Tag Archives: Andrew Scott

Victor Frankenstein

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“People only remember the monster. Never the man”

Did you know that Igor isn’t part of Frankenstein’s story? Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t. Introduced back in the ’30s, the Igor we know started life as a character in 1939’s Son of Frankenstein. He wasn’t a lab assistant (good old Frank never had an assistant!) he was a semi-crippled blacksmith – I think. It’s been a while – who brought the monster back to life. Bastardised in the annals of Hollywood history, Igor now is as main a character in Frankenstein’s story as his monster and nowhere is that more apparent than in Victor Frankenstein, the latest retelling of this classic story for an ever more dulled down audience.

Told from the point of view of Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), and going so far as to give the hunchback a backstory as a circus freak, he is rescued from a life of cruel beatings by a charismatic stranger who sees potential in the young man playing doctor when he’s not taking a whooping. That stranger is none other than Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and boy does he have a job for our young hunchback. Draining out Igor’s hump (an abscess apparently), straps him into a primitive lifting belt to straighten him up and such, a man is born. Now we have the hunchback and the mad scientist, we just need the monster. Here, friends, is where the fun begins.

Good ol’ Vic Frank spends his days toiling away in his basement, sewing together bits of animals together that Igor has, for want of a better word, fixed. Having taken the dead bits from inside and outside a host of different species, Frankenstein sets about creating life from death and proving that it doesn’t take God to create a man. All the while trying to avoid the prying of London’s police force who are on the hunt for the man acquiring body parts by nefarious means. Hiding from a near obsessive Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott), Frankenstein’s quest for life turns into a bit of a cat-and-mouse game for his freedom and his experiments.

It took less than ten minutes for Victor Frankenstein to show its influences and aspirations and believe it or not, the damn film is trying exceptionally hard to be Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes. Now, I’m quite a fan of Robert Downey Jr’s detective, but even I know they’re not particularly good films and any film trying to draw inspiration from others should be aiming a damn sight higher than some junk-food-for-the-brain silliness that craps all over its source material. Even the daft, over-stylised fighting has been transplanted into this shoddy mess of a film. To say the writers worked hard would be giving too much credit, but you can tell what they wanted was to mimic the buddy cop style relationship between Holmes and Watson with Igor and Victor but the relationship, not for a lack of trying on the parts of our stars, just falls flat and lifeless.

Direction falls somewhere between the gothic by numbers of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the modern gothic of Underworld. Having almost no imagination, it’s a struggle to find a single original idea and where it references something from its source material, instead of treating it with even a hint of respect, it shits all over it. Vic’s creature was always simply his “monster”, or his “creature” and in the book, it simply doesn’t have a name. So when Dr. Frank names the monster “Prometheus” it doesn’t only crap all over Mary Shelley’s story, but it takes a hot early morning piss all over the actual Prometheus – the Greek god that breathed life into man at the behest of Zeus – while little bits like that won’t bother many, those kind of things really grind on my nerves and it was just another reason for me to never, ever recommend this film to anyone.

A few interesting effects, Victor’s first creation is a particular high point; gross, spectacular and just a little twisted and a couple of sometimes unintentionally funny lines aren’t enough to make this film worth your time. Almost everything about it is bland, and I can’t abide that. The leads are completely wasted in this movie that commits the worst of sins; it’s completely forgettable! I walked out of the screening having huffed an almighty “meh”, and by the time I got home, I was struggling to remember anything about it. I could forgive a film being crap, I can’t forgive a film being so vanilla that I struggle to think of a memorable moment in the whole thing.

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SPECTRE

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Sam Mendes is back in the hand-stitched, luxurious leather driving seat of the 007 series as the next instalment of British espionage kills and thrills reaches the US shores this weekend.

by Owen Hughes @ohughes86

Celebrating fifty years of James Bond, Eon’s twenty third film in the series, Skyfall, was released back in October 2012 and became an enormous runaway success. Accolade after accolade was poured over it – and rightly so, as it was a thoroughly entertaining action film. Our readers and listeners certainly thought very highly of it, voting it above the likes of Amour, The Intouchables, Argo and The Dark Knight Rises back in 2012’s Failed Critics Awards.

