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…

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…