet for another game of Candy Crush. So, with that in mind we went to see the latest James Bond flick, No Time To Die. 

Where do I start with this latest foray into British spy agencies and their war against terror? Well, the film starts (as most Bond films do) with a long prologue. He is gallivanting around Italy with another beautiful lady in tow. This time, one probably young enough to be his daughter. (I had to check IMDB on this one, and they are 17 years apart in real life, so that comparison is feasible, even if a bit of a stretch).

We also find out that he wants a new life with this nubile young lady, and it can only start if he closes a certain chapter in his life. This chapter is focused on Vesper, (another Bond love - from Craig’s first foray into the world of James Bond in Casino Royale), where he must close the door on his past, accept her betrayal and move on. Naturally, as this is a Bond flick, the tender moment at the grave site of Vesper becomes a trap. He fights them off, returns to his hotel room to find his new love, Madeleine preparing for departure. Bond (Craig) thinks that she set him up with SPECTRE (remember them, they are the bad guys for most of his films) and he grabs her and tries to evade the bad guys while trying to get his new love to confess her sins with respect to her betrayal of him. Of course, as this is a Bond flick, he trashes an exotic car (one of my personal favourites, gotta love these classic Aston Martins), blows up many people, trashes the scenery and does some incredible stunts with the car, on a motorcycle and even on foot! The prologue ends, and then we cut to opening credits where a pretty crappy theme song comes on after the traditional man in a barrel scene. I have to say, that while Billie Eilish can sing some nice songs, this one is not up there. Historically, Bond theme songs end up making their way up the charts and I can remember almost all of them… this one however, I wanted to forget.

The next scene opens about 5 years later with Bond (Craig) on a beautiful Caribbean island and we learn that he is retired. He is whiling away the days, swimming, fishing, drinking and we believe being a bit lecherous. He meets up with his old friend Felix Leiter who says he is in dire need of his assistance to thwart an old enemy. Not only does Bond (Craig) come out of retirement to fight again, he discovers that his once legendary position within MI6 has now been filled by another person who wears the title of 007. That is Nomi (Lynch), who not only tries to outdo the original, but she also seems to have a huge chip on her shoulder and inferiority complex where it comes to Bond.  

I really don’t want to give out too many spoilers from this point forward, but leave it to say that Bond (Craig) meets up old enemies i.e. Blofeld (Waltz), old loves i.e. Madeleine (Seydoux) and old friends, Moneypenny (Harris), Q (Whishaw) and the aforementioned Leiter (Wright). Whereupon, together they must combat not only the old enemy, but also defeat an enigmatic Safin (Malek) who is the principal antagonist of the film.  All in all, almost a standard plot line for any Bond film in the franchise. 

What did I like about the film? There were several points that provided enjoyment in this very long film. Let’s start with the cinematography, how can you go wrong with the scenes in this film. We have Italy, Jamaica, Scotland, UK and Norway. While each scene may not necessarily represent the supposed location, they were all extremely picturesque nonetheless. I also found that the camera flowed well in the action sequences and did not become choppy or sped up to such an extent that it becomes comical. I always hate it when that happens for it ruins the flow of the film for me, and makes any fight sequence look like a cartoon on fast forward.  Next, we have the cars…man, do I love Aston Martins. They are my dream car if I ever made it big. These cars are beautiful, fast and distinctive. Too bad they had to destroy so many of them while making the film! 

Next up, I actually liked the story line. It was a good way to finish off Craig in the role of Bond. The story flowed for the most part, and while there was the odd bump or scratch the head moment, it still was pretty good overall. The characters were well developed overall, for as much of the cast, they were just reliving an old role and carrying on. The continuation of Madeleine (Seydoux) as the principal love interest was a nice touch. Maybe, they could have selected an older actress to give a better representation, as for some, the age gap might prove to be detrimental to the story. But her character was instrumental to the story line and the end of the film. On another note, I also enjoyed Paloma’s character (Armas) in the film. It took me a second to recognize her as one of Craig’s co-stars in “Knives Out” a great movie that I previously reviewed on this forum with both actors in principal roles. Her role, while lasting only a few minutes of screen time was extremely well done and the action sequences were not only lively, but also fun to watch.

