Darke Reviews – Victor Frankenstein (2015)

I love the tag line, Witness the Origin of a Monster and his creation. This was billed as horror film believe it or not, though I was expecting something along the lines of Stephen Sommers The Mummy when I walked in, so more along the lines of a horror comedy, this was reinforced by the PG-13 rating, the trailer above, and just the general tone of the two leads as they were pitching the film. Now obviously I am a fan of all things Horror, and even had the opportunity to watch the original in the theatre – and highly recommend it.

It’s alive, it’s alive. In the name of God I know what it feels like to be God…” is the original line uttered by the mad Doctor; just how mad was this one?

The movie was written entirely for the screen by Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) and directed by Paul McGuigan best known for such films as Push and Lucky Number Slevin; which are two entirely underrated films. Suffice to stay these two have a limited body of work, but what work they do have I really enjoy. Now, I did state I was expecting the Mummy, but what I got was closer to Sherlock Holmes meets The Wolfman (2010).  An interesting view of that wet gritty London atmosphere during the turn of the century we get to see more of each year as films come out for that period. The film, unlike Lucky Number Slevin, is not subtle; nor does it try to be. It keeps it’s tongue dancing at it’s cheek without sticking it firmly there. It takes itself seriously, but not too seriously. There is an interesting balance that I am still not 100% sure worked. One thing I did find that worked rather well is the characters of Victor (McAvoy) and that of Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott). These two are brilliant opposite sides of the same coin. Supremely intelligent to the point they nearly dwarf those around them. Perceptive, driven, and most of all firmly believing they are in the right. What makes them opposite is that Turpin is a man of faith as as a well as the man of the Law. Frankenstein is a man of Science and a man who no longer believes in God. They show the extremes of both sides….and that both sides can have unreasonable extremes.

I don’t consider it a spoiler to say that Victor Frankenstein is a man of extremes. The story is over a century old, it’s iconic, it’s part of our culture and even parlance as the mad scientist started with him. How they portray the madness that grips him and what drives him is what varies from film to film. A God complex in the original work is pretty much standard, but the levels of madness, depravity, and obsession change from narrative to narrative. This one truly touches on the near mental illness levels of obsessive compulsive behavior, or even perhaps addiction, which McAvoy (X-Men Days of Future Past, Wanted)  runs with like he’s being chased by Usain Bolt. What separates this from other similar works is the focus on Igor, as played by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter, Horns). Most movies focus on the Man and the Monster. This one focuses on the Man and his Assistant and Partner. They make Igor more than a hunched servant uttering “yes master” or simply doing the bidding of the Doctor. He is an integral part of the project and the moral compass of the film. The chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy is beyond the pale and I have a feeling that Tumblr ships are sailing as I write this review.

Who knew that with a few small tweaks that this could be a romantic comedy between the two?

From a technical standpoint the movie begins to run into issues. It plays a little close to the Sherlock films side of things and has some enormous pacing issues. The movie runs short at 1 hour 49 minutes, but even with that the pace is just a touch too plodding to really sit back and let myself have a good time. This isn’t to say that I didn’t, but there were moments where it ran too slow and my interest waned. It hurts the movie quite a bit. There are jumps of logic and timing that really just do not work. That said, they use a brilliant technique to avoid too much gore. I was really pleased to see it and did not find it distracting in the slightest. I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss The Creature. It was large. It was in charge. It was not CG. It did look like some CG overlay in a shot or two, but otherwise it was impressive when you finally get to see it.

TL;DR?

I had fun. My friend and I were laughing at the end, mostly at the two mains and how much fun it looked like they had. There are some really subtle references to the original classic, and even a few to Young Frankenstein. It isn’t a great film as the pacing truly hurt it, but it wasn’t a bad one. I can’t put my finger on what was missing, but something was. It’s kinda a mess, but nothing in the movie particularly annoyed me, except that it just felt overall kinda “Welp”.

If you are looking for something this year to watch other than Hunger Games, until December 18th, this might be it.I wish that I could give a strong recommendation, but I can’t.

