Monthly Archives: February 2020

Temper your expectations for solid new ‘Invisible Man’ take


For a film like this, I think it’s relevant for me to point out that I am not very good at predicting twists. Of course there are some that are glaringly obvious, I’m not a moron (we can agree to disagree if you like), but by and large I don’t find myself approaching movies like a detective. And so it gives me no pleasure to report that The Invisible Man blew me away while I was watching it, but had me seriously frustrated within a half-hour of leaving the theater. In regards to the twists in particular, you can perhaps take my initial enjoyment with a grain of salt if you’re more inclined to pick up on these things.

My frustration mainly stems from the fact that I want to love this movie. I wish it was the best horror film of the year. I think its new faked-death stalker premise for the classic Universal monster of its title is quite daring and Leigh Whannell’s direction — especially on a $9 million budget — is inventive and visually striking. I also agree with the majority of cinephiles today in believing Elisabeth Moss to be one of the finest actors of her generation. She certainly carries this film and makes complex, emotional silence look effortless to convey on screen. She can say more with one look than most actors can with pages of dialogue. 

Where this new iteration falters, however, is in its plotting. It’s perfectly paced to be a crowdpleaser; it zigs when you think it will zag, it keeps you on your toes in both near-silence and in chatter, and a few of the twists are genuinely shocking, if only in a “I can’t believe this movie just went there” kind of way. But there are several times where character development and cohesive narrative structure are sacrificed on the altar of tautness and tension. There are characters who die only because the script demands something interesting happen at that point. It’s easy to see all this through the lens of spousal abuse by a crazy man, and indeed that’s what the movie sells as the motivating factor of its plot points. But intentional or not, when certain characters are attacked by or die at the hands of the invisible man, it feels like it’s only happening because the writer was too lazy to develop those victims any further. The film may get more tense and viscerally engaging the more isolated Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) becomes, but it certainly becomes less interesting. 


The reason I feel that shift into pure action mode contrasts so bitterly is because the first half of the film perfectly juggles its disparate tones. After a bravado near-silent opening sequence in which Cecily escapes her abusive millionaire tech-wiz husband, her gradual steps to get her life back on track along with her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and family friend James (Aldis Hodge) are really convincing. As she finds safe haven in James’s home, there is a genuine sweetness between her and James and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). It mimics the speed and tone at which people generally come out of abusive situations — slowly and with genuine TLC. 

But it’s not that the film’s horror sections and its character-driven sections are at odds with one another that’s the issue; it’s that the balance is so good early on that it shows us what the movie could have been. The second half is where we get most of the twists, and even though it may seem like the writing is one step ahead of the audience, when you really step back and look at it, it’s filled with a lot of cheap tricks.


Again, that isn’t to say that the entire movie is a cheap trick. I just wish that this premise had been given some room to breathe, to dig deep, to explore, and not to be fodder for a few ham-fisted moments. Even though it’s generally a fresh and bold take for this intellectual property, that doesn’t make where some of its strands end up any less cliché.

What’s so inspired about the action in this movie is that it takes its time and surprises you with nuances of physical blocking and stunt performance. I just wish the same attention had been paid to the subtle art of panache in storytelling. Sure, it zips along and at least gives lip-service to justify its every move. But truly great cinema is meant to be savored, not devoured. I say that because I wish this was a film that didn’t sour upon the second bite. That first bite was so delicious! 

-George Napper

2 hr, 4 min; rated R for some strong bloody violence and language

‘The Invisible Man’ is now playing in theaters nationwide

‘The Lodge’ should have been called ‘Blaming the Victim’


It’s difficult to imagine a more hateful film than Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge. I have read many critics praising the film by comparing it to The Shining and Hereditary, but I would ask, when does similarity become less than homage and sit firmly in the realm of ripoff? Just because you’ve assembled horror cliches in a way we haven’t seen before doesn’t mean your film isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. There is one major exception to this, but we’ll get to that later.

SPOILER ALERT (but please don’t waste your time seeing this film)

Here are a list of cliches The Lodge indulges in to ultimately come to its trite, nasty, and uninteresting conclusion:

  • Someone commits suicide at the beginning of the film
  • Evil and/or misunderstood stepmother
  • Grieving family
  • Religious cult
  • Old cabin in winter
  • Dog dies for sympathy
  • Major plot points and transitions illustrated by a dollhouse
  • Falling into freezing water under ice
  • Dad has to leave for work out of nowhere
  • Family members do not communicate
  • Horny teenage boy
  • Horny teenage boy facing no consequences for spying on someone naked
  • “The power’s out!”
  • “Phones are dead!”
  • Gun with a few bullets left
  • Creepy kids
  • Kids in peril
  • Women in peril
  • Duct tape over mouths
  • Crosses and crucifixes
  • “REPENT!”