Now, what didn’t I like? Ok, some may cringe at the next statement, but for me, ever since Craig took on the mantle of Bond I found that that these films have ceased to be “James Bond – 007 films”. They are now good action movies that just happen to have the main character named Bond. To me this is not the fault of Craig who is an excellent actor, but the fault of the system (Director/writer etc) who wanted to modernize the franchise, in my opinion, just a little too much. The whole image that was started by Ian Fleming in the novels and original portrayed by Connery has somehow been lost over the years. For me, Connery is Bond! He was a fearless, womanizing, hard drinking, devil may care agent with a deathwish. While this attributes are not necessarily reflective of today’s society, that was the character that was created and some said inspired by Fleming’s own activities during the war. I know that the whole franchise has matured over the years and changed by the era that it was filmed or even the actor who portrayed Bond, but for me, the whole premise of Bond has changed to make it more palatable to viewers of today.

As I previously mentioned, Connery for me was the best. Yes, I know sometimes the scenes were cheesy and the fight sequences were almost laughable, but it was the spirit and the gadgets that I loved. Afterwards it Lazenby in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and his portrayal was comical. Connery returned for one more foray in “Diamonds are Forever” before being replaced by Roger Moore in “Live and Let Die”. (I am not counting “Never say Never Again” which was made independently of the franchise writ large). Moore, was almost a caricature to me. Sure he could look dapper, and he was a bit of a womanizer, but his action sequences while better choreographed then Connery’s looked comical. Remember the old joke in Cannonball Run…”You can’t hit me, I’m Roger Moore” that was a distinct slam on the character as was portrayed by him. Timothy Dalton joined the series for two films and while he looked more rugged than Moore, did not really pull it off. It was not until Brosnan took the helm as Bond that I really started to enjoy the franchise again. Brosnan was more of a composite of the previous versions of Bond, and we now find the scripts, plots and characters solidified. On Brosnan’s departure, we have Craig as 007. Due to the changing world around us, the character was changed to represent todays morals and what would become acceptable by today’s society. Ok, I get it, the world changes and what was acceptable or the norm before is no longer the case. Really I am ok with that aspect, but what I would like to see at this point, is just change the name of the principal character. It can still be 007, but it could be a different agents name in the role, then it would not matter what sex, colour, creed, or even orientation the actor is. Actually, this film introduces that concept, and quite well (storyline wise) I might add. So this might be the direction that the producers may be heading into the future. I hope so, as I think it will make it easier to adapt the main character to reflect whatever is acceptable at the time, without re-writing who Bond is and was originally created to be.

Ok, that was quite a tangent, hmm, where am I? Ok, at this point, I always like to discuss the characters and the actors that portrayed them. So here we go:

Daniel Craig as James Bond: This is the 5th and final foray for Craig as Bond. From what I have read he is starting to feel too old to carry the part anymore and make it believable to the audience. For this last venture I must say that he did a fine job for his finale. As I mentioned previously, while I find this latest series of films to be more action genre than traditional Bond, I can respect the fact that it was well acted role with plenty of stunts and action to keep me interested. I also enjoyed the fact that Bond finally found his love, his legacy and his purpose in this film. He demonstrated great chemistry with all cast members to include his love interest Madeleine (Seydoux), competitor Nomi (Lynch) and his nemesis Safin (Malek). His last Bond portray was a truly enjoyable performance. Craig is a solid action star who has also many other ranges, from drama to comedy to draw upon. I have no doubt that his next projects will be just as entertaining as this one. 