It might be fair to say then that the weight of expectation on SPECTRE couldn’t have been higher. Skyfall ably dealt with the notion that James Bond, the suave British super spy, just wasn’t suited to the modern world. That he was too old. Too outdated. Much like Casino Royale did in 2006, it found a way to make him relevant again.

Surely then, SPECTRE wasn’t going to go over the same old ground, right?

Well, not exactly.

Facing a new Orwellian threat that takes Bond across Europe to track down a secret organisation, whilst also under pressure back home with MI6 under scrutiny for its actions, it crosses almost every box on the 007 checklist. Trains, snow, Bond-girls and Aston Martins; if you’re planning on playing a drinking game with SPECTRE, you will be inebriated within half an hour, having your stomach pumped before you’re even half way through the enormous 148 minute run time, and dead before the film has finished.

But it’s not just regular tropes of the series that make a re-appearance. Again, the idea that the secret agent is an outdated practice is continued from the previous movie. Whilst Skyfall focussed primarily on James Bond being too old, this time around it’s expanded to examine the methods employed by MI6 as a whole.

Although SPECTRE is mostly entertaining, one of its biggest problems is that by asking you to consider a world where we have surveillance drones, billions of mobile devices and CCTV cameras on every corner, why do we persist with a man in a tuxedo sneaking into a party to seduce the crime-bosses wife for tidbits of information. The ultimate conclusion is of course a combination of “the old ways are the best” and “nobody does it better”, but unless the audience are well read on their 1984’s and Brave New World’s, what exactly is the problem with information gathering in the way that’s proposed? Why is it so menacing? Is your freedom more valuable than your safety? Whatever your opinion, SPECTRE never fully addresses the issues with this “newer” method beyond showing you that the guy collecting the information is evil.

Speaking of the bad-guy, Christoph Waltz plays the latest Bond villain with relish. His softly spoken, quietly sinister performance is easily the best in this modern era against Daniel Craig’s all action hero. I’m a big fan of Mads Mikkelsen and Javier Bardem (let’s just pretend Quantum of Solace doesn’t exist, as SPECTRE seems to do as well) and they both bring something different to the series, but Oberhauser is perhaps the most nuanced opposite to James Bond thus far. It’s the age-old battle of brains and exploding-gadget-and-fast-cars-braun.

Craig may be getting sick of playing the role, with this possibly being his last appearance as Bond, but he once again seems entirely comfortable at being the rugged interpretation of Ian Flemming’s character. One who doesn’t mind getting his shoes scuffed and suit ruffled in the pursuit of his nemesis. Just watch him during the absolutely incredible opening scene set in Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. He has the swagger, the charisma and perfect timing to please fans of the series, no matter who your favourite version of the character is. Prefer the goofy Roger Moore take? Craig is more then able to match the comic timing Moore offers. Enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s confidence and cheekyness? Bingo. It’s all there in that opening 15 minutes.

The support cast are all decent enough too. Léa Seydoux as Madeleine – the closest the film gets to having the staple Bond-girl – does a good job at modernising the role. She’s not a floozie there only to fall under the charms of 007 and provide the audience with a bit of eye candy. One scene in particular on a train journey draws us back into the narrative of old-versus-new as she shows she doesn’t need Bond to show her how to use a gun. It’s a subtle development of a role that in the past has been reduced to little more than a damsel in distress that needs the big rugged man to come and save her.

Ralph Fiennes adds his own take on M, whose relationship to Bond has a lot more animosity and begrudging respect than when Judi Dench was in the role previously. Q (Ben Wishaw) is also given a lot more exposure this time around. His quirkiness will either annoy you or feel like a welcome break in the pace of relentless, non-stop action scenes and (£24m worth of) exploding vehicles. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), C (Andrew Scott), Hinx (Dave Bautista) and Lucia (Monica Belluci) are reduced to minor supporting roles which seems a shame, but they all do well with what they’re given.

Overall, for such a long film, it doesn’t ever feel boring or stretched. It suffers from a Skyfall hangover as it will constantly be compared to its predecessor, and in that regard, it is the lesser film. The way it retrofits itself onto the rest of the rebooted franchise is contrived at best and just nonsensical at worst, but it doesn’t detract too much from its own plot. Effectively, it hinges on the relationship between Craig, Seydoux and Waltz (whose appearance really could have come sooner on in the movie) which is well developed across the course of the film, but is not quite enough to elevate it to the delirious heights of Mendes’ last feature.