If you’ve seen any horror film in the past 50 years, you have seen 90% of The Lodge. The 10% that is original and that could have made this interesting involves the kids tricking their vulnerable stepmother into believing she’s in purgatory. She was raised in a religious cult, and has been deprogrammed to some degree, but certain things can trigger her memory and lead her back into her original brainwashing. The kids are aware of this and they use it to their advantage simply because they don’t like her. She has done nothing to them except have the audacity to marry their father.


Riley Keough is a great actress, but this script gives her nothing of note to do until the final sequence in which she sings an eerie hymn before exacting her revenge. But here’s the thing – they don’t even show you her full revenge. The one thing that could have given the audience catharsis (because by the end you will hate these kids, there’s no way around it) is communicated only by a cut to black. This film exhibits the worst kind of hipsterism and edgelord mentality, and it expects you to think it’s got something of substance on its mind. There is no substance here. There are only cliches and hatred.

The stepmother here is trying to fit into society. The kids don’t want her to, and they force her back into the darkness.


I suspect there will be many hundreds of people coming out of religious cults in America in the next decade and beyond. We’ve already seen some of the Westboro Baptist Church folks deprogram themselves. How shitty, then, to make and widely distribute a film which says, “If you’re crazy now, you’ll be crazy forever.”

***P.S. This is an unbelievably slow and tedious exercise. If you don’t like slow-moving films, avoid this one like the plague.***

-George Napper

1 hr, 48 min; rated R for disturbing violence, some bloody images, language and brief nudity

‘The Lodge’ is now playing in theaters nationwide (sadly)

Hidden-gem documentary ‘Tread’ explores a tragic case of home-grown terrorism


On June 4th, 2004, 52-year-old Marvin Heemeyer of Granby, Colorado drove a fortified bulldozer through his little town, destroying several businesses and cars in the process. He could have killed people as well, given that the bulldozer was armed with assault rifles. The only person who ended up dead was himself. But how did he go from mild-mannered, well-respected auto repair shop owner to fanatic revenge-seeker? Tread attempts to lift the curtain.

Two-fifths of the documentary play out as a call to arms against crony capitalism. In tapes he recorded himself, Heemeyer accuses the town council and other prominent businessmen in Granby of basically pricing him out of his prime real estate. His business is thriving, but he feels slighted when new, apparently unaffordable sewage standards are put in place and it appears to him as if another company is creating backdoor channels to kick him out. It’s a vivid portrait his words paint, and along with the pastiche of silent re-enactments in the film, it’s easy to believe him.

But 99% of his claims seem pretty exaggerated by the film’s conclusion. 

For starters, only two of his friends are willing to go on camera and corroborate what he says in the tapes. And even then, one admits Marvin probably spent “too much time alone.” Secondly and more importantly, a lot of the town council is interviewed here and they consistently remind us that Marvin had many offers over the years for the land his business was on. As a wealthy snowmobile enthusiast, he had ample opportunity to retire early and quite comfortably. The townspeople also point out that the sewage rates were nowhere near the astronomical amount Marvin claimed. 

Lastly, quite a lot of events where Marvin claimed to have been yelled or jeered at by his perceived enemies seem to have been make-believe. Of course, in this film it’s Marvin’s word against the town’s, but much of the evidence presented really does put his case on shaky ground. 


Shaky or not, once Marvin purchased the bulldozer at an action, there was no stopping him from carrying out his final mission, something he believed God had pre-ordained him for. The final sequence is surreal and gripping, as the re-enactment of the event makes good use of the film’s modest budget and the video of the actual chaos is undeniably bizarre.

Like the police in the bulldozer chase, we realize over the course of the film that there is no catching up to or stopping Marvin’s delusion. It’s a uniquely American psychosis, where isolation, loneliness, misinterpretation and desperation can create a Molotov cocktail of ill intent towards one’s neighbors. If it can happen in quiet little Granby, it can happen anywhere.

-George Napper

1 hr, 29 min; Not Rated, contains violence and brief language

’Tread’ will be available on digital platforms on February 28, it is currently playing in limited release nationwide 

‘The Assistant’ is an urgent workplace thriller

How did Harvey Weinstein get away with his truly evil behavior for so many years? Watching The Assistant may give us some insight.