Ana De Armas as Paloma: Armas was excellent as Paloma. This role was far different than the timid and innocent waif that she portrayed in “Knives Out”. She was an action heroine, and did it well. Demonstrating physical skills that were not present in “Knives Out” not to mention some lighter moments her character of Paloma was a very strong supporting role that was actually more memorable then some of the performances of the other co-stars.

Rami Malek as Lyutsifer Safin: Malek is quickly becoming a fan favourite. He is extremely talented and believable in almost every role I have seen him in. From playing Dega in Papillon (which I have reviewed previously on this blog site) to Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (also reviewed on this site) I have enjoyed each and every performance. When watching Malek, you know he is in the role and that whatever he does will be first rate. My only complaint for this character was that he did not get enough screen time or backstory to help fill in the holes of the “why” he was doing everything. However, that is not the fault of the actor, but the writer and director. In this case, as the film as very long to start off with, I can see where decisions would have to be made with respect to the storyline. Regardless, another good performance by Malek. 

Lea Seydoux as Madeleine: This is the first time I had seen Seydoux in a memorable role for me. Even though she was in Spectre, I really don’t remember her character, and I probably should I guess. Going through her IMDB resume, I see that she was in a few other films that I had seen in the past, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Spectre, Grand Central, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to name but a few. In each case I have to really think on what role she played. In this film, I can truthfully say that I am sure I will remember her role within it. She played the love stricken damsel quite well. Her chemistry with Craig and Malek was noteworthy and added to the story. As the principal co-star and love interest, her character was intrinsic to the plot. I will have to go back to the previous movies mentioned and give them another watch to take a look on how she did in those s to really give a good comparison. However, with these holes in memory, I will just have to say that her performance was fine and I look forward to seeing her in future projects. 

Lashana Lynch as Nomi: While Lynch is not a bad actress, to me she did not fit in the role as an MI6 Agent. I don’t know what it is, but it just didn’t work for me. If I was casting that role, I would have probably picked Christine Adams (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Batman Begins) or Thandiwe Newton (Westworld) for that part. As I pointed out above, MI6 did re-issue the 007 moniker to Nomi after Bond’s retirement, and I do like the fact that this could possibly lead to a complete rebranding of the character. Like I said, keep 007 movies running, just remove James Bond from the character as it will now be able to transition to a new and contemporary hero that is acclimated to today, without offending any purists of the franchise. I also found that her chemistry with the other supporting characters was a little off, but that could be due to the fact that her character was to have a bit of a chip on her shoulder and a touch of inferiority complex when compared to her predecessor. For me, while the character was important, I found the portrayal a little lacking compared to the other cast mates. Having said that, I will pay attention to her future roles and see how her style and talent matures and progresses. 

Ralph Fiennes as M: Fiennes is a very accomplished actor and has had some very big shoes to fill in the role of M. In this role, I find Fiennes very believable as the head of the department. He has the necessary panache and style to carry the role and position. I do like the fact that in the World of Bond, Fiennes has made M his own, without trying to emulate previous actors/actresses who have held that role. 

Ben Whishaw as Q: Here is a case where I don’t really care for the new actor. To me, Q was an eccentric older gentleman who was a genius without social skills. Whishaw, while kinda filling out the genius portion with no social skills, I find he is too young to be believable, and he did not really come across as part of the team. 

Naomie Harris as Moneypenny: I like Harris as Moneypenny. When they re-cast Moneypenny for the 4th time (not including Casino Royale and Never Say Never again) they made a fantastic choice. I find her to fill in the role nicely, just like it was her own. Actually getting back to the character of Nomi, Harris could have done this as well, and I think in a much more believable fashion. Her range of emotions with respect to Bond was very well done as was the chemistry between all in her scenes. 

Christoph Waltz as Blofeld: Here is another actor who is fantastic and only received minimal screen time. However, for all intents and purposes, his character could have been written out and the screen time centered on Malek for the antagonist. But it is always nice to see him in any role. No one can play the smug, conceited bad guy like Waltz. It is always great to watch him in these types of roles as he never disappoints…in this case the only disappointment was that his role was not greater.

Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter: As the 8th iteration of Leiter, Wright does an admirable job. He is believable as the trusted American friend and his chemistry with Craig is good. An accomplished actor, I can’t really remember a time or role that I did not like Wright in. From Hunger Games to Boardwalk Empire he has played a diverse set of characters that always add to the story. As with the other actors listed above, I always look forward to seeing him in a supporting role for any film or show. 

So, all in all, were we entertained you ask? Yes, we were, “No time to Die” is an action packed film with a great cast. It was filled with all the necessary car chases, explosions, fights and guns to make an action movie enthusiast salivate. Additionally, this film does close a chapter for Craig as the latest Bond which some fans may find hard to take. Like I have opined several times, to me these are not Bond flicks anymore, but action movies, so I will rate this film as a great action film which happens to have a character named Bond. Who will be interested in this film, well first off, anyone who loves the franchise (even if in my opinion it has changed), loves action films or is a fan of Daniel Craig. If this is the genre that you enjoy, then definitely give “No Time To Die” a watch!

Our score: 7.5/10

If you are interested in other films starring the main cast, please consider the following recommendations:

Daniel Craig     Defiance, Spectre, Casino Royale, Logan Lucky, Skyfall, Knives Out, Quantum of Solace, Munich, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 

Ana De Armas   Knives Out, Blade Runner: 2049

Rami Malek      Mr. Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody, Papillon, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, The Pacific, 24

Lea Seydoux     Spectre, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Lashana Lynch  Captain Marvel

Ralph Fiennes   Schindlers List, The English Patient, Red Dragon, Harry Potter (Franchise), Skyfall, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ben Whishaw    Spectre, Skyfall

Naomie Harris   Spectre, Skyfall, Southpaw, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 28 Days Later, 

Christoph Waltz Inglourious Basterds, The Three Musketeers, Django Unchained, Spectre,          

Jeffrey Wright   Shaft, Ali, The Manchurain Candidate, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, The Ides of March, Broken City, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Boardwalk Empire, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Westworld

Till Next Time!

Review: The Courier (2020)

Cast:

Benedict Cumberbatch              Greville Wynne

Merab Ninidze                          Oleg Penkovsky

Rachel Brosnahan                     Emily Donovan

Angus Wright                            Dickie Franks

The weekend arrived and as we had nothing on our social calendar we went back to our lists on Netflix and Amazon, not to mention my ever dwindling stack of unwatched blu-rays. For this weekend, we tried to theme it a little and only select movies based on actual events. Our first film, “Bombshell” starring Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron and John Lithgow was a fantastic film that focused on the controversy at FOX when Megyn Kelly (Theron) and Gretchen Carlson (Kidman) were basically thrown under the bus when they came forward with harassment allegations against Roger Ailes (Lithgow). This was a great film that highlighted some key events in the entertainment industry and brought to light the abuse that some television executives put onto their female employees. While this was a great film, with some stellar performances, it was not the film that I chose to review for this edition of “Was I entertained”. 

I decided to write on another film based on actual events that was more along my style of films and literary pursuits. This was “The Courier” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and Rachel Brosnahan. This film tells the story of Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) who was used by MI6 and the CIA to relay messages to and from Lt. Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Ninidze) of the GRU in Russia. This exchange of messages via the unorthodox relay of using an innocent British salesman was apparently instrumental during the early days of the Cold War, and most particularly during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Trying not to give away too much of the story (mind you, you can look it up anyways), Oleg Penkovsky, a Lt. Colonel in the GRU (which was the intelligence arm of the of the Soviet military, and was responsible for many operations overseas) comes across intelligence on what Russia was planning to do in Cuba. Sneaking a letter out via some visiting Americans, he advises them to bring the document to the embassy and tell them (the US) that he has information to provide in exchange for sanctuary in the United States. 

