Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Frankenstein Blog-a-thon: Closing Thoughts

Over the course of the past two months I have watched a total of eleven films based on Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. They all had very different ways of bringing the story to life with some varying degrees of success. I've quite enjoyed seeing all these different versions of the story and even though there are still more Frankenstein movies that I have not seen, I feel that it is time to bring this Blog-a-thon to a close. Honestly, as much as I love the story I think I have burned myself out on Frankenstein for now.

It didn't really surprise me that my favorite of the bunch was Frankenstein (1931). It is a very well made movie and Boris Karloff is great as the creature. Bride of Frankenstein (1935) follows behind at a close second. I know a lot of people actually prefer Bride but to me it added some unneeded camp that actually detracted from the story in my opinion. It did however manage to have a lot of heart and add some interesting elements to the story.

I would say that Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969) was probably the most unique of the Frankenstein movies that I watched. It took a very different approach to the story in that there was no actual creature and the story focused more on Victor Frankenstein. While I wouldn't rank it as one of my favorite Frankenstein films, I appreciate the unique approach that it took. It managed to keep a lot of the feelings and themes of the story in tact even though it vastly changed the plot. I guess in the end it is more of a sequel to the known story of Frankenstein than it is an adaptation and in that way it works very well.

I would say the biggest surprise of this Blog-a-thon came from 1992 Frankenstein TV movie starring Randy Quaid. While this was not actually a very good version of the story it did a couple things that really impressed me. First, Randy Quaid was incredible as the creature. In my opinion he gave an even better performance than Robert Deniro. The other interesting thing this version managed was to create a unique method for the creation of the creature. The creation method employed by Victor Frankenstein had not changed much since the 1931 version of the film but this version managed to take a chance and do something unique and interesting.

I think the most disappointing version I watched was Frankenstein: The True Story (1973). I had kind of assumed from the title that it would follow the book more closely than the versions that had preceded it. This version ended up taking just as many liberties with the stories as every version that had come before it though. The only difference here was that the changes made to the story in this version were not at all interesting. Overall it was just a very boring telling of the story. It wasn't quite as bad as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) but then that one was never meant to be a serious attempt to adapt the story.

There are still a few more versions of Frankenstein that I need to see. Eventually I would like to see the rest of the films in the Hammer Frankenstein series. Andy Worhal's Flesh For Frankenstein (1973) is also on my list of Frankenstein movies to eventually see. The Bride (1985) starring Sting was also recommended to me and I will hopefully get around to watching it as well. There was also a TV movie based on Dean Koontz's Frankenstein novels starring Parker Posey that I would like to watch as well. In that case though, I may try to read the books first and see how they are.

Also, while doing my research for different films to watch during this blog-a-thon I ran across rumors of two Frankenstein remakes in the works. It seems that both Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are on the list of films to be remade. Any news out there about these movies is strictly rumor so there isn't much to report on them. However, I did find one of these rumors to be very interesting. Apparently Guillermo del Toro is interested in putting his stamp on the story of Frankenstein. I would actually be quite interested to see what he does with the story. He has a unique visual style that I think would be great and he seems like the kind of director that could put his own interesting spin on the story.

I've really enjoyed watching these films and writing about them for this blog-a-thon. It was the first time that I really put a lot of long-term effort into creating something for my blog and I think it turned out really well. I was really glad to see that I got a pretty good response and that has made me want to do another blog-a-thon at some point in the future. I'll just have to think of another topic that would be as awesome as Frankenstein.