So no, I don’t expect the Bond revival to die with SPECTRE. Bond (James Bond) is bigger than one film, but as to where I see the film heading next? I honestly have no idea – but I am excited to find out.

You can listen to Owen, Steve Norman, Tony Black and Brian Plank review SPECTRE as well as induct James Bond into our Corridor of Praise on the podcast released back in October.

Pride

Although it plays it a bit too safe at times, Pride really is a feel-good triumph.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

PRIDETrailers are funny beasts.  Their stated goal is to sell you a movie by showing you enough to get you interested whilst accurately representing the film that you’ll be plonking down hard earned cash to watch.  Most of the time, though, they go a bit too far.  They spoil most setpieces or plot points in search of the all-important money shot and to find that unique hook to draw you in (I’m pretty sure that the only thing that the trailer for next week’s A Walk Among The Tombstones didn’t spoil is the identity of the villains), and sometimes they just straight up lie about the kind of film you might be sitting down to watch (Lucy may have been utterly insane, as the trailer indicated it would be, but it was hardly a movie bursting at the seams with action, not that I’m complaining).  Pride was one of those cases where the trailer misrepresented the film into looking like it was going to be something that it wasn’t.  A comedy-drama in which a group of “not-normals” come into an ignorant village and their mere presence causes everyone to learn to be more tolerant, whilst some famous faces act innocently insensitive at points for comedic effect?  I literally just ripped Million Dollar Arm to shreds for not bothering to characterise its “not-normals” and being only focussing on the innocently insensitive normals two weeks back!  Why should I give this one the benefit of any doubt?

So I entered Pride with my skepticals firmly attached.  I was all set to find this one yet another example of a “nice” film that got ideas above its station and failed miserably at being an awards-bait film that wanted to say something.  So, imagine my surprise when, at around about the 30 minute mark, I found myself really invested in Pride.  See, Pride is much lower-key than its early-Autumn awards season release date and “two groups of differing ends of whatever scale learn to get along” premise and marketing suggest.  Pride is not trying to say much beyond the obvious “for the love of the Maker, people, we are all humans, just get along already!”  It has pretty much no pretentious towards earning as many awards as the producers can fit into their cabinets.  No, Pride just wants to tell a story.  Pride wants to tell a story about characters, about people.

And that’s really where the film’s secret to its success comes from.  This is a story about people and how a shared crisis causes them to come together in solidarity.  Yes, the message is still of tolerance, but it comes naturally from the story, the result of fire-forged friends building mutual respect with one another that creates bonds for life.  Pride’s masterstroke, and this really should be the norm instead of the exception so I’m a bit peeved that I have to point this out, is that it humanizes the gays and lesbians.  Whereas a lesser film would have made them interchangeable or simply made them blank slates that we’re only supposed to care about because the “normal” protagonists have everything riding on them, Pride makes them human, gives them agency, gives them their own characteristics and individual personalities and arcs.  They aren’t just some nebulous force that further the “normal” protagonists arcs, nor are they something to force a whole bunch of jokes off of.  They’re people.  Individual people!

The events of the film are predominately seen through their eyes, with only occasional scenes that come solely from the viewpoint of the mining community, and it works gangbusters.  We see how they convinced a town to warm up to them through their charming personalities and the genuine good that they do, rather than just their mere presence warming the hearts of the grinches.  We see how they’re not some unified force of good that’s completely free of human foibles; there are frequent rumblings from the few lesbians that are part of the group of creating a splinter-group solely dedicated to lesbians, they get into arguments with one another, they make mistakes, they can be just as prejudiced as the people who hate them.  They feel human, like real people, not a walking embodiment of tolerance messages.