 

Potential reviews coming that might be worth something:

  • Legend (Tom Hardy)
  • Krampus (by the makers of Trick R Treat)

 

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Darke Reviews – Frankenstein (1931)

Continuing my reviews of the Universal Classics, I must touch on Frankenstein. It was the second film in what is considered the Universal Monsters set. Dracula was a near Valentines Day release, with Frankenstein being a near Thanksgiving release. This gave the producers and directors time to see how Dracula did and make modifications based on audience response.  There are some really nifty factoids and tidbits worth mentioning so I want to cover them in this review. Please consider yourself warned this review does have Spoilers; at 83 years I think I am beyond the statute of limitations.

The movie was produced by the owner of Universal at the time Carl Laemmle Jr., son of the founder of Universal and heir to the empire from 1928 to 1936. This was one of the first directorial roles for James Whale, which would then be followed by the Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). It is easy to see he took a different tact to the film making than those who made Dracula. There’s at times an almost clear sense to take a more clinical and far less romantic approach to it. Even the writing, blocking, and delivery of the actors has started to drift away from the stage plays and silent films before. Not entirely mind you, but some of it is showing, mostly in the scenes with Henry Frankenstein and Fritz. It has more in common with later science fiction than it does with the some of the other horror films at the time; or perhaps more in common with Jekyll and Hyde. For those that like the movie Young Frankenstein, I recommend watching this and then the comedy. You will be amazed at how many references and callbacks were made with all due respect to the original films.

The story of course is inspired by the original work of Mary Shelley, adapted by Peggy Webling, then further adapted by John L. Balderston, and adapted once again to the silver screen by Garret Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh. I would say this suffers from the writers curse of too many writers, but movies were so nascent at this time it is difficult to tell where some of those story issues lie. Of course it is worth mentioning some of what we know about Frankenstein was not in the original film at all. The movie actually begins with the grave robbing and acquisition of the brain. It was not Igor, but Fritz – played by the magnificent Dwight Frye. The doctor is Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), not Victor; who is played as a friend of Henry. Boris Karloff, was not credited originally. The title card simply read:

credits

 

That sort of thing is unheard of these days. I mean sure actors go uncredited in movies, but a major character within the film? Awesome. The movie also wastes no time getting us into the “action” of the piece with friends and the love of Henry coming to see him concerned about his well being before he even animated The Monster. The movie also couches much of itself in the science of the time; even if it is technobabble, it is the technobabble of the 30s. In a rather interesting twist, rather than turn his people away before the animation he actually shows off his work to the intrigue of his former teacher Dr. Waldman (Edward Van Sloan – again, see I told you he was in everything). His fiancee, his best friend, and his mentor not only watch the animation but help to keep it secret from the rest of the world! There’s no argument. There’s no fighting about if it should or could be done. It has happened and they just go with it. I actually miss the simplicity of that.

The famous “It’s Alive” , is so beautifully done by Colin Clive who does not nearly have the career he deserves; due to a too early death. It gets cut off in most modern clips you hear, mostly due to censorship in the late 30’s,  but when its said in the film its chilling, I am giving you the text, but you just need to see it!

“It’s alive, it’s alive. In the name of God, now I know what it feels like to be God…”

The beautiful arrogance is wonderfully entertaining. I may be the Vampire Princess, but I prefer the acting in this film to that of Dracula, mostly around Clives performance. The conversations between him and Waldman are professional discussions on what has happened, not the moral implications. The science is the conversation. The risk of such an experiment in that name as well. Even as the movie progresses it is still a conversation and a partnership – no matter how dark it goes.

It’s of course worth mentioning that the stiff arms out did not come until a later film (Frankenstein meets the Wolfman 1943) when The Monster was blind, his movements are rigid but not nearly as clunky as we think of. There is such subtlety in the expressions Karloff gives the monster, there is a reason he is considered a legend and a reason we remember him today. The iconic look was created by the infamous Jack P. Pierce – you will be hard pressed to find a make up expert in the industry who was not at some point inspired by Pierce. Even though it is a massive departure from Shelley’s description, it is what we remember. Even the green grey look we consider for the monster was due to the grease paint used to make him look dead on screen and off colour from the other performers. That look, by the way, is under Universal copyright until 2026 and I am sure it will be renewed after. I do, also, recommend the most recent releases to watch as they contain less unedited footage, including what happens to the little girl, Fritz, Dr. Waldman, and more importantly how the monster reacts to them.

