Blog Archive

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens (2016) – Review

Humor is one of the more subjective and wide ranging elements in the world; from the brilliant word play of the Marx Brothers to the slapstick humor of The Three Stooges, what tickles one person’s funny bone may do nothing at all to another, but I think we can all agree that whatever humor the Sharknado movies have had they clearly have gone well beyond their best-before-date.  seriously, there is beating a joke into the ground until not one ounce of humor survives, and then there is Sharknado: The 4th Awakens. The first Sharknado was not a good movie but it had a kind of goofy charm, Sharknado 2: The Second One road in on a wave of pop cultural zeitgeist, and then the joke completely ran out of gas with Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Yet somehow we were subjected to a fourth installment.

178035_54_news_hub_155383_656x500-563x353

Taking place five years after the events of the last movie (we dare to dream of a world where we actually get a five year break between these movies), and we learn that Tech mogul Aston Reynolds (Tommy Davidson) has developed a space based company called Astro-X that is capable of sending out an energy pulse that will diffuse sharknados before then can become a threat. While Fin Sheppard (Ian Ziering), with his cousin Gemini (Masiela Lusha), are visiting Las Vegas to meet up with his son Matt (Cody Linley) a sandstorm develops and crashes into Aston Reynolds’ shark themed hotel, which of courses turns it into a sharknado. The mystery behind Aston’s reasons for building a hotel that is filled with hundreds of sharks is never fully explored, but what is made clear is that the people of Las Vegas wanted some of the sweet Sharknado publicity that Universal Studios got for being in Sharknado 3.

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-13h52m16s705 

Somewhere Frank Sinatra is spinning in his grave.

After saving his son via a borrowed pirate ship from the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino the group find themselves on a mad dash across America; while along the way we learn that the Astro-X pulse weapon is ineffective against these new sharknados because they are not water based, and now the world’s only hope may be in the hands of Fin’s dad Colonel Shepard (David Hasselhoff) who after being rescued from the moon, don’t ask, now works for Astro-X and has been developing a battlemech suit to handle this very contingency, but unfortunately it’s not ready yet. Lucky for America another scientist has been working on the very same thing; Wilford (Gary Busey) is not only a brilliant, and possibly mad, scientist he is also the father of Fin’s late wife April (Tara Reid) who had died in the previous film when space debris crushed her. In the past five years he hasn’t just been working on a battlemech suit he also stole his daughter’s body from the hospital and revived her as a cyborg.

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-14h08m13s575 

The Force is lame with this one.

One doesn’t expect a well written story out of this series, but by the fourth outing the people at SyFy Channel aren’t even trying. The flying shark attacks are now tired and boring and the only way they can think to liven up the proceedings is to double down on the stupid. So instead of our heroes being threaten by something as monotonous as a tornado full of sharks we know have a bouldernado when the sharknado picks up rocks while traveling through the Grand Canyan, then we get an oilnado that quickly ignites into a firenado, which is then followed by a hailnado and lavanado, but then because that isn’t dumb enough we get cownado that evolves into a lightningnado. The film big climax is when the sharknado hits a nucleur power plant so that Fin and friends must face off against a nukenado filled with radioactive sharks.

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-14h30m22s467 

This should be cool, but it’s not.

Sharknado: The 4th Awakens is a collection of lame jokes and movie references doled out by our moronic heroes, and a random assortment of has-been celebrity cameos that need to make their mortgage payments. Hasselhoff gets reunited with a couple of Baywatch co-stars, Leather Face from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre provides Fin with a chainsaw, Gilbert Gottfried drives around in a ridiculous storm chaser van, and then there is one scene that kind of sums up this entire series; Steve Gutenberg lends Fin Stephen King’s Christine to out run a lightningnado that is pushing a shark filled World’s Largest ball of Twine.

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-14h17m42s412 

That the car doesn’t kill a sharknado is one of this film’s many crimes.

The previous movie ended with a twitter voting campaign on whether Tara Reid’s character should return or not, as she did return one can assume most of those votes were cast by Tara Reid herself, and this was a clear warning that we were going to get a sequel whether we wanted one or not, and thus Sharknado: The 4th Awakens ends with the Eiffel Tower crashing into Niagara Falls to reveal that Nova’s (Cassie Scerbo) European vacation had been interrupted by a sharknado.

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-14h43m56s392 

Do we really need more reasons for the French to hate us?

These films are obviously cheap to make, relying on people tuning in just to see how bad it gets, and thus they will continue to make money and we will continue to get crappier and crappier sequels. Now to be fair there are worse movies out there, and I’ve seen a lot of them, but the Sharknado series has just become generically bad, and that is truly the worse thing to be in this genre. So until Sharknado 5: The Heretic airs keep your powder dry and your chainsaw oiled.

vlcsnap-2016-09-23-14h51m19s932 

Or it could be called Sharknado 5: The Magnificent Seven Returns.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Llana of Gathol: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

city-of-mummiesLlana of Gathol is the tenth and penultimate book in the Barsoom series and consists of four connected stories; "The Ancient Dead" (originally "The City of Mummies"), "The Black Pirates of Barsoom," "Escape on Mars" (originally "Yellow Men of Mars"), and the "Invisible Men of Mars." Published in the pages of Amazing Stories between March and October in 1941 these stories follow John Carter as he tries to rescue his granddaughter Llana of Gathol, and though our hero attempting to rescue a damsel in distress is nothing new in these tales, in fact rescuing damsels is the number one occupation on Barsoom by this point, but here Burroughs ventures a little into self-parody. In this collection of stories the author has some fun poking jabs at his earlier works; John Carter’s ability as fighter become almost comically over-the-top, the level of coincidences (a feature that is often criticized in Burroughs’ books) is off the charts here, but all done with love and in the inimitable style of Burroughs.

In the first story “The Ancient Dead aka "The City of Mummies" John Carter is escaping the boring trappings of being The Warlord of Mars by exploring some of the more distant regions of his adopted planet; while flying over the deserted city of Horz he spots a red man being chased by a dozen green warriors, and so Carter leaps into action and with his usual flair for swordplay he turns the tide and wins out over the superior numbers provided by the Tharks. Pan Dan Chee, the man Carter saved, is very grateful, but unfortunately this doesn’t stop his people from taking Carter prisoner. It turns out that the city of Horz isn’t quite deserted but holds the last remnants of the once dominant race of Barsoom, the Orovars, and no one is allowed to leave the city with that knowledge. Carter and Pan Dan Chee, who stands by Carter’s side, are sent to the pits to await execution. The people of Horz are insanely polite, even when sentencing one to death, and Pan Dan Chee feels bad about the whole situation, but he’s also against Carter’s plans for escaping. He may owe Carter his life but his allegiance is still with his Jeddak (king/chieftain), and so things look bad for our hero until Carter brings out his pocket Jettan set (Martian Chess) with pieces that are carved with the exact likeness of his family. Pan Dan Chee falls in love with the Llana of Gathol piece, her beauty even in tiny form is apparently breathtaking, which is about the most unique version of “Love at First Sight” that I’ve ever heard of.

