Richard’s “Canada AM” reviews for the “Rocky” reboot “Creed,” Pixar’s latest child-in-peril movie “The Good Dinosaur,” Daniel Radcliffe as Igor minus-the-hump in “Victor Frankenstein” and Bryan Cranston as black-listed writer Dalton Trumbo in “Trumbo.”
At the 2012 Canadian premier of The Woman in Black a young woman yelled, “I love you!” as Daniel Radcliffe and I took the stage to introduce the film.
“I love you too,” he replied with a smirk. “But I think we should see other people.”
The audience laughed but probably missed the double meaning of his comment. For ten years Radcliffe was the face of Harry Potter, one of the biggest grossing movie franchises ever. Potter ended in 2011 (for Radcliffe, anyway) and the actor has moved on, and hopes his audience will follow along.
This week he’s taking on another classic character, one played in the past by everyone from Bela Lugosi to Marty Feldman. In Victor Frankenstein he transcends Igor’s traditional, “Yes master,” function to become the movie’s moral compass and emotional core. A reimagining of the Frankenstein story that focuses on the men rather than the monster, it’s a change of pace from an actor who likes to shake it up, career-wise.
“I want to try my hand at as many things as possible,” he told me in 2014. “Having played one character for a very long time, that builds up in you a desire to play a number of different characters and do as much different work as you can. I like that you can’t predict what my next thing is going to be.”
Since Potter wrapped he has kept audiences guessing. From the Gothic horror of Woman in Black and The F Word’s light romance to a biographical look at the Beat Generation in Kill Your Darlings and the twisted morality of Horns, the only predictable thing about his career is its unpredictability.
“It’s about finding out what I’m good at, finding out which things I prefer doing because I’ve only done Potter up until a few years ago, so now this period is really me going, ‘If I had my choice.’
“Being that I do have a semblance of control over my career, — which most actors my age don’t — I feel I might not always have this opportunity to try loads of different things.”
Radcliffe credits working with the likes of Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman and David Tennant on the Potter films with giving him some perspective on how to manage his career.
“The defining feature of Alan, Gary, David and many more that I’ve worked with, is that they never want to stop learning,” Radcliffe told me during an interview for The Women in Black.
“They never feel they are finished. Alan Rickman is constantly trying to get better and refined. When you see that in someone who is A) Brilliant and B) 30 years older than you, it’s very inspiring to see they have gone through their whole careers and never been satisfied.”
Radcliffe has perspective on where he’d like his career to go, but what about the fame that came along with playing Harry Potter? The next day after The Woman in Black premier I asked him about the screaming fans that greeted him and what that does to his ego.
“The thing you have to remind yourself is that it’s not about me. It’s about the fact that I played this character who became beloved. Anyone who took on this character would be getting this reaction. When I’m home, smoking a cigarette and it’s cold and I’m eating half a pizza — you have to take a picture of yourself then and play it to yourself when you’re on the red carpets and go, ‘Yeah, you’re not all that.’”
Just as Dr. Frankenstein stitched his creation together from the bodies of several people “Victor Frankenstein,” a new film starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe, stitches a story together using bits and pieces of other monster movies.
In a flip flop from most Frankenstein movies, the story begins with the nameless, hunchbacked circus freak that would become Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), studying the “science of life” when he isn’t pining after beautiful trapeze artist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay). His detailed anatomical drawings earn the ridicule of his fellow carnies but when Lorelei is injured after a fall his quick thinking saves her life.
Victor Frankenstein, seeing his potential, smuggles the hunchback out of the circus with an eye toward making him his protégé. The good (or is he?) doctor gives his new friend the name of an old, deceased pal. Turns out the newly minted Igor’s back bump is just an abscess which, once drained, will allow him to stand upright and fit in with upper class Victorian society.
Frankenstein wants to use Igor’s knowledge of anatomy to help construct the “larger whole” the doctor has in mind. It will be, he says, “a scientific enterprise that will change the world.” In other words, he’s looking to reanimate the dead. “I’m of the opinion that death is a temporary condition,” he says.
