The Danish Girl  (2015)    49/100

Rating :   49/100                                                                     119 Min        15

What a horrific mess. A film fundamentally flawed by its not knowing, to put it mildly, what it wants to be or what it is trying to say. Based on David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel of the same name and adapted for the screen by Lucinda Coxon (‘Wild Target’ 10), this loosely tells the true story of Danish painter Einar Wegener, who goes through a, long buried, crises of identity, suddenly convinced he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. One would naturally assume this is really a mainstream attempt to portray a strong and explorative transgender theme on the big-screen, and that we would identify with Wegener’s plight and confusion on a human level, but we really, really don’t – in fact he just comes across as clinically insane, which he is diagnosed as at one point by ‘evil’ practitioners of medicine but actually they seem to be quite correct; he has been, for example, banging away quite happily at his young nubile wife Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) for six or seven years and now suddenly he refuses to even acknowledge this happened and recoils from her, as if every aspect of his previous existence that he can’t be bothered with is now taboo.

If he isn’t psychotic then he’s the most vain, self-absorbed obnoxious little shit one could have the misfortune to marry, as his ‘crises’ justifies him doing whatever he wants and cheating on his wife with various men. Eddie Redmayne plays Einar and by God is he terrible here – you would be hard pressed to find a worse example of overacting anywhere, as he cries and cries and whimpers and pretends to be injured (he gets beat up for no apparent reason, oh, and he decides he’s having his period as well at one point) something which he has effectively made a career out of doing. If we look at the header picture above I think even I would make a more convincing human female – although the film at least partially acknowledges this failure, or seems to at any rate, until near the end where people seem to genuinely believe he passes for a woman. The film in general smacks of this kind of insincerity throughout – Oscar bait with a modern day politically charged topic, and I imagine any endorsement from the transgender community is purely down to lack of many other options.

Tom Hooper directs and to be fair he almost completely avoids having the camera too close to his performers’ faces after ‘Les Miserables‘, and a lot of his shots of countryside and the framing of scenic cityscapes are great, it’s really the story and acting that destroy the film as melodrama takes an enormous bite out of history in their misguided creepy crawl in the direction of award season glory. It’s a shame, there was a lot of potential to explore the subject – and indeed in the film’s frank portrayal of nudity there begins to form the semblance of something greater, before it all disintegrates in the second act. Also with Amber Heard, who’s dancing scenes were reportedly cut from the film. Fuck’s sake.

Joy  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                     124 Min        12A

David O. Russell writes (or rather rewrites, with Annie Mumolo penning the original script), directs and calls upon Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, much like he did with ‘Silver Linings Playbook‘ and ‘American Hustle‘, to star in the semi-fictional tale of self-made business magnate and inventor Joy Mangano (played by Lawrence). The film gets off to the worst possible start, with titles dedicating it to strong women in general …. and one in particular. It’s a little condescending, as if David O. Russell had only recently discovered women were actually capable of doing something interesting enough to make a film about, and there are numerous hints of force throughout the film: Joy when she is a child (played by Isabella Crovetti-Cramp) saying she doesn’t need a prince in the fantasy future life she’s playing out, for example – we can see what the intention was of course, but the tone is a little too blatant. Why not simply tell the story?

A story which sells itself entirely – it’s not easy to see where fact and fiction collide here, but it certainly appears on the face of it that the main details are correct and the most important showdowns and moments when the protagonist really has to take the bull by the horns actually did happen. We begin in 1989 with Joy frantically running her household and her father (De Niro) appearing on the doorstep then being promptly thrust into the basement in order to share it with her now divorced husband (Edgar Ramirez), whilst her kids are looked after upstairs, supervised by her grandmother (Diane Ladd), kids that occasionally accompany her mother (Virginia Madsen) who seems to permanently engage with vegetating in front of her favourite soap opera on the tele in her room.

Oddly, we are constantly greeted with scenes from this same show throughout the first chapter of the film, demonstrating the nightmarish pull of the humdrum and banal void as Joy struggles to fit the bill as house matriarch whilst working as an airline reservations manager, but these sections are far too wayward, indulgent, lengthy and frequent and could mostly have been axed, although showing the pervasive sickness that can arise from such garbage on television and the isolating effect it has on families is to be applauded, it nevertheless simply becomes another overplayed element of the movie.

