Talking Movies: Hillbilly Elegy, The Invisible Man and Red Joan

Spling reviews Hillbilly Elegy, The Invisible Man and Red Joan as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a coming-of-age drama, a sci-fi horror thriller and an espionage romance drama.

Starting off with a film on Netflix…


A Yale law student drawn back to his hometown grapples with family history, Appalachian values and the American dream.

Director: Ron Howard

Stars: Amy Adams, Glenn Close and Owen Asztalos

– Ron Howard is one of Hollywood’s most underrated directors, whose adaptation of a memoir about a young man’s growing pains comes at a contentious time for American politics.
– Hillbilly Elegy is a blend of Boyhood, The Glass Castle and Stronger…
– Boyhood comes through in the slice-of-life drama, The Glass Castle’s dysfunction and rambling spirit shines through while Stronger is experienced in the perseverance and triumph of adversity in spite of a rough upbringing.
– Hillbilly Elegy isn’t appealing from the outset but Howard’s brilliant storytelling connects you to its universal message about self-determination, accepting responsibility for oneself and keeping focus in spite of difficult circumstances.
– Immersing us in the world of a man from an impoverished community in Kentucky, Howard offers a great deal of empathy subverting the typically derogatory take on the rust belt for a more respectable and humane slant.
– The drama dips into melodrama from time to time yet is compelled by excellent performances all-round.
– Close makes another great argument as to why she deserves a golden statuette, Adams is almost unrecognisable as a cautionary tale and young Asztalos deserves special recognition for a well-balanced and compelling turn.
– Violence, coarse language, drug use and dysfunction are frequent in Hillbilly Elegy, which doesn’t shy away from representing many of the social issues these people endure.
– While it could have become a political pawn, Howard is more interested in the story’s universal message of hope and connecting this with greater social concerns.
– There’s a simplicity to the film-making, but it’s elegantly crafted, mesmerisingly edited and has a fluidity to the flashbacks.
– It could be accused of being “Oscar bait” but it’s an emotive, inspiring, beautifully crafted and well-acted melodrama.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

Moving on to a movie now on Showmax…


A woman works to prove that she is being hunted by her deceased husband.

Writer-Director: Leigh Whannell

Stars: Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Harriet Dyer

– The idea of an invisible man seems like it could only play to comedy or horror, a concept that can easily find unintentional laughs if not handled with care.
– The Invisible Man is a great example of a horror, blending a substantial soundtrack with pristine visuals and a strong lead performance.
– Grappling with the idea of unhealthy relationships, abuse and toxicity, this film explores these timely themes through the medium of horror.
– It Follows created a smart, cool and sleek visual aesthetic and original soundtrack that has been an inspiration.
– You can see some of its influence at play in The Invisible Man, which toys with the idea of relentless pursuit and slow-creeping near-invisible forces.
– Cleverly using the idea of invisibility, the filmmakers have used visual effects conversely to create suspense.
– Sparsely scripted, creating the illusion of minimal visual effects and crafting an eerie atmosphere through empty yet beautiful visuals, The Invisible Man is both artful and entertaining.
– Elisabeth Moss is the glue that holds everything together, portraying a fearful, fragile yet resilient woman through a convincing and determined performance.
– Immersive sound, striking visuals and many clever sequences make this a gripping, suspenseful and enjoyable film.
– Using the element of surprise it keeps you off-balance and is quite dexterous in the way it handles the psychological drama.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

And finally another film streaming on Showmax…


The story of Joan Stanley, who was exposed as the K.G.B.’s longest-serving British spy.

Director: Trevor Nunn

Stars: Judi Dench, Sophie Cookson and Stephen Campbell Moore

– Dame Judi Dench is a national treasure, which is what gives Red Joan a curious slant in her playing a traitor.
– While it eventually becomes a clever casting decision, being primed as the lead makes you feel somewhat cheated as an audience.
– Predominantly involved in an interrogation scene, Red Joan uses flashbacks extensively to tell the story of how Joan became involved with the KGB disseminating secrets at a time when nuclear war seemed imminent.
– Playing like an espionage romance, the drama settles into her university studies and relationships as she became more integral in the behind-the-scenes research.
– Offering some subtle commentary on gender politics and justice over the passage of time, this is a finely-crafted and elegant film.
– It’s biggest problem is that it’s a bit too safe, struggling to ratchet up the suspense and the stakes.
– This can be attributed to the fact that we know the outcome already, yet one doesn’t truly feel the weight and severity of Joan’s predicament, which seems rather innocuous.
– Perhaps having a slow-creeping investigation leading to Joan’s eventual arrest would have offered more excitement than a flat-footed interrogation.
– Still, it’s compelled by solid performances and fine production values, resulting in an entertaining and mostly satisfying film experience.

A satisfactory 6 on the splingometer!

So just to wrap up…

HILLBILLY ELEGY… strong performances and deft storytelling anchor this emotional and inspiring slice-of-life memoir… A solid 7!

THE INVISIBLE MAN… an excellent lead performance, immersive soundtrack and elegant visuals compel this sleek psychological sci-fi horror thriller… A solid 7!

RED JOAN… solid performances and a curious true story underpin this finely-crafted and entertaining yet safe espionage romance drama… A satisfactory 6!

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And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!