Skip to main content

You’re not a clown, you’re a physician.

Victor Frankenstein
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Well, Max Landis did it again. Gave birth to an unmitigated pile, I mean. One wonders if his involvement in Chronicle was a fluke, and additionally wonders why dad didn’t just say “Don’t you bleedin’ dare, son” regarding junior’s designs on remaking An American Werewolf in London. Victor Frankenstein can’t even lay claim to being hilariously bad – at least Sir Ken’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has that going for it – and shows that even the usually reliable Paul McGuigan can come a cropper if his material is old rope.


A few weeks back I credited Daniel Radcliffe with a decent performance in Swiss Army Man. He’s back into the red with this, a truly woeful turn in which he gives Landis’ dialogue every splinter of woodenness it deserves. Poor Igor doesn’t even have a name when first we meet him, a rubbish circus clown – who looks like a cross between Helena Bonham Carter and Edward Scissorhands, just with less polished application of pan cake than either – abused by his fellows (“It’s hard to judge cruelty when you’ve never known kindness” he observes, insightfully). But what’s this? Not-yet-Igor is actually a genius: “When I wasn’t performing, I served as the company’s doctor”.


That was about the only moment in the movie where I had a good laugh. Everything else was just too, too sad: “I don’t know if the science of life captured my imagination. I think it just helped me escape”. Yep, Hollywood execs pay millions for his kind of shit. It’s like gold dust to them. Wait, here’s some more: “Little did I know that on a chilly London evening, I would meet the man who would change my life for ever”. Such lines are all the better savoured when served up by one of the most successful young former child actors around. It turns out Igor, in Landis’ “imaginative” retelling, isn’t a hunchback at all. He just has a huge cyst that needs draining. How charming. Before long, he’s back to being a fine upstanding young thespian.


James McAvoy, who clearly and misguidedly sees this as a chance to “do a Cumberbatch” with the brash, energetic, socially-difficult scientist, was probably egged on by ex-Sherlock director McGuigan (who also furnishes the piece with Sherlock-esque subjective genius visuals, as both Igor and Victor perceive the anatomical workings of their patients/experiments – it rather comes across as a bit tired and desperate). Victor’s an obnoxious drunk, and generally much too annoying to be either charismatic or engaging, given to meta-comments like “I think it’s high time you met our monster” and correcting a Young Frankenstein pronunciation of his name that everyone probably thought was a hoot in rehearsals (likewise the Bride of-esque “They LIVE!” and Igor getting in a ”Yes, master”). Victor is haunted by the death of his brother, for which he feels responsible, and his father (Charles Dance; quids in there, Charles) blames him for it too, in that old chestnut.


Also on hand is the Andrew Scott (also present from McGuigan’s Sherlock cast is Louise Brealey) as Inspector Turpin, proving that, even without a sing-song cretin Oirish accent, he’s tremendously irritating. Turpin is fervently religious, so his clash with Victor is as subtle and nuanced as you might expect from Landis (“Are you a police officer or are you a theologian” quips Victor leadenly). The dialogue really is dreadful. At one point, Igor announces they will need lots more energy for their experiment, before stressing, “And I mean, tonnes more”.


The movie starts off over-stylised and undernourished and only becomes more so as it progresses, a noisy, choppy, paceless mess more akin to Stephen Sommers (but without the bat-shit craziness) than McGuigan’s usual range. The tale culminates in the usual monster-unleashed thing, underwhelmingly designed and initiating a really rather tiresome altercation in a (naturally) thunderstruck castle. About the only scene of any merit is a previous reanimation, as Victor and Igor bring life to a hideously stitched together chimpanzee, the demonstration unfolding atmospherically. At least, until they switch from a prosthetic to a CGI creature.


Still, this dud doesn’t seem to have done anyone any harm. McAvoy and Radcliffe continue unabated. Landis just took a huge payday for Netflix’s Bright (fortunately, it’s being rewritten. Unfortunately, by David Ayer). And McGuigan has made Eon’s Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which has led to rumours of his saddling up for the next Bond gig. I’d have been all for the director of Push, Lucky Number Slevin and season one of Sherlock getting the job, but on the evidence of Victor Frankenstein, it would be tantamount to reemploying Lee Tamahori.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Garage freak? Jesus. What kind of a crazy fucking story is this?