Spiralling out of another chaotic dream about the soap opera, Joy awakens with zest and inspiration for a product that will ignite everyone and everything around her – the Miracle Mop, designed to address the simple everyday practical issues she, and everyone else doing any floor cleaning, were met with every day, namely having to wring out the thing by hand (although surely they had buckets with strainers back then?) and buy a new one all too frequently. Thus begins her adventure as she attempts to produce and market her creation, bringing into the frame two new characters: her father’s new wealthy girlfriend (Isabella Rossellini) and a head executive of the QVC advertising channel (Bradley Cooper).

It’s an inspirational tale that ought to speak volumes to anyone who’s ever tried to create anything themselves and despite the film’s many self-imposed setbacks, including twists and turns that continually have you thinking the movie is over when it’s not, it ultimately delivers thanks in no small measure to another fantastic and Oscar worthy performance from Lawrence herself. A sizeable amount of trimming and a little less force would have ensured this came out of the blocks at the same pace Silver Linings and Hustle did, but in the end the heart of the true story and strong acting all round ultimately atone for its artistic hiccups.

In the Heart of the Sea  (2015)    68/100

Rating :   68/100                                                                     122 Min        12A

Director Ron Howard’s latest dramatic feature since ‘Rush‘ is based on the similarly titled 2000 novel by Nathaniel Philbrick and once again features Chris Hemsworth as one of the protagonists, here playing Owen Chase – first mate of the Essex, a whaling ship whose fateful 1820 voyage was one of the primary sources that inspired writer Herman Melville to pen his historic fiction ‘Moby-Dick’ in 1851 (the legend of albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, who frequented the waters around the Chilean island of Mocha, was another such real-life source). Here, shots of the Essex and her crew are occasionally interjected by scenes of an eagerly attentive Melville (Ben Whishaw) listening to the recounting of the story by one of the original crew (Brendan Gleeson), often visibly pained by the memories the writer elicits from him.

The Essex hailed from Nantucket in Massachusetts, and the most obvious thing that stands out from the opening chapter of the film is the truly terrible range of accents that the cast have attempted, chief turkey among them being Hemsworth’s – to be honest, they are so bad I’m not even sure if they are attempted something similar to the modern-day region, maybe even close to Bostonian, or something which for some reason they think must have existed once upon a time. It’s all, ahem, ropey to say the least, but as a crew their collective voices seem to coalesce together and eventually it all evens out.

The crux of the story is the Essex’s basic and ongoing attempt to hunt whales, especially the extremely lucrative sperm whales, for their oil (it wasn’t until the late 1840s that Scotsman James Young really began the crude oil trade, taking out the UK and US patents for Paraffin distillation from coal in the early 1850s) and the unfortunate dearth of aquatic activity they come across leads them to desperate searches further and further into the Pacific Ocean, whereupon they encounter one particular sperm whale, bedecked white and awash with the scars of many previous encounters with man, who isn’t especially keen to let the whalers have it all their own way, and so begins their real adventure.

All of this is against the background of tension between the first mate and the captain, George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), as the latter is a posh dunderhead from a rich family, thusly gaining the position, whose manhood isn’t best pleased to find that his first mate is in fact Thor, swaggering around, vaunting up ropes, proving to always be right and seeming to single-handedly sail the ship. This element of the film never really climbs out of the doldrums of melodrama, but the recreation of the voyage amidst the setting of the ship is one of the highlights, and the story and effects, for the most part, unerringly draw us into their world for the movie’s duration, also providing the key to its eventual success as we really feel for them and the many maritime men for whom such journeys were a reality.

The additional horror of showing us the brutal reality of their line of work, with sanguinary depictions of the murder of innocent whales, will absolutely disgust many viewers, and indeed you can feel the film jitter with uncertainty over how to portray these scenes and the characters within them, but they are fascinating from a historical accuracy point of view and indeed these detailed features are in keeping with one of the many noteworthy aspects of ‘Moby-Dick’ itself, which, incredulously, was not a financial success during the author’s lifetime.

