'Tis the season for all things creepy, and with Halloween being right around the corner, I'd like to share a few words about "The Invitation." Released in 2015 and directed by Karyn Kusama, “The Invitation" is a highly creepy suspense film that I have been recommending to everyone I know because it is so rare that I am riveted by a modern scary movie. Logan Marshall-Green plays Will, a man attending a dinner party at the home of his ex-wife, Eden. Eden, played by Tammy Blanchard, and her new husband have been away and have invited a close-knit group of their mutual friends to catch up over a great meal. Will even brings his girlfriend, played by Emayatzy Coriealdi, for support, and they both seem pretty steady going in (despite a grisly incident with a deer they hit on the way that sets a forbidding tone for the viewer). But even though everyone else seems to be having a grand time at the dinner party, Will is uneasy, sensing an undercurrent of something dangerous with all the locked doors, inaccessible cell phone service, and two peculiar new friends also in attendance. Is he just being paranoid? Resentful about his ex-wife’s newfound happiness? Or is there really some kind of dark plot afoot?
The bulk of the film is trying to figure out exactly what’s happening or, more precisely, whether anything troubling is happening at all. The movies I find truly frightening are the ones involving real people experiencing things that could happen in real life. Real people dealing with really crazy people. Not zombies, not aliens, not monsters or vampires, not ghosts or demons, but actual disturbed people living among us. That’s not a knock on those sub-genres; I can name favorites from all of them, from “28 Days Later” to “The Exorcist” to “Alien.” But real people in everyday circumstances are the ones who instill fear. “The Invitation” puts you among people you might like to hang out with, but it keeps you off-balance with things that could be nothing but also could be the end of everything.
Amy Adams is a terrific actress. I knew that as soon as I saw her performance in “Junebug” in 2005. So I am not thrilled that she has chosen to become the supreme victim of the DC Universe, Lois Lane. I was so disappointed to see her ridiculous fall from that plane at the end of 2013’s “Man of Steel” simply to serve the apparently requisite moment of her being saved by Superman. I get it. As a kid, I was genuinely moved when Christopher Reeve’s Superman swept up and caught Margot Kidder’s rapidly descending Lois Lane, but at least her fall from that helicopter made sense. And that was our first time seeing that scenario on the big screen. At this point, we’ve seen Superman save Lois Lane many times. And in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” alone, she had to be saved no less than THREE times. Enough already!
I will give credit to the Lois Lane in Zack Snyder’s “Superman” films for being the most realistic journalist compared to her big screen predecessors (although Kidder was pretty obsessed with getting her stories). But it's not much of a compliment because I can’t speak to Kate Bosworth’s portrayal since I still haven’t seen “Superman Returns” all the way through (and probably won’t).
Speaking of “enough already” in superhero franchises, I do not want to see Bruce Wayne lose his parents anymore either. We’ve seen it in real time or in flashbacks in three separate iterations of the franchise. I know it was pivotal to the storyline in Snyder’s “Super-Bat” extravaganza, but I can’t help thinking they could’ve gone another way with the story because the payoff didn’t seem worth it.
It has been nearly a year since Generation X-ers like myself ooo-ed and aww-ed over “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the long-awaited sequel to the movie phenomenon of my youth, the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Nearly everyone who experienced the movies of the original trilogy when they were released was clamoring to relive the feeling of when they first saw it, including filmmaker J.J. Abrams.
But I was not clamoring. I have great affection for George Lucas’ original trilogy, and although I was disappointed by “The Phantom Menace,” I actually thought his prequel trilogy of the 1990s was entertaining and served its purpose – to tell the story of how Darth Vader became Darth Vader and how the Empire became the Empire. One of the reasons I think it fell short is because the cast lacked the chemistry that helped make the original trilogy so engaging. But no matter how disappointed I was by the prequels, they were still Lucas’ work, his vision for characters that he created, and I think that’s important.
So even though it had Lucas’ blessing and a screenplay co-written by one of the writers of the original trilogy, Lawrence Kasdan, I was reluctant to get on this bandwagon for someone else’s vision of the Star Wars universe evolution. But of course, as a fan of the franchise, I had to see where J.J. Abrams would take those beloved characters and what new characters he’d create. I finally saw the movie a few months ago on Starz! (yes it took me that long), and it turns out that he tapped into exactly how to win over the hardliners. It is essentially the same movie from 1977! He knew he needed to give the people what they wanted. Feed the need for their childhood amazement, wonder and exultation. They wanted that familiarity, and Abrams delivered.
But he also delivered new compelling characters, particularly Rey, played with sincerity by Daisy Ridley. The young, would-be warrior with a strong affinity for the Force clearly represents Luke. I also thought Adam Driver was solid as Kylo Ren, wearing his vulnerability and insecurities on his sleeve even as he strives to live up to the worst parts of his grandfather. Then there’s John Boyega’s Finn, the fugitive Stormtrooper turned good but still reckless and hot-headed – very Han. But I’m still not that attached to him; I’m hoping he’ll win me over in the next movie. And, of course, it was great seeing Leia and C3PO and hanging out with Han and Chewie on the Millennium Falcon again, even though parts of it felt forced. But Abrams really knocked it out of the park with BB-8 – great name, great look, great personality. I love him almost as much as I love R2-D2, and that’s a lot. I admit I totally fell for the scene when BB-8 and R2-D2 worked together to solve the primary mystery of the plot.
I am fond of a good story. As a writer, I should be. And Mr. Abrams has told a fine story, built on the story of a master storyteller, George Lucas. But Lucas is more than a master storyteller; he is a mythmaker, and that’s what allowed him to capture the imaginations of a generation. Abrams is not a mythmaker, and that’s the difference between him and Lucas (and between him and Steven Spielberg, for that matter). But he is a talented storyteller working his way toward becoming on par with his filmmaking heroes.
Overall, "The Force Awakens" was different enough to make it fresh and intriguing, and familiar enough to make it feel like home again.