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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Film Review - I, FRANKENSTEIN

If there is an afterlife, and its residents possess free reign to watch over the living, dearly departed author Mary Shelley must have been screaming bloody murder for her name to be removed from the credits of I, Frankenstein. For here we have one of the dourest, dumbest examples of imagination-deficient cinematic sludge in quite some time; a mopey fan-wank sequel to the literary classic in which the misunderstood, but dreaded, monster emerges - after centuries in miserable exile - as a sexy demon-battering vigilante with the disposition of an emo rocker. Sure, it’s feasible that decent B-movie fun could be generated from a hacky premise that requires our jigsaw puzzle-pieced antihero to mumble “descend in pain, demon!” while surrounded by bad CG fire swirls, but this motion picture IQ dropper is as incompetent as Igor on ice-skates. Blindfolded.

Set in the murky, desolate Gothic streets of a crumbling, unnamed four-block metropolis, the continuing adventures of the famed abomination, now played by Aaron Eckhart, pick up with him becoming embroiled in the centuries-old war between the divine Gargoyles and the sinister demons. Seems the evil forces, led by seething big daddy bad-guy Naberius (Bill Nighy), are hoping to attain Dr. Frankenstein’s miraculous scientific formulas and use them for their own nefarious ends. In a bid to thwart this apocalyptic plot, Gargoyle Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) offers the newly rechristened Adam steel baton weapons and a cause to fight for, despite the objections of her hot-headed second-in-command, Gideon (Jai Courtney). Of course, ever the loner, the zipper-stitch-faced ass-kicker instead strikes out on his own, recruiting the aid of hottie scientist Yvonne Strahovski in a quest to uncover both the truth behind his mortality and a means of stopping Naberius’s mankind-decimating master plan.

Ostensibly based on co-star/co-writer Kevin Grevioux’s Darkstorm Studios graphic novel of the same name – which, to the best of my research, does not actually exist in any published form – I, Frankenstein is, more accurately, a craven attempt by producers Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg and Richard S. Write to replicate the success of their cruddy-yet-popular Underworld franchise. Again we have two long-opposing factions of phony-looking supernatural beasts, a tormented protagonist trapped in the middle of the conflict, and Nighy as the acidic villain (it’s debatable whether the actor is even aware he’s playing a different character here). However, whereas that franchise occasionally managed – in its first two installments – to just barely scrape by on the energetic bargain basement vision of Len Wiseman, this project’s helmer, Stuart Beattie (co-scribe of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, 30 Days of Night and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) is a barely adequate point-and-shoot kinda guy. His doom ‘n gloom visuals aren’t egregiously terrible, so much as utterly and completely generic and uninspired. More The Crow: City of Angels than The Crow, if you will.

Where the shoddiness really shines through is in the construction. We can look past the distractingly empty sets – I, Frankenstein’s extras budget must have been roughly on par with that of a 1987 episode of "The Bold and the Beautiful" – and joyless videogame-like action in which everything and nothing happens simultaneously. What can’t be forgiven, though, is the jarring, ramshackle editing that randomly transports Adam wherever he needs to be at all times – marvel as he falls off a building onto a subterranean train, sits and reads a book, and then astonishingly appears back on top of the previously mentioned building at a key moment mere minutes later – and loosely staples the directionless shambles of a story together. There’s no flow or arcs, only perfunctory plot beats tossed sluggishly into a swirling chaos of monotonous mythological nonsense and sub-Blade fisticuffs. The stakes feel pitifully low, and, since writers Beattie and Grevioux fail to gift even a single character with a personality trait, it’s impossible to give a rat’s ass what the dickens is going on.

Honestly, you just wind up feeling bad for the actors. Did the elegant Miranda Otto spend much time reminiscing about her career-launching stint in Middle Earth during this sorry shoot? Was Jai Courtney, fresh off the sting of A Good Day to Die Hard, aware that his near future wasn’t going to get any brighter? Did Bill Nighy buy a nice boat with his paycheck? And how about Aaron Eckhart, who was so fantastic in films like In the Company of Men, Thank You for Smoking and The Dark Knight? Clad in a black hoodie, eyes smeared with mascara, the actor glumly continues the frankly embarrassing trend of dressing middle-aged manly men like 18-year-old Goth brats. Remember the days when kids aspired to grow up to look like their favorite movie stars and not the other way around? Yeesh. What would Bogie or the Duke say?!

Dreary, derivative and insultingly lazy, the only faint benefit of this vile January dump is that it may potentially point a viewer or two in the direction of Shelley’s haunting work or some of the character’s iconic Universal efforts (allow me a precious glimmer of hope. Please.) Beyond that…well, to waste any more thought on this grim chore would be to exceed the consideration that went into its unholy conception. A stinking, unresponsive corpse of a movie that no one involved could be bothered jolting to life, I, Frankenstein deserves to be kicked into an unmarked grave and unceremoniously buried. 

1 out of 5

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Top 5 Most Underrated Supervillain Performances

Heath Ledger, Tom Hiddleston, Alfred Molina, Terrence Stamp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack Nicholson…

Let’s not kid ourselves: ticking off the best superhero movie villains is, at this point, a somewhat pointless endeavor. We all know who’s snatching up the top slot (“Why so serious?!”), and more often than not the ensuing list – of which there are no shortage on the oh-so wondrous interwebs – tend to fall predictably in line with the Greatest Superhero Movies consensus. Boooring!


