Richard joins CP24 anchor Nick Dixon to have a look at the weekend’s new movies including “Skyscraper,” the animated Adam Sandler flick “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” the documentary “Whitney,” the biopic “Mary Shelley,” “Sorry to Bother You” starring LaKeith Stanfield and the comedy “The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger.”
Today Mary Shelley is a household name even if her best-known book, “Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus,” the first true science fiction tale, was originally published without her name.
In director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s new biopic “Mary Shelley” Elle Fanning plays the title character as a rebellious daughter of philosophers, smitten with ghost stories. Dreaming of a life less ordinary—”I have a fire in my soul,” she says early on—she begins a scandalous affair with married poet and radical Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). Theirs is an unconventional life, embracing free love and literally and figuratively in the form of Mary’s step-sister Claire Claremont (Bel Powley).
As scandalizing as her lifestyle may have been to her contemporaries, it is her best-known book that sent shock waves through the publishing world. Written in 1816 as part of a competition between Mary, aged 18, her husband, flamboyant Romantic poet Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge) and writer John Polidori (Ben Hardy) to see who could write the best ghost story, “Frankenstein” becomes a way for Mary to funnel her feelings—the heartache of losing her family amid the scandal and her sense of otherness—into print.
“Mary Shelley” is a nicely turned out film, with beautiful period particulars and an eye toward detail in décor. It is a shame then, that director Al-Mansour hasn’t applied the same level of rigour to the script. In what feels like an attempt to make Mary Shelley’s search for her voice relatable to a modern audience her daring edges have been blunted. Her radical lifestyle is alluded to but the presentation feels sterile, funnelled through the prism of romantic drama rather than history. Fewer scenes of Mary and Percy arguing and more of the author’s ground breaking lust for life and the movie might have been a more fitting tribute to a true original.
“Mary Shelley,” despite a solid performance from Fanning, is a conventional look at an unconventional life.
To direct the exterior scenes of the award-winning 2012 movie Wadjda filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first woman from Saudi Arabia to make a feature film, was hidden away inside a van. Her home country does not allow women to work in public with men so she watched the action on monitors and communicated with her actors via walkie-talkie.
“I remember the first day she came on the Mary Shelley set she started crying because she’d never been on a film set,” says Elle Fanning who stars in Al-Mansour’s latest movie, Mary Shelley. Shot on location in Dublin and Luxembourg, it is an exploration into the Frankenstein author’s battle to assert her voice in 19th-century England.
“One of the most interesting things about approaching this movie for me was the fact that (Al-Mansour) had gone through a very similar journey to Mary Shelley in her creative process,” says Douglas Booth who plays Percy Shelley. “She came from a world where she had to break through misogyny and people thinking she didn’t have a voice or didn’t deserve a voice because of her gender.”
Mary Shelley is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival this year placing Al-Mansour alongside filmmakers like Alanis Obomsawin, Agnès Varda, Jennifer Baichwal, Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, Brie Larson, Molly Parker and other female directors who make up one-third of all films programmed at the fest this year.
“There is something different that happens on set when I am being directed by a woman,” says Stronger star Tatiana Maslany. “The cameras aren’t the gods. There isn’t idolatry of the machinery. I don’t know if that is a female thing specifically or just the women I have worked with. There is a deep interest in mining the internal life of something, the dynamic between men, between women, between a person and their surroundings, between a person and their own body. It’s not exclusive to women but it is something that I feel is a new thing I’m experiencing and it is often on female-led sets.”
Fanning says she often works with female directors like Sofia Coppola, who directed her in The Beguiled, but “it’s not a strategic thing. Without thinking about it I worked with four women directors in a row.”
“The way women tell stories about women – it’s real,” she says. “It needs to be shown, especially for young girls, to relate to all different types of women. I think it’s important to have women characters that are true to how women are and women directors get that.”
To ensure that a new generation of filmmakers like Al-Mansour are given a chance to have their voices heard TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera. Through the initiative Share Her Journey TIFF is placing emphasis on mentorship, skills development, media literacy and activity for young people. To help them hit their financial goal of $500,000 for 2017 donations can be made through tiff.net.
“By supporting female filmmakers, you can make sure the stories women are longing to hear are told truthfully,” says Share Her Journey ambassador Omoni Oboli on the TIFF website. “Not only does it empower the filmmakers, but it also helps an audience to see the possibilities of women, instead of our limitations.”
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.
SYNOPSIS: I, Frankenstein, Aaron Eckhart’s martial arts update of the famous Mary Shelley story wasn’t screened for the press in time to meet our deadline, so after a long conversation with our editor the Reel Guys have decided to do a column on Eckhart’s oeuvre. At least that’s how we saw it. Our boss has a different idea. “As your editor I demand a thorough dissection of Eckhart’s abs,” she wrote before adding, “More than pretty, Eckhart is.” What follows is our humble attempt to mix cinematic business with our editor’s pleasure.
RC: Mark, Aaron Eckhart isn’t exactly a household name, but he has appeared in some very big movies. He’s the only live-action actor in the Batman films to play both Harvey Dent and his villainous alter-ego Two-Face. The Dark Knight is by far and away his biggest hit, followed by his star-making turn in Erin Brockovich but despite those box office busters we don’t talk about the handsome actor in the same breath as a-listers like Cruise, di Caprio or Smith. He has the above- mentioned absn and is versatile to star in everything from video game action movies like Battle: Los Angeles to hardcore dramas like Rabbit Hole and yet doesn’t get the same recognition as many of his peers. What’s your take on him?