So, thank you all my wonderful readers for checking out the Frankenstein Blog-a-thon. I hope that now that it is over you will still stick around and see what else I have to say about other films.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Frankenstein (2004 - Hallmark Miniseries) - Kevin Connor

Frankenstein (2004 - Hallmark Miniseries)
Director: Kevin Connor
Writers: Mary Shelley (Novel), Mark Kruger (Teleplay)
Starring: Luke Goss, Alec Newman, Julie Delpy, Nicole Lewis, Monika Hilmerová, Donald Sutherland, William Hurt

Over the past couple months I have watched a whole lot of Frankenstein films. The Frankenstein Hallmark Miniseries (2004) is the last one on my list for my Frankenstein blog-a-thon and is probably the one to most closely follows the story told in Mary Shelley's novel. It seems that great care was taken to adapt the novel as faithfully as possible. However, as we've learned with most Frankenstein movies before this, following the story from the book does not always make the best movie.

This is definitely not a bad version of the story but honestly it isn't anything special either. The acting, directing, set design and writing are all passable but there isn't anything that makes them stand out above any other Frankenstein film. I enjoyed it while I was watching it but I really have no desire to ever revisit the film.

While the film isn't really bad, the one thing that kind of makes it hard to enjoy is the long running time. This was originally aired as a television miniseries and after awhile it just starts to get kind of dull. Towards the end of the film I found that even though most of the acting and the story were passable, they were only passable for so long. There wasn't really enough here to carry a movie of over 200 minutes.

There isn't really a whole lot to complain about in the film but there also isn't really much to praise either. It is one of the films that sits right in the middle; It isn't bad, it isn't good... it just is. Because of that this is probably going to be a pretty short review. I will say that for a TV movie it handles most things better the 1992 version starring Randy Quaid. However Randy Quaid made a much better monster than Luke Goss.

While I found the acting from Luke Goss to be just fine in the film I didn't much care of this portrayal of the creature. I understand that in this version of the film they were trying show that the creature is not really a monster but is gentle and kind. I think they went to far with this though. One of the problems was that they didn't make the creature at all monstrous looking. This is a problem when people are supposed to be shunning the creature because of how different and ugly he looks. The creature just looks far too normal for it to be believable when people start running away from him for no other reason than his appearance.

"Oh no! Run a away! Its a tall guy with blotchy skin and long hair!"

The creature also seems to become articulate must faster in this version of the story than in any other. His transition from a creature with no idea of who he is or where he came from to an intelligent creature isn't really fleshed out enough in my opinion. This is kind of disappointing because of how long the film is. It seems they could have taken a lot more time to flesh out this part of the story.

When it comes down it this is a okay version of the story but there isn't really much to it. I am not sorry I sat down to watch it but I don't see myself ever sitting down to watch it again. In the end most of the film is just rather forgettable and that could probably be one of the other reasons that this review is running so short. If the movie just isn't that memorable it is going to be hard to find any to really write about.

Rating: 5/10

Friday, August 21, 2009

Transmorphers (2007) - Leigh Scott

Transmorphers (2007)
Director: Leigh Scott
Writer: Leigh Scott
Starring: Matthew Wolf, Griff Furst, Eliza Swenson, Amy Weber, Shaley Scott, Jeff Denton, Thomas Downey, Leigh Scott

While watching this movie the following questions were running through my head: Who would actually intentionally make a movie this bad? Who would actually sit and write the horrible dialog that is in this movie? Who would actually hire these incredibly wooden actors to star in the movie? Of course the question I should be asking is: Who would actually sit through this entire movie? Unfortunately the answer to that question is rather simple and probably somewhat shameful; I would.

When I say this movie is bad I mean it is really bad. I can't think of any superlative good enough to describe just how bad this movie is. I assumed that it would be one of those movies that was so bad that it turned out to be funny. No, it is even worse than that. It is so bad that there is no fun in it at all. Oh, how I wish that I were exaggerating.

The acting is far too wooden and it doesn't help that the script is terrible. There is nothing clever and all the jokes in the film fall completely flat. If the actors had at least tried to ham it up a little bit they might have been able to at least interject some humor into the film. An actor can take a terrible script and make it pretty funny if they just take it way over the top. If all you do is recite the lines in a completely monotone voice, you're not going to give the viewers anything to laugh at. Hell, Megan Fox's acting in Transformers (2007) is better than any of the acting in this film.