While wandering around these pits, which haven’t been used for thousands of years, Carter an Pan Dan Chee hear strange laughter and spot a light in the distance, and while they search for this phantom laughter they come across a room full of coffins that contain hundreds of ex-residents of Horz, all who had been hypnotized by and old madman and placed in these coffins centuries ago. This “madman” is a bit of an oddity himself as he’s actually dead, but a legendary master of embalming was so good at his job that often his clients got up off their slabs forgetting they were dead. The old madman tries to hypnotize Carter but our hero has stronger mental faculties than the average Barsoomian and so he is able to kill the crazy undead bastard. With the old man dead all the people that had been hypnotized wake-up, but none of them believe Carter when he tells them that they’ve been asleep for thousands of years and that the oceans have long since dried up.

jasj34

While everyone is arguing one of the chests opens up and Llana of Gathol steps out, she wasn’t hypnotized she had just been hiding there; her story is that while back in her home of Gathol she had been kidnapped by the brutal Hin Abtol, a Jeddak of the North bent on conquering all of Barsoom, and who wanted Llana for his very own. Llana was able to sabotage the flier she was being carried away in, lucky for her the people of the North weren't familiar with ships designs of the South, and once landed she was able to escape into the ruins of Horz where she has now been found. Pan Dan Chee declares his love for her, because of course he does, but she says he has to fight for her first, something that is most likely to happen during their 1500 mile walk back to Gathol as they have no flier.

The Ancient Dead” is easily the goofiest of the four stories in this collection; with Pan Dan Chee falling in love with this book’s damsel simply by seeing a chess piece in her likeness, and then her turning out to be just down the hall from our imprisoned heroes.  Then you have the story of an embalmer who was killed because his abilities was so good that when a client’s dead wife, who was embalmed so well she forgot to be dead, stumbled in on him and his current wife. The story does have a bit of a sad ending for all those people that had been place in a hypnotic state of suspended animation; when John Carter leads them out to show them that the once great ocean they knew was now gone, and nothing but a desert is left, time catches up with them and they all turn to dust. We’re supposed to be okay with this because they wouldn’t have been able to handle this new bleaker world, but it still kind of bummed me out.

black-pirates-of-barsoom

The Black Pirates of Barsoom” continues the adventures of John Carter, Llana and the love sick Pan Dan Chee as they make the long trek to Gathol. After many days of grueling foot travel they spot an approaching caravan of green men, they try to hide but their escape is blocked by a huge rift valley that rivals the Grand Canyon. The group finds a path down into the canyon, a route littered with many human skeletons, until the reach the safety of the bottom (the path much too narrow for the large green Martians to navigate), and eventually they spot a beautiful city. Knowing how most Barsoomians treat strangers Carter decides to avoid the city, but alas as they make their way across the valley floor they encounter two hundred mounted black men of the race Carter first encountered back in The Gods of Mars. They are taken to the city, separated and examined by a strange machine, and then sold into slavery. Later Carter learns that the machine had made a complete map of their individual nerve indexes and that if one were to try escape the city the machine, having mapped and catalogued your brain algorithm, could now kill you at even a great distance. This explains all the skeletons that littered the way to the city.

As is typical for John Carter his fantastic swordsmanship is remarked upon and he finds himself fighting in gladiatorial games, which he of course easily wins, earning him both respect and hatred from the Black Pirates, all this while trying to figure how to find Llana and with Pan Dan Chee escape this horrible city. The biggest danger facing Carter is that if any of the residents of this city recognize him for the man who upset their religious scamm and overthrew their queen back in the Valley Dor, he would mostly likely be killed instantly. Needless to say visitors from Dor arrive who could expose him, Carter gets to fight several duels, he disguises himself as a Black Pirate, Pan Dan Chee still can’t get Llana to admit she has any feelings for him, and the group escapes after Carter destroys the machine and the man who operated it.

This second story I found very reminiscent of the original Star Trek series; I could easily see Captain Kirk fighting duels and putting a stop to a machine that keeps people trapped under the thumb of an evil dictator. Stick Yeoman Rand in place of Llana of Gathol, insert Chekov as a Russian version of Pan Dan Chee, and you’ve got a great hour of Star Trek.


yellow-men-of-mars

Escape on Mars” aka "The Yellow Men of Mars" has our group finally make it to Gathol only to find it besieged by the forces of Hin Abtol. After landing to scout out the situation, and hopefully find some food, Carter is captured by soldiers of Gathol (they don’t recognize Carter because he forgot to wash off his Black Pirate make-up), and by the time he is able to straighten things out he learns that Pan Dan Chee and Llana have been captured by some of Hin Abtol’s men. Carter uses stealth tactics he learned from the Apaches to infiltrate the camp, and after killing a sentry and taking his harness so he coule blend in, he learns that Hin Abtol is planning to send Llana back to Pankor (Hin Abtol's domed city state in the North Polar Region).  Carter heads for the landing field where is able to fool a drunken officer into giving him command of one of the fliers, he then quickly collects a bunch of fighters that are not loyal to Hin Abtol, as most of his army is conscripted from conquered cities they are not hard to find, and he sets off to rescue Llana.

There is some fun action in “Escape on Mars” with John Carter having to deal with a mutiny, unsuccessfully I might add, and then making it to Pankor the rest of the way on foot, but the really interest element that Burroughs creates in this story is that of the frozen soldiers that make up Hin Abtol’s military reserves. When Carter first sees thousands of frozen human corpses hanging by their feet he assumes that this is some barbaric cannibalistic society he has found himself in, but when one of these corpses is thawed out and brought to life he realizes that to save food Hin Abtol keeps his soldiers “on ice” until they are needed. Needless to say Carter is able to uses his jumping and fighting abilities to free Llana and escape the clutches of the cruel Hin Abtol.


invisble-men-of-mars

The “Invisible Men of Mars” continues John Carter and Llana journey once again back to her home of Gathol, but as expected they do run into trouble. When they land for provisions they are quickly surrounded by a group of invisible soldiers and are quickly enslaved. This of course isn’t the first time Burroughs has had our heroes deal with invisibility; in A Fighting Man of Mars the mad scientist Phor Tak an invisible paint that could be used to cloak a person or a ship from sight, and in Swords of Mars a race of people who live on one of the moons of Mars had the mental ability to make their enemies unable to see them. In the case of “Invisible Men of Mars” it is a pill that when taken will make a person invisible to all. The problem with this is that a rival city also has this pill which makes battles a tad messy as one is just as likely to stab a fellow soldier as an enemy.