Daddy’s Home  (2015)    56/100

Rating :   56/100                                                                       96 Min        12A

A very standard Will Ferrell comedy that sees the stepfather (Ferrell) in a family compete with the unexpected arrival of the testosterone-fuelled biological father (Mark Wahlberg), coupled with the usual level of predictability, over-the-top antics and, in this case, some particularly ropey CGI. It’s actually the second time the two actors have headlined together, after 2010’s ‘The Other Guys’, and Ferrell has once more ended up with the hot wife (here played by Linda Cardellini) though his caring and overly-sensitive husband is about to be emasculated by the motorbike riding, musclebound and well-hung Wahlberg (again, not a first onscreen … ). The leads engage to some extent as they play off one another, and there’s a slight upward trajectory as the plot unfolds, but it’s pretty desperate stuff throughout and it really needed more social bite with higher-impact comedy moments, not to mention less cringeworthy effects. Go and watch Star Wars instead.

Sunset Song  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                                                                     135 Min        15

Adapted from Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 novel of the same name, ‘Sunset Song’ firmly sets the central focus on Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), who grows up in rural Aberdeenshire and works the land whilst enduring an abusive father, before falling in love and watching in despair as the men in the village are forced by the church and the state to march off and join World War I. I feel I should warn you that this film made me quite intensely angry after viewing it (never a good thing when one is a dragon), but it did so by virtue of it being a great film masterfully created, bar just a few scenes with music that backfires (the novel ends with a song, so they kind of had to attempt it at some point) and a central character change that’s almost certainly displayed too abruptly for its own good.

Bizarrely, this was filmed in Luxembourg and New Zealand as well as Scotland (you’d think it cheaper just to stay in Scotland, although we have no film studio here which might be why – something there is currently a campaign to hopefully do something about), and one must be aware before watching this that it is looooooong and slooooooooow, absolutely not a film to bring popcorn into unless you are willing to piss off everyone in the auditorium including yourself. Many of the indoor scenes have a hazy quality to them and they are matched in contrast with crisply clear shots of beautiful countryside, indeed the former reminded me so much of Terence Davies’ ‘The Deep Blue Sea’ (11) that there was a definite internal high-five when I discovered he wrote and directed this too, and the film stands as a really good example of how it’s possible to make an incredibly still and slow movie work and resonate with an audience.

I’m additionally glad that it’s an Englishman who has chosen to take on one of the most famous of Scottish novels from the last one hundred years, because watching all the men leave to fight in a war that had nothing to do with Scotland and was naught more than a member measuring contest between pompous aristocrats is alone enough to make your blood boil, but becomes increasingly septic when combined with the current dragging of the nation into more military conflict, this time by dropping bombs on Syria, once again by rich English toffs (in parliament the Scottish National Party, which currently controls almost all of the seats in Scotland, voted unanimously against the bombing campaign) who almost certainly stand to personally gain financially given it makes no military sense whatsoever, pretty sure America and France don’t need any more bombs, and their party (the Tory party) has a long history of profiting from war (former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her son immediately spring to mind). Davies here is a most desperately welcome counterpoint to the all too common and pervasive feeling that English arrogance and greed constantly threatens and undermines Scotland and her people.

Deyn seems to grow much like her character does as the film progresses, gaining in personal strength and determination as time passes and leaving an enduring impression on the audience as we feel her various triumphs and heartaches, and the emotional, physical and claustrophobic recreation of her environment is fantastic, replete with realistic sex scenes – having the camera pan round while the man is on top (Kevin Guthrie in this case) to reveal an uncompromising view of a large hairy male arse is certainly something you’re unlikely to see in the mainstream …

Emotional and poignant, it’s a film that constantly threatens to drive you away with the intense silence and quiet; the close brooding with violent tempers ever champing at the bit, but instead it leaves us reeling from the reality that was, and still is.