Now, I would talk about how much this movie rips off of other films but honestly that is to be expected. The entire business of The Asylum studio is to rip off and cash in on whatever big movie is popular at the time. I just wonder how much time and effort they actually put into these films and wonder if they expect anyone to like them or are they just hoping that they will cash in on all the people that buy this accidentally when they are looking for Transformers. That isn't the only film they ripped off for this one though, I honestly think they stole an entire chunk of dialog from Demolition Man (1993).

Now, you would think that there would at least be some fun in the movie from giant robot fights but you would be wrong. For a movie about giant robots there are surprisingly few actual giant robots in the movie. When they are seen it is usually so dark that you can barely see what is going on and when you do get a good view of the robots they look terribly cartoonish. They actually say in the film that when the robots came to earth they changed the atmosphere to make it dark all the time. I am guessing the real reason for this is that darkness helps hide how low budget the film really is.

The movie is actually more about conflicts between the people fighting the robots than it is about their actual fight with the robot. This would be fine if the conflicts between people were well written and interesting but they are not. These are some of the most cliched conflicts between people I have ever seen. With a movie like this we aren't looking for personal conflicts that mostly involve dialog, damn it. We want giant robot fights and this movie seriously lacks that.

As I have been writing this review I have been trying to think of at least one redeeming quality that the movie has so that I don't have to rate it a zero but I can't think of anything. This is just one of the most incompetent pieces of film making I have ever seen and that it not an exaggeration. I can't even bring myself to give the movie a point for effort because it seems like no one was putting forth any. When watching this movie you can really see that the filmmakers and actors just don't even care whether or not they are making a good movie. This could have had potential to fall into the "so bad it is good" category but the filmmakers couldn't even get that right.

Of course... as bad as this film was I'll still end up watching the sequel. Sometimes my morbid curiosity just gets the better of me. I mean, it can't be any worse... right?

Rating: 0/10

Friday, August 14, 2009

Frankenstein (1992 - Turner TV Movie) - David Wickes

Frankenstein (1992 - Turner TV Movie)
Director: David Wickes
Writers: David Wickes (Screenplay), Mary Shelley (Novel)
Starring: Patrick Bergin, Randy Quaid, John Mills, Lambert Wilson, Fiona Gillies, Jacinta Mulcahy

When I first started this Frankenstein Blog-a-thon I could only really remember having seen Frankenstein (1931) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994). However, I did have one small memory in my head from another version of the story but I could not place which version it came from. In my head I had a brief image of Frankenstein's Monster being created in a vat of liquid by a process that was much more like cloning than the normal piecing together of dead body parts that are in most film versions of the story.

It took a little research to realize what version it was and when I found out that Randy Quaid played the creature in this version I decided I had to put it on my list for the Blog-a-thon. I wasn't sure exactly how Randy Quaid would be as the creature but I thought that seeing him play the part would be at least interesting.

You would think that would be the end of it. I knew what movie I needed to see, so I could just go to Netflix and rent it, right? Wrong. Apparently this version is not on DVD (there is probably good reason for that but I will get to that later). I did some research on Ebay and was able to find a used VHS copy for fairly cheap so I went ahead and bought it. Of course it actually turned out to be a screener copy so the message "Demo Tape Only. Sale or Rental Prohibited" would scroll across the bottom of the screen occasionally. That didn't really bother me though. I was just glad that I was going to get to review the movie for my blog-a-thon.

However, my excitement at getting the see the movie was pretty well squashed once I actually started watching it. To be frank it is just not a very good version of the story. For the most part it stays pretty close to the story told in the book. Some things are left out or changed but the main parts of the story are there just in a very condensed fashion. When it comes down to it though, this is a made for TV movie and that really shows.

