FlixChatter Review: TESLA (2020)

The life of visionary inventor Nikola Tesla is certainly makes for an intriguing subject for the screen, both as narrative or documentary films. Even in a supporting role, the character of Tesla is always fascinating to watch. I remember distinctly in The Prestige, played by none other than David Bowie, and recently in The Current War, played by Nicholas Hoult. Well, this latest film with his namesake as the title (played by Ethan Hawke) places the eccentric futurist front and center, as it focuses his interactions with Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne.

When I first saw the trailer, I thought, how cool to see a film that seems as inventive as the subject matter. Forgoing a conventional biopic, writer-director Michael Almereyda presented the narrative in deliberately off-the-wall style, with the use of backdrops to depict various locations and characters breaking the fourth wall. In fact, you’ll see characters using modern-day technology like laptops, mobile phones, etc. and talking to the audience directly while stating facts about Tesla and his inventions.

It opens with Tesla in roller skates with his friend Anne Morgan (captivating Eve Hewson), a character I wasn’t familiar with until it’s revealed later that she’s J.P. Morgan’s daughter, yep, the ultra-wealthy banker who was one of Tesla’s main investors. Hewson served as the film’s narrator (who also analyzes the inventor and his contributions to the modern world), as well Tesla’s love interest. Now, that latter part is less convincing than the first, not so much because of the actors’ fault however, somehow the inventive style just doesn’t have much room for romantic emotions. So let’s just say the romance between her and Tesla never quite ignite.

It’s a rather ambitious, even risky way of storytelling… which I find really cool and amusing in the beginning, but as the film went on, its novelty narrative starts to lose its charm. Some of the scenes play out in a deliberately surrealistic way, such as the scenes between Tesla and Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) shoving ice cream into each other’s faces. It’s quite obvious that such an incident didn’t happen, so I accept its inherent drollness and sheer ingenuity in the part of the filmmaker.

Jim Gaffigan as entrepreneur George Westinghouse is as much an inspired choice as Hawke himself as Tesla, but I quite like the scene between the two. It might be one of the rare emotional moments in the film. Frankly, the inventive narrative style just doesn’t seem to have room for much emotional resonance, which I think is a missed opportunity. Hawke is quite magnetic as a brooding, taciturn inventor, but at times the pace moves along too slowly that it feels dull and overindulgent. The scenes of Tesla working on his alternating current inventions, which are quite beautifully-photographed, is lacking any dynamic energy. I was mildly intrigued by the alluring French actress Sarah Bernhardt (Rebecca Dayan), but even her scenes seem more melodramatic than provocative.

Overall, despite the inventive style, I feel like it’s done at the expense of Tesla’s story itself. The saying in the end said that the world we live in is a dream Tesla dreamt first… that’s a great line that definitely made you feel even more grateful for futurists like Tesla. But other than telling us that this Serbian-American genius was way ahead of his time (which is nothing new), I don’t really get much insights into Tesla the person, not just the inventor. For a film about one of earth’s brightest minds, I think a film about him that fails to illuminate the man behind the inventions is a missed opportunity.

Have you seen TESLA yet? Well, what do you think?

Weekend Roundup – BBC’s MIRANDA series, TESLA movie + Netflix’s Project Power

Happy Sunday everyone! Hope you all had a nice weekend. I haven’t done these weekend roundup posts in ages, but maybe now that the lockdown/quarantine or whatever you call it continues, I might make this a more regular thing… we’ll see.

I couldn’t pick a more different shows/movies to watch this weekend, don’t I? 😀 Well, I like to spice things up, ahah. On Friday I had a friend over and I actually watched a couple of episodes of MEDICI: The Magnificent (again… I’m trying to convince her to keep watching this series as they’re SO good!!). So we watched the TRUST episode, which is one of my faves of season 3… and trust me when I said I’m still working on a massive MEDICI post, it might have to be broken into 2 parts as it’s really, really big!

Well, when we’re done with a couple of episodes, my friend tried to convince me to binge LUCIFER (why? well… have you LOOKED at Tom Ellis?? If you know me at all, I have a penchant for Welshman, and he practically looks like a young Timothy Dalton!). As it turns out, I find LUCIFER rather meh, I just cannot get into it at all… but we thought about checking out what other series Tom E. has been in, thus… MIRANDA!! And guess what, I was completely hooked right away!!

I’d been a fan of Miranda Hart for a while, she’s so hilarious in SPY, EMMA. and all her Graham Norton’s appearances. But for some reason I just never got around to seeing her popular BBC sitcoms that ran from 2009-2015. Per Wiki, developed from Hart’s semi-autobiographical BBC Radio 2 comedy Miranda Hart’s Joke Shop (2008), the situation comedy revolves around socially inept Miranda, who frequently finds herself in awkward situations. Even her opening sequence is simply adorable!!

So I’ve finished season 1 and 2 (I even tolerated the ads on IMDb TV!) this weekend and SO looking forward to season 3! I’m hoping I could find the Christmas special and other special episodes. I can’t get enough of Miranda… and the funniest & most adorable moments are between her & Gary… I mean we’ve all been there, making a fool of ourselves in front of our crushes!

Here’s the very first episode if you’re curious… the scene of her with Gary (5:50 and 12:20) are hilarious!! I love it when characters break the fourth wall in such a fun way, and Miranda does it a lot!

Of course any sitcom has to have a great cast to support the main star and this show is chock full of the best British comedians … Sarah Hadland, Patricia Hodge, Sally Phillips, James Holmes. Of course the best part of the show is Miranda herself… she’s just a naturally funny and the show is absurd but yet relatable. It’s been a while since I watch anything w/ a laugh track, and it takes a while to get used to, but here, I was laughing along with them every time that soon it didn’t bother me. Ok, here are some hilarious bloopers… man I wish this show is still around, I just can’t get enough!

So thanks Lucifer for introducing me to Gary AND Miranda… funny how you end up finding certain shows. Oh well, better late than never!

Now, the other show I watched this weekend was Netflix’s PROJECT POWER.

An ex-soldier, a teen and a cop collide in New Orleans as they hunt for the source behind a dangerous new pill that grants users temporary superpowers.

It’s got a great cast of Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but it’s newcomer Dominique Fishback who’s the scene stealer. The movie is pretty cool with sleek visuals and dynamic direction, but I feel that overall it’s more style than substance type of action thriller. There are some really dumb, cheesy moments that threaten to ruin all the good things about it, especially in a particularly bombastic scene towards the end… not to mention the undercooked superhero-twist plot, scratch-your-head logic (well lack thereof) and caricature villains.

Ted S. will review it fully sometime later, so stay tuned for that.

Oh, I also watched the new TESLA movie starring Ethan Hawke as the visionary inventor Nikola Tesla, his interactions with Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan’s daughter Anne, and his breakthroughs in transmitting electrical power and light.

It’s a rather unusual take on a biopic, employing surrealistic technique in its narrative. The filmmaker bills it as a distinctly modern voice to a scientific period drama which, like its subject, defies convention. Stay tuned for my full review later this week.

So, what did you watch this weekend? Anything good?