By the Sea  (2015)    66/100

Rating :   66/100                                                                     122 Min        15

A film written and directed by Angelina Jolie and starring both herself and her husband Brad Pitt, as Vanessa and Roland respectively – a couple whose marriage is on the not-so-subtle allegorical rocks below the Mediterranean French hotel in which they stay throughout the movie (it was filmed in Malta), was always going to arouse conjecture regarding possible correlations between fact and fiction (this is the first time the lady in question has listed herself as Angelina Jolie-Pitt, perhaps anticipating such gossip), much as orgy themed ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ (99) did when it was released with its famous married couple Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise: shortly before they broke up. Given events in the film, the central pair here will be hoping no one reads into it too much, lest they should encounter whispers of ‘better not invite Angelina and Brad, they are massive perverts’.

There is a deliberate attempt to evoke arthouse film here, with influences from the likes of Antonioni, Fillini and even Bergman, and whilst it never comes close to the work of those masters, Jolie has nevertheless attempted something fairly, if you’ll pardon the pun, off-the-wall, which she deserves credit for – as former dancer Vanessa whiles away her miserable hours in their hotel room, her failed author husband drinking a bottle of beer for every line he thinks about writing, until one day she notices a sizeable hole bored so that the neighbours next door can be spied on at will. After very brief consideration, she partakes.

Jolie’s directing is better than her last attempt, ‘Unbroken‘, at a very fundamental level – early shots of the setting interject closer views of the characters and help to give us a framework, showing us the surroundings in much the same way we take mental snapshots of the most memorable views of the places we visit, and her work behind the camera feels at once marked in the right places and also disguised where it should be (though I note one of the opening brief shots is quite randomly of two cats. A reference to something perhaps?)

There is a conceit with this man-made gap in the wall – as we view it there is no earthly way that the couple next door (played by Mélanie Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) wouldn’t notice the thing, especially since they effectively look right at it several times over. However, we see what the protagonists do, which effectively means we’re looking through a lens to cover the space in the room that the view does – of course this is the conspicuous lens of the camera but since we never see the peephole from the victims’ room, who is to say it wasn’t created with an actual lens? If that were the case, whosoever created the thing would have probably also gone to lengths to disguise it, and indeed sound wouldn’t travel as well as it would through a simple hole.

Similarly, regarding the film’s central driving motif – the mystery over why their relationship is in tatters and what connection, if any, this has to the voyeurism, only so many options are dangled in front of us before all is revealed and you’re left both unsurprised and also wondering if it really fits with everything before. However, if you really read between the lines there are a couple of potential events in their past which you could say are hinted at and no more, and if true then they would justify events in the film to a much greater degree, but you really have to want to piece it together and the movie itself isn’t focused enough to deliver where it needed to.

Much of the premise does work, it’s really the middle section that needed to be a lot more intricate – as it is there’s a flatness to it, a cold distance between the voyeur and the act of viewing, as if it’s being done out of simple ennui and that perhaps Jolie wasn’t quite willing to go the full distance and show masturbation onscreen, for example. Though, again, if the lack of arousal was intentional then it’s only really justified by a significant investment from the audience (in the real world). Other peripheral elements could also have been tighter – like the local barkeep, played by Niels Arestrup, divulging his life story and philosophy almost straight away instead of attempting more poignancy later on perhaps.

Still, lots of elements are really well done – the visuals with their prevalence of white against the sunny, sandy landscapes all set in the 60s/70s, are beautifully shot and immediately bring to mind the recent ‘The Two Faces of January‘. Both leads deliver great performances, with Jolie rarely more radiant onscreen and evoking shades of Bardot when she gets dressed up for the evening, and there are a number of key moments that work well, especially when delving into the sadness and pain of each character. The film proves interesting enough to draw you in throughout, and even if it ultimately doesn’t reach the level of the kind of art that inspired it, it is still reasonably successful on its own terms. Plenty of signs of promise from the determined writer/director.

Hector  (2015)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                       87 Min        15

A Christmas film with a decidedly more depressing angle than is the norm. Hector (Peter Mullan) is a homeless pensioner living rough in Scotland and has been doing so for many years – although he has managed to make some friends, played by Keith Allen and Natalie Gavin, and indeed has become a regular at a Christmas shelter in London, which he is determined to reach this year as well via a lengthy bout of hitchhiking. This time, however, he needs a crutch to walk and ailing general health means he is scheduled for an operation after the holiday season, though for exactly what we aren’t told.