The production values for the film are ridiculously poor. When Frankenstein is chasing his creature through the Arctic, the snow looks like it made from styrofoam. The ship they encounter there looks more like a set than an actual ship. In fact most of the sets in the film look more like sets than they do actual locations. It is one of those things that is hard to explain but you kind of know it when you see it.

The acting in the film is for the most part pretty bad. It isn't even up to par with the acting of most other TV movies. Patrick Bergin does not do a good job at all of portraying Dr. Frankenstein's obsession with creating life. He never once shows any of that madness that is in most of the good portrayals of the character. The actors playing Clerval, Elizabeth and Justine are not very believable in their roles either. It seems like no one seems to have any kind of chemistry with anyone else in the movie.

The only actor in the movie that is any good is Randy Quaid. In fact Randy Quaid is actually the best part of this film. He does a really good job in his portrayal of the creature. He is believable when showing both the gentle side of the creature during the beginning of the film and the more vengeful side of the creature later in the film. In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say that his portrayal of the creature is far better than Robert De Niro's.

I also liked the makeup that was used for the creature in this version of the film. It is nothing at all like the classic make up used in previous films. It actually seems to be the closest to the spirit of the book than any of the version before it. He still looks human for the most part, however he is grotesque with deformed facial features. Also, much like in the book the creature in this version is stronger and more agile than he is portrayed in other versions of the story. He is also not the dumb brute that he is in some film versions. He actually has intelligence in this version of the story and that was nice to see.

As I stated earlier in the review this version does use a unique creation method for the creature. The book never states how Dr. Frankenstein creates his creature, there is never any talk of digging up dead bodies and using the parts to construct a creature. This film uses a process where Dr. Frankenstein kind of creates a clone of himself that becomes his creation. It was nice to see a film that actually took a unique approach to creating the monster even if the rest of the film wasn't nearly as creative.

This version does add one other thing to the story that didn't work for me at all. It seems that Dr. Frankenstein and his creature share some kind of psychic bond in this version of the story. Whenever the creature is in some way injured, Victor is able to feel it. This psychic connection also seems to help guide the creature and help him to learn. I am not exactly sure why the writer felt the need to add that to the film. There is no basis for it in any other version of the story and it did nothing at all to help the film.

It was nice to see that the film makers tried to stay as close to the book as they could even though they make a few changes in order to condense the story into a shorter time frame. Overall the bad acting and the low production values cause the movie to fall flat most of the time (no need to wonder why this one didn't get a DVD release). I do have to give the movie some bonus points for having a unique and interesting creation method for the creature though. Also, Randy Quaid's portrayal of the monster manages to at least make parts of the movie interesting.

Rating: 5/10

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) - Kenneth Branagh

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Mary Shelley (Novel), Steph Lady (Screenplay), Frank Darabont (Screenplay)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hulce, Helena Bonham Carter, Aidan Quinn, Ian Holm, Richard Briers, John Cleese

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) is kind of a hard film for me to judge. I really respect the attempt that Kenneth Branagh made to stick to Mary Shelley's original story. However, in the end the story isn't told as well as it could have been. All the important parts of the story are there but the film never seems to get the tone just right. In some ways trying to put so much from the book into the movie was probably more detrimental than anything else. It doesn't allow for the time needed to properly flesh out different parts of the story.

I think a lot of the problems with the film come from the acting. There are a lot of really good actors in this film but none of them seem to fit the part they are playing. I have not seen Kenneth Branagh in much else but I have heard from many people that he is a wonderful Shakespearean actor. He is just never convincing as Dr. Frankenstein though. The obsessive madness needed for the character just never comes through in my opinion. Helena Bonham Carter was also miscast as Elizabeth. Don't get me wrong I think Helena is a beautiful and talented actress but she just wasn't right for this part.