The best element of this tale when John Carter gets aid from a noble woman who falls in love with him, a burden that Carter is more than accustomed to, and to ensure their escape he plays along with her even though it goes against his moral code, but the great thing is that when he eventually tells this woman that he could only ever love Dejah Thoris she doesn’t seem upset at all. Turns out she never loved him and only pretended to so that Carter would take her with him when he and his friends escaped. That is a great twist and a nice jab at our somewhat egocentrical hero.

This last tale does wrap up the threat of Hin Abtol rather abruptly; Carter flies back alone to Gathol and while invisible announces to the enemy ships that, “This ship is piloted by Death.” And as these villains are apparently a superstitious and cowardly lot they fall for this.  With this subterfuge he is able capture Hin Abtol and the siege of Gathol ends when the Helium navy arrives.  They Carter returns to Panar and frees nearly a million frozen men. As almost an afterthought we are told that Llana finally gives her love to Pan Dan Chee. *whew* I know that love story had me hanging at the edge of my seat.

215954

The continual rescuing of Llana of Gathol is the fun thread that ties the four stories together, and the way Burroughs handles the self-aware “Mary Sue” of our hero is brilliant satire of a genre he was the king of. Only Burroughs could write a protagonist who constantly goes on about how he is the “Best fighter on two worlds” and have him not come across as an egotistical jackass. Llana of Gathol is a very amusing adventure collection that will keep any fan of romantic space adventures happy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Iron Giant: From Book to Screen

iron-man-ted-hughesOver the years Brad Bird has become one of the more respected directors in the field of animation, even doing decent work in live action with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Tomorrowland, but once upon a time, long before all this fame and fortune, he was just a recently fired animator from Disney. It was the people at Warner Brothers who gave him a shot at directing a feature length animated film based on an a science fiction novel by British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes. That movie was to become The Iron Giant and today we will take a look at how that film, which at the time was a box office failure but now is considered to be a classic, came to be.
The book by British author Ted Hughes was titled The Iron Man, later published in North America as The Iron Giant so as not to be confused with Marvel’s Invincible Iron Man, and it truly is a magical book; basically a modern day fairy tale with a science fiction bent. For those only familiar with the Brad Bird movie I will give you a quick synopsis of the book.

The story opens with a towering figure made of Iron as it tumbles down a cliff and is subsequently dashed to pieces. Certainly not a heroic introduction to a character but The Iron Man isn’t your typical hero as bit by bit he pieces himself back together and then proceeds to go and find food, unfortunately for the residents of this seaside community that diet consists of a whole lot of metal. No parked car is safe.  A young boy by the name of Hogarth witness this towering machine of destruction and rushes home to inform his dad, who unlike most dad’s in this situation completely believes his son, and soon the whole community is rallied to combat this strange menace. We can't really find fault with this reaction as one can’t just let giant iron golems wander around eating your cars and tractors. The plan they come up with to defeat this “Iron Man” is to dig a huge covered pit, but their bait of an old vehicle doesn’t seem to do the trick and it is eventually Hogarth who lures the Iron Man into the trap. The kid informs his dad of this new development, the town mobilizes and the Iron Man is buried alive...but not forever. Come the following spring the Iron Man burst free of his grave, completely ruining a family’s picnic, but instead of calling the military to step in Hogarth comes up with the brilliant idea of convincing the Iron Man to follow him to the local scrapyard. With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of food the Iron Man promises not to cause further trouble for the locals, as long as no one troubles him.

Yet that is not the end of the story; astronomers discover a strange star heading to Earth, one that is soon revealed to contain a massive creature that is described as a Space-Bat-Angel-Dragon. When the monster makes landfall, its size so colossal that it completely covers Australia, it quickly demands that the people of Earth provide him with food or else it will wreak havoc on this tiny planet. Unlike the Iron Man the space-dragon needs organic food and it's quite clear that humanity would be unable to supply enough food for this creature, even if they wanted to, and so the world’s combined military forces attack. Sadly this only results in the Space-Dragon giving humanity a rueful smile as Earth's weapons are useless against it. Enter Hogarth who convinces the Iron Man that if mankind is wiped out no one will be making metal for him to eat, and that it's in his best efforts to take on the space-dragon. Now as big as the Iron Man is he is not quite in the same league as a creature that's the size of a continent; so the Iron Man uses his wits to defeat the space-dragon. The Iron Man makes a bargain with the creature; if he can withstand the heat of burning petroleum for longer than the space-dragon can withstand the laying on the surface of the Sun, the creature must obey the Iron Man's commands forevermore.  If the Iron Man melts or is afraid of melting before the space being undergoes his attempts or quits due to fear or pain, the creature has permission to devour the whole Earth. After two rounds, and being badly ravaged by the intensity of the Sun’s heat, the space-dragon capitulates.

7bb0ac3983714f772f2ede65ddf7e3cb
Things take a surreal turn when the Iron Man learns that the Space-Dragon is actually a peaceful "Star Spirit" who only came to Earth, with threats of violence and destruction, because it had witnessed the sights and sounds produced by the violent warfare of humanity. The Space-Dragon’s normal job is to sing the “music of the spheres” which is the harmony of his kind that keeps the Cosmos in balance. The Iron Man orders that the Space-Dragon/Star Spirit to sing to the inhabitants of Earth, and the beauty of this music distracts humanity from its destructive nature causing the first worldwide lasting peace.