Mark: You mean the cleft that walked like a man? I could probably fit my grad thesis in there! Eckhart exploded onto my radar with two films he did in the late Nineties, both by the cynical playwright Neil Labute: In the Company Men, and Your Friends and Neighbors. In both films he plays despicable, curdled, almost unwatchably misogynistic men. The key word here is almost. As rotten as he behaves in these movies, there’s an inchoate grace under the surface that redeems the characters, and it’s a testimony to his acting skills that he can keep us watching. And that cleft.
RC: Some like the cleft, some the abs. I like his versatility. In a year span between 2010 and ’11 he released three very different movies. In Rabbit Hole and Nicole Kidman were a couple trying to deal with the death of their four-year-old son. They are at different stages of their grief, but they share a couple of things; a terrible sense of loss and an inability to know how to deal with it. Terrific stuff. Next was the alien invader movie Battle Los Angeles followed by The Rum Diaries where he played a slick PR person. Three different movies and three very different performances. Maybe we have a hard time defining him because he constantly does wild career flip flops.
MB: Or because there’s an opacity to him that allows him to play so many compromised characters, allowing us to project our feelings onto him. Look at one of his finest roles, as the tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking. He’s so slick, so shifty, we don’t judge him, precisely because we don’t really know him. A quality that’s great for an actor. but less so for a movie star. I really liked him in Rabbit Hole and Rum Diaries, too, but his mainstream work doesn’t register with me as much. Except for his cleft.
RC: He’s has made a number of movies I wouldn’t recommend for the big screen but work well enough as rentals. Two action films, Erased and Suspect Zero are very VOD friendly and feature many cleft hero shots.
MB: Or two romantic comedies that would have been disastrous without him: No Reservations and Love Happens. He doesn’t do nude scenes in them, though, because in close-up you couldn’t tell if it were his backside or his cleft.
Two hundred years after Henry Frankenstein strung “a dozen used parts from eight different corpses” together and brought them to life with a bolt of electricity and the cry of, “Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive…” the creature is back for a new adventure based on the graphic novel called “I, Frankenstein” by Kevin Grevioux.
This time around his green parlor and neck bolts are gone, replaced by a chin cleft Igor could hide in and scars lining his unusually fit body. He’s a tormented soul, or rather, it is his lack of a soul that torments him. “I care not for the world of men,” he says, “I go my own way.”
For hundreds of years instead of terrifying villagers Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, now dubbed Adam (Aaron Eckhart) has hidden himself in the most remote places where he thought no human, demon or Gargoyle could find him. But he was wrong.
It seems a legion of 666 fiends, led by a demon prince named Naberius (Bill Nighy) are desperate to find Adam so they can learn the secret of reanimating corpses. Naberius plans on inserting demon souls into dead bodies to create an unstoppable army and “unravel the mortal coil of life.”
On the other side are the Gargoyles, commanded by Leonore (Miranda Otto), an archangel determined to help Adam find his humanity and save the human race.
An unholy mix of religion, martial arts (Adam has some slick Bruce Lee moves) and Mary Shelley, “I, Frankenstein” should have been called “Aye, yi, yi, Frankenstein.”
There is some cool gothic Gargoyle imagery on display and a variety of posh English accents to class to the joint, but it seems only Nighy realizes that this would have played better as a campy comedy.
In amongst the over earing narration, dropped storylines—for instance, a bride for Adam is mentioned and then never mentioned again—and shots of Adam peering around corners, every now and again someone will say, “I think your boss is a demon prince.”
Mel Brooks would have known how to stage that line. For all its atmosphere—i.e.: darkly shot scenes—“I, Frankenstein” would have been a lot more fun if it embraced its silly side just as Adam must embrace his humanity. With humanity comes a sense of humor, right? Not in this case. The movie plays like a satire of bad horror movies that forgot it was a satire.
The eight-foot-tall, gruesomely ugly creation of Victor Frankenstein has been called many things. In the original Mary Shelley novel he is named The Ogre. In the credits of the Boris Karloff film he is referred to as The Monster. He’s also been called a fiend, the thing and the demon.
All those terms are apt for a creature born of dead body parts but a new movie adds a different name to the list—Adam. As in Adam Frankenstein.
I, Frankenstein, stars Aaron Eckhart as Adam, the prefab man. He’s now an immortal martial arts expert battling a war between rival clans in an ancient city. The character takes the name from the Shelley book. Sort of.
Shelley never gave the monster a name—people often mistakenly refer to him as Frankenstein—but in the novel the creature says to Victor, “I ought to be thy Adam; but I am rather the fallen angel.”
Whatever you want to call him, Frankenstein’s Monster has always been a popular character in the movies.
The most famous film featuring the creature has to be Boris Karloff’s 1931 classic, but it wasn’t the first. Five silent films, one with the dramatic title Life Without Soul and another that featured the brute emerging from a cauldron of fiery chemicals, all played to packed houses.
From those dramatic beginnings dozens of movies followed.
Robert De Niro played the beast in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. On the set director Kenneth Branagh banned the word “monster,” insisting instead that everyone refer to the creature the same way he is billed in the credits, as “The Sharp Featured Man.”
Frankenstein: The College Years is basically an unlikely mix of Shelley’s story and Encino Man. Directed by Tom Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Shadyac, this 1991 comedy sees college student Mark (William Ragsdale) reanimate Dr. Frankenstein’s creature who then becomes a football star and a big man on campus known as Frank N. Stein (Vincent Hammond). “He blends right in,” says Mark of the six-foot-nine Frank, “he’s a regular invisible man.”
The movie The Bride, a 1985 remake of The Bride of Frankenstein starring Sting and Jennifer Beals, gave the fiend yet another name. He was dubbed Viktor but not in tribute to his creator Victor Frankenstein. In this retelling the good doctor is known as Baron Charles Frankenstein. The name Viktor was chosen in tribute to the film’s producer Victor Drai.