From first-time writer and director Jake Gavin, it’s as bleak as it needed to be for the first half of the film, as we watch Hector survive in the face of bitter elements opposed to that very purpose, and choosing to ground it as a Christmas movie was perfect as it reminds us of those less fortunate than ourselves and the hardships they will be enduring right now. Thereafter, the film warms up thematically as Hector’s backstory is explored amidst the arrival of friendlier faces and it’s here that a massive opportunity has been missed – the current political climate in Britain with the Tory party in power has left many vulnerable people homeless and destitute for no good reason and yet the exact mechanisms for this are very much under the public radar, reason being a decidedly right-wing and pro-Tory media (evinced by the somewhat pantomime attack on left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn – especially by the BBC, who seem to enjoy camping outside his front door ready to insult him every time he leaves home).

The story could have explored this dark facet of modern Britain, and indeed the medium of film is one bastion that can illuminate current circumstance, but alas the retirement of Ken Loach from feature films has left a noticeable void in British film for the cries of the voiceless, and the character of Hector is very much a victim of both chance and his own feelings of hopelessness. Dramatically fine, but given the bigger picture perhaps a little easy overall. Mullan is convincing throughout and the beautiful Sarah Solemani also shines as the care worker whose relationship with the people around her may be more symbiotic than is apparent.

Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens  (2015)    75/100

Rating :   75/100                      Treasure Chest                  135 Min        12A

‘I have a bad feeling about this.’ Han Solo : Harrison Ford

Oddly enough, I felt no such feeling of trepidation over the continuation of cinema’s most famous saga and the biggest release of the year, due entirely to the fact that J.J.Abrams was on board as the director and he’d made such a wonderful job of rebooting Star Trek, indeed he also handles the scriptwriting duties here along with Lawrence Kasdan (‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 80, ‘Return of the Jedi’ 83) and Michael Arndt (‘Little Miss Sunshine’ 06, ‘The Hunger Games : Catching Fire‘). What the devoted cast and crew deliver is an extremely solid anchor for the future of the franchise, with obvious branches for expansion throughout and plenty for fans to love and be excited about. There’s something really comforting about George Lucas’s universe exploding on the big-screen once more, especially over Christmas, replete with original cast members and newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.

They have very much played it safe with the concept by recreating everything that made the original films a success, which was almost certainly the right way to go about it, as thirty years on from the events of ‘The Return of the Jedi’ sees the universe still embroiled in conflict in order to supply the constant background tension, whilst the essential and compellingly truthful philosophy of good versus evil via the light and dark side of the Force, at once both simple and complex, continues to spur everything forward as characterisation goes into hyperdrive and the central players’ relationships draw in our attention, all against the backdrop of fantastic special effects.

John Williams returns for the score, and interestingly if you watch early sci-fi epic ‘Metropolis’ (27) you’ll notice some overt influences on Star Wars generally but also hints of its various musical themes in Gottfried Huppertz’s original score (perhaps not surprising given both he and Williams were heavily influenced by Strauss and Wagner). Similarly, here there appears to be a nod to the space opera’s samurai roots (in particular the work of legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa – especially ‘The Hidden Fortress’ {58}, wherein the droid characters’ origin is immediately apparent) with one of the central bad guys wielding a lightsaber in the shape of a longsword (one imagines a katana blade wouldn’t really be feasible).

Without giving away any details about the story, the downside of playing it safe is that there’s nothing especially original to be found, and the various hooks are very similar to devices commonly used in TV series, but again this is a conscious choice from the writers and happily the pace continues to steadily escalate from the onset to the finale, delivering an adventure that’s fun and engaging enough to overlook the obvious gears at play – although some of the most important scenes do feel a bit shaky, and, as with Star Trek, a little more subtlety and depth may not have gone amiss (you can spot a few lens flares from Abrams dotted around the place as well – he could’ve gotten away with a few more to be honest, it’s a nice effect).

