Ok, here are my brief write-ups for the first 5 films of the month, and what a great run this was...
A film from the 1930s: THE INVISIBLE MAN
This is one I've been meaning to watch for a while. The film follows Jack Griffin (Claude Rains), a chemist that has found the formula for invisibility, but his inability to reverse the process pushes him into violence and insanity. This was a truly entertaining and well-made film, but I will first highlight a couple of "minor" things I appreciated about it that, IMO, sets it apart from other similar films. First, the film doesn't unfold like your typical monster/horror film, there really is no "origin" story, other than what some characters share about what happened. Instead, we are thrown right in the middle of everything, following the lead character, who is the "bad guy", which is the second thing I appreciated. There are no traditional "heroes", at least not in the sense that we might expect. The guy we are following can be seen as a "madman"; and although I think the term fits, both the script and Rains manage to get the most out of what can only be described as a challenging performance. Rains' voice manages to convey the insanity, the craziness, and the vulnerability of Griffin to varying degrees. I do think that the ending feels a bit anti-climatic, and I also think Gloria Stuart's performance as Griffin's fiancee wasn't the best. But those are just minor complaints. I enjoyed this one a lot. Grade: A-
A film from the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list whose ranking includes the #4 (i.e. 14, 401, 943): THE GRADUATE (#457)
Yet another one I had been meaning to watch for a long time. This one follows Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), a college graduate that is struggling to find a proper goal in his life, and ends up in a relationship with Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), an older woman that also happens to be the wife of his father's law partner. First, I was expecting something a bit more on the light side, but I was surprised by how heavy its themes of alienation, freedom, the nature of relationships, love and marriage are, but without feeling heavy in the bad sense, or losing the comedy edge (not that the film is knee-slap funny, but it *is* funny). All three leads are excellent, but Hoffman in particular is great. I also thought Mike Nichols direction to be great, and loved his use of long shots and close-ups, focus and zooms. I think it worked perfectly. There's a scene in particular that stuck with me, which is when Elaine (Katherine Ross), Mrs. Robinson's daughter finds out about Benjamin's affair with his mother, where the camera focus goes from Bancroft's face to Ross, and Nichols' takes a while to establish that focus on her face to symbolize how what happened is entering into focus in her mind. It was a simple, but great shot. My main gripe is that I feel like the way Elaine enters the story and how her relationship with Benjamin unfolds are a bit abrupt. Fortunately, both Hoffman and Ross sell it really well. Loved it. Grade: A
A film with Marlon Brando: SUPERMAN (rewatch)
If you would've asked me a week ago what is my favorite comic book film, I might've said Superman. He's always been my favorite superhero, and I've always had fond memories of watching the Reeves' films a lot of times when I was a kid. But the truth is that I hadn't revisited this in probably 25 years, so I was approaching it with a bit of nostalgia, but also a bit of dread of how well (or not) it might fare now. Maybe it was the nostalgia or maybe it is really a great film, but the truth is that I loved almost everything about it. From the rather dark opening in Krypton to the charming earnestness of Christopher Reeves' dual performance. I have to admit I got goosebumps when we first see Superman flying out of the Fortress of Solitude for the first time. This is what superhero films can be. Admittedly, each film is separate and different, but they don't all need the "gritty/dark" treatment. There is a certain *something* in the way Superman carries himself that I find so endearing and, as of 2020, refreshing. There is little complexity to a character whose sole purpose is to do good, and Reeves' performance is excellent. Brando also adds a lot of gravitas and seriousness to the film that I think helps balance the more "comedic" aspects of the second act, which is where the films most notable flaws come to the surface. Although Gene Hackman is fun and hammy as Lex Luthor, the truth is that his plan is, to put it mildly, silly, and the whole Otis/Tessmacher thing borders on "too much". Still, there's so much to love here that I can't complain. This is still my favorite comic book film. Grade: A
A Biblical film: THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (rewatch)
Yet another one that I hadn't seen since its release. The film follows the Biblical story of Moses (Val Kilmer), the Hebrew that grew up in Egypt raised by Pharaoh at a time when Hebrews were enslaved. When he finds out about his past, he flees only to come back later to demand the new Pharaoh, who is his "brother" (Ralph Fiennes) to let his people go. I remember liking this one a lot back in the day, so it was another pleasant surprise to see how well it held up. I love the changes made to the story, in terms of the relationship between Moses and Pharaoh, although, as someone who studied the Bible back in the day, I wish they would've fleshed out Aaron more. Still, I understand the writers' desire to focus on this "brother" relationship, and the voice talent from everyone is great. Most of the songs are also quite memorable, with "Playing with the Big Boys" being the highlight to me. The animation is gorgeous and the direction is great. I saw it with the kids and, although the story was perhaps a bit too complex for them to understand, I think they still enjoyed it. Grade: A-
A road trip film: ABOMINABLE
What is it with Hollywood and Sasquatch/Yeti films? It's like there have been half a dozen in the last 3 years or so. Anyway, this one follows Yi (Chloe Bennet), an introverted teenager that sets out to help a Yeti who escaped from a research facility, to return to the Himalayas. Obviously another choice for the kids, but I thought the film was good fun. The film does fall into some clichés, and there is not a lot of depth to the story, but the animation is superb and the story is funny. SImple, but fun. Grade: B
Freebie for me!: PARASITE
This is one I'm still processing after watching it last night. The film follows a struggling poor family that find numerous ways to con a wealthy family into employing them as tutors and housekeepers, etc. For anyone that hasn't seen this, I think the less you know, the better. The film is not entirely relaint on twists, but I think that the way the plot unfolds is part of what makes it work. Director and co-writer Bong Joon-ho does an excellent job of highlighting class inequality and social divisions, while using his usual mish-mash of genres and tones. The film is far from subtle, but here the shift in tones isn't as jarring as, say The Host or Memories of Murder. I think it is rather more fluid and cohesive, with the film moving from comedy to tragedy in a very fluid, seamless way. I also loved how it refuses to put the characters into easily defined boxes, forcing us to explore how we feel about each "side". The film is also visually striking, and Bong's use of perspective, distance, light and darkness is impressive. All of the performances are great, but the standout is easily Bong's bestie, Song Kang-ho, who plays the father of the family. The way this man handles so many emotions and reactions in one single character, is impressive. From LOL funny to bleak and tragic. Loved it. Grade: A
Seriously, it's been a while since I had such a good run. Loved it.
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