Category Archives: movie reviews

The Invisible Woman (1940)

The Invisible Woman: The eccentric scientist this time around is Dr. Gibbs. (Amazingly, no one in the entire cast is named Griffin.) Broke playboy Richard Russell is his patron, and he plans to raise money selling Dr. Gibbs’s latest invention: an invisibility machine. Gibbs puts an ad in the newspaper for a human guinea pig, and is surprised to find it answered by a woman.

Kitty Carroll works as a department store model for a jerk of an employer. She takes the job as a guinea pig for the invisibility experiment so she can take revenge on him. Oddly, for all her talking, her boss doesn’t recognize her voice.

Meanwhile, a trio of gangsters are after the machine for themselves so their boss can escape Mexico, but when they fail to steal all the parts, their trials have some unexpected consequences.

The special effects are fairly minimal – some empty clothes here, some floating objects there. Something unique to this movie is that alcohol prolongs invisibility, and even can cause it to recur.

This movie is freaking hysterical. I’d gotten so accustomed to the dour horror-ish dramas that the silliness was quite unexpected. It’s fun to see some big names here too: John Barrymore, Margaret Hamilton, Charlie Ruggles, even Shemp Howard.

Now, I’m not being sarcastic when I say this movie is funny. Some of the dialogue is just classic. The butler is by far my favorite character, but they’re all pretty wonderful. And at only 72 minutes, it sure doesn’t drag. This is one worth picking up if you happen upon it.

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

The Invisible Man Returns: This claims to be a sequel to the novel, but it’s more like a sequel to the movie. Vincent Price plays Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man wrongly imprisoned for the murder of his brother. Through the help of his friend, Dr. Frank Griffin (brother of the original Invisible Man, whose tragic tale unfolded nine years before), he escapes and begins his search for the men who framed him.

Radcliffe takes the invisibility drug with the full knowledge that one of the side effects is madness. He worries that he’ll hurt those he loves, and of course once it he does start going mad, he doesn’t recognize it. His need for revenge upon the real killers gets the best of him.

Man, I love Vincent Price so much. And wow is he ever young – not yet 30! You don’t see his face until the final scene, as in the book, so this whole time I’d had middle-aged Vincent pictured in my mind, since that’s the era of his life I’m far more familiar with.

The re-visibility effect is an interesting mix of live action and what looks like an illustration from an anatomy text book. The other special effects are the same sort as we’ve seen before: the clothes superimposed upon the scene, with occasional glimpses of the actor shining through dimly. The wire work is much less obvious, though, which is nice.

I actually really enjoyed this one, but I think Price had a lot to do with that. He managed to play his madness convincingly, alternating between humorous and menacing, all while remaining quite sympathetic. The ending was honestly good, far less cheesy than it could have been, and didn’t drag out. This is one movie I’d watch again.

The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)

The Invisible Man’s Revenge: Robert Griffin has escaped from the insane asylum! He believes his old friends, Sir Jasper and Lady Irene, have cheated him out of great wealth. He’s also determined to marry their daughter, Julie. After they throw him out of their house, Griffin wanders the countryside until he finds himself at the door of eccentric Doctor Drury.

Drury is the inventor of the invisibility serum, and Griffin is his first human subject, eager to be invisible so he can have his revenge on his former friends. Use of the Griffin name (and the fact that the same actor played Frank Griffin in The Invisible Agent) is a little confusing, but whatever.

Here, the invisibility is cured (temporarily, as it turns out) by a complete blood transfusion from another person. Thus the murders begin. I kind of like this twist, and I wish the movie was longer so they could take better advantage of it.

The plot here doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Griffin’s lost some five years of memory, but it’s never explained what happened or whether his friends really did betray him. It’s hard to buy the moral at the end if Griffin really was the victim.

Ultimately, this is a pretty forgettable film. I do like the idea of the temporary visibility caused by blood transfusion; that could make a great story on its own. I’ve also noticed in these older films that the invisible man really likes to make himself known, by talking or moving objects or what have you. He’d be so much more menacing if he could keep his trap shut.

The Invisible Agent (1942)

The Invisible Agent: The screenplay is “suggested by” Wells’s novel, which to me sounds like it’s even further from the original material than “inspired by”. And, indeed, here the invisible man fights Nazis. Yes, really.