Ridley and Boyega play Rey and Finn respectively (not the first Star Wars characters to have less than inspiring names) and both do a great job, especially the relatively inexperienced Ridley given the pressure involved (when she smiles she looks a bit like Keira Knightley actually – maybe she is a clone, spliced with DNA from Natalie Portman {both Knightley and Portman were in Episode I}), and although the casting of a young female and a young black male as the two new central characters was an overtly political choice, it actually makes sense here and doesn’t feel, ahem, forced, and it’s certainly quite rare to see a black male protagonist not played by the same handful of actors – for a film aimed at being a defining moment for a new generation of fans the significance of these choices makes their final selection a really good idea.

There is perhaps a slight concern that they’ve gone too far and robbed Rey of any femininity whatsoever, accidentally making her a boy in their strive for political correctness, but I think that argument quickly disappears into the metaphysical, and, frankly, she’s one of the best things in the film and easily my favourite character (new droid BB-8 is also sure to be a hit, which she also mothers to a degree actually). Curiously, the producers stated there would be no moments reminiscent of Princess Leia in a golden bikini (perhaps fearing a backlash similar to that of Alice Eve in her pants in ‘Star Trek : Into Darkness‘) and this overconcern about her attire has led them, accidentally and slightly ridiculously, to sport Rey in the same set of unrevealing, but also unwashed, clothes for almost the entire story, meaning, basically, she must reek to high heaven. It’s a perfectly decent outfit but her activities ensure she likely sweats more than anyone else in the movie – detecting her presence via the Force presumably became redundant as the film progressed.

Great support work throughout compliments that from the core performers, with Ford probably the best of the bunch and helping to settle the newcomers, and there’s even an evil Scottish guy at one point – you can tell he’s been given strict guidelines on how to deliver his lines by the way he pronounces all his t’s properly (we usually don’t bother with this in Scotland, we’re not great fans of glottal stops). I was fortunate enough to be at one of the IMAX preview showings and there was a terrific atmosphere with people cheering and applauding and I hope that’s repeated across the land – indeed I’m totally in the mood to go and re-watch all the previous films now.

Star Wars returns to mark a great end to a very mediocre year at the cinema, and hopefully it will become a Christmas tradition for future years in much the same way journeys to Middle-earth were in the past.

Krampus  (2015)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       98 Min        15

Comedy horror focusing on the travails of a family and their relatives one especially cold winter’s eve when Krampus, the pagan god of cramps, descends upon them, resulting in numerous involuntary and sudden spasms in the family members whilst they go to the bathroom and about their normal business of bickering, fighting, cooking and vaguely trying to be merry and pretend they actually like one another, often to comic effect. No, not really. Rather Krampus represents the sinister anti-Santa, thought to have originated in Austria and one of numerous similar figures in European folklore and tradition, he is usually represented as a horned, hoofed, towering menace, whisking misbehaving children off to some unknown, and presumably grim, chastisement, although oddly enough he doesn’t seem to have made it as far north as Scotland – he was probably deep fried and eaten by the same kids he came to collect.

Certain members of the principal family, basically all of them, have forgotten what Christmas is really all about, or rather their rotund gun-totting relatives staying over have steamrollered whatever seasonal cheer they had left, bringing the decidedly unfestive house to the initial attention of Krampus, who elects to pay them a little visit and pick them off one at a time along with the help of his animated companions: grisly werebears and despotic gingerbread men (and possibly women) and a sort of Christmasy version of The Thing. Nothing brings people together like common adversity – unfortunately common adversity also sometimes drives them further apart, and Krampus has a field day with nary a sensible decision made to stand in his way. In fact, he has such a good time, he decides to pay the neighbours a visit while he’s at it too.

Directed by Michael Dougherty (‘Trick r Treat’ 07) and co-written by him, Todd Casey and Zach Shields, the entire thing feels like there’s a really good movie constantly threatening to come out, but it never really does bar a few nice touches here and there, and although the cast, including Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Krista Stadler, all at least carry their roles, their characters simply have too many moments when they act in a horribly stilted way, pausing hopelessly when they need to finish off daemonic foes and always two or three steps behind what is clearly right in front of them. Similarly, the direction and writing continually show signs of promise but fall down too readily, with many action scenes difficult to view clearly – and the most promising characters dealt with too summarily. It’s a great concept though, which may witness ‘Krampus’ carry its weight a little farther than it really ought to.

