Griff the Invisible


Even a superhero needs an occasional break.

Even a superhero needs an occasional break.

(2010) Comedy (Indomina) Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Darmody, Patrick Brammall, Toby Schmitz, Marshall Napier, Heather Mitchell, David Webb, Anthony Phelan, Kelly Paterniti, Kate Mulvany, Angela Bauer, Patricia Rogan, Leon Dobrinski, Joe June, Paul Mawhinney, Kyle Beattie, Ben Borgia, Luke Hobbins, May Lloyd, Ray Carter, Sarah Becker. Directed by Leon Ford

What is real and what is in our imagination is simply a matter of our own personal perceptions. For some of us, the line between the two is thinner than others; that fine line and the ability to recognize where it is can be the difference between genius and madness.

Griff (Kwanten) is a cubicle cowboy in Australia; a sad sack nobody who is constantly bullied by Tony (Schmitz). Griff longs to be a caped crusader, a crime fighting superhero who dispenses justice along with an occasional bon mot. His brother Tim (Brammall) is very worried about Griff who seems to be losing his grip on reality. Tim’s girlfriend Melody (Darmody) on the other hand thinks Griff is more than all right; in fact, she thinks she has the potential ability to walk through walls. When Tim receives a super suit in a mysterious package that allows him to turn invisible, the evildoers of Sydney need to be on their toes!

With a zealous policeman (Phelan) on his tail, Griff seems to be drifting further and further away from reality. He is caught on surveillance video sneaking around his office in his supposedly invisible super suit and as a result loses his job. This turns into a wake-up call for Griff who at last seems to be finally turning his back on his delusions and getting back in touch with reality, but this might cost him his relationship with Melody whom Griff has fallen in love with and whose affections are definitely returned. Is the new, more responsible Griff the same person she fell in love with? Or is that just an illusion as well?

There has been a rash of “ordinary superhero” movies perhaps inspired partially by the success of the Batman movies but certainly by such movies as Kick-Ass and Defendor as well. It examines our own needs to be important, respected and in control but also our fascination with superheroes and what they represent in our society.

Kwanten, best known for his work in the HBO hit series True Blood shows promise that he could go the next step into cinematic leading man territory. He is appealing in both his sad sack Griff persona as well as his heroic crime fighter role as well. With the success of DC and Marvel Comics, it stands to reason that more and newer superhero roles are coming down the pike and it wouldn’t surprise me if Kwanten doesn’t get at least considered for some of them.

His chemistry with Darmody is also strong. She’s less known here in the States having made more of an impression on Aussie TV roles but she definitely has some appeal and could very well one day get the kind of success as her fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts currently enjoy.

The problem is that Griff and Melody are both a little bit too out to left field. I kind of get the director’s stance that when we lose our imagination we lose something of our soul, but the way that Griff and Melody both behave I can’t see them surviving in the real world without someone having them both committed to a care facility for their own protection. Certainly the actions they take in the movie put them both in mortal danger which of course works in the movies but I couldn’t help but wonder “Isn’t there someone keeping an eye on these two people?” You still end up liking them but you fear for not only their sanity but for their well-being as well.

WHY RENT THIS: Charming. Kwanten and Darmody are both appealing leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Griff and Melody are maybe too out there to be believable. Doesn’t hold up well with other movies with a similar theme.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was inspired by writer/director Ford observing a small child playing while sitting in a cafe one day.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a director’s video log in which first-time director Ford talks about some of the pitfalls of being a rookie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Change of Plans

Lee Daniels’ The Butler


Not everything in this film is Black and White - but a lot of it is.

Not everything in this film is Black and White – but a lot of it is.

(2013) Period Drama (Weinstein) Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, David Banner, Vanessa Redgrave, Alex Pettyfer, Mariah Carey, Clarence Williams III, Robin Williams, John Cusack, James Marsden, Minka Kelly, Liev Schreiber, Nelsan Ellis, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Joe Chrest, Elijah Kelly, Adriane Lenox. Directed by Lee Daniels

The Civil Rights era was a turbulent time for this country as we were forced to look at a very ugly side of ourselves. That ugliness played out on television screens across the country as deeply held beliefs – generations in the making – erupted to the surface.

Cecil Gains (Whitaker) grew up as a sharecropper’s son on a cotton farm in Georgia. When he was a young boy, he watched his father (Banner) murdered in front of his eyes by the overseer (Pettyfer) for objecting to the overseer raping his wife (Carey). Gains is taken in by the kindly mistress of the house (Redgrave) who teaches him how to be a house servant. With the specter of his father’s murder hanging over him, he decides to leave the employ and venture to Washington DC to find work as a domestic.