Some of the technicals are not as solid as the make up work. You can clearly see it is a backdrop painting on a set, but other than that it is more solid than some of the films we get now!

TL;DR?

Look, this is an awesome film that holds up better than most of the Universal Monster films. If you love the classics you should have already seen this, but if not. SEE IT.

I had an opportunity a year ago to see this and the Bride of Frankenstein as a double feature in a theatre. I do not regret it. If you have options to see this on the big screen take it.

This one is a great and it should be treasured and watched for all time. Here’s to the House of Frankenstein!

Darke Reviews – I Frankenstein (2014)

This one is coming a lot later than it’s release date, but judging from the Box Office none of you have seen it. I suppose that counts for something? Every bit of word of mouth review I have heard for this film said it was god awful. I even heard it hit 0% on Rotten Tomatoes for a bit; though I can’t verify that as I don’t check other reviews before writing my own. I will stand by that til the day I die (not that death is really something I consider a limitation). Honestly due to the word of mouth alone going into this I expected the worst. The trailers didn’t do it much justice, despite the fact this is from the producers of Underworld; a film series which I rather enjoy for all it does bring.

Lets talk about the writer, Kevin Grevioux (Underworld) and the concepts he wanted to bring to screen. I discussed earlier the fact that Robocop also wanted to address the element of What does it mean to be a man? Where Robocop plodded along and refused to get to the point on that concept like some petulant child, I Frankenstein goes the other way. The movie has more exposition than anything I’ve seen recently, what keeps it from being painful is the fact that between the exposition is light tension and some relatively beautiful fight sequences. The entire concept of the film seems to revolve around the concept of the soul and does a man like Frankensteins Monster have one? What is it that makes him what he is? Is he a man, he is certainly not human, nor infernal, nor divine. Each scene of exposition seems to tie back to this basic concept; as do most of the relevant plot points. In this the movie succeeds heads above Robocop. Its also somewhat clumsy at times with it and a nasty habit of too much dialogue when they bother with it and dialogue said without a soul behind it.

Sadly that falls on the director and additional screenplay credit Stuart Beattie. It saddens me how hollow this one is when you compare it to other works he has done, such as “Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl” and a movie few of you have seen but all of you should, “Tomorrow, when the War Began”. TWWB is Red Dawn told better. It is shot beautifully, the characters are endearing and cover the gamut of what youd expect, but it does so much right and has actual heart to it. That is what saddens me about I,F. It has no heart, no soul of its own, which is ironic in a movie about a mans quest for a soul. It comes across too paint by numbers and a slight variation on Underworld; enough so that they could be in the same universe.

How you ask?

This is the story of a centuries old secret war between two diametrically opposed forces. Both sides become curious about a single individual with the intention on capturing and controlling him to give their side the advantage in the war. Be that advantage as a basis for a psuedo science experiment to create an ubermensch or just a weapon that can defeat the enemy. The “choosen one” wants to decide his own destiny and after resisting finally joins the war but on his own terms and his own side.

Which film did I describe? You can’t tell and thats a problem. A saving grace of the I,F story is the fact that they don’t deal with the Jesus metaphor in the central character that was ripe for the picking.

The acting is all over the place in the movie, which doesn’t help enhance the story. You have cases for overacting, underacting and people who are just phoning it in. Aaron Eckhardt as the Monster, decides to go for the underacting and apparently wants to show he could have played Batman as well. He is quiet, brooding and barely says a word focusing instead on long glares through his eyebrows. Jai Courtney (the abomination called the 5th Die Hard film) also went to the underacting school; though in his case I don’t know if its underacting or that he may infact be an animate mannequin. Bill Nighy showed up for the paycheck and decided to do what he does best and be the most awesome thing on screen. I really want to see a film with him and Gary Oldman, that would be fun to watch. Miranda Otto (Eowyn from Lord of the Rings) has not aged well the past few years, but tries her best and at least does well when she’s working with Eckhardt and showing the others how it’s done. Then there is Yvonne Starhovski (Chuck for some of you, Miranda from Mass Effect 2/3 for others) as Terra. I swear this girl cannot help taking roles where she’s reanimating the dead. She, like Otto, tries her best to play the role and pulls off a believable scientist. The movie thankfully only teases a bit of romantic or sexual tension between Terra and the Monster, and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude. It would have worked, but also would have been entirely unnessecary.