Our hero is Frank Griffin, grandson of the original invisible man. He rejects requests for the formula from both the Axis and the Allies, until Pearl Harbor is bombed and he decides to give it to the US military and become a spy himself.

Peter Lorre! Yay! Playing a Japanese man. What?

I’m not sure how the invisibility effect was done in this one, but you can often see the actor faintly superimposed against the background.

Anyway, the plot is pretty simple: invisible man spies on Germans, learns of a plot to attack America, thwarts the plot, saves the day, gets the girl, etc. There’s no mention of things like invisible eyelids, but the invisibility drug does cause narcolepsy for some reason. It also wears off after a certain period of time, which is convenient since it’s exactly the amount of time required to complete the mission and wake up in the hospital with the Love Interest at your side.

All in all, it’s a pretty meh movie, but it’s nice to see the invisible man as a hero for a change.

Hollow Man

Hollow Man: Believe it or not, I’d never seen this film. This is not an adaptation of the novel, nor does it claim to be, but the invisible man concept very clearly stems from Wells. We begin with Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon), cocky scientist experimenting with invisibility. A lot of the film is “hey look at these nifty special effects” but that’s all right – invisibility is a pretty cool effect.

Here invisibility is described as a bio-shift in quantum phase, or some such gobbledygook. Still, I was pretty excited that they did the “invisible eyelids” thing just like in the book. What causes re-visibility, however, is weirdly inconsistent. Why would being electrocuted make you become partially visible again?

Mostly, this is about what a sociopathic sexual predator would do if he was invisible. At one point, a guy asks him if it was the power or the side effects of the experiment that drove him mad, which is kind of hilarious because he’s so obviously horrible from the very start.

I won’t lie to you: this is not a good movie. I mean, I guess if you like generic horror films and Kevin Bacon and a fair amount of partial nudity, you might like this one. But it’s certainly not a classic for the ages.

The Invisible Man (1933)

The Invisible Man (1933): I’m kind of surprised more versions of this story have not been made. (Most of the film versions have used the invisibility concept but not the actual plot.) My husband thinks it’s because the special effects are a pain in the butt. I’m not so sure. Most of the full-body shots here were done with black velvet to superimpose the empty clothing onto the rest of the scene. Moving objects were mostly done with wires or off-screen manipulation, and one particularly inspired scene was a fake “empty bandages” head being unwrapped by someone’s hands reaching in from out of frame, to make it look like Griffin is removing his own head wrappings. Very clever.

Anyway, this film starts out pretty true to the book, with the bandaged stranger showing up at the inn and generally being a jerk to everybody. However, here Kemp is Griffin’s colleague, looking into Griffin’s disappearance. Another addition: Dr. Cranley, who also works with Kemp and Griffin, and his daughter Flora, who evidently had some sort of romantic ties to Griffin. The addition of Flora is hardly surprising, but her character was underused.

Thomas Marvel, the vagrant Griffin basically kidnaps to do his bidding, is gone, though Kemp does partially fill that role. The ending is very different, but I suppose the filmmakers didn’t think audiences in 1933 would take “death by mob” too well. Considering the amount of slapstick comedy from Griffin invisibly bothering everyone, he’s more of a trickster than a menace, a man driven mad by the very chemicals that turned him invisible.

I actually really enjoyed this film. Some of the overacting is unintentionally hilarious (like the innkeeper’s wife who never stops screaming, or Flora’s tearful dive onto the window seat), but in general it’s quite well done. My favorite character was probably Kemp, whose mannerisms were mostly of the “please pardon me while I go have a nervous breakdown” variety. With a run time of barely over an hour, this is definitely worth watching.

Pacific Rim

So I saw Pacific Rim, and it was boatloads of fun. You can’t really “spoil” this movie, since it’s basically giant robots versus giant monsters and you know in the end the giant robots have to win because that’s what side the humans are on. It’s Gundam versus Godzilla, if you will. Unlike Transformers and many other modern films of its ilk, both the robots and the monsters move in proportion to their bulk: that is, slowly. Also unlike most modern action films, the camera work is such that you can actually follow what’s happening during each battle.