At the time, the CIA had a minimal presence in the USSR, so in order to take advantage of this new source of intel, they approach MI6 in England to garner assistance to run this potential source. I will have to say a manager in MI6 (his position is not really given), Dickie Franks (Wright) meets with his CIA counterpart, Emily Donovan (Brosnahan) to formulate a plan. Apparently Franks (Wright) had a friend who was a salesman for some kind of company that travelled regularly to Eastern Europe and would be the perfect conduit as a courier for all concerned. Wynne (Cumberbatch) was approached by Donovan (Brosnahan) and Franks (Wright) and was subsequently convinced to be a cog in this vital intelligence gathering scheme. 

So the film progresses with the Russian GRU Lt. Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Ninidz) and Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch) developing a friendship that grew with the amount of intelligence that was passed to the west. We discover that this information becomes vital for the western response to the Cuban Missile crisis and the western intelligence services writ large. Naturally, as very few spies are ever totally successful, Penkovsky and Wynne both get captured by the KGB and are held for questioning and in some cases torture, or should we say some aggressive questioning. 

This is the story in a nutshell without giving out too many nuggets from the film, as I really recommend that you watch it. I found the cinematography to be very good, the acting from very strong too excellent, and the details from the time period to be far above average. I also enjoyed the use of historical footage of the era intertwined with the film to be extremely well done. The direction and script was also very well done. 

After the film, I did some quick research into the characters (you know with the all the COVID lockdowns, we are all google professors now). What I found extremely interesting was the fact that the writer pieced the story together from various sources, as the books later written by the real Wynne tended to have exaggerations and potential un-truths. So saying that, we know that the film had some artistic liberties around it, but enough truth buried within to keep it interesting. Additionally, it seems that there was no character of Emily Donovan during this incident, and that the character was a fabrication. I actually thought so while watching it, as I was unsure that a “woman” during that time period would be given such responsibilities or latitude within the CIA. (Believe me, I am not saying that women did not deserve to be high positions, just from my understanding it was not the norm in the 60s). I actually thought that the character was changed from a man to a woman to provide some “political correctness” to the film. However, as a fabricated character, I found the input to the story line to be intrinsic to the plot. I also found out that Dickie Franks actually ended up being the director of MI6 later on in his career, just another interesting factoid that I discovered.  

So, what did I like about the film? I have pretty much captured it above, everything from the character development, plotline, direction and the period that it was capturing. It all appealed to what I like in a film or story. As I have stated in numerous reviews, I also enjoy when the film is based on factual events, as these films are far more interesting than some of the slasher or special effects movies that are the norm these days. The chemistry between all the characters was evident as was the emotional outbursts or scenes portrayed by all the key characters. I did find the stereotypical British “stiff up lip” mentality amusing as well, that mentality while stereotyped, reminds me of several British officers that I had met over the years. I even enjoyed the Russian dialogue in the film. Having taken Russian some 30 odd years ago, it was enjoyable to try and pick out what was being said without reading the sub-titles. There were several actors that were quite easy to understand, which provided further enjoyment to the film.

Was there anything I did not like? Actually no, the whole film was enjoyable to watch from start to finish. So with that portion of the review closed, let us touch on the key cast members:

Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne: First off, I must say that I am a great fan of Cumberbatch, especially since I watched him in the BBC series of Sherlock! He is an extremely talented actor who can manage to pull of any role, be it Sherlock Holmes, Khan, Doctor Strange or a Colonel in WWI. His portrayal of Wynne was very believable, sure, there may be some doubts if it was an accurate representation of the real individual as indicated in some articles I read, but for the purposes of the film, I bought it. Also, I found the chemistry that was displayed between the other main characters to extremely evident, especially with Ninidze (Penkovsky) and his wife Sheila (played by Jessie Buckley). All in all another great performance by Cumberbatch!

