Friday Flicks February 28: “The Invisible Man,” “Marked Men” & GCU Film Festival

M.V. MoorheadFebruary 28, 2020
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In wide release:

The Invisible Man—After the dispiriting Tom Cruise version of The Mummy in 2017, Universal turned to Blumhouse Productions for their next monster reboot. Good move, as it turned out.

This new version of the story of a see-through madman has little in common with the 1897 H. G. Wells yarn, or the classic 1933 James Whale film adaptation, beyond the name of the title character: Griffin. Played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, he’s a genius in the field of optics who also happens to be the psychotically controlling and abusive hubby of our heroine, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss).

She escapes from his clutches near the beginning and is staying at the home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter (Storm Reid). Gradually, Cecilia starts to sense the ex’s presence in the house, and concludes that he’s mastered transparency. Her friends, and later the authorities, assume that she’s suffering from PTSD, and later, when violence occurs that seems to be her fault, they assume she’s dangerously cuckoo.

The writer-director, Leigh Whannell of the Saw pictures, establishes a tense, hushed urgency in the opening minutes of the picture, with menacing silences and deliberate, unhurried camera movement. Then he keeps it going for most of the movie. Overall, this is the most sustained exercise in Hitchcock-style suspense in some years.

What’s particularly gratifying is how much Whannell achieves without high tech. The special effects, though hair-raisingly convincing, are very sparingly deployed, and much of the movie’s pervasive sense of dread, especially early on, is generated just by fixing the camera on empty doorways or empty chairs. A good part of the credit for this must also, of course, go to Elisabeth Moss, who creates a harrowing sense of how an abuser can stay in a victim’s life even when he isn’t visible.

Inevitably, as the shocks and violence become more overt and bloodier in the second half, the movie’s power is somewhat diffused, and there are gaps in the internal logic — legal absurdities and the like — about which one might quibble. But we’re carried past these implausibilities by Whannell’s confident touch, and Moss’s desperate dignity.

7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4 at Tempe History Museum:

Marked Men (1940)—An innocent man, wrongly imprisoned as a bank robber, is forced into a jailbreak with just two months left on his sentence. He drifts through the Arizona desert, where he befriends a wild dog who he names “Wolf.” The two of them wander into Tempe, where he meets a pretty young woman. She takes him in, feeds him, and falls in love with him. But, as you might guess, trouble catches up with the poor guy soon enough.

This low-budget black-and-white crime drama, also called Desert Escape, has bad dialogue and corny plot twists, but it’s worth catching at Tempe History Museum next Wednesday for several reasons. First of all, it’s lovely to look at; cinematographer Jack Greenhalgh bathes it in a shimmering southwestern beauty that’s a bit of a surprise in a poverty row effort like this. Second of all, it’s a great time capsule of the Valley 80 years ago: Mill Avenue, Papago Park, the Rio Salado and more.

Thirdly, admission is free. It kicks off a series of films, Wednesdays in March, in which Tempe is featured as a location; the other three — A Star is Born (1976) on March 11; The Nutty Professor (1963) on March 18 and Campus Man (1987) on March 25 — show at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Tempe and cost money, but Marked Men, showing at Tempe History Museum, will only cost you 66 minutes of your time.

6 p.m. Friday, February 28 at Grand Canyon University:

2020 GCU Film Festival—The festival season rolls on with this showcase of student-made shorts, presented by the Digital Film department. Entries in “Drama, Comedy, Music Video, Faith, Documentary, Thriller, Animation and Alumni” compete for top honors in their own categories, as well as for a Best of Festival award. It starts at 6 p.m. Friday, February 28, at Ethington Theatre, and is free to attend; email ethington@gcu.edu or call 602-639-8880 for details.

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