Then Playing — Martin Eden; Sea Fever; The Invisible Man

Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello, 2020). In adapting Jack London’s 1909 novel, Martin Eden, director Pietro Marcello moves the action from the U.S. to Italy and nudges forward in time to better capture the tumult of the middle, embattled years of the twentieth century. Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli, operating with forceful charisma) is a working man whose initial exposure to possibilities of education is the starting block that sets him off on a sprint to political engagement and impassioned writing. Along the way, he enters in thorny romances with the refined Elena (Jessica Cressy) and the earthier Margherita (Denise Sardisco). Marcello, who also cowrote the screenplay, brings a measured approach to the storytelling that contains and heightens the emotional potency within. The film starts to drag a bit toward the end, as Martin descends into a level of broken self-involvement that isn’t depicted with the same urgency that liberates the rest of the narrative from its overly recognizable tracks. Marcello’s gift for crafting warm, memorable visuals (with assistance from cinematographers Alessandro Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo) is wholly present throughout.

Sea Fever (Neasa Hardiman, 2020). The crew of an Irish fishing boat know they’re in for a trouble voyage when the intern they welcome aboard, Siobhán (Hermione Corfield), takes off her cap to reveal a man of red hair. That’s bad luck, according to the sailors, and their dread is proved accurate when cutting across a forbidden stretch of water brings them into deadly contact with a glowing beastie from beneath that has a way of insinuating itself into the humans it comes in contact with. Made well before the COVID pandemic hit, Sea Fever is timely in its depiction of the intense panic and rebellion that arises when there’s talk of quarantining the infected to serve the greater good. Writer-director Neasa Hardiman draws wisely on the lessons of predecessors such as Alien and The Thing, effectively conveying the way unassuming toilers might react to extraordinary (and extraordinarily dangerous) circumstances. The film doesn’t come up with anything particularly novel, but it’s executed well and with nicely evocative imagery.

The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell, 2020). There’s a Sleeping with the Enemy slant to the latest iteration of the repeatedly reimagined concept introduced in H.G. Wells’s 1897 novel The Invisible Man. Elisabeth Moss is Cecilia, a woman who escapes an abusive relationship only to be told that her former partner, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) committed suicide and left a substantial amount of money to her, on the suspiciously specific condition that she not succumb to madness. Soon, she’s beset by strange occurrences that convince her that Adrian, a specialist in optics, has alit on a means to make himself unseeable. He terrorizes her, and she frantically reports her peculiar situation to highly skeptical friends and authorities. Leigh Whannell directs the material with glossy style, but the film hinges on Moss and her vanity-free commitment to gonzo emoting. The film is overlong by twenty minutes or so, but there’s something weirdly admirable to its repurposing of a familiar screen ghoulie into a metaphor for gaslighting. The Invisible Man lends thematic purpose to what could have been little more than spooky spectacle.

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