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.

Vacation  (2015)    55/100

Rating :   55/100                                                                       99 Min        15

You have to applaud the premise behind this – to continue National Lampoon’s run of comedy vacation films from the eighties (of which, probably the ‘Christmas Vacation’ from 89 is the one most familiar to audiences now – the ‘National Lampoon’ moniker having likely been dropped from the title here as the magazine sadly bit the dust at the end of the nineties) which featured the Griswold family, with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as the father and mother each time, as they embarked on a number of determined but disastrous family adventures. Here, Ed Helms plays the male kid of the Griswold clan Rusty, now all grown-up and married to Debbie (Christina Applegate) with a family of their own – James (Skyler Gisondo) and his younger brother Kevin (Steele Stebbins), all of whom are about to attempt a repeat of the bonding road trip to theme park extravaganza Walley World (originally a thinly veiled Disney World) that begat the film series with the first ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ (83).

The first and perhaps most noticeable overall difference is that Rusty seems to have shed a regular amount of intelligence quotient in the interim period from his childhood, and is barely recognisable as the same character anymore (although arguably this had already begun to happen by ‘National Lampoon’s European Vacation’ in 85). As the central character he is simply too dim to believe and indeed Helms’ portrayal isn’t all that far away from some of his other comedy roles, in the likes of ‘The Hangover’ trilogy for example, and this ungrounded feeling permeates, and detracts from, all of the jokes in the film (gone are great and indelible scenes like Clark’s first ‘break down moment’).

An effort to maintain continuity with the original has been maintained throughout, even though this wasn’t strictly necessary, and both Chase and D’Angelo appear briefly – it probably would have been a much better idea to have them as the central focus, taking both their kids and their grandchildren on holiday this time to … the Middle East perhaps? ‘National Lampoon’s Intervention Vacation’. Despite very few real laughs the family are still likeable enough and the film is by no means a complete failure, simply a big disappointment. With Leslie Mann, Chris Hemsworth and Charlie Day in support.