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Indie Focus: A modern view of ‘The Invisible Man’

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

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For California’s primary day on Tuesday, there will be a free movie marathon under the banner “For the People” at the Amanda Cinema on the Array Creative Campus in Los Angeles. Playing as part of the politically themed program will be Madeline Anderson’s documentaries “Integration Report 1” and “I Am Somebody,” Alfonso Cuarón’s dystopian “Children of Men,” Gillo Pontecorvo’s radical “Battle of Algiers” and Haifaa al-Mansour’s Saudi Arabia-set “The Perfect Candidate.”

This past weekend, Lulu Wang, writer and director of “The Farewell,” celebrated her birthday by stepping behind the bar at the L.A. restaurant Auburn to serve drinks and answer questions. Jen Yamato was there for this most unusual Q&A.

This is another week with lots of strong new openings. Justin Chang is particularly fond of the German film “I Was at Home, But…” directed by Angela Schanelec. And filmmaker Benh Zeitlin returns at long last to follow up his Oscar-nominated debut “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with an updated version of “Peter Pan” in “Wendy.”

And on the seemingly never-ending Netflix front comes “All the Bright Places,” a young adult romance directed by Brett Haley, adapted by Liz Hannah and starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith.

On Monday, we have a screening of the art-world thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy” followed by a Q&A with director Giuseppe Capotondi, actor Claes Bang and maybe even more guests. (The movie also stars Elizabeth Debicki, Donald Sutherland and Mick Jagger, and one of them is a distinct possibility.)

For information on it and other upcoming L.A. Times screenings and Q&A events, visit events.latimes.com/screenings/indie-focus.

‘The Invisible Man’

Written and directed by Leigh Whannell, “The Invisible Man” is a modern updating of the classic horror tale. After a woman (Elisabeth Moss) escapes from her controlling and abusive partner, a tech entrepreneur, he commits suicide. But she begins to feel he may not really be gone, as strange and dangerous things begin to happen to her. The supporting cast includes Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer and Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

In a review for The Times, Justin Chang said that the film is “nominally the latest Universal Pictures reboot of one of its classic horror properties, but happily, it has nothing in common — in terms of plot, style or quality — with 2017’s risible update of ‘The Mummy.’ Instead it’s elegant and diabolically poised, a familiar story expertly retooled for an era of tech-bro sociopathy and #MeToo outrage, but also graced with an insistently human pulse. Studio brand extensions rarely feel this intimate, this personally unnerving.”

Sonaiya Kelley spoke to Moss and Whannell about updating the film. “That feeling of not being believed, not being heard or being scrutinized for believing something you know in your heart to be true, is something I think on varying levels we can all identify with,” Moss said. “When I start telling people what this movie was about and how it was being used as an analogy for gaslighting, I was really surprised by how many people would get this look in their eye. It’s a commonality that I think deserves to be explored.”

For the New York Times, Manohla Dargis wrote, “Moss’s full-bore performance — anchored by her extraordinarily supple face — gives the movie its emotional stakes. The figure of the imperiled woman tends to be irresistible, but you need to care about the character, too, really share her worries and her terrors. With her high forehead, prominent jawline and eyes that can pop or menacingly narrow, Moss has an ideal big-screen canvas, one she fills with subtle fluctuations that let you follow Cecilia’s inner states even when she goes quiet.”

For Vulture, Alison Willmore wrote, “‘The Invisible Man’ is not as smart as it could have been, but the concept is ingenious even if the execution gets slapdash. And with Moss at the center, it doesn’t matter all that much — she sells what’s approached as B-movie material with the unwavering dedication of someone starring in a prestige biopic.”

At Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote that “Whannell creates a mood of almost unbearable dread as, in the film’s harrowing opening sequence, Cecilia escapes her husband, and then as her newly settled-ish, happy-ish life is gradually disrupted by the presence of ... something. These scenes, when Cecilia is alone in the house she’s staying in (or when everyone else is asleep), are triumphs of lo-fi suspense. Shadows and lumpy sheets and floorboard creaks are all Whannell needs — OK, maybe some fishing wire, too — to get the blood up. Of course, there’s also Moss, selling all this creeping terror as a nightmare, yes, but also as a tragedy.”

Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass in “The Invisible Man,” written and directed by Leigh Whannell.
Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass in “The Invisible Man,” written and directed by Leigh Whannell.
(Photo Credit: Universal Pictures)
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‘The Whistlers’

The latest film from Corneliu Porumboiu, one of the leading lights of the Romanian film scene, “The Whistlers” is a surprisingly playful crime thriller. A corrupt cop (Vlad Ivanov) travels to a remote island where he becomes mixed up with a drug dealer’s girlfriend (Catrinel Marlon), in a film set against the local tradition of whistling as a form of coded communication.

In a review for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “It’s a lot of fun — and often quite funny — while it lasts, though I could have used less gunplay and more whistling, an element that, more than anything else here, speaks to Porumboiu’s gift for deadpan absurdity … His panoply of references feels like more than know-it-all cinephilia run amok; the specific idiom he is trying to master is not just an ancient whistling language, but the language of genre itself.”

For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “It’s also playfully self-conscious about its own movie-ness ... The film-geek fun that Porumboiu so deftly indulges serves as an implicit rebuke to those who reflexively associate Romania with stripped-down, tough-minded realism. To which I plead guilty, while also confessing a measure of ambivalence about ‘The Whistlers,’ an ingeniously structured, engaging and witty display of filmmaking skill. It is Porumboiu’s most elaborate feature and in some ways his least ambitious. Like a meringue or like a whistle, its substance is mostly air.”

For Variety, Jessica Kiang wrote, “There’s a lot of fun to be had in the simple eccentricity of the premise, which is pulled back from silliness by the cast’s underplaying and Porumboiu’s natural inclination to tamp proceedings back into drollery … The director has long been established as the most skewedly humorous of the Romanian New Wave brigade, but that mischief-maker reputation does not mean his films have lacked substance. If anything, his style of disingenuously deadpan wit has given us some of the most lacerating commentary of the whole movement, cutting deeper because the critique is hidden under a smile — or more likely, a slow, owlish blink.”

A scene from “The Whistlers.”
A scene from “The Whistlers.”
(Vlad Cioplea/Magnolia Pictures)

‘Burden’

Based on a true story, “Burden” is written and directed by Andrew Heckler. In South Carolina, a young man named Mike Burden (Garrett Hedlund), raised within the Ku Klux Klan, attempts to break away. The supporting cast includes Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson and Crystal Fox. The movie won the audience award when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 but is only reaching theaters now.

Heckler spoke with Sonaiya Kelley for a story publishing soon. “I’ve been fascinated for 20 years to tell the story of Burden because it is the potential for a pathway out of this mess of bigotry and hatred,” she said. “The pathway is not an easy one, though it seems incredibly simple in theory. But you can’t turn an enemy into a friend through hate, you can only turn an enemy into a friend through love.”

In his review for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “Using all his resources, Hedlund has created Mike Burden whole on screen in all his tormented awkwardness. Confused and conflicted, incapable of doing the right thing without recidivism and backsliding, this is hardly a conventional hero. Siding with the angels can seem like a snap in films, but ‘Burden’ has the grace to show how difficult and wrenching a choice that can be.”

At the New York Times, Jeannette Catsoulis was less convinced, writing, “Though the themes of ‘Burden’ feel uncomfortably current, their execution is leaden and dismayingly artless … Mike’s reluctant journey to redemption is unpersuasive, his personality only semi-formed and his behavior a tangle of contradictions.”

la_ca_burden_movie_410.JPG
Garrett Hedlund and Andrea Riseborough in a scene from “Burden.”
(Mark Hill/101 Studios)
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