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.


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)


Darke Reviews | American Ultra (2015)

Well this proved to be an interesting evening. Go to a movie, get all settled in with the nice recliners at Roadhouse Cinemas, get a drink and a pizza and start to enjoy. Then the movie pauses. We’re given some excuse of a technical difficulty. Then…5 minutes later – “So yeah there’s been a bomb threat. We need to evacuate everyone.” They handled it well. Everyone was orderly, they comped any food & drink already ordered and provided free tickets to another show. All in all – very well done. I feel sorry for the loss of revenue tonight because some kid was a jackhole (note: this is an assumption). This is the reason you are only getting one review tonight rather than two as the next available showing for this gem was at 9:45 at another theatre. So my friend and I hauled ourselves over and watched the first twenty minutes again…and that should tell you a little something already.

Now…for the rest of the story.

It is entirely likely you have never heard of American Ultra unless you saw a trailer on my facebook page the other week. It was not marketed well, or at all, yet the trailer was oddly compelling.  Need a refresher?

The film was written by the same man who gave us the better parts of Chronicle, Max Landis, and directed by Project X director Nima Nourizadeh. I can’t really go in depth to their body of work as usual as I have not watched Nima’s first film; not my genre. Landis on the other hand I can talk a little more about having seen Chronicle and looking forward to his next writing project Victor Frankenstein. He seems to have a good understanding of personal interactions, humor, and action. While his pacing stutters a few times the movie has an incredible amount of heart to it for what appeared to be from the trailer a screwball, surreal, action-comedy.

It is so much more, and less, than that. Landis script gives us a reasonably well constructed almost satirical look at the action spy genre.  It knows what it is and isn’t. It warmly embraces it’s absurdities. It is closer to Mr. and Mrs. Smith than it is Pineapple Express. It is a character driven movie with the two stars moving things forward in very real and very human ways. I give Landis credit here as the people in this movie are some of the most realistic and honest I have seen in a very long time.  The relationship between Jesse Eisenberg’s character Mike Howell and Kristen Stewarts Phoebe Larson felt like a real relationship. The dialogue and subtle interactions that the actors, Nima, and Landis spun together put more heart into this film than probably any film in the past two months.

This isn’t to say it isn’t filled with action, because it is. This isn’t to say it isn’t surreal at times, because it is. I found myself laughing at various intentional beats in the film due to their pure absurdity and the straight man reaction of the players. The best comedy, in my opinion, is that where the people who are delivering it act as if they aren’t in on the joke.  That said, there are few actual jokes and more moments that will make you laugh, make you smile, make you cry. There are more than enough scenes where you go “what the-“.

What helps here is the actors. Jesse Eisenberg (Social Network, Zombieland, Not Michael Cera…) is able to sell all the emotional roller coaster his character goes through. Partnering him with former Adventureland co-star Kristen Stewart (The Runaways, Twilight) was a good call. The two have genuine chemistry in this movie. The first twenty minutes have more ‘real talk’ and actual relationship type behaviors than any movie I have seen since If I Stay last year this time (almost to the date). That takes a lot of skill, subtlety, and more acting than people give Kristen Stewart, or Eisenberg, credit for. While Twilight has earned her much in the way of mocking, it also did not provide her a lot to work with and if this is the potential for the young actor, then I am happy to support her in future films – you should be too. As an aside I have an interest in seeing Adventureland now.

From a technical standpoint the movie is ok. Again there’s something just off about the pacing, but that might be intentional to allow some of the more awkward moments to sell. Some fights we get shaky cam, others we don’t. Obviously the ones without are superior. The make up work is solid for the injuries building throughout the film and looks as believable as the bloodsplatter looks ridiculously over the top. It isn’t Hammer films bad, but you know what you are seeing and aren’t seeing.


I frequently say in this section that the most successful films are those that evoke emotion. This made me tear up once or twice. It made me laugh a lot more. More than that though? It made me smile. It’s been a few weeks since I truly had a movie that I just found myself relaxing and enjoying through and through. It was a comfortable, fun little ride that I would probably go on again if asked. It’s also nice in a summer of sequels, remakes, reimaginings, and reboots to see and be able to celebrate an original property.

If the trailer above intrigued you , I would ask that you go see this movie this weekend. Don’t wait. Studios rarely care little beyond the actuals of the first weekend. With next to no movies coming up for a full month that look to be worth anything – give this one your time.

If you weren’t intrigued by the trailer or were put off by it, I understand. This won’t be the movie for you; so don’t try to defy the odds.

I am glad I got a chance to see this one tonight, make a chance for yourself.

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:



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!


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!