Friday, March 6, 2020

Worth Mentioning - You Need to See to Believe

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Invisibility, psychokinetics, the Mandela effect, and clones.


A few years ago, Universal Pictures was aiming to create a series of interconnected reboots of their classic monster movie properties, and this was an endeavor I was all for. I wanted to see Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Bride, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, Mr. Hyde, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, all of them in new movies that took place in the same reality and would allow them to share the screen. Just like it happened in the days of House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula (they weren't all in those movies, but several of them were). But Universal made the mistake of giving 2017's The Mummy, the film that was supposed to be the beginning of this series and set up the shared universe idea, a budget of $125 million. So even though the film made $409 million at the global box office, it was still considered a disappointment. A mummy movie that makes $409 million should be considered a massive success, but they let it have a ridiculous budget. Because of that, the "Dark Universe" they were planning got scrapped.

One movie we lost due to this change of plans was a new version of Bride of Frankenstein that was going to be directed by Bill Condon. I really badly wanted to see that movie happen, because I thought that was a perfect match of filmmaker and material. Condon is such a fan of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein director James Whale that he made a fictional account of Whale's last days with the film Gods and Monsters, and Bride of Frankenstein is part of that movie. It would have been awesome if the director of Gods and Monsters could have gone on to make his own Bride of Frankenstein. But production was cancelled just months before filming was scheduled to begin.

Universal remains determined to reboot their monsters, but now they're taking a different approach. The idea of these movies having to be connected has been taken off the table, and now they're taking unique, filmmaker-driven pitches. There are several movies in development now with directors attached; Elizabeth Banks' The Invisible Woman; Dexter Fletcher's Renfield, about Dracula's lackey; Paul Feig's Dark Army, which will feature monsters old and new; and Matt Stawski's musical Monster Mash. And leading them all is writer/director Leigh Whannell's take on The Invisible Man, a Blumhouse production with a budget of just $10 million.

Johnny Depp had been signed on to play the Dark Universe's version of The Invisible Man, but he would have been completely out of place in this version of the story. Unlike the original The Invisible Man, the invisible man himself is not at the center of this movie. Instead, the focus is on a woman who lives in fear of the invisible man. The actor playing the invisible man, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, only has maybe 10 minutes of screen time, and if Depp had been carried over into this film it would have been a very distracting cameo, especially given the personal issues that are currently making the news.

The person who carries the film on their shoulders is Elisabeth Moss, and we're introduced to her character Cecilia Kass as she sneaks out of the mansion belonging to her controlling, abusive boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night. The invisible man in the 1933 film was named Jack Griffin and the last name Griffin was brought up in a lot of the Invisible franchise movies after that, so it was a nice touch that Whannell included it in his film as well. An invisible person and the name Griffin is really all you need to fit into this franchise, there was rarely much in the way of continuity.

With the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), Cecilia makes it safely away to the home of her police officer friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Not long after, Cecilia is notified that Adrian has committed suicide... but soon it starts to seem like Adrian may be haunting her, and this "spirit" is as abusive and manipulative as ever. Then he takes his actions even further.

Of course, this isn't a haunting story, Cecilia is being manipulated by an invisible man. Unlike previous versions of this concept, it isn't a serum that turns The Invisible Man invisible, here it's a camera-covered suit that "optics groundbreaker" Adrian invented. It's like a wearable take on that invisible car technology from the James Bond movie Die Another Day.

For the most part, Whannell does present this as if it were a haunting story and the invisible man is a ghost lurking around. He plays with the idea that an invisible person could be anywhere at any time; he drops in voyeuristic shots that spy on Cecilia from different rooms, he turns the camera away from characters to show empty spaces and make us wonder if there's an invisible person in the shot, he lingers on empty frames longer than expected because the invisible stalker might be standing in that frame.

Whannell crafted an interesting story and brought it to the screen in a captivating, involving way, while Moss delivers a fantastic performance as the invisible man's actions terrify her, wear her down, and put her through hell. This is a great low budget take on concept of The Invisible Man, a much better and smarter approach than doing a big budget version.

Then again, if Universal wanted to throw some money at a new take on their 1942 war spy movie The Invisible Agent, I wouldn't complain.


David Cronenberg's 1981 sci-fi horror film Scanners is considered a classic, but even though I have attempted to sit through the film several times it has never done very much for me. It does have one of the greatest head explosion special effects ever put on film and I appreciate that, but beyond that scene I have found it tough to get into. Similarly, I had trouble getting into writer/director Joe Begos's The Mind's Eye, a film that was very obviously inspired by Scanners. It took a few tries, watching the early scenes on the Shudder streaming service, but eventually I was able to enjoy The Mind's Eye for its retro style, colorful cinematography, and synth score composed by Steve Moore, who also provided the music for the retro-styled film The Guest.