For example, there’s a relationship between the elder gay men of the group, Gethin (Andrew Scott) and Jonathan (Dominic West), and the film treats it as no big deal.  There is no giant meet-cute, there’s no big second act break-up and their relationship is not a big plot point.  They are a couple, they bicker and fight occasionally, and they love each other; Pride expects the audience to accept that as a thing that would happen and move on.  Joe (George McKay) is a shy gay man who learns to embrace his sexuality thanks to the events of the story, an arc that admittedly doesn’t hit as hard as it should because he gets lost in the ensemble shuffle but is still nice to see because, again, it humanizes him and makes him a well-defined character.  Mark (rising star Ben Schnetzer who is phenomenal in this) comes into his own as a leader thanks to the support he receives from the mining community and the success the campaign gets, until tragedy throws him into self-doubt.  They all tease each other, share little in-jokes and nicknames and give off the spirit of being true companions.  That’s how the film works!  These are people, and that’s what makes the film engaging and investing even when it hits the obvious beats (you get one guess as to why the film makes a point to mention that gays don’t go out collecting alone), writer Stephen Beresford being that good at crafting these characters.

The same is true of the citizens of the Welsh mining village (which, unless I’m mistaken, is never actually given a name).  The bigotry is clearly fuelled by ignorance and improper knowledge and, though the moment where they come around to the gays and lesbians is mostly encapsulated in one scene, the change is one that comes on naturally as a result of actions that occur by the characters rather than a magic switch flipping from “Irrational Bigotry” to “Total Slavish Devotion”.  It feels more natural instead of obviously constructed, even if it still really is very constructed.  The one misstep that the film makes with them is to personify the attitudes and bigotry into one person, specifically one family, that of the head of the mining council.  It feels like taking the easy way out, crafting an obvious easily hateable and personable villain, designed to quickly and easily remind viewers that not everybody supports the gays and lesbians siding with the miners rather than trusting that the viewers can just figure that out for themselves or leaving the villainy as an over-arching concept.

In fact, that’s representative of the only real fault that Pride has: a little too often does the film take the easy way out.  It softens edges, follows formula, plays it safe.  This isn’t really a comedy (despite what the prior mentioned trailer sold it as) but the times when the film awkwardly stretches for laughs in order to keep the film from getting too dramatic, which are infrequent but do happen, are the weakest, like it doesn’t have enough faith in the material for the audience to hang on for the feel-good ending to this “feel-good” story.  When the inevitable outcome of why gays don’t go out collecting alone comes about, the film just cuts to the awhile after the aftermath, robbing the scene of all but the tiniest part of its impact (for contrast, look at the scene in Brokeback Mountain when the inevitable possibly happened and the film forced you to watch the majority of it).  The score is exactly as generic and manipulative as you’re expecting, never getting off-beat enough to reflect the subject matter and the best instances of the film’s tone, and unnecessarily intruding on scenes that were already getting their point across before you laboured it, thank you kindly.  When the obvious constructed nature of this “feel-good-based-on-a-true” story pokes through the otherwise natural pacing and character-work, which isn’t too often but is often enough for me to mark it down, the magic takes a hit and a great drama is brought down to the level of a very good biopic.

But I’m not prepared to knock the film too much for all of that, as the fact of the matter is that I was engaged and invested in Pride for the majority of the two hours that it ran for.  I was entertained by the less-forced humour, completely behind the campaign and caring for the characters that were involved in it, and was filled with little swells in my heart when acceptance started winning out.  It’s got some great performances by both the more established actors (Bill Nighy, in particular, scores major points for a pair of late-film scenes that re-contextualise his deliberate underplaying of his role perfectly), although that’s expected to be the case when you sign people like Dominic West and Imelda Staunton and Andrew Scott up for anything, and the newer-kids-on-the-block (the aforementioned Ben Schnetzer, but there’s also George MacKay’s very well-delivered youthful uncertainty and This Is England’s Joe Gilgun doing a great job as the anchor to the group).  I’ve already mentioned the character work…  See, there’s not a lot to Pride and even less as to why it works, but that’s kind of its charm.  It doesn’t get ideas above its station, it isn’t openly trying to be a “message movie,” it instead puts its eggs into the character basket and expects that the rest will slot into place.  And it all does; very much so.

To put it another way, Pride is the kind of film that, even though history deems this to be all-set for a downer ending, manages to manufacture an uplifting climax anyway, complete with “Where Are They Now?” text descriptors, and my criticism of said thing only amounted to “the text descriptors are a little unnecessary.”  I was really pleasantly surprised by this one, folks, and I have the feeling that other people like me may be too.  And for those who took one look at the trailer and thought this would be the film for them?  They’re more than likely going to love it.

Callum Petch is a born-again poor man’s son.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!