So right off the bat one must wonder, “Where the hell was the Space-Dragon in Brad Bird’s movie?” Well a lot happened to the project as it went from page to screen; first a Peter Townsend musical stage version of the book was made, which had several changes of it's own from the book, but when Townsend was convinced this could make for a great animated movie he brought the project to Warner Brothers. Enter Brad Bird and The Iron Giant.

the-iron-giant-poster
Warner Brothers had been trying to get some of that sweet, sweet box office money that Disney had been raking in since The Little Mermaid debut in 1989, but Warner’s was not really known for their full length animated features. So the studio offered up and coming animator Brad Bird, formerly of Disney (fired for fighting with the brass) and lately of The Simpsons fame, and a pick of projects they had on the go.  Lucky for us the only one that really intrigued him was The Iron Giant, but what Brad Bird wasn’t interested in doing was a Disney musical.  As that was the whole point behind the Pete Townsend rock-opera connection, and where Warner Brothers had planned this story to go, this became a brief sticking point.  That is until Brad Birded pitched the idea of “What if a gun had a soul?” The people at Warner's all agreed that this was an interesting idea, and as Townsend would get paid whether or not his music was used he had no problem with the change either.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h47m41s414
There is a big difference between a passion project and a director for hire, John Carpenter’s Christine being a prime example of a director doing it simply for the paycheck, but though The Iron Giant project didn’t originate with Bird he pretty much tossed out the book and turned the whole thing into a personal mission. A key element in the production of this movie, and what led to the “What if a gun had a soul?” theme, is that Brad Bird himself had been greatly affected by gun violence for his sister had been shot and killed by her husband.  So it’s not surprising that this kind of traumatic event skewed this film from a metal giant and a space dragon, as it appears in the book, to the anti-gun themed story that the movie became.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h41m29s918 

“You are who you choose to be.”

Aside from the fact that the movie contains a large iron man, and he befriends a boy named Hogarth, there are almost no similarities between the book and the movie. In the book the boy has two loving parents while in the movie Hogarth (Eli Marienthal) lives with his mom Annie Hughes (Jennifer Aniston) who is a single parent.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h32m44s022
Note: The lack of a parental figure is a standard Disney cliché and something Brad Bird must have absorbed during his time at the House of Mouse.

In the movie the character of the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) is a being we learn crash landed on Earth due to an impact to his head, which caused him to developed amnesia. This amnesia allows the Iron Giant to befriend Hogarth, much as stray dog would to a new master, but then as the film progresses the Iron Giant’s character changes from pet, to friend, to eventual hero. Who and where the Iron Giant came from is mostly a mystery for the bulk of the film’s running time, and even in the director’s cut of the film where we get a dream sequence of the Iron Giant being part of a metal army that lays waste to alien worlds, we still don’t find out what caused the Giant to land here on Earth.  In the book none of this exists. As mentioned the book opens with The Iron Man standing at a seaside cliff where we learn he can rebuild himself if he is broken apart, but the reader learns nothing about his origins.  He could have been built by a mad scientist or possible by the Greek god Hephaestus.  His origin was not important to the tale Ted Hughes was telling.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h43m01s532
Note: That the parts of The Iron Giant are able to slowly come back together after being smashed to pieces is about the only character trait that Brad Bird took from the book.

The Iron Man by Ted Hughes is a rather short fairy tale, where this mysterious metal man is at first perceived as a threat, but who in the end becomes mankind’s savior.  Now in broad strokes that looks to be very similar to the Brad Bird version but in placing his version of the story in the 50s, during the height of Cold War paranoia, this changes key elements. Aside from the Space-Dragon the book has no key antagonist, the townsfolk are all for getting rid of the Iron Man but they only go as far as building an ineffectual pit trap for the giant, but in the film Bird creates the character of Kent Mansley (Christopher MacDonald) a Federal Agent who considers anything not from America to be a threat. This antagonist does not exist in the book, neither does the eventually threat of military action against the giant, and with this major change the dynamic of the story is shifted. In the book Hogarth Hughes is a pretty passive character; he alerts the community of the Iron Man’s existence, lures it into the trap, convinces it to live peacefully and eventually helps overcome the threat of the Space-Dragon, but he doesn’t really do much more than offer advice and suggestions. On the other hand the Hogarth of the movie is a kid of action; he saves the Iron Giant from being electrocuted when it inadvisably tries to eat a power station, he finds a good source of food for the Giant, but most of all he thwarts Kent Mansley at every turn.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h35m20s129 

“And all that it implies."

The book version of Hogarth is never in any real danger while movie Hogarth has inadvertently befriended a weapon of mass destruction that if triggered could blow the poor kid into atoms. Kent Mansley, who as a foil of Hogarth’s starts out comical and buffoonish, but then slowly turns dangerous as almost destroys the town and all its inhabitants. Not to mention the fact that he chloroforms a child after a sinister integration. Lucky for Hogarth he isn’t alone in his battle against authority as he is able to enlist local beatnik Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.) to help hide the giant and keep the military from finding out about this strange invader. Dean is another character not found in the book, and he serves as the counter culture reflection of Kent Mansley, and it is Dean who instills the wise words to Hogarth, “You are who you choose to be.”  This father figure is instrumental in helping Hogarth turn what was once a ruthless killing machine into the hero it wants to be.


vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h39m44s578 

That is one brave kid.

The Iron Giant himself is a fantastic creation of Brad Bird and his fellow animators; the giants growth from lost and befuddled creature to heroic savior is masterfully done, and when a panicked and frustrated Kent Mansley orders a nuclear strike that would devastate the town and kill all the inhabitants, it is this soulful being that sacrifices itself to save his friend.  And if you don’t tear up when The Iron Giant utters the name, “Superman” as he collides with the nuke there is a good chance you have no soul.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h44m23s649
It is almost impossible to compare the book to the movie; one is a lovely fairy tale that deserves all the accolades it got, while the other is an action/comedy/science fiction adventure movie with tons of heart. These two stories are too vastly different to give an honest comparison, and both are good in their own right, but for me The Iron Giant will always hold a special place in my heart.

vlcsnap-2016-10-28-21h48m38s565

Note: That the movie turned out as good as it did should be considered a bloody miracle; Brad Bird and crew worked with a budget and time frame a fraction of what a Disney feature would have been given, and due to the failure of Warner’s Quest For Camelot it got dumped into theatres without even a proper marketing campaign.  Truly a cinematic crime, but at least over time it has gained more and more adoring fans to it's wonderful legacy.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Green Slime (1968) – Review

Remember when you were a kid and your mother gave you holy hell for tracking mud onto her freshly mopped floor? Now picture that moment on a space station only it’s not mud you’ve tracked in but alien protoplasm that quickly grows into a legion of monsters. Getting sent to your room without dinner would be the least of your problems. This is the basic premise to director Kinji Fukasaku’s late 60s science fiction monster flick Green Slime. What we have here is a couple of ham-fisted American astronauts fighting over a woman while battling creatures that look like a cross between a monster from Doctor Who and The Power Rangers, but to be fair it does works in a low budgeted cheeseball way.