As far as the effects go, the transformation from Gargoyle/Angel to Human is one of the more beautiful effects I have seen and works in every situation. Conversely, the human to demon transition does not work nearly as well. The look of the Gargoyles themselves are mediocre at best. The Weapons and other technical effects are loaded with the traditional Underworld pretty but not practical factor. I also am left with questions on the housing market in Eastern Europe after watching it as nearly every building looks as if it should be condemned.

TL;DR time? I suppose.

I, Frankenstein is actually watchable if you enjoyed the Underworld series. Its light, its fluffy and makes for great background noise if you watch it on DVD or Netflix – which is its most likely venue for most people.

I cant say you need to see this film in good concience. but its certainly not the worst thing this year. It currently is floating on the top of the flotsam and jetsam of rubbish we have been delivered by Hollywood thus far. Wait for Redbox or Netflix folks.

I am hoping, though it is likely in vain, that 300 Rise of an Empire (I’d have preferred Battle of Artemisia its original title) coming in March will be the first film I can recommend with my soul ( stop laughing) intact.

Darke Reviews – Monster Squad (1987)

In the year I turned 11 I do not think there was a movie I watched more or that helped shape some of what was to come for me later in my love of monsters. A film that was a child of the 80s introduction to the wonders that were the great Universal Monsters in all their beautiful campy glory in a way only that the celluloid of the 80s can. It also taught me about the holocaust at a young age. The movie is ostensibly for children and young teens though watching it with the eyes of someone who is supposed to be an adult I both wonder what people were thinking and thank them for thinking it.

The movie of course is the underground and somewhat cultish hit The Monster Squad. Directed by Fred Dekker and written by Dekker and Shane Black. Yes, that Shane Black – I am surprised the movie isn’t based around christmas somehow. While it lacks the action, for obvious reasons, that the Lethal Weapons, Long Kiss Goodnight and Tony Stark 3 had; you can see that Blacks writing hasn’t really changed much in twenty six years. Dekker himself is also responsible for Robocop 3 and the Richard Greico film “If Looks Could Kill.” With what I know now of what was to come for these two in the years after, as this is Blacks Second film and Dekkers third, I wonder even as I watched it tonight – why the hell is it so damn entertaining?

I think the answer to that is a combination of things: Nostalgia, the magic of the 80’s and a love for the classic Monsters that are surprisngly treated as well as you can expect.

The story centers around Dracula (Duncan Regehr) who is hunting for a mystic gemstone that when destroyed will allow the creatures of the night to make their beautiful music all over the earth. Between him and success is an unlikely group of kids (none of whom you know now) who have a club called the Monster Squad. They have a wicked rad tree house I would have killed for and a love for horror films. No I assure you I was not in this film. Along the way they encounter and befriend Frankensteins Monster and face off with The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy and the Brides of Dracula.

As I get into the technical aspects of the film, let me be clear next to nothing of it holds up. There are a handful of Make-Ups and prosthetics that are still nice looking but they also are perfectly suited for the 80s. The CG is incredibly horrible and you can even see the wires on the sickeningly fake bats.

You leave the movie knowing a few things though, Silver Bullets are the only way to kill a werewolf, Frankenstein saying “Bogus” is awesome, and that wolfmans got nards.

TL;DR?

Ok I have an absolute love for this movie. It is raw nostalgia and I know it. I burned out a VHS tape of it as a kid. It has a tone and feel to it that bring me back to a happier time; but even as I watched it tonight I know it’s not a good movie. Yes, there were even tears at the end for one of the scenes that get me today. Despite what they say, some children can act.

This one is to be watched for Nostalgia or curiosity alone.
Tomorrow’s review will be an old vs new, but wants to take you to prom.