He is spotted at a Washington hotel by the Chief Engineer of the White House domestic staff and is given a job as a butler. This of course is a big deal for Cecil and his wife Gloria (Winfrey) who is a bit star-struck and assumes she’ll get a tour of his new place of employment. Cecil, however, is all about keeping his head down and serving those who sit in the Oval Office to the best of his ability. Along with fellow butlers James (Kravitz) and Carter (Gooding), he will serve seven Presidents over nearly 40 years, from Eisenhower (Williams) to Kennedy (Marsden) to LBJ (Schreiber) to Nixon (Cusack) to Reagan (Rickman) and Nancy Reagan (Fonda). He becomes a comforting presence, nearly invisible – the room feels empty when he’s in it.

At home, his wife is the President of his household and he rarely fades into the background there, raising his kids Louis (Oyelowo) and Charles (Kelly). Louis would go off to Fisk University in Tennessee despite his father’s vehement objections (he didn’t move his family away from the South just to see his son go right back into the lion’s den) and his mother’s desire to have him closer to home. There he becomes politicized and becomes a zealous member of the civil rights movement, enduring arrests and beatings. This becomes a wedge between him and Cecil, his father disapproving of his activities while for Louis’ part he is disdainful of his father’s profession, thinking him a subservient Uncle Tom to the white Master, a symbol for his people’s submission and oppression. Both men are wrong, but it will take a tragedy for them to even consider seeing the other’s point of view.

The movie is loosely (and I mean loosely) based on the life of Eugene Allen, who was an African-American butler in the White House from 1948-1996. While there were some similarities of events (for example, Nancy Reagan really did invite the real Eugene Allen to a State dinner but it was on the occasion of his retirement, not the cause of it as it is depicted here), there are a lot of liberties taken with his life story – for example, he had only one son, not two and that  son was not as involved in the Civil Rights movement as Charles is although to be fair, NOBODY was as involved in the movement as he was – Charles is depicted here as being a Freedom Rider, in the inner circle of Martin Luther King (and present at his assassination), a member of the Black Panther party and eventually an activist against Apartheid.

Daniels, who broke out a few years ago with Precious is one of a group of outstanding African-American directors who have begun to build some pretty impressive movies in the last few years. This is his most ambitious work and it has been rewarded with being a breakout hit,. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets some award consideration, particularly for Winfrey who is absolutely outstanding here.

Yeah, there were times I realized I was watching OPRAH but that was mostly early on and as the movie continues, the audience becomes lost in her performance, watching her chain-smoke her way through the most growth of any character in the movie, showing some all-too-human frailties while maintaining her strength and dignity in the face of increasing loneliness, getting all dressed up and dancing alone to songs on TV variety shows while her husband works, another weekend night alone. It’s quite moving and indicative of how powerful an actress Winfrey is. Her talk show, television network and financial empire have kept her away from acting for the most part but had she continued after her stellar work in The Color Purple she might just have a couple of Oscars on her mantle by now.

While the actors playing the Presidents are eclectic choices for the roles, they at least do them capably and if they don’t necessarily capture the personality of the men they play, they at least capture the dignity and the strength of the office.

There is a bit of Forrest Gump here with Cecil and Louis being thrust into historical events – Cecil as an onlooker and Louis as a participant, further illustrating the gulf between the men. Whitaker is an Oscar winner and has a thankless role; Cecil’s whole existence revolves around him being invisible and it’s hard to make an invisible man interesting. In that sense, Winfrey and Oyelowo carry the movie. The latter turns in a performance that serves notice that he is a force to be reckoned with. I foresee some major roles coming his way.

If there’s a criticism I have for the movie, it’s that it can be overly melodramatic. While there are those who say it trivializes the civil rights movement as an essential side show to the American Presidency and to Cecil’s family drama, I think the scenes depicting the lunch counter sit-in in Nashville and its ensuing violence to the police turning fire hoses and dogs on the marchers from Selma are powerful and moving.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded the script sticking closer to the real Eugene Allen’s life – it must have been fascinating. Perhaps someday there is a documentary to be made of it, although I suspect it never will be – the butlers would tend to see a more private side of the President than perhaps they might be willing to show to posterity. However, this is indeed a solid movie, generally well-acted if a bit maudlin in places but the power of the history behind the histrionics more than makes up for it.

REASONS TO GO: A visceral reminder of the hardships undergone by African-Americans and civil rights activists in particular. Amazing performances all around.

REASONS TO STAY: Overly melodramatic. Based on a real person but very loosely which the film should at least mention.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a goodly amount of violence and some images that are graphic. There’s also some sexuality and a fair amount of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Producer Laura Ziskin’s last film before passing away of breast cancer.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 72% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mississippi Burning

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: True Legend