So, instead, let’s take a moment and highlight those less fortunate scenery-chewing thespians; the tremendous talents that really went for it, delivering sensational bad guy performances in pictures that didn’t deserve their energy and were generally dismissed as mediocre or downright wretched. After all, there are some fantastic spot-on characterizations and moments of madcap malevolence that deserve their devilish due here! So join me in quaking in their magnificently fiendish presence!

5) Liev Schreiber (Victor Creed/Sabretooth) in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Pyew! Hands down the worst film included on this list, Hugh Jackman’s first solo X-flick is a truly embarrassing, hacky assemblage of hoary clich├ęs, appalling effects and hyper-dopey creative decisions. However, Schreiber’s teeth-gnashing turn as the animalistic hero’s adamantium-laced half-brother is this disaster’s lone saving grace. While lacking his X-Men predecessor Tyler Mane’s more comic book-appropriate blonde locks and hulking physique, the actor sinisterly taps into the role’s darkly funny, blood-curdling charisma, playfully rebounding between soft-spoken statuesque menace and full-blown psychopathic savagery. Had Origins understood how to effectively weave him into the narrative, and given him something interesting to do, he’d likely be remembered for a lot more than his goofy (and never-ending) CG-aided pouncing and clawing sequences.

4) (Tie) Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko/Whiplash) & Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer) in Iron Man 2 (2010)

These two both showed up ready to play and were instead sidelined by an overly-complicated and bloated (albeit still modestly engaging) story that ignored them for vast chunks of time. Rourke – whose numbed Russian Peter-Stormare-in-Fargo-like heavy is a fun amalgamation of Iron Man foes Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo – gamely disappears Method-style into the greasy, hulking hide of his mumbling vengeance-minded genius. Alas, despite his very cool dreadlocked visage, ugly menace and tech gimmickry, the movie fails to establish him as a fearsome threat. Following a spectacular attack on the Monaco Grand Prix, he mostly just sits around waiting to do something, and when he finally goes back into action it’s underwhelming to the max. Rockwell’s hilarious anti-Stark arms dealer buffoon – a de-aged, doofed-up version of his comic book counterpart – gets the juicier scenes and funny lines, yet ranks even lower on the danger-scale. Thus, we find ourselves watching Downey’s tin-plated titan facing off against two genuinely memorable, eccentric opponents who are, unfortunately, obviously inferior to him in every conceivable way. Not exactly a stellar way to set the stakes particularly high.

3) Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor) in Superman Returns (2006)

While I consider myself a staunch defender of this Bryan Singer-helmed tribute to the Richard Donner Superman era - and honestly prefer it to the recent overkill-happy Man of Steel reboot – there’s little question that movie-goers felt quite differently. That said, criticisms of stars Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth, and the moody, reflective story they occupy, aside, it’s mighty tough to discount the dripping-with-relish efforts of Spacey as pop-culture’s most infamous iconic bald megalomaniac! Sure, Lex’s plan doesn’t make a whole lotta sense here, but the actor is having so much fun it’s infectious, blending Gene Hackman’s mischievous twinkle and bluster with cold reptilian intellectualism and the odd spike of truly shocking sadism (Kryptonite shank!). Anticlimactically abandoned on a desert isle, it would have been fascinating to see where Spacey would have taken this renowned arch-foe in ensuing sequels had he been given the chance. Oh well, at least we’ll always have this legendary line delivery:


2) Thomas Haden Church (Flint Marko/Sandman) in Spider-Man 3 (2007)

There’s no good reason Haden Church couldn’t have joined the lofty ranks occupied by all-timer Spidey nemeses Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina. Perfectly cast, and aided by state of the art effects (Sandman’s beautiful and haunting Universal Monsters-inspired origin scene remains a genre stand-out), he and director Sam Raimi display a flawless understanding of the perpetually-unsuccessful working class spirit of Stan Lee’s immoral granular creation. Alas, too many studio intervention-induced subplots and villains (New Goblin! Symbiote!! Venom!!!) result in an uphill battle for the ingenious actor, who nonetheless valiantly tries his damnedest to convey the wounded humanity and redemptive journey of his antagonist in scant screentime. Worse, when the storytelling really jumps the track in the second hour, the concrete-fisted criminal’s motivation and relatable mortal form go entirely out the window, leaving us with a giant groaning monster that lacks an iota of soulfulness or pathos. Perhaps it’s fitting that it was Sandman, of all of Spider-Man’s rogues, who wound up having the worst luck storming the big screen. It sure doesn’t make the end result sting any less though.

1) Colin Farrell (Bullseye) in Daredevil (2003)

Rarely has any actor in a superhero movie gone as gleefully over the top silly as Farrell does in Mark Steven Johnson’s so-so comic book adaptation without crashing and burning (take notes Tommy Lee Jones, Uma Thurman, John Leguizamo and Dominic West). Introduced to the brash party time rhymes of House of Pain, the actor flamboyantly steals every single one of his scenes, pushing his thick Irish accent, hyperactive eyebrows and bizarre mannerisms masterfully right to the edge of Cartoonsville. And yet it all works so wonderfully! Whether hissing crazily at a rat or slyly murdering an old woman with airline peanuts, Bullseye is a hysterical figure of giddy lunatic mischief, scoring huge laughs by playing up both his cocky deadliness and cape-swishing campiness simultaneously. It’s weird, in retrospect, that 20th Century Fox viewed Jennifer Garner’s vanilla Elektra as the breakout character, given Farrell’s broad crowd-pleasing antics and spotlight appearance in the movie’s sequel-teasing credits stinger. Borrowing a line from Frank Miller’s classic “Man Without Fear” Daredevil story arc, Farrell declares mid-film: “You’re good, baby. I’ll give you that. But me? I’m magic!” Pretty hard to disagree with him there.