Note: The screenplay was by legendary comic creator Bill Finger, the man most responsible for making Batman awesome.

the green slime poster

The movie opens with the men at the United Nations Space Command discovering that an asteroid is on a direct collision course with Earth, and that there is only ten hours to destroy it before it obliterates our tiny blue planet. General Thompson (Bud Widom) knows that there is only one man qualified to lead this mission, and being Bruce Willis was only thirteen years old at the time that man is Commander Jack Rankin (Robert Horton). There is one slight problem and that is that Rankin had resigned from Space Command and so can’t be ordered to go, he has to volunteer. An added wrinkle to the mission is that with such a tight timeframe there is a good chance that after planting the explosives on the asteroid that the astronauts won’t be able to make it far enough away to escape the blast zone.

vlcsnap-2016-08-08-21h55m23s611 

“You had me at suicide mission.”

Complicating things further is the fact that the mission will be outfitted and launched from space station Gamma 3 which just so happens to be commanded by Vince Elliot (Richard Jaeckel), a man who was once best friends with Rankin but now they are bitter enemies. We never get any details as to what exactly happened to cause these men to have such a falling out but a mission that Elliot led, which resulted in several deaths because Elliot tried to save one man and ending up losing ten, is one big reason but the other would be that Elliot is currently engaged to Rankin’s ex-girlfriend Lisa Benson (Luciana Paluzzi), and who is now a doctor on Gamma 3. So we have an asteroid headed for Earth as well as a tense love triangle aboard a space station, that’s a lot dramatic tension for a science fiction movie and we haven’t even got to the monsters yet.

vlcsnap-2016-08-08-22h09m50s666 

“I get the girl, you can have the asteroid.”

Tension mounts right off that bat as Rankin pulls rank *snicker* as he is in charge of the mission and will be calling all the shots, and he spends most of the movie shoving that fact in Elliot’s face. In turn Elliot is a complete baby about it and is more worried about Rankin stealing his girl back than any stupid asteroid threat. This is the key problem with this movie, neither of these guys is particularly likable; Rankin is a pompous windbag with a face like a slab of beef and Elliot is a whiney git who screws up and costs more lives just so he’ll have a reason to give the ole “noble sacrifice” at the end. Regardless of their antagonism towards each other Rankin allows Elliot on the mission to blow up the asteroid, and everything goes relatively smoothly, no deep core oil drillers required, but there is some pesky green slime that lies around in pulsating puddles that seems drawn to our astronaut’s moon golf carts and drains them of power.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-19h56m58s315 

I’m betting Triple A isn’t going to answer this call.

Being time is of the essence Rankin abandons the equipment and races back to the rocket ship on foot, only to be shortly greeted by Dr. Hans Halvorsen (Ted Gunther) who excitedly shows off his container of green slime. Rankin tells him to, “Get rid of it” despite Halvorsen claiming that, “This is a major discovery!” and so our esteemed commander grabs the specimen container out of Halvorsen’s hands and smashes on the ground. What a dick. In many science fiction movies scientists are portrayed as “head in the clouds” morons who endanger everyone around them with the lofty ideals, but in this instance there is no reason not to bring back the first example of extra-terrestrial life ever found. The sample is safely contained in a glass specimen container and it’s only when Rankin smashes the jar that a bit of the slime lands on one of the suits of a fellow astronaut. So despite this script seeming to insist that Elliot and Halvorsen are responsible for multiple deaths it’s really all falls at the feet of Rankin because it’s his being an asshole that leads to the contaminate being brought back to the space station in the first place.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-19h58m59s324 

“I’m citing you all for gross negligence. Now where’s that hot fiancé of yours?

When they get back to Gamma 3 Rankin orders that all equipment be run through the decontamination procedure three times despite Elliot grousing that his men don’t have time to run such unnecessary number of decontaminations. Once again it seems like Elliot’s bitching and complaining is the cause of the Green Slime monster outbreak, but later we find out that the slime grows when exposed to energy and that the decontamination process actually accelerated their growth. Elliot’s not wanting to follow Rankin’s excessive orders was actually a good thing, but that still won’t spare him his “noble” death.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-20h13m12s241 

“I regret nothing!”

Once the alien contamination begins to grow it starts knocking off Gamma 3 station personal one by one with nasty electrical chargers from its waving tentacles. Rankin, Elliot and Lisa run from one monster fried employee to another without a clue as to what’s going on, that is until they come face to cyclopean eyed face with the growing horror that plagues their station. Halvorsen, being the scientist, wants to capture the thing alive, and Elliot and his men do try to capture it using gas guns and rope nets. Unsurprisingly this results in several men being killed and or hospitalized. Later when they try to lure the growing horde of creatures away from the inhabited portions of the station Halverson gets caught behind a closing bulkhead door because he was stupid enough to run back to get his notes. Typical movie scientist action. Rankin and Elliot see on a monitor poor Halverson screaming and flailing against the creatures, Elliot wants to open the bulkhead door and attempt a rescue, but Rankin is against the idea. This leads to the following exchange:

Rankin: “You’ll risk the whole station!”
Elliot: “That’s a risk we are going to have to take.”
Rankin: “Not as long as I’m in command.”
Elliot ignores the order and strides over to the bulkhead door.
Rankin: “Get away from that panel!” He aims a laser rifle at him and states, “That’s an order Vince.”
Elliot: “It’s your move commander.”

I’m assuming we are supposed to side with Rankin here because Elliot is willing to risk the lives of everyone on board the station for the sake of one man, clearly a call back to the incident alluded to earlier, but I’m on Elliot’s side because starring down a laser rifle in such a cool badass fashion is too damn cool, also Rankin is a dick. And poor Rankin doesn’t even get a chance to shoot off his popgun because Lisa runs in the way and opens the panel herself. Dames, they’re always ruining a man’s fun.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-20h32m47s981 

It’s no surprise that they find Halverson in less than pristine condition.

The rest of the movie has our heroes running up and down countless corridors, trying to get the wounded out of the path of the killer creatures, and finding some way to stop the ever increasing horde. At one point Lisa wants Rankin to authorize the evacuation of the injured to Earth, Rankin refuses as that could lead to Earth being overrun with the Green Slime, but later when half the station is on fire he orders a mass evacuation and just informs Space Command to set up a quarantine facility for them, which he could easily have done earlier when Lisa first requested it for the wounded.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-22h17m13s519 

Rankin, what a dick.