Merab Ninidze as Oleg Penkovsky: This was the first time that I had seen Ninidze in any production, though from what I found on IMDB I see he has been on Homeland, however on a season that I have yet to watch. Overall, I was very pleased with his portrayal of the GRU Lt Colonel. He demonstrated concern for the state of his nation and its goals, fear was prevalent for his family as well as his dreams to one day be a cowboy in Montana. To me, his role was very believable and I really look forward to seeing him in other films or projects in the future.

Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan: My wife and I first noticed Brosnahan in the Amazon show; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In that show we found her funny, talented and a real joy to watch. It was not till afterwards that we found that she was in numerous programs and movies that we had watched in the past, i.e. Patriots Day, Manhattan, House of Cards, Blacklist, and The Finest Hours to name but a few. In hindsight, after we became fans of Mrs. Maisel, I looked at some of her previous roles and really came to appreciate her talent. In this film, while really playing in a supporting role and a fabricated character at that, I found that she did well. Not as well as say her performance in Mrs. Maisel, but well enough to really contribute to the story. I also enjoyed the fact that while her character was instrumental in putting Wynne in harm’s way, she was also willing to put herself there to help him when in trouble. I enjoyed this character and performance overall, and even if a fabricated person in a historical tale, her role was intrinsic to the plot as a whole. 

Angus Wright as Dickie Franks: As I mentioned previously, Wright played Franks extremely well and came across as the stereotype that I had not only observed on the screen before, but also representative of some of the British officers that I had met during my career. He was believable and his chemistry with the other cast members was admirable. Even though his face was familiar to me, it was surprising on how many shows I had seen him in before. Regardless, I thought his acting and character that he embodied was spot on for the movie and period that was being presented. As with Brosnahan’s character, his role was intrinsic to the story and continuity. I did like the fact that this character in real life did end up being the head of MI6, kind of made me wonder if this small bit of activity in the 60’s was a key jumping point for him to attain greater things. 

As you can see by my comments, my wife and I were thoroughly entertained by this film. It had great a great cast, direction, script and continuity. As I have mentioned many times, it was based on real life events which always adds to the appeal of any film or television program. The chemistry between the cast was quite visible throughout, especially the main characters. All facets combined, made this film a truly enjoyable experience. I would recommend this film to anyone who is interested in real events, espionage, or is a fan of Cumberbatch. So if you are interested in this film, que up your Amazon account and give it a ride. I have no doubt that you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Rating: 7/10

If you are interested in other programs starring the main cast, please consider the following recommendations:

Benedict Cumberbatch              1917, Avengers: Endgame, Avengers: Infinity War, Sherlock, Doctor Strange, The Hollow Crown, The Imitation Game, The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, Star Trek Into Darkness             

Merab Ninidze                          Homeland, Bridge of Spies

Rachel Brosnahan                     The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Patriots Day, The Finest Hours, Manhattan

Angus Wright                            The Crown, Kingdom of Heaven, Charlotte Gray

Till Next Time!

Review: The Invisible Man (2020)

Cast:

Elisabeth Moss                          Cecilia Kass

Oliver Jackson-Cohen                Adrian Griffin

Harriet Dyer                              Emily Kass

Aldis Hodge                              James Lanier

Storm Reid                               Sydney Lanier

Michael Dorman                       Tom Griffin

Well I’m back! After a month of trying to enjoy the last little bit of summer and a few road trips to the wine developing areas of our province, my wife and I decided to watch a film on a Friday night. For this film we chose the latest version “The Invisible Man” released in 2020. Throughout film history there has been somewhat over a dozen films that have captured the whole invisible man concept. Some better than others, several were comedies and a few had a string of sequels. In each instance they have tried to interpret the vision of H.G. Wells original thriller/sci-fi novel of 1897. Now of the dozen plus versions of this concept, in truth I have only watched a few i.e. Hollow Man, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, Memoirs of an Invisible Man and Hollow Man 2. As I mentioned, some were better than others, but I have to say that this latest version starring Elisabeth Moss was one of the more enjoyable ones. 