I went into this thinking I hadn’t heard of anybody in the cast, but that’s not entirely true. It stars Idris Elba, whom I’d forgotten I’d seen in both Thor and Prometheus. I was also pleased to see Ron Perlman (Hellboy, etc.) and Burn Gorman (Owen from Torchwood). Most of the rest of the cast were people known for their roles in popular television shows I’ve never seen: Jax from Sons of Anarchy/Nathan from Queer as Folk, Charlie from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia/Michael from Third Watch, Ben from True Blood/Sean from EastEnders.

The multicultural casting was interesting. The Japanese woman was played by a Japanese woman, but otherwise it was a strange blend. The Australians were played by an American and a Englishman; the American brothers were played by a Canadian and a Englishman; the German scientist was played by an American-born Englishman. (Actually, I’m not sure if he was supposed to be really German or just English with a German name.) But you still had all the tropes: the asshole in need of redemption, the has-been and the rookie both trying to prove themselves, the veteran with dark secrets, the over-enthusiastic scientist who gets reckless, the stuffy scientist convinced of his own infallibility, the tough guy businessman only in it for the money, and so on. But you know what? It works.

This film does not pretend to be anything more than a popcorn flick, and that’s a large part of its charm. I thought the need for two mentally linked pilots to share the neural load required to control the giant robot was a nice touch.  The monsters were interesting to look at and reasonably realistic.  I also liked how most of the cool parts from the trailer were actually from the first ten minutes of the movie (the monster trampling the Golden Gate Bridge, for example, was from the prologue), so I didn’t feel like I’d seen the movie before seeing the movie.

In short: if you’re looking for something deep and thought-provoking, this movie is not for you. If, on the other hand, you’d like to see a giant robot hit a giant monster with a boat, then you’re in for a treat.

Conan the Barbarian/Destroyer

I watched both Conan movies in one evening, so I’ll go ahead and review them both in one shot.

Conan the Barbarian: Okay, so this is your standard tale of orphan sold into slavery who eventually comes back to kill his parents’ murderer. In this case, said murderer is a startlingly Caucasian-looking James Earl Jones in a bad wig. (I think it was the blue eyes that threw me off.) Along the way Conan picks up a wizard, a thief, and a girlfriend, not necessarily in that order. The special effects are pretty laughable and the acting is mediocre, but it’s a silly little action flick. With lots of bare breasts (and none of them larger than Arnold’s!)

Conan the Destroyer: Conan’s sidekick from the previous movie is inexplicably missing and has been replaced by a wisecracking (and painfully unfunny) coward of a fantasy stereotype. Luckily, he is also joined by the awesomely terrifying Grace Jones. This movie takes itself much less seriously than the previous one, which actually makes for a somewhat more enjoyable flick. I wonder, though, if they’d planned to make a whole series, what with the wizard dude always saying that yes, Conan did eventually find a kingdom to rule, but that’s another story. (Perhaps covered in either Red Sonja or Kull the Conqueror, both of which were originally supposed to be part of the Conan franchise.)

Will you like these two cheesy action fantasy films from the 1980s? Um, yeah, if you like cheesy action fantasy films from the 1980s. Otherwise, probably not.

The Outsiders

The Outsiders: I was honestly somewhat meh about the book and felt similarly about the movie – which is to be expected, since the movie takes pretty much zero liberties with the book. I’m sure this film was popular with the ladies: pretty much every ’80s heartthrob is present. I particularly enjoyed Emilio Estevez as Two-Bit and felt a little uncomfortable watching cutie Ralph Macchio as Johnny – until I learned he was 22 when he played the role. 22! When did his voice change, 30? My husband says this movie was played on cable all the time back in the day, but until I got my hands on the book I’d never even heard of it. Ever read what you thought was a semi-obscure book only to discover a super-popular film had been made from it? Yeah, maybe that’s just me.

Absolute Power

Absolute Power: I was reasonably entertained when I read the book, but what really got me interested in seeing the movie was how they managed to cut the main character, Jack Graham. And you know, it worked. I didn’t miss him at all. Most of his bits went to Luther, meaning that he talked directly to his daughter and the lead detective rather than using Jack as a go-between. It made Luther a lot more likable and tightened the story up considerably. Clint Eastwood was delightful as Luther and Gene Hackman was, well, Gene Hackman as the president (and he was good, of course, what with being Gene Hackman and all). Certainly not a movie I feel the need to see again, but it’s a decent popcorn flick.

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