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

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

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…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You're waterboarding me.

The Upside (2017)
(SPOILERS) The list of US remakes of foreign-language films really ought to be considered a hiding to nothing, given the ratio of flops to unqualified successes. There’s always that chance, though, of a proven property (elsewhere) hitting the jackpot, and every exec hopes, in the case of French originals, for another The Birdcage, Three Men and a Baby, True Lies or Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Even a Nine Months, Sommersby or Unfaithful will do. Rather than EdTV. Or Sorcerer. Or Eye of the Beholder. Or Brick Mansions. Or Chloe. Or Intersection (Richard Gere is clearly a Francophile). Or Just Visiting. Or The Man with One Red Shoe. Or Mixed Nuts. Or Original Sin. Or Oscar. Or Point of No Return. Or Quick Change. Or Return to Paradise. Or Under Suspicion. Or Wicker Park. Or Father’s Day.

What about the meaningless line of indifference?

The Lion King (2019)
(SPOILERS) And so the Disney “live-action” remake train thunders on regardless (I wonder how long the live-action claim would last if there was a slim hope of a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod?) I know I keep repeating myself, but the early ‘90s Disney animation renaissance didn’t mean very much to me; I found their pictures during that period fine, but none of them blew me away as they did critics and audiences generally. As such, I have scant nostalgia to bring to bear on the prospect of a remake, which I’m sure can work both ways. Aladdin proved to be a lot of fun. Beauty and the Beast entirely tepid. The Lion King, well, it isn’t a badfilm, but it’s wearying its slavish respectfulness towards the original and so diligent in doing it justice, you’d think it was some kind of religious artefact. As a result, it is, ironically, for the most part, dramatically dead in the water.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his …

Would you like Smiley Sauce with that?

American Beauty (1999)
(SPOILERS) As is often the case with the Best Picture Oscar, a backlash against a deemed undeserved reward has grown steadily in the years since American Beauty’s win. The film is now often identified as symptomatic of a strain of cinematic indulgence focussing on the affluent middle classes’ first world problems. Worse, it showcases a problematic protagonist with a Lolita-fixation towards his daughter’s best friend (imagine its chances of getting made, let alone getting near the podium in the #MeToo era). Some have even suggested it “mercifully” represents a world that no longer exists (as a pre-9/11 movie), as if such hyperbole has any bearing other than as gormless clickbait; you’d have to believe its world of carefully manicured caricatures existed in the first place to swallow such a notion. American Beauty must own up to some of these charges, but they don’t prevent it from retaining a flawed allure. It’s a satirical take on Americana that, if it pulls its p…

Kindly behove me no ill behoves!

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
(SPOILERS) It’s often the case that industry-shaking flops aren’t nearly the travesties they appeared to be before the dust had settled, and so it is with The Bonfire of the Vanities. The adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s ultra-cynical bestseller is still the largely toothless, apologetically broad-brush comedy – I’d hesitate to call it a satire in its reconfigured form – it was when first savaged by critics nearly thirty years ago, but taken for what it is, that is, removed from the long shadow of Wolfe’s novel, it’s actually fairly serviceable star-stuffed affair that doesn’t seem so woefully different to any number of rather blunt-edged comedies of the era.

Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News "Do not air this story"?

The Insider (1999)
(SPOILERS) The Insider was the 1999 Best Picture Oscar nominee that didn’t. Do any business, that is. Which is, more often than not, a major mark against it getting the big prize. It can happen (2009, and there was a string of them from 2014-2016), but aside from brief, self-congratulatory “we care about art first” vibes, it generally does nothing for the ceremony’s profile, or the confidence of the industry that is its bread and butter. The Insider lacked the easy accessibility of the other nominees – supernatural affairs, wafer-thin melodramas or middle-class suburbanite satires. It didn’t even brandish a truly headlines-shattering nail-biter in its conspiracy-related true story, as earlier contenders All the President’s Men and JFK could boast. But none of those black marks prevented The Insider from being the cream of the year’s crop.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.