Begos has said that The Mind's Eye exists because of a B.S. answer he would throw out while doing press for his debut feature Almost Human. When asked what he was working on, he would say "a telekinesis revenge movie"... a concept he didn't actually have an idea for, he just thought it sounded cool. But after he said it, he started thinking of telekinesis revenge movie ideas. He's apparently a bigger fan of Scanners than I am, but did feel that the movie could have used more telekinetic fights and action sequences, so he made The Mind's Eye what he wished a Scanners sequel would be - a movie packed with telekinetic action. I respect that he just went ahead and made it an original, low budget film instead of trying to pitch it as an actual Scanners sequel. Or remake.

Almost Human had been set in 1987 and 1989, and The Mind's Eye is also a period piece, starting off in November of 1990 and then taking place primarily in February of 1991. In the reality of this story, cases of psychokinesis (okay, so it's not telekinesis, but close enough) increased throughout the '80s, leading the government to fund private research facilities where people with psychokinesis could be studied and guided toward their full potential in an effort to weaponize their abilities.

Graham Skipper of Almost Human and Lauren Ashley Carter of Pod, Jug Face, and The Woman star as Zack Connors and Rachel Meadows, a telekinetic couple who end up at the Slovak Institute of Psychokinetics, which is run by Doctor Michael Slovak (John Speredakos), a man with cruel, dishonest methods. Slovak keeps Zack and Rachel apart and regularly subjects them to painful spinal taps so he can extract a fluid from them that he then has injected into himself. Soon it starts to have the desired effect, as Slovak is becoming psychokinetic himself.

About 30 minutes into the 87 minute movie, Zack and Rachel are able to escape from the Slovak Institute, and I was finally able to connect with the movie once they go on the run, with the mutating Slovak and his gun-toting lackeys - including an eyepatch-wearing Noah Segan - on their trail. A large section of the movie is even reminiscent of the Tony Scott/Quentin Tarantino classic True Romance, as these lovers-on-the-run end up at the home of Zack's former police officer father, just like what happened in True Romance. Here the father is indie horror icon Larry Fessenden as Mike Connors, and he has some very memorable moments, particularly during a lengthy home invasion sequence that was the script's foundation when Begos started working on it.

I found those early minutes of The Mind's Eye to be rough to get through, but the movie certainly paid off in the long run. There is a whole lot of bloody, violent action in there, with people losing limbs, breaking bones, and getting tossed around with psychokinetic powers. And yes, at least one person's head explodes. If you're going to make something that draws comparisons to Scanners, you have to include an exploding head.


Basing an entire movie around the "false memory phenomenon" known as the Mandela Effect is not something I ever would have thought of doing, mainly because I haven't shared many of the false memories that people who have been blown away by this phenomenon have had. I've always known that choosy moms choose Jif peanut butter, not Jiffy; I've always known how to spell Flintstones and Looney Tunes; I knew that the Shaq genie movie Kazaam wasn't a Sinbad movie called Shazaam; and - this is the one the phenomenon gets its name from - I knew Nelson Mandela didn't die in the 1980s. Only a couple of them have really gotten me: I always thought the Berenstain Bears were the Berenstein Bears, and I thought the Monopoly guy had a monocle. When I heard that a movie called The Mandela Effect was being made, the idea seemed ridiculous to me. How do you base a film around people misremembering logos and children's entertainment? But I shouldn't have been surprised that a Mandela effect movie was made, because if a concept becomes popular of course there's going to be a movie.

That's why twelve years after Jim Carrey got obsessed with The Number 23, director David Guy Levy is here to tell us about a man becoming obsessed with The Mandela Effect.

The best move Levy and Steffen Schlachtenhaufen made when crafting the screenplay for this project is that they didn't just center the story on someone who becomes seriously perturbed when they find out the line in The Empire Strikes Back was "No, I am your father" instead of "Luke, I am your father". Their story begins with a very emotional event. During a day at the beach, the young daughter of married couple Brendan (Charlie Hofheimer) and Claire (Aleksa Palladino) drowns. So when Brendan learns about the concept of the Mandela Effect and hears the theory that it's a sign we're living in a glitchy simulation, it's understandable that he would become obsessed with trying to learn more about the simulation and how he might be able to use his skills as a video game designer to manipulate the program.

Having that emotional core doesn't keep The Mandela Effect from often feeling goofy, especially when Brendan falls for every single Mandela effect he comes across. This guy eats Jiffy, heard "Luke, I am your father", thinks they're the "Flinstones", etc. When the idea of him re-programming the simulation we're all supposedly living in comes up, it also seems like it would be shockingly easy for him to do this.