When Rankin orders the destruction of Gamma 3 Elliot kind of loses it, “Now I’m going to tell you something for the last time. I’m in command of this station, and when my Chief gives me an order to destroy Gamma 3 I’ll take that order from him, but I won’t take it from you!” What does the diplomatic Rankin do? Does he call down to Space Command and get the Chief’s authorization? Nope, he orders security officers to escort Elliot to one of the evacuation ships with the stipulation that if Elliot resists they should consider him under arrest. That Elliot tries to slug the jackass only makes me sad because he misses. This does lead to a fun space battle when a mission when a group of astronaut, led by a disgraced Elliot who refuses to be arrested, have to spacewalk out to clear the dock of the multitude of green bastards that are crawling all over the exterior of the station and blocking the evacuation.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-21h01m18s893 

Star Trek: First Contact totally ripped this scene off.

I particularly love that when one runs out of charge for your laser rifle you have the option of using the rifle as a javelin and hurling it at your enemy. Sadly this heroic moment for Elliot isn’t enough to spare him that aforementioned noble death. When the station is evacuated they are dismayed to learn that there isn’t enough power for Space Command to remotely detonate the station, and so someone will have to go back inside and do it by hand. Heroic Rankin decides to go back alone, it’s not like the success of this mission is important enough to risk a couple of guys, but just when he’s about to be fried by a couple of the green menaces Elliot arrives in time to distract the horde. You see after clearing off the space dock Elliot found out from Lisa that Rankin had gone off on this suicide mission and so he grabbed a fresh laser rifle, kissed his fiancé for the last time, and went off to battle.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-21h13m25s235 

Elliot goes down fighting like the true hero he is.

The day is saved. Rankin returns to the evacuation ship as the station burns up in Earth’s atmosphere, he radios Space Command and requests the highest commendation for Vince Elliot, posthumously of course. Thanks you big jerk, I’m sure Elliot’s spirit will get great comfort in that while your consoling his grieving fiancé. The big slab of beef jerky actually gives the crying Lisa a thumbs up.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-21h18m24s337 

Rankin, let me tell you where you can stick that thumb.

The Green Slime was a co-production between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Toei with MGM providing the funding and script while Toei provided the film crew and location to shoot the film. Much of the supporting cast where American military stationed in Japan and who probably had a great time pretending to shoot space monsters. This came out the same year as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey which kind of gave audiences of the time a perfect example of what science fiction and cinema was capable of doing in the right hands and how godawful it could be in the hands of those who clearly failed High School Science Class. Though far from being a good movie The Green Slime does provide some good unintentional laughs, this was the first movie to be lampooned on Mystery Science 3000, and Richard Jaeckel grit toothed acting is always a treat. So if you are flipping channels one night and you happen to come across this little piece of sci-fi nostalgia give it a peak, you may find yourself surprisingly entertained.

vlcsnap-2016-08-09-19h54m33s196 

Check out the awesome 60s theme by Charles Fox and sung by Richard Delvy.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Synthetic Men of Mars: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

a390107There have been many versions of the “Beauty and the Beast” story since French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve published her book back in 1740, and in 1939 Edgar Rice Burroughs put his own spin on the tale, but he decided to leave out the Stockholm Syndrome element of the story. Synthetic Men of Mars was first published in the pages of Argosy Weekly as a six part series; and though it does include the heroic John Carter he is mostly a tertiary character.

Once again Dejah Thoris is in danger; surprisingly it’s not from being kidnapped but from suffering a serious injury in an airship collision. The top medical minds of Helium are unable to help her so John Carter turns to the greatest mind on all Barsoom, Ras Thavas, who first appeared in The Master Mind of Mars, but finding him is the tricky thing as Ras Thavas had moved his laboratory to a secret location since we last saw him.

Vor Daj, a young lieutenant in the Helium army, insists that he be allowed to accompany John Carter and the two set forth in a small flier, but due to a broken navigational needle they find themselves flying near the dreaded Toonolian Marshes. They land their flier and decide to approach the city of Phundahl to see its Jeddak, but before they reach the city they are captured by monstrously deformed humanoids mounted upon giant flying birds that have long been presumed to be extinct. Even John Carter’s superior swordsmanship is no help as these beings can withstand almost any amount of damage, only cutting off their head seems to slow them down, and soon our heroes find themselves captured and being taken to the island city of Morbus located deep inside the marsh.

Guess where Ras Thavas had moved his secret laboratory to? Put your hand down, we all know it’s in Morbus. Anyone familiar with the works of Burroughs knows that incredible coincidences tend to pop up in his stories from time to time; in The Fighting Man of Mars the hero loses his invisible ship but then days later, when trapped on a hill and surrounded by enemies, our hero bumps into something he can't see that of course turns out to be his lost invisible flier. It can be said that the gods of chance look kindly upon the characters created by Burroughs; so that John Carter and Vor Daj got lost, captured, and then taken to the very place they needed to go isn’t all that surprising.
ffbw72

Story structure has never been Burroughs’ strong suit, writing in serialized form is bound to change things a bit, but where he always stands out is in the sheer creativity of the people and worlds he populates these stories with. The title creatures of Synthetic Men of Mars are the hormads, men grown in huge vats by Ras Thavas in another of his bids to take over the world. He hadn’t quite perfected the process when our heroes encounter him; many of the creatures that stumble out of the vat are so far deformed that they are just chucked back in, but even the best of them are hideous to behold, misshapen monstrosities of ones worst nightmares. Ras Thavas had planned to make an army that would be nigh unbeatable, but unfortunately a few of them were intelligent enough to overthrow Ras and forced him to continue making “monster men” while also forcing him to use his brain swapping techniques to move their own brains into the bodies of normal Red Men of Barsoom that they capture from time to time. Basically this is a Frankenstein story only with an army of monsters, and Ras Thavas as an even less sympathetic mad scientist.

synth1v4

But what of the “Beauty and the Beast” element I alluded to at the beginning of this review? Well you’re not going to have an Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure without a love interest in this case of we have the lovely Janai, a beautiful woman and fellow prisoner in this mad city, and who Vor Daj falls in love with. Vor Daj comes up with the most insane plan to protect this fair maiden; he ask Ras Thavas to put his brain inside the body of one of the homads, this way he will have freedom to move around the city and find Janai. He finds her and becomes her protector, but he can't find it in himself to let her know that he is Vor Daj, who she’d briefly met during their capture, and so he tells her that he had been looking for her on Vor Daj’s behalf. She is at times suspicious of this hulking brute, and can get no real verification of his claim to be Vor Daj’s friend as his body is in cold storage beneath Ras Thavas’s labs, but over time she comes to realize what a noble and brave soul lies inside this monstrosity.

