Thursday, April 28, 2016

Victor Frankenstein

Directed by Paul McGuigan. Written by Max Landis (screenplay) and Mary Shelley (novel). Starring Daniel Radcliffe (Igor), James McAvoy (Frankenstein), and Andrew Scott (Inspector Turpin). Bottom line: Victor Frankenstein is so bad it makes me wonder if filmmakers (actors or otherwise) regret participating in movies from time to time; it’s not fun bad, just bad bad. .5/4 Daniel Radcliffe provides the voice over introduction to Victor Frankenstein. “You know this story. The crack of lightning. A mad genius. An unholy creation.The world, of course, remembers the monster, not the man. But sometimes, when you look closely, there's more to a tale. Sometimes the monster is the man.” Did that just blow your mind?! But, wait, isn’t that kinda the whole point of the book? Now, I’m not knocking the movie for attempting to do something different but what Victor Frankenstein is doing feels really lazy. It’s not like they are reinterpreting the story or some of the major themes, it’s mostly just a recasting of superficial elements.. Now, the crux of the movie is, well, about Victor Frankenstein (McAvoy) and Igor (Radcliffe) as they struggle with the technical and ethical quandaries of reanimating life. In this iteration of the story, Igor is an abused clown in a steampunk circus. In his free time, he studies medicine. One thing leads to another and the young medical student, Frankenstein, recruits the clown to be a laboratory assistant. The graphics and special effects are perfectly ordinary. Style-wise, we have a steampunk feel. If you aren’t familiar with steampunk, it’s Victorian England with, potentially, futuristic technology; it has a lot of bronze work and pipes and steam. Fine. Whatever. I’m as big a fan of steampunk as the next guy but it feels like a marketing ploy here. I mean, Victor Frankenstein is big budget flick aimed at us millennials. Let me tell you, we love steam-punk. So it just feels like the decision of the marketing department to stylize the movie this way. There are other decisions that make me feel like this was marketed towards millennials but I’ll get more into that later. The dialog is dismal and it doesn’t help that everyone phones in their performance. Well, everyone except for James McAvoy, he’s just overacting the heck out of his role. He was so pleasant in X-Men: First Class why is he doing this? The story itself, at least the direction in this film, was disappointing. I’ll go into detail in a bit but, without spoiling anything here, it will suffice to say that it was a let down. Overall, I would recommend that you actively avoid Victor Frankenstein. It’s bad acting in a bad adaptation with tired art direction. Go and see Van Helsing if you want a supernatural but light and fun movie. Now, let’s discuss this movie in a little more detail -- so mind yourself of spoilers. I mentioned that this movie was geared towards millennials. Let me describe the plot a little more. So we have Igor, the character to whom we are supposed to relate. He’s just a guy who is really interested in medicine. Unfortunately, he’s trapped in an abusive world (the circus). He’s saved by Frankenstein and given the opportunity to do great things. We have Frankenstein whose all for science; he’s the “God is dead because science is awesome!” type of guy. I get the feeling that he’s supposed to be “cool” because he’s an atheist but he gets a little too carried away with his experiments for us to gravitate towards him. Meanwhile, a dogmatic, fundamentalist Christian inspector (Scott) pursues the protagonists. The inspector is definitely bad because he’s like our parents. This leaves us in the middle with Harry Potter (Igor, that is). He wants to study medicine and science because it’s interesting. He’s neither an angry atheist nor a Christian; he’s more of an agnostic. This moderate quality of the main protagonist is something I’ve noticed about other millennial movies. Consider Premium Rush starring Joseph-Gordon Levitt. He’s a Law student who doesn’t really want to be an attorney. He’s doing what he wants; and that means being a bicycle courier. But then the movie ends with the statement, “Maybe someday I’ll have a suit and tie job, but today I am going to ride.” Pick what you want, dude. I don’t want to hear any of this, “I’m young so I’m going to play and then I’ll grow up tomorrow,” nonsense. Victor Frankenstein is a lot like that too, particularly with Igor. This quality of the plot reminds me of what I understand of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. In his one book, he describes a shift in power dynamics in society. In the medieval period, we had knights and dukes and lords - the “nobility.” The nobility had the power because they took it and fought to keep it; they were like hawks. They were to whom we were to aspire. Hence, being “noble” is a positive trait. But, if they were so great and powerful, why did the system topple? It failed because of what Nietzsche calls “slave morality.” The slaves who opposed this feudal system didn’t actively rebel they just passively shuffled their feet until the system crumbled. In the metaphor where the nobles are the hawks, the slaves are the sheep. It’s a sort of passivity or apathy that characterizes the sheep. Before I get into how this ties into the movie, I feel like should note that one of the things about Nietzsche is that there are problematic ways to interpret his ideas, case and point, the Nazis. For our purposes, I’m pointing out some of the characteristics that he describes with respect to the movie. Igor, for example, wants to do science because it’s cool. He’s ok with reanimating animals but he mildly objects to reanimating a human. He says that he doesn’t want to participate anymore but he doesn’t really give a reason why. His reasons certainly aren’t the same as the fundamentalist inspector. He doesn’t actively support or oppose the experiments either. He just says, ‘I’m going away with my girlfriend.’ After all, it’s a whole lot easier to abstain than to give a definite answer. We have these driven characters but are left with the one standing still. Consider the final lines of the movie. Frankenstein writes Igor saying, “I’m continuing with my experiments… Be ready because I’ll call on you someday…” Frankenstein’s experiments are where it’s at, that’s where I want to be. I don’t want to be with Igor as he just shuffles about. Gah! There’s the rub. Maybe the reason I’m writing and thinking about this so much is because it hits close to home. The reason it’s frustrating though is because the film doesn’t provide anything satisfying. There’s no insight or direction or call to arms. It’s just a character that resonates with a target audience and that’s that. In a way, it reminds me of the phenomenal Italian movie Il Posto. It’s about a kid who gets a job at a big corporation. If you get a job at this corporation, you are pretty set for life; it’s a career that pays well. Sure, you’re stuck doing meaningless, boring work but it’s safe. II Posto is wonderfully thought provoking. Victor Frankenstein, on the other hand, feels like most of the decisions regarding message and plot were created for marketing purposes. It feels cheap and lazy. So, in summary, don’t see Victor Frankenstein. It’s a stupid movie and writing about it has made me mad. Stupid Victor Frankenstein… >:| In any case, thanks for reading! Have you made the mistake of seeing Victor Frankenstein? Please do let me know what you think in the comments!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Written and Directed by J.J. Abrams. Written by Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Ardnt, and George Lucas (characters by). Starring Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Fin), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron).