Directed by the great Kitty Green (Casting JonBenet), The Assistant takes an unflinching and tense look at the human stories behind the MeToo headlines. Julia Garner is quietly fierce as Jane, a young assistant to a faceless Hollywood mogul. To say she finds herself between a rock and a hard place in her first real job in the film industry would be putting it mildly. 

There are several conversations and events she tracks to put together a narrative involving her boss’s serial infidelity and grooming of women. But the more she tries to bring attention to it, the more she’s silenced. When she takes her concerns to human resources, her HR manager (Matthew Macfadyen) uses her ambitions to be a producer against her. The same goes for her boss. The power dynamics are often spelled out instantly with just one line or image.

It’s not a flashy film by any means, but that’s the point. The reason people like Weinstein get away with this crap is because they are able to marginalize less powerful people and keep them quiet in low-lit, uninspiring office spaces. This is a film where you can tell everyone has some sort of agenda, but there are no typical film tricks necessary to convey that fact. A snowball of a day for Jane is just another Monday for everyone else, especially if they want to retain their position. 

Even being the main character, Garner doesn’t have a whole lot of dialogue. It’s all about what’s left unsaid in order to keep this sick ecosystem afloat. There are numerous points at which people higher on the totem pole could speak up for Jane and others, but for reasons already stated, they keep quiet. However, they do let things slip occasionally to let you know they at least understand what’s going on and how they’re complicit in it. In the pivotal HR scene, for instance, the HR manager tells Jane not to worry for herself because she’s not her boss’s type – just as she’s walking out the door, after he’s successfully dissuaded her from filing a complaint. 

It’s in these margins, juxtaposed against the humdrum number-crunching of the office, that The Assistant really tells its story. Because of this fact, it may appear to move too slowly for some, but thanks in large part to Garner’s internally fiery performance and Kitty Green’s perceptive storytelling, I found it to be an astonishing piece of cinema. I would say it’s the best and most important film about the film industry since Kirby Dick’s 2006 MPAA documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated.

-George Napper

1hr 27min; Rated R for some language

‘The Assistant’ is now playing in limited release nationwide

“Miss Americana” is lively, smart, and educational

This Friday, a truly extraordinary documentary was released on Netflix. Having already made a splash at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Miss Americana opened worldwide to general praise and appreciation. The thing that stuck out to me was how much I related to Taylor Swift’s journey and mindset as displayed in the film, having never been a fan of her music. I guess it also helps that I don’t participate in the general twitterati that pounces every time a star eats food. 

The film, directed by Lana Wilson (After Tiller, The Departure), follows Taylor Swift through the period between when the Kanye kerfuffle exploded and today. Wilson has an incredible amount of access, not only to Swift’s personal life and entourage, but to her songwriting process as well. 

It goes under-appreciated how difficult staying on top in the pop music world is, especially for young women. The fact that it’s been Taylor’s voice, Taylor’s words for over ten years is unique and remarkable. As she acknowledges here, it’s around the age of 35 that the music industry generally throws out the last decade’s favorite female performers. Nearing 30 herself, Swift is determined to enter a new phase of her career and keep being a pioneer. This documentary is a great start. 

Edited by a five-person team, Miss Americana is a masterclass in documentary editing. It flows effortlessly from one topic to the next, from Taylor’s rise at such a young age to her political conviction to her introducing her producer to the wonders of burritos. Everything here is punctuated with personality and humor – the only way to describe it is totally endearing.

I believe a film like this has tremendous import in the Trump era. We currently have a pop-culture President, so to not intellectually address pop culture is hipsterism at best and foolish at worst. The film attacks the paparazzi head-on, who for years hounded Swift about her weight, her relationships, and even her silence on politics before 2018. I love Dave Letterman, but one thing I couldn’t help thinking when seeing a clip of him fist-bumping Swift after she says she doesn’t want to force her political opinion on others was, ‘would he have been so celebratory of that stance if she were a man?’ As Swift keeps coming back to in the interviews here, there is still a profound – and frankly disgusting – double standard for women when it comes to speaking out about politics. It certainly doesn’t help that she was definitively branded ‘Miss Americana’ before she had a grasp on what a whirlwind her sudden fame had become. The comparison to Dixie Chicks is more than apt.

When she finally breaks her political silence for the 2018 midterm elections, her management team is frightened of the impact this might have. The conversation they have about moving forward on Taylor’s activism is as tense and profoundly stark as anything in modern cinema. 

Through every phase of her career, it seems as though Taylor Swift has had something to lose. We have everything to gain by putting aside our biases and realizing how false the bill of goods we’re sold about so many celebrities truly is. People are people, not hashtags.

-George Napper