Will beauty see into the heart of the beast? Will Vor Daj get his body back? Is Dejah Thoris doomed if Ras Thavas cannot escape his own creations? Is all of Barsoom itself doomed if this army of monster men wage war on the planet? And just what is John Carter doing during all this?

40384

Synthetic Men of Mars is not one of the better Barsoom stories, John Carter vanishing for the bulk of the book is lazily contrived so as to give us time with the book’s new hero, but anytime spent with mad scientist Ras Thavas I enjoyed wholeheartedly, and his current creations are quite amazing (even if one of the vats gets out of control and becomes a massive fleshy blob, with random arms and heads sticking out of it that could eventually consume all life on Mars) and are true fun science fiction stuff. The love story between Vor Daj and Janai gets that nice wrinkle of the hero being stuck in the body of a monster, and once again the action and humor found in these pages is always entertaining. So even if this isn’t one of the better books in the series it’s still worth checking out.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Return of Godzilla (1984) – Review

godzilla_1984Also known as Godzilla 1984 (or Godzilla 1985 if you were in North America) The Return of Godzilla was Toho’s reboot of the Godzilla series in the hopes of boosting dwindling ticket sales that the franchise had been getting of late. Despite the film having been produced during the Shōwa period (1954-1975) The Return of Godzilla is considered to be the first entry in the Heisei series, and it completely ignores the previous entries considering itself a direct sequel to the original 1954 classic. This entry goes with a darker tone, no longer is Godzilla a friend to children in short pants, nor will he be seen fighting other monsters. Once again Godzilla is a rampaging force of nature that could spell the end of mankind.

The film itself doesn’t feel much like your standard Godzilla movie; as with most entries in the franchise Godzilla’s screen time is limited due to budgetary constraints, but instead of the rest of the movie being filled with goofy alien subplots or idiotic adventures with small Japanese children, this movie has more of a horror film vibe with a dash of government thriller. The movie opens with a Japanese fishing vessel being tossed by rough seas after a volcanic eruption, one that of course awakens and unleashes Godzilla onto the world, and the sole survivor onboard is Hiroshi Okumura (Shin Takuma). This poor chap is discovered by news reporter Goro Maki (Ken Tanaka), who was sailing in the area when he came across the seemingly abandoned vessel, and while investigating the “ghost ship” he is attacked by a giant sea louse. He is saved by Hiroshi and the two becomes friends, but it’s Hiroshi’s sister Naoko (Yasuko Sawaguchi) that Hiroshi would prefer to get friendly with.
It’s nothing unusual to have a love story in a Godzilla film, the 1954 original had the classic love triangle, but the opening of The Return of Godzilla is shot more like a horror film than it is your standard kaiju film. Hiroshi creeps through the darkened corridors of the ghost ship as if Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers could pop out wielding an axe or machete at any time. The first crew member that Hiroshi encounters looks like more like a victim of a space vampire than it does Godzilla.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-13h11m23s786

Note: The drained corpses aboard this ship were killed by the giant louses which are believed to have been mutated by feeding off of Godzilla.  Not your typical kill in a Godzilla film.

Godzilla himself appears out of a fog bank like a giant spectre, and the score is very understated and creepy, completely unlike the Godzilla march composed by the great Akira Ifukube, who refused to return to the franchise upon hearing that the monster was to be increased from 50 metres to 80 metres (260ft) stating, “I do not write music for 80-meter monsters.” Though his iconic score is greatly missed I’d say Reijiro Koroku did a fine job going in very different and slightly creepy direction.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-13h26m50s678

The first half of the film works almost as a political thriller with the government trying to cover up the return of Godzilla to prevent wide spread panic. Hiroshi’s news article is suppressed and Goro Maki’s survival is kept under wraps, Hiroshi goes against the government by letting Naoko know that her brother is alive, but when a Russian nuclear submarine is destroyed by Godzilla the Japanese government has to cop to the truth to prevent Russia from going to war with the United States, who they blamed for the incident. Things get tense when both Russia and the United States want Japan's consent to launch nuclear missiles against Godzilla, and after much debate the Japanese Prime Minister (Keiju Kobayashi) refuses and decides to go with more conventional weapons. Historically speaking the Japanese being less than keen about having an atomic explosion on their soil is not all that surprising. Lucky for them they happen to have an armored flying fortress called the Super X which can shoot cadmium rounds that would hopefully neutralizes Godzilla's atomic power as his heart is similar to a nuclear reactor, the cadmium shells would then slow down his heart, and knock him unconscious.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-13h40m38s402 

Godzilla faces off against the Super X.

I always feel sorry for the Japanese military in these movies as their sole job seems to be to have their ass kicked by Godzilla, and then a heroic scientist will come up with a plan to save the day. I’d like for once to see a Japanese General refuse to send his troops against Godzilla, stating, “Fuck you guys, get Dr. Serizawa on phone and let him come up with something!”  It's just never ever remotely a fair fight.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-13h38m35s186 

Japan's Military Forces Before Godzilla.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-13h38m03s406 

Japan's Military Forces After Godzilla.

In The Return of Godzilla the role of Dr. Serizawa is filled by Naoko’s mentor Dr. Hayashida (Yôsuke Natsuki) who has a plan to use a magnetic signal to trigger Godzilla’s migratory response, which would be used to lure him to a volcanic island where they could then trigger an eruption and bury the monster once and for all. Seems like a brilliant plan but of course a few incidents occur that delay this effort. When Godzilla waded ashore he had, in passing, destroyed a Russia cargo ship that just so happened to be a secret missile control center. and the destruction of this ship caused an orbital missile platform to accidentally launch a strike at the heart of Tokyo. The Americans are able to launch their own missile to intercept, but unfortunately the atmospheric explosion causes an electrical storm that revives Godzilla while temporarily disabling the Super X.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-14h05m08s229 

Godzilla then drops a building on the poor Super X.

The Return of Godzilla is a decent entry in the series, and though not the financially windfall the studio had hoped for it at least put the Godzilla franchise back on track and out of the silliness of some of the previous installments. It does return to the formula of science not military might being the way to defeat the monster, but director Koji Hashimoto added some horror elements to give the franchise some freshness, and it even had some stuff right out of 70s disaster movies. At one point Hiroshi and Naoko have to escape from a building severely damaged by Godzilla and it’s almost a complete lift from an Irwin Allen movie.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-14h05m48s558 

Godzilla meets The Towering Inferno.