Victor Frankenstein  (2015)    37/100

Rating :   37/100                                                                     110 Min        12A

A monstrous waste of time. This is from 20th Century Fox and so isn’t actually part of Universal’s relaunch of their ‘monsters’ back catalogue into a new franchise, as last year’s ‘Dracula Untold‘ was (interestingly, Charles Dance played the ancient vampire in the cave there, and here he appears briefly as Frankenstein’s father), although no doubt Universal will be keenly taking note of just how badly they’ve bludgeoned the hell out of the material – the primary problem, aside from terrible scriptwriting from Max Landis (‘American Ultra‘), direction from Paul McGuigan (‘Push’ 09, ‘Lucky Number Slevin’ 06) and acting from James McAvoy (Victor Frankenstein), Daniel Radcliffe (Igor) and Andrew Scott (Inspector Turpin), is that it very much feels like a lame attempt to simply make more money from long since dead material, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Not that it couldn’t have been redone incredibly well, thematically it’s as compelling now as it was when Mary Shelley penned the novel in 1818, but we can gain some insight into the film’s many downfalls by looking at some choice quotes, mentioned here, from an interview with the director : “[Frankenstein] has always been a mad scientist with funny hair – and that’s it. He’s not really had a backstory.” Wrong. McGuigan has clearly never seen Hammer Horror’s classic ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (57), one of the most famous versions of the story, wherein loads of time is spent on building up Frankenstein’s backstory and character – one of the reasons it works so well. McGuigan continues : “… there’s not a reverence to the book… I don’t know if you’ve ever read it, but it’s as dull as dishwater, man… If you love the book, you’ll hate the movie.” Well, why exactly are you adapting the novel again?

The film opens with the soon to be Frankenstein’s assistant Igor living as a hunchbacked circus clown, whose medical ability is unveiled after a somewhat predictable ‘No Sebastian, don’t try it without the net!’ moment and then bizarrely the circus imprisons him, before the curious and scheming Frankenstein initiates a rescue and they become wanted criminals for murder as the circus also decides to try and kill them in their flight and someone gets nailed, or knifed to be more precise, although the protagonists aren’t actually responsible, all before Igor’s hunch is cured and mysteriously all the traits Radcilffe was ‘acting’ also oddly disappear. It’s awful, and makes little to no sense, much like the remainder of the film.

McAvoy’s accent ranges heavily from something close to his own to a truly horrid English one, as he displays a sort of vaudeville crazy scientist routine that’s about as appealing as nails scratching on his blackboard would be (although in true modern Hollywood style he often prefers to write on the floor), whilst Radcliffe mopes around like a wooden monkey, pushed aimlessly around by his mentor and the equally whimsical screenplay. Jessica Brown Findlay appears in a love interest role that is really a hopeless distraction for the story, but her performance, and her beauty, is in such contrast to everything around her that she ends up being one of the film’s saving graces in the end.

Similarly, the final section that takes place at Dunnottar castle in Scotland finally begins to build something resembling visual tension (Dracula’s castle may have been based on Slains Castle which is also in Aberdeenshire, incidentally) but it’s not long before all is forcibly throttled down the privy once more. We see Frankenstein, for example, go up to his creation declaring in despair ‘it’s not life!’, well the thing just got up and walked toward you on its own matey it looks pretty alive to me, and then everyone goes into hysterics for no reason and, well, one very much sympathises with the monster who is likely smarter than everyone else combined. Tremendously realised sets and costumes (if you are ever in Edinburgh check out Frankenstein’s pub for more on the same theme) but overall this just feels like a bad TV episode they couldn’t be bothered even properly linking scenes together in.

Indeed, the movie is so poor that multiple people found checking their Facebook news feeds for the majority of it more interesting; normally I would suggest people who check their phones in the cinema should have their tongues superglued to the screen after the show, but on this occasion, I similarly found their Facebook news feeds more entertaining than anything happening in McGuigan’s lazy, disjointed, muck-fest of a movie.