Bottom line: Star Wars: The Force Awakens was awesome; you don’t have to be a Star Wars fan (you don’t even have to have seen any of the other movies) to enjoy it.

Sometimes, when I write a movie review, I struggle to find a starting point. Some movies require a little background or description to help illustrate my points. It can be a pain if the movie is bad or convoluted. It’s worse in the case of the latter because I risk giving away too much of the plot. Fortunately for me, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does not fall into these categories. I don’t have to say very much at all about the plot to recommend it to you. In fact, I don’t think I’ll even go into the plot at all for my review.

Just about everything in this movie is wonderful. John Williams is back with another solid score (though it struck me again how his scores all sound the same). The dialog was solid. The graphics and special effects were splendid. (I’ve come to associate J.J. Abrams with his sense of moderation and taste). There are little bits of fan service (that is, stuff for returning fans) but it doesn’t get in the way. New characters and worlds were introduced smoothly and blended well with the returning characters.

The weakest part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the two-dimensional villains. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is going to be a trilogy but they still could’ve made the villains compelling, rather than hinting at a future back-story. That said, all the other characters were perfectly fine. I especially liked Harrison Ford’s return as the dashing rogue Han Solo. It was his most vitalized performance in quite a while.

I’ve also got to hand it to the merchandising powerhouse that is Disney. Everything in this movie, from the light-sabers and the blasters to the revamped X-Wings, can be turned into something to buy. At one point, a character jumps in a Tie Fighter and says, “I’ve always wanted to fly one of these.”
“Me too,” says I. Thank goodness I can in the new Star Wars: Battlefront III for the PS4!
Han Solo shoots Chewie’s crossbow, looks down at it, turns and says, “I gotta get me one of these.”
 “Can I have one of those too, Dad? And Kylo Ren’s light-saber too!”
Does this diminish the movie? Absolutely not, I just thought it was funny to see.

Now, I was never the biggest fan of Star Wars. It’s not that I dislike them I’ve just never really liked them. That said, I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve seen this twice so far and it got me pumped up each time. It made me want to go on an adventure. I wanted to fly around in space shipsHeck, I wanted to just be a part of the movie making process.

At this point, just about everyone on earth has seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens but if you haven’t, I highly recommend you do. The people I’ve met who haven’t seen it explain that they aren’t Star Wars fans. I assure you, you don’t have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy it. It’s fun if you are a Star Wars fan so you get some of the references but that’s just icing on the cake.