To make up for the lacklustre box office receipts the film was released in North America where once again Raymond Burr, who was added in the American release of the original back in 1954, is back to look on in horror at the destruction of this atomic monster. In a bit of Cold War propaganda the American edit makes the Russian missile launch look deliberate and leaves out the Russian officer dying in the attempt to stop it. I advise you avoid this cut of the film and track down the Japanese one.

vlcsnap-2016-10-19-14h15m03s585 

Raymond Burr is The Concerned American.

Note: At no point in the film do they explain how Godzilla is alive to return in the first place. The 1954 film ended with Godzilla being reduced to a skeleton by the Oxygen Destroyer. Did he just get better?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Victor Frankenstein (2015) – Review

When it comes to adaptations of classic monsters Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is only surpassed by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and that is mainly because most films portray the monster as a mindless brute, which is not the way he was depicted in the original novel. As the title of this film denotes this is more about the man behind the monster than of the monster itself…who is once again a mindless brute. *sigh* But is this movie really about Victor Frankenstein?

victor-frankenstein 1-2015-poster

What sets this movie apart from many of the Frankenstein adaptations is that it is told mostly through the eyes Victor’s lab assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), while Victor (James McAvoy) is your typical card carrying mad scientist that we’ve seen a hundred times before. This “fresh perspective” is certainly an interesting choice when adapting Mary Shelley’s book for the character of Igor does not exist in the books but was a creation of Universal Studios. Now I’m not saying this is an intrinsically bad idea but this version of Igor, created by director Paul McGuigan and writers Max Landis, is about the most ridiculous character I’ve seen in quite some time, and this is from someone who has watched I, Frankenstein.

We first meet Igor (though he has nameless at the time and only gets one later when he moves in with Victor) he is a hunchbacked clown working in a circus. Through his narration we learn that when Igor was not performing as a clown he functioned as the circus’s doctor (as clowns were known to do) and while fulfilling this unique dual career he became fascinated with the science of medicine and human anatomy in particular. But he isn’t shown just being interested in medicine, we see him pouring over medical journals and making detailed anatomical drawings of his own. We clearly see that his fellow performers ridicule and abuse him, so what crazy logic led them to making this “actual clown” the company doctor and outfitting him with what would be at the time rather expensive books? It’s also during this opening that we meet circus aerialist Lorelei (Jessica Brown Findlay), who Igor is secretly in love with, and it is when she is injured from a fall that we see the sheer breadth of Igor’s skill as a doctor as he comes up with an instant diagnosis of her injury, and with the help of Victor is able to save her life.

vlcsnap-2016-03-21-15h06m07s519 

Damn, even House needed an X-Ray machine.

Victor tells Igor that he is wasting his skills working as a clown (duh) and helps him escape his cruel circus masters. It’s at this point we realize that Paul McGuigan must have been huge fan of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes movies as this film is more a rip-off of that series than it is of the Frankenstein mythos. Paul McGuigan and Max Landis have turned Victor Frankenstein into a Victorian action hero. Not only is this action set piece reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Holmes and Watson team-up but it is quickly followed by the introduction of police inspector Roderick Turpin (Andrew Scott) who uses deductive reasoning to figure out that the circus owner is lying when he claims these two men robbed the circus and murdered a performer. That they cast Andrew Scott, who portrayed Moriarty on the British series Sherlock, makes the comparison even more blatant. But then the script has Turpin jettison all his scientific reasoning to go after Victor and Igor because he believes their experiments are sinful and will incur the wrath of God.

vlcsnap-2016-03-21-15h19m35s080 

He totally frowns on dabbling in things man was not meant to know.

And “not Inspector Lestrade” isn’t even the films only villain, we also have Victor’s father Baron Frankenstein (Charles Dance) who blames Victor for the death of his eldest son, and then we have the other big bad in the form of rich aristocrat Finnegan (Freddie Fox), a fellow classmate of Victor’s who offers to fund the research of “Life over Death” with the clear motive of using this technology to make his family even richer. For those of you that haven’t read Mary Shelley’s novel I’d like to point out that it didn’t have a one clear cut antagonist let alone three. In the book the Monster brings death and destruction upon Victor’s life because his maker spurned him immediately after his birth. There is a lot of blame to go around in the original book, but in this movie the Monster is barely a third act footnote and Victor’s guilt is more about betraying his friendship with Igor than in abandoning his creation. James McAvoy’s performance here is so vastly over-the-top it verges on cartoonish, so we the audience have no real feelings either way about the character, but that’s fine because magic science Igor is the central character here despite what the title implies. We spend an inordinate amount of screen time with Igor’s love affair with Lorelei because a love subplot between Victor Frankenstein’s assistant and a trapeze artist is what audience certainly came here to see.

vlcsnap-2016-03-21-15h36m05s164 

Is somebody going to build a monster, or what?

Daniel Radcliffe gives a subtler performance than what we get from McAvoy, but then again that’s like saying a latrine's hole is smaller than the Grand Canyon. Another problem with this film is that can’t even keep the character of Igor consistent; first he’s a magically gifted hunchback with insane medical knowledge, but once Victor drains his hump and straightens him with a back brace (Isn’t science wonderful?) he becomes Victor’s assistant, but then when he proves to be even more invaluable than originally believed Victor makes him his partner, yet later we get Igor calling Victor, “Master.” If this movie wanted to do something really interesting they could gone the route of Igor being the brains behind the whole thing and that Victor Frankenstein was just the name and the money behind the experiment.

vlcsnap-2016-03-21-15h50m33s687 

“Victor, I’m running off with Lorelei. Good luck with the torch wielding mob.”

Instead we are left with a clichéd mad scientist who only realizes too late that the creature he created isn’t true life but just a soulless humonclous. This completely reverses the science versus religion battle that this film seemed to be making over the past 90 minutes. It’s as if Max Landis, at the last second, decided he’d better not anger the religious right and so he had religious zealot Turpin proven to be right all along.  To add insult to injury this movie's final revel of the monster is just plain sad as the creature looks more like somebody the Scooby and the Gang would find themselves up against, and I’d have have forgiven a lot if at the end it revealed that the Monster was actually Mister Barnaby the owner of the Circus.

vlcsnap-2016-03-21-16h06m08s720 

“And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids.”

Boris Karloff brought pain and pathos to his depiction of the Monster while this movie only gives us a seven foot tall growling bore, and also relegated to basically a cameo in this film. With television shows like Penny Dreadful giving us interesting takes on the classic monsters a theatrical released movie has to do better than this