Robert De Niro probably gave the best performance of the movie but even he wasn't great in the film. I think it was probably a mistake to hire a big name actor for the part of the creature in this film. I think a more unknown actor would have been much better in the role. Even with all the heavy make up it was hard to see past De Niro and at least a couple times in the movie he would stand in a way that really reminded me of Travis Bickle, his character from Taxi Driver (1976). I think he also takes his performance just a notch or two over the top in some places, especially in scenes where the creature is crying.

While the film does make an effort to follow Shelley's novel more closely than any other film adaptation has in the past, it still does take some missteps. I felt that the creatures transformation from gentle creature to vengeful monster happened just a bit to quickly. I understand that he felt abandoned but it just seemed very abrupt when he decided to take his revenge on Victor. Towards the end the film a few liberties are taken with the character of Elizabeth which creates a major plot point that wasn't from the book. I didn't so much mind this plot point as it helped tie up the story a little quicker than the book does which is kind of necessary for a film.

One of the things that I really did like about the film was the cinematography. I really think the film had a great look to it. Quite often the colors in the film seemed muted and dull, especially in parts of the film involving the creature. I thought this went pretty far in helping to portray the loneliness of the creature. I also kind of liked the look of the creature in this film. The make up was a bit less extreme in this and he looked more like a person than in previous films. He wasn't huge and disproportionate as he had been in other film versions. About the only thing that set him apart from everyone else was that he appeared to be stitched together.

Overall I don't think this is a bad telling of the story of Frankenstein but I do think that it could have been a lot better. With different casting and possibly different direction this could have been a really great film. While the story was condensed quite a bit from the book I think Branagh tried to put far too much into the movie and in the end it was too big of a task for him. There were a few superfluous things here and there that could have been cut from the film to help focus the story just a bit more.

Rating: 6/10

Saturday, August 8, 2009

(500) Days of Summer (2009) - Marc Webb

(500) Days of Summer (2009)
Director: Marc Webb
Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Zooey Deschanel, Geoffrey Arend, Chloe Moretz, Matthew Gray Gubler, Clark Gregg, Patricia Belcher, Rachel Boston, Minka Kelly

(500) Days of Summer (2009) lets you know what to expect from it pretty early on. The film opens with the following title cards:
- Author's Note: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

- Especially you Jenny Beckman.

- Bitch.
With that, you can tell that this is not going to be your typical Hollywood romantic comedy. And as if to cement that notion into your head an added voice over narration tells us that even though this may look like a love story, it is not. However knowing that up front in no way makes this film predictable.

This film does not follow the normal pattern of the Hollywood romantic comedy. Your typical Hollywood romance goes like this; 1 - Boy falls for Girl. 2 - Girl falls for Boy. 3 - Boy does something to royally screw things up. 4 - After much soul searching (and usually some form of personal humiliation) Boy convinces Girl to take him back. 5 - Movies ends and we are to assume that Boy and Girl live happily ever after.

The relationship between Summer (The beautiful Zooey Deschanel) and Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) plays out more like a real relationship than one that normally takes place in a movie. There are good times, there are bad times and in the end it is either going to work out or it isn't. It isn't going to follow some predetermined set of rules though because no two relationships are the same and very few follow the Hollywood pattern.

There are a few things that make this movie as wonderful as it was. To begin with, it had a wonderful script. It told a wonderful story and there was a lot of witty and fun dialog in the film but not so witty that it seemed fake (I'm looking at you, Juno*). However, as great as the script was it took really good actors to pull it off and Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt play their characters perfectly. On top of that they also have a great on screen chemistry and this helps the audience to really feel the ups and downs in the relationship along with them.

This was director Marc Webb's first feature film and he does a really good job. I did notice the mark of the first time director here and there but not enough to really make a difference on the quality of the film. As with a lot of first time directors there are parts of the film that seem to be there just to be cool. However, considering that the film had kind of a goofy sense of humor about itself these parts were not as noticeable as they usually are in a director's first films. Overall I think Webb did a very good job bringing the story to life and I can't wait to see what he does next.