All the President’s Men (1976)
It’s fairly routine to find that films lavished with awards ceremony attention really aren’t all that. So many factors go into lining them up, including studio politics, publicity and fashion, that the true gems are often left out in the cold. On some occasions all the attention is thoroughly deserved, however. All the President’s Men lost out to Rocky for Best Picture Oscar; an uplifting crowd-pleaser beat an unrepentantly low key, densely plotted and talky political thriller. But Alan J. Pakula’s film had already won the major victory; it turned a literate, uncompromising account of a resolutely unsexy and over-exposed news story into a huge hit. And even more, it commanded the respect of its potentially fiercest (and if roused most venomous) critics; journalists themselves. All the President’s Men is a masterpiece and with every passing year it looks more and more like a paean to a bygone age, one where the freedom of the press was assumed rather than a…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

The head is missing... and... he's the wrong age.

Twin Peaks 3.7: There’s a body all right.
First things first: my suggestion that everyone’s favourite diminutive hitman, Ike “The Spike” Stadtler, had been hired by the Mitchum brothers was clearly erroneous in the extreme, although the logistics of how evil Coop had the contingency plan in place to off Lorraine and Dougie-Coop remains a little unclear right now. As is how he was banged up with the apparent foresight to have on hand ready blackmail tools to ensure the warden would get him out (and why did he wait so long about it, if he could do it off the bat?)


Launching right in with no preamble seems appropriate for his episode, since its chock-a-block with exposition and (linear) progression, almost an icy blast of what settles for reality in Twin Peaks after most of what has gone before this season, the odd arm-tree aside. Which might please James Dyer, who in the latest Empire “The Debate”, took the antagonistic stance to the show coming back and dismissed it as “gibbering nonsen…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re the Compliance Officer. It’s your call.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
(SPOILERS) The mealy-mouthed title speaks volumes about the uncertainty with which Tom Clancy’s best-known character has been rebooted. Paramount has a franchise that has made a lot of money, based on a deeply conservative, bookish CIA analyst (well, he starts out that way). How do you reconfigure him for a 21st century world (even though he already has been, back in 2003) where everything he stands for is pretty much a dirty word? The answer, it seems, is to go for an all-purpose sub-James Bond plan to bring American to its knees, with Ryan as a fresh (-ish) recruit (you know, like Casino Royale!) and surprising handiness in a fight. Yes, Jack is still a smart guy (and also now, a bit, -alec), adept at, well, analysing, but to survive in the modern franchise sewer he needs to be more than that. He needs to kick arse. And wear a hoodie. This confusion, inability to coax a series into being what it’s supposed to be, might explain the sour response to its …

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Oh look, there’s Colonel Mortimer, riding down the street on a dinosaur!

One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing (1975)
(SPOILERS) There’s no getting round the dinosaur skeleton in the room here: yellow face. From the illustrious writer-director team who brought us Mary Poppins, no less. Disney’s cheerfully racist family movie belongs to a bygone era, but appreciating its merits doesn’t necessarily requires one to subscribe to the Bernard Manning school of ethnic sensitivity.

I’m not going to defend the choice, but, if you can get past that, and that may well be a big if, particularly Bernard Bresslaw’s Fan Choy (if anything’s an unwelcome reminder of the Carry Ons lesser qualities, it’s Bresslaw and Joan Sims) there’s much to enjoy. For starters, there’s two-time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Ustinov (as mastermind Hnup Wan), funny in whatever he does (and the only Poirot worth his salt), eternally berating his insubordinate subordinate Clive Revill (as Quon).

This is a movie where, even though its crude cultural stereotyping is writ large, the dialogue frequen…

You may not wanna wake up tomorrow, but the day after that might just be great.

Blood Father (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.

Sometimes the more you look, the less you see.

Snowden (2016)
(SPOILERS) There are a fair few Oliver Stone movies I haven’t much cared for (Natural Born Killers, U-Turn, Alexander for starters), and only W., post millennium, stands out as even trying something, if in a largely inconspicuous and irrelevant way, but I don’t think I’ve been as bored by one as I have by Snowden. Say what you like about Citizenfour – a largely superficial puff piece heralded as a vanguard of investigative journalism that somehow managed to yield a Best Documentary Feature Oscar for its lack of pains – but it stuck to the point, and didn’t waste the viewer’s time. Stone’s movie is so vapid and cliché-ridden in its portrayal of Edward Snowden, you might almost conclude the director was purposefully fictionalising his subject in order to preserve his status as a conspiracy nut (read: everything about Snowden is a fiction).