Hofheimer was tasked with carrying almost the entire film on his shoulders, and he does a good job with what he had to work with. Palladino gets a chance to shine in some scenes where she displays the grief her character is feeling and other intense behavior, Robin Lord Taylor is mostly wasted in the role of Brendan's brother-in-law, and Clarke Peters makes a positive impression as the doctor who came up with the simulation theory Brendan digs into, but most of the running time is dedicated to Brendan's solo research. We see him scouring the internet and watching videos of TED talks and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk presentations. There's a ton of stock footage packed in here. I was amazed that Levy even got to include The Empire Strikes Back footage in his movie.

I was glad to find out that the movie gets weirder as it goes along, and when it reaches peak weirdness that comes along with some cool visual effects. This is more sci-fi thriller than horror, but some moments do have a psychological horror element to them as characters question their reality and/or their sanity.

Thankfully, Levy isn't forcing viewers to spend too much of their time on a movie about a guy becoming fascinated with the Mandela effect. This flick moves at a breakneck pace and gets it story told in just 80 minutes. 74 if you don't count the end credits. While the idea of watching Brendan do all that research sounds like it could be dull, the movie keeps things moving quickly enough that it doesn't get a chance to wear out its welcome.

I didn't expect a movie about The Mandela Effect to be very good, but it actually turned out to be a decent watch. It's a fine way to kill 74 to 80 minutes (depending on whether or not you sit through the credits).

The review of The Mandela Effect originally appeared on


The story of an older assassin who gets chased down by a younger clone of himself, Gemini Man is a project that spent twenty years in development hell before it finally went into production. It started off as a pitch made by Darren Lemke in 1997. Lemke wrote a script that was then rewritten by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Jonathan Hensleigh. Lemke, Benioff, and Ray are credited on the finished film, but Hensleigh is not. Directed like Tony Scott, Curtis Hanson, and Joe Carnahan showed interest in taking the helm, which shows how long the project had been around, as Scott and Hanson both passed away years ago.

Carnahan is the one who first drew my attention to Gemini Man, as he posted a sizzle reel in 2012 that represented his vision of what the movie could be like if it starred Clint Eastwood. The 2 minute video was just clips of existing Eastwood movies cut together to make it look like Dirty Harry era Eastwood was going after the older, grey haired version of Eastwood, but it was awesome. I'll always wish we had gotten a Carnahan-directed Gemini Man starring Clint Eastwood.

Other actors who were considered for the lead role included Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. Word is that part of the reason why it took so long for Gemini Man to be made was because the filmmakers felt that the technology wasn't there to have one actor play both the older assassin and the younger clone - in fact, at one point they had considered just casting two different actors in the roles. For example, having Chris O'Donnell being Ford's clone. But it was decided that having the same actor play both parts was the way to go, and I agree. It makes the project more unique.

Finally, technology caught up with the concept and Gemini Man was made with Ang Lee directing and Will Smith playing a fifty-one year old assassin and his twenty-five year old clone. I won't say the de-aging effect on the younger Smith looks perfect, but it's certainly better than it would have looked at any previous point in the development process. The job was done well enough.

But while Lemke's idea required 2019 technology, his story is thoroughly 1997. This feels exactly like the action flicks that were coming out back then. Lee didn't really bring anything to the table to elevate this material, I guess he was just having fun with the special effects and shooting the movie in a high frame rate (120 frames per second instead of the usual 24)... even though most viewers will never see it presented at 120 frames per second.

The older character played by Smith is Henry Brogan, a veteran assassin working for a government organization called DIA. He has 72 confirmed kills, and as usual the trouble starts when he starts to develop a conscience and decides to get out of the killing business. When DIA learns that Henry has some information they don't want him to have, they send out assassins to start knocking off his associates. Henry is hard to kill, though, so Clay Varris (Clive Owen), head of a project called Gemini, sends in his pet assassin: Junior, the younger character played Smith.

On the run with surviving allies Dani (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Baron (Benedict Wong, here for comic relief), Henry is understandably perplexed when he realizes he's being hunted by his own clone. Globetrotting action ensues. There's a motorcycle chase, a confrontation in a catacomb packed with skeletons, shootouts, and the required explosions. Along the way, Henry tries to use his knowledge of himself to appeal to Junior's emotions and get him to turn his back on Varris. He is pretty successful at getting through to the kid; Smith actually has stronger dramatic scenes as the clone than he does as the character who didn't require him to undergo a digital makeover.

I was kind of expecting Gemini Man to be something more special and cooler than a serviceable throwback action movie, but I enjoyed it for what it is. This looks and feels like it could have been Will Smith's immediate follow-up to Independence Day, and it certainly would have been a bigger success if it had been. Not very many people turned out to see it in theatres, but I'm sure it will find an appreciative audience on home video.

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