Webb also seemed to take a lot of inspiration from Woody Allen. This isn't just because of the way he chose to show romance in a different way than most Hollywood films. He also seemed to take a lot of inspiration from how Woody Allen incorporates locations in his films. Woody Allen loves New York and it shows in his films. Marc Webb seemed to have the same love for Los Angeles in this film, making the city look beautiful for the audience. Beyond that Webb also seemed borrow Woody Allen's habit of borrowing directly from Ingmar Bergman. Marc Webb used these homages to Bergman to add some very enjoyable humor to the film.

Overall I think this was a very wonderful film. The entire cast had great chemistry together. You could tell that Marc Webb was really interested in telling this story and you can really see in the film how much fun was had making it. From the start of the film the characters draw you in and even though the film tells you what to expect from the beginning it is never predictable and may actually surprise you in a few places.

Rating: 8/10

* Don't get me wrong, I thought Juno was a lot of fun but the dialog did come across as fake quite a bit.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Moon (2009) - Duncan Jones

Moon (2009)
Director: Duncan Jones
Writers: Duncan Jones (Original Story), Nathan Parker (Screenplay)
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey, Matt Berry, Robin Chalk, Dominique McElligott, Kaya Scodelario, Malcolm Stewart, Benedict Wong

I will start off by saying that Moon (2009) was not at all what I expected. That is not at all a bad thing though. While the trailers made the film look interesting, it kind of came across as more suspenseful, thriller type movie. While the movie does have quite a few moments of suspense, it is more of a character drama than it is a thriller. The story was a lot more straight forward than I expected it to be and I think I really liked that about the film.

I don't want to give to much away but when it comes down to it Moon is a deceptively simple film. Sam Bell is nearing the end of his three year contract as a miner alone on the moon. He is responsible for keeping the machinery running and making sure the Earth gets the Helium-3 that has become our main source of energy. Now that he is so close to going home things begin to happen that make him question everything around him.

Two things make this film work. First, the script is really well done. Sam Bell is an interesting character and his story is very well told. The other thing that makes the film work is Sam Rockwell. He carries this movie by himself for the most part. For most of the film he is talking to himself except of course when he is talking to GERTY, the computer on the station voiced by Kevin Spacey. This movie would not work if Sam Rockwell were not up to the task of starring in a film practically by himself but he is able to rise to the challenge.

The film is in some ways very original but it also takes some inspiration from some really great science fiction films. The two most notable films that I thought of while watching Moon were 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Alien (1979). The homages to 2001: A Space Odyssey are not just that Moon has a HAL like computer but also in the way the film was shot. Duncan Jones decided to use miniatures when he could have easily have gotten away with computer graphics. While not on the same level as the effects 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is just something about using practical effects that makes things in the movie seem much more real than anything that can be created with a computer.

The film also manages to bring forward feelings of claustrophobia and isolation that are prominent in both Alien and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, like Alien, this film also has some things to say about the way corporations can sometimes treat there employees as disposable, of course to say anymore would be to give away too much. Even though there are many homages to both these films, Moon does not borrow too much from either film. It manages to be much more original that most things in Hollywood.

The sets created for the film are simply amazing. This is one of those science fiction films that seems like it could actually take place in the real world, just a few years down the road. It seems like the film makers put a lot of thought into how to make the set look realistic and how to realistically portray living alone on the moon. They also took time to personalize the sets to really give it the feel that Sam had been there for three years. The space looks like a clean and tidy space station but at the same time looks very lived in; Sam has left his personal touches all over the station.

Overall I found the film to be really enjoyable. The script, directing and acting were all done really well. The story is well told and has a enough surprises to really keep the audiences wondering where it is going. The film never goes where one would expect it to go but it also manages to tell a grounded and realistic story. It doesn't rely on shocks and scares to keep you interested. The film takes a good story with an interesting characters and manages to completely pull you in right from the beginning.

Rating: 8/10