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 Riot Club” is a story of excess, contempt and aristocratic entitlement. Based on the play “Posh” by Laura Wade it centers around a fictional version Oxford University’s Bullingdon or Riot Club, a two-hundred-and-fifty-year-old drinking fraternity.
The film doesn’t come with an “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental,” disclaimer, probably much to the chagrin of former real-life members, Prime Minister David Cameron and Mayor of London Boris Johnson.
The bulk of the movie takes place at an elaborate dinner in the backroom of a gastropub. Two first year students, ‘Milo’ Richards (Max Irons) and Alistair Ryle (Sam Claflin) are inducted into the legendarily elite club. It’s all debauched fun and games until a few perceived slights—a “ten bird roast” arrives with only nine layers and a hired call girl declines their requests—ignites a drunken, violent response.
Director Lone Scherfig takes her time getting to the meat of the matter. Setting the scene gives us a sense of time and place but feels unnecessary in terms of making the larger point of the insulation from consequences privilege can provide. Perhaps it’s a way to enrich the ham-handed message—is it really such a surprise that ultra-rich yobs can behave pretty much however they like?—or the cartoonish climax but it doesn’t add much dramatically.
The large ensemble—it’s a who’s who of young English actors, including Douglas Booth, Natalie Dormer and Jessica Brown Findlay—hold it together admirably but the story of class warfare might have been stronger if there were a few more skirmishes along the way.
SYNOPSIS: Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes the romantic time travel tale of Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a turn-of-the-last century burglar who comes across the love of his life while robbing a mansion he thought was empty. Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay), the beautiful-but-doomed daughter of a wealthy newspaper tycoon, is a precocious and philosophical young woman with just months to live. He wants to save her, but first he must save himself from evil crime lord Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a brutal man who wants Lake dead. Then, in a twist suggested by the Brothers Grimm, he finds himself thrust one hundred years into the future with only the faded memory of Beverly and a white guardian angel horse as company.
Richard: 1 ½ Stars
Mark: 2 Stars
Richard: Mark, I am not a cold-hearted man. I like love stories as much as anyone and, as a fan of Say Anything, almost well up whenever I hear Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes, but the sledgehammer romance of Winter’s Tale left me feeling bruised rather than buoyed. The mix of metaphysical romance, magic realism and demonic revenge is a strange stew that worked well in the book by Mark Helprin but seems to have lost something in the translation to the screen. I feel the sight of Colin Farrell flying above New York on a winged Pegasus is best left in the mind’s eye.
Mark: Richard, sometime in the Eighties, I was dating a girl who gave me a copy of the book, which she said was the “greatest novel of all time.” I read about a third of it, tossed it on the floor, and subsequently broke up with her. So obviously the story, with its magic/tragic, hocus/pocus view of romance isn’t for me. This is not a poorly made movie. It’s lovely to look at, has some fine acting, and has a lot of good dialogue mixed in with the bad. But Richard, there’s a magic horse in it. That horse will separate those who will be enthralled by the film from those who think it’s embarrassing hooey. Guess which group I fall into?
RC: I’m with you on the Pegasus and it is a credit to the charm of Colin Farrell and Findlay that the romantic side of the tale comes alive at all. The first meeting between Peter and Beverly, over a cup of tea, is simple, effective and bristles with starry-eyed tension. More of that and less of the magic horse and I might have bought into the story. As it was I felt like I was strapped to a chair and force-fed all the Valentine’s Day episodes of “Touched by an Angel.” What did you make of Russell Crowe? He seemed like he was having fun with his demonic gangster routine, but did it work for this movie?
MB: Yes, Crowe is one of the things in the movie that worked for me. It was the casting of his boss that was ridiculous, a preposterous cameo that threw off the already precarious balance of the film. When he came onscreen, there was no turning back from its silliness. But even if I accept the movie on its own ridiculous terms, it still has a major problem. It’s like a two act play, but the two halves don’t cleave together. The second act, which happens in present day New York, feels rushed and arbitrary. At least the first act takes some time building characters and mood. What did you think of the female lead, Jessica Brown Finlay?
RC: She’s beautiful, a little frail and doesn’t get buried by the schmaltz. I thought she was nicely cast.
MB: As was William Hurt. Always nice to see him working again.
I am not a cold-hearted man. I like love stories as much as anyone and, as a fan of Say Anything, almost well up whenever I hear Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” but the sledgehammer romance of “Winter’s Tale” left me feeling bruised rather than buoyed. What is meant to be an uplifting experience about the power of love and the triumph of good over evil felt more like being strapped to a chair and force-fed all nine seasons of “Touched by an Angel.”
Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Mark Helprin and brought to the screen by Oscar winning writer-turned-director Akiva Goldsman the story begins when Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a turn-of-the-last century burglar, comes across the love of his life while robbing a mansion he thought was empty.
Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay) the beautiful-but-doomed daughter of a wealthy newspaper tycoon, is a precocious and philosophical young woman with just months to live. He wants to save her, but first he must save himself from demonic crime lord Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a brutal man who wants Lake dead. Then, in a twist suggested by the Brothers Grimm, he finds himself thrust one hundred years into the future with only the faded memory of Beverly and a white guardian angel horse as company.
The opening narration let’s us know that “magic is everywhere around us.” I just wish that some of that magic had spilled into the screenplay. The movie’s mix of metaphysical romance, magic realism and demonic revenge is a strange stew that worked well in the novel but seems to have lost something in the translation to the screen. In other words, perhaps the sight of Colin Farrell flying above New York on a winged Pegasus is best left in the mind’s eye.
As silly as the movie is, and make no mistake, this is what I like to call an S.D.M.—Silly Damn Movie—Farrell and Findlay manage to bring the romantic side of the tale alive. Their first meeting, over a cup of tea, is simple, effective and bristles with sexual tension. The love story, although a bit starry-eyed, works until the magic realism takes over and the story becomes loopier and loopier. By the time the words, “Is it possible to love someone so much they can’t die?” spill from Farrell’s lips all is lost, and that’s not even an hour into the story.
Putting aside the enchanted horses and dime store spirituality for a moment, the story often requires leaps of faith that would have even terrified Evel Knievel. This is the kind of movie where mothers willingly hand over their sick children to scruffy looking strangers on the promise of a miracle. It’s the kind of movie where people accept outlandish events with a tossed off phrase like, “How’s that even possible?” It’s the kind of sloppily plotted movie that involves a level of suspension of disbelieve so off-the-charts it’s almost in outer space.
“Winter’s Tale” is a frustrating movie. It overly complicates a boy-from-the-wrong- side-of-the-tracks-meets-rich-girl story with a bunch of hocus pocus that wastes some good work from Farrell, Findlay and Russell Crowe.