This latest version did not emphasize on the scientist or madman who wants to become invisible, it centers on the victims. Cecilia Kass (Moss) is in a horrible marriage, she has been abused, beaten, assaulted and demeaned by her husband and she is just trying to escape. We, the audience find this out in the opening sequence as we watch a terrified Kass (Moss) run around the house looking for a way out while her maniac of a husband is chasing her. After a few close calls she makes it to the road, just running and screaming madly. Luckily, a lady stops on the road, picks her up and takes her to a friends’ house. We later discover that the lady, was in fact her sister Emily (Dyer) and her long time friend is James Lanier (Hodge) who just happens to be a cop and a single father to his daughter Sydney (Reid). In essence that was the first 10 minutes of the film. Sure, there are some holes in the story that we try to figure out, and it is not until the lady, ok her now you know that she is the sister drops by the friends’ house to tell her that her husband is in fact dead; so she can start to live her life anew. It is then that a few of these gaps are filled.

In the next scenes, we are introduced to a really sleazy lawyer type, Tom Griffin (Dorman) who is not just a piece of slime, he is also the brother of the deceased. After revealing that Cecelia Kass (Moss) will be the recipient of a large inheritance (with some conditions), she returns to her friend’s house to share her newfound wealth. Shortly after this, we see some strange occurrences in Cecelia’s (Moss) life. Things disappear, move, turn on/off and unexplained noises occur in the night. Naturally, Cecelia (Moss) becomes terrified as she believes that her ex-husband is still alive and it has been a huge plot all along. This is actually where the movie starts to get really interesting. Not wanting to give out too many spoilers, let me just state that the film’s intensity increases, there are a few twists and turns, and the film finishes with a great fight and a satisfactory conclusion. 

So let’s start with what I did not like about the film. First, after the initial opening where we find our heroine running around crazily looking for a way out of the house, the next 20 minutes is slow, and I mean slow. We have some characters with no real backstory or raison d’etre. For example, the friend where she finds refuge after leaving her husband. James Lanier (Hodge). Here we have a single father who is taking this crazed women in. Ok, she is a friend, but the back story of their relationship is never revealed. Especially when we find out how much cash she is willing to share with him and his daughter from her new found wealth. Now, this must be a great friend to share that kind of coin! There should have been at least a little more substance to those characters and their relationship. I spent a while just trying to figure out how he played into the story line, and whether there was some sort of sub-plot that I was missing. 

Additionally, the character of the sister, Emily (Dyer). Again, where is the substance and meat to the character. Ok, she is a sister so there is the familial bond, but too many times during their conversations there is indications that there is more to the relationship and how she helped her sister over the years. Were these story points left on the editor’s floor? Maybe, or did the director just want to get to the slash and gore and not worry on how they got there? I don’t know. Either way, I was not really impressed on this character’s development as well.

The final point that did not impress me in the film was the fact that the “invisible man” seemed to possess superhuman strength. This was a bit far fetched once the “invisible man” and what/who he is has been revealed. The fight scenes were a little out there in this respect, for when an individual would grapple with their invisible adversary, the only advantage would be that they could not see what he was doing and only feel the effects. But once the victim got a grip on their foe, the strength of the person should come through and make the battles a bit more even in some cases. However, it would not have the same dramatic effect on the screen if it was done that way.

Now let us look at the characters that make up “The invisible man”:

Elisabeth Moss  as Cecilia Kass: First, I must say that I am not a huge fan of Moss, I can pretty much take or leave her in a film. Sure, she was good in Mad Men, but that was an ensemble piece and she was in a supporting role. I have heard good things about the Handmaid’s tale, but I have yet to watch it. Besides this film, I have yet to watch her in something that she was the principal star. But enough of her previous work. In “The Invisible Man” I found her character to be a tad too eccentric for me, yes her character was supposed to be scared and recovering from an abusive marriage, but to me, it was an uneven performance. Don’t get me wrong, we did enjoy the film and her role as the lead, but to my taste, it was missing something. Maybe, it was the fault of the editing or script, I am not sure, as I could not put a definitive finger on what it was absent for it to be a truly great role. 

Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Adrian Griffin: Jackson-Cohen was the abusive husband, and to be honest was relatively new to me. The only other role I had seen him in was as Ronnie in Mr. Selfridge, a Masterpiece Theatre production that funnily enough is what my wife and I are watching right now. But, back to his character, Cohen only had a very limited amount of screen time, as his role was more that of the unseen nemesis. When on screen, he was usually yelling and running around so we did not really see any “talent” from him if you will. The main focus of his character was the pieces that you did not see of him, just what was described by the others. All in all, a minor role, with no real on-screen impact.

Harriet Dyer as Emily Kass: This is another role that only had minor screen time. Dyer played the sister well and demonstrated a believable amount of emotion and angst when dealing with her sister’s situation. Her chemistry with the main characters seemed weak to me, and even when confronting her sister (Cecelia – Moss), it appeared forced. Again, Dyer is an actress whose work is largely unfamiliar to me so I had nothing else to compare it to. So overall, her performance was adequate to assist the storyline and pace, but not something that was memorable in my eyes. I would have to see her in another role to give me something to compare this performance with. 

Aldis Hodge as James Lanier: I have mixed opinions on Hodge in Lanier role. First, while I found his acting to be fine, not great, but fine, his character was one dimensional and had no back story to justify the significance of his relationship with Cecilia (Moss). If he was such a good and old friend, so much so that she could stay with him and his daughter for extended periods, why did he not intervene earlier in her abusive relationship. On top of that, he is supposed to be a cop! Why did he not assist before? His character required more backstory and fleshing out. This is not the fault of the actor, but that of the writer/director/editor. For all we know there was more to his character than what was presented in the final film. Additionally, he is a big guy, while fighting the “Invisible Man” you would think that once he got a hold of the guy, he would be able to do some damage. Unfortunately, he gets tossed around and smacked down like a rag doll. Looking at his IMDB profile, he has been in many small roles in shows that I have watched over the years, i.e. Numbers, ER, Bones, CSI, The Walking Dead and a Good day to Die Hard. But obviously he nor his characters have left a lasting impression to me. However, I do see potential, and maybe he just needs the proper role to give his career a catalyst that it requires.

Michael Dorman as Tom Griffin: This was actually my favourite character of the film. He was equally spineless and sleazy at the same time. His sleaziness just oozed out of the character and infected everything around him. I thought that Dorman played this character beautifully! Even though he only had a small amount of time on screen, his presence had a great affect, and he literally stole whatever scene he was in. As with the other characters, when checking the resume on IMDB, I was surprised that he was in other films/shows that I had watched, but could not remember his role/character. However, after seeing him in “The Invisible Man” I will pay much more attention to his characters in the future. 

So what did we like about the film you ask? I actually loved the camera work and direction for the most part. The ability for the camera to look at a portion of the room to give you the impression that there was something there was fantastic. It just fit I also enjoyed how the camera would put the characters (visible ones) to the side of the frame, thus giving you the illusion that the nemesis was in the empty space. For me, that was the highlight of the film. I accepted some of the one dimensional characters and plot holes to watch the camera work the scenes and thus heighten the tension! 

So would I recommend this film and were we entertained? I would have to say yes to both questions. “The Invisible Man” was a fine addition to the H.G. Wells repertoire of film adaptions. It had the tension, and excellent camera work that some of the earlier versions lacked. As I previously mentioned, I enjoyed the perspective of the victim rather than the aggressor in the film. This was a new way of enjoying the film that set it apart from the others. If you are a fan of Moss and a fan of the genre, then please give this one a try. You may find the same one dimensional characters and plot holes as I did, but sit back and appreciate the camera work, you will be entertained. Of that, I am sure.

My Score: 6/10

Till Next time!