As the pair work toward their scientific breakthrough Lorelei re-enters the story and a religious policeman (Andrew Scott) sniffs out sin, making it is his moral duty to stop Frankenstein’s experiments. “He reeks of an evil, sinful mischief.”
In the end Igor must look into his soul to decide whether his mentor’s motives are scientific or psychological.
As the title would suggest “Victor Frankenstein” is about the man not the monster. Just as Frankenstein’s work “challenges natural order,” the movie challenges our knowledge of the story, mixing-and-matching details from Mary Shelley’s source novel (which did not feature Igor) with the accumulated mythology from the dozens of films that followed.
Igor takes on a much larger role in the story, transcending the traditional, “Yes master,” assistant to become the movie’s moral compass and emotional core. The movie isn’t really about the monster or creating life. Victor Frankenstein figures out how to create life in a laboratory but, more importantly, he gives Igor a life—changing him from abused circus freak to English gentleman.
Victor is still not one to allow morality stand in the way of science, but here the psychological drama trumps any talk of ethics. Questions as to the implications of bringing the dead back to life are raised and dismissed with clever hypotheticals like, “Imagine that a murdered man can stand in court to face his murderer,” or simply lost in the frenetic action that keeps the movie moving at warp speed.
Also gone are any Gothic overtones. The setting and dusty old laboratories will look familiar to fans of the genre but get lost in the film’s rapid pacing. Director Paul McGuigan seems more intent on keeping the movie moving than fleshing out the story or allowing the atmosphere to take hold. Screenwriter Max Landis can be credited with devising a new take on an old story and doing so with some humour—“We’ll give him a flat head!” says Victor. Why? “Because I like flat heads!”—but both the direction and script feel too modern to snugly fit into the Frankenstein canon.
The observance of Halloween dates back thousands of years to the Celts who used the date as a celebration of the end of harvest season. Since Irish immigrants brought the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century the way we celebrate October 31st has changed from a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and slaughter livestock for winter to our tradition of dressing up in outlandish costumes, carving pumpkins and gorging ourselves on Creepy Crawlers Gummy Candy and Twist & Glow Halloween Pops. These days it’s second only to Christmas in terms of the amount of people who decorate their homes for the holidays and North American revelers spend upwards of 5 billion dollars a year on Halloween costumes. Another great treat of the fall season are Halloween specials like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Mr. Boogedy. The latest entry on the Halloween scene is Igor, a new animated film for kids starring the voice of John Cusack.
Igor is a riff on the classic mad scientist movies, this time told from the lab assistant’s point of view. Igor (John Cusack) is a lowly hunchback with a “major in slurred speech and a ‘Yes, Master’ degree” who dreams of becoming a scientist. When his master is killed by his own invention Igor gets his chance to shine and maybe even win the annual Evil Science Fair. His invention, a female Frankenstein monster named Eva, is meant to be the most evil creature the world has ever seen, but turns out to be a sweet natured giant with aspirations of becoming an actress. To this end she says she’s interested in adopting kids from other countries and says she’ll become an environmentalist and only fly private when necessary. If she doesn’t drop her ideas of stardom and turn nasty how will Igor win the Evil Science Fair?
Igor is aimed at little kids. Written by Chris McKenna, who previously penned American Dad and voiced by an all star cast featuring Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Jay Leno and Christian Slater, it is a great looking cartoon that’s equal parts German Expressionism and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The highly stylized characters look like they just walked off the set of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the inventive backgrounds are bound to set off kid’s imaginations. The camera work, often so static in animated films like this, is fluid and cinematic.
The story is stretched a bit thin even at the compact running time of 85 minutes, but there is enough going on to keep the under ten crowd entertained. Most of the irreverent humor is meant for the little ones, for example:
“I’m all thumbs,” says Eva the giantess. “Yeah, sorry about that,” replies Igor, “I got the thumbs on sale.”
Parents probably won’t find any big yuks in lines like that or the slapstick or even the bathroom jokes, but there are gags to keep older viewers interested peppered throughout.
Igor is a cute Halloween story with stylish animation; jokes that should make ten-year-olds laugh and good messages about the importance of friends and determination and at 85 minutes shouldn’t tax growing attention spans.