Tagged Max Landis

Victor Frankenstein: The Emperor in His Same Old Clothes

Victor Frankenstein. 2015. Directed by Paul McGuigan. Screenplay by Max Landis.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Bronson Webb, Daniel Mays, Spencer Wilding, Robin Pearce, Andrew Scott, & Callum Turner. Davis Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/MPC/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★
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As a fan of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel Frankenstein, the various adaptations throughout the years, as well as stories giving homage to the original while taking liberties with its thematic elements, are always of interest to me. Then there’s Paul McGuigan who was announced to direct this film, which grabbed my attention. I love several of his movies, most of all Gangster No. 1 and the underrated Willem Dafoe-starred The Reckoning, so to imagine him doing some sort of retelling of this science fiction/horror classic seemed exciting. However, in comes Max Landis. He’s a guy many enjoy hating, but I don’t, I never enjoy disliking anybody. It isn’t because of his attitude so much as it’s a disdain for his narcissism in light of his abilities as a writer. He constantly blames studios and anyone else other than himself for the failure of the films he writes to make big box office numbers. His screenplays are often cliche-ridden, though, somehow he insists on being this original thinker of some sort. To be honest, Chronicle and Deer Woman (a short for Masters of Horror directed by his father John Landis) are the only things of his I’ve felt were actually top notch – the former an awesome subversion of the superhero genre, the latter a hilarious take on horror and folklore mixed into one. Unfortunately, the writing in Victor Frankenstein is no better, and it is one of the biggest problems of the film. With a creepy monster that is certainly unique in its own right, a couple good performances (most of all Daniel Radcliffe), this could’ve been a retelling that worked. Only the writing drags this down to a barely mediocre romp through beat down territory, masquerading as if it’s something better.
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The look of the film is certainly dark and full of wonder. McGuigan and D.P. Fabian Wagner certainly capture a gritty aesthetic, which helps a great deal. If this looked like any other period piece I wouldn’t have much to enjoy. Particularly, I love some of the gruesome imagery when Victor and Igor are first trying to bring things back to life. The monkey thing they manage to resurrect, then have trouble with, is downright terrifying! Dig it, so hard. Even the body parts Igor works on, as Victor brings them to him “piecemeal”, are nasty and hideous to look at. These elements really take us to the time, like sitting in on the early days of modern technique in medicine. Overall, though, it’s the dreary and bleak aesthetic, the creepy atmosphere and dreadful tone which makes the look and feel of Victor Frankenstein the best part of this whole experience. Lots of nice looking visuals, on the opposite end of the spectrum there are all the shadowy and also disturbing scenes/shots. These two opposing elements make the film great to look at. The sound design and the score are also well worth their work, I really liked the music – favourite part is the piece playing when Igor finds Victor in the massive lab working on resurrecting his Prometheus; lots of good horns, of which I’m a fan.
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Max Landis can harp on all he wants about this movie not succeeding as well as planned. Ultimately, his supposed knack for writing eludes me. I was a huge fan of Chronicle, still am. Other than that I’m not exactly sure why anybody thinks he’s anything special. Not trying to rag on the guy. I’m a published author in the short story realm, I know it isn’t easy. But he simply can’t take any criticism, or else you’re labeled someone who “doesn’t get it”, or whatever. Case and point re: his poor writing, some of the quips Victor makes throughout the film are impressively lame. Such as the whole “Its alive” scene when the success arrives. I get it, Landis tries to be oh-so-clever and subvert a well-known scene concerning Frankenstein. It simply doesn’t fly, it is lame and he can do better than that. Another thing I don’t like is the tone. At times there’s a playfulness which detracts from all the darkness; the dark I love, Landis pulls out the grittiness of the period, especially all the horrors of burgeoning medical practices (think: draining of abscess). I’m not opposed to comedy. There’s a time and a place for it, and Landis forgets each of those things.
In many parts, Victor Frankenstein is a fun amalgamation of Mary Shelley’s original novel, as well as both the 1931 film Frankenstein and its 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. The reason it falls short is because there are too many reaching qualities that never get where they intend to go. First, there’s the heavy handed in vitro fertilization remark Landis tosses in, as if Victor is some champion of women. Only that’s just a one-off bit of dialogue for Victor to spout instead of it playing further into his advances in modern medicine (maybe Landis is trying to boost his credibility with women; who knows). The screenplay could’ve done something with this bit, instead it comes out to make Victor look crude instead of it being a testament to his visionary qualities. Second reason for this movie’s failure to be what it ought to – another movie that has an artificial, manufactured love story tossed into the middle of it. While the Kenneth Branagh directed Frankenstein did have a love interest that part of the story helped to further the torment of Frankenstein’s creature, the relationship in this screenplay only serves to fill in spots where nothing else is happening. Really, I don’t understand why so many movies have to include a love angle, as if it’s written into the rulebook somewhere. If it’s organic, sure, but why does there have to be one in here? Why does Igor have to fall for a woman in order for us to watch him develop? Yes, he’s living life now outside of the circus and everything is different. There are enough things going on, though, and adding the love interest in only muddies things, taking away from the main relationship between Igor and Victor. The bit of time spent on this other relationship could’ve been spent strengthening everything else happening.
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The finale is exciting, if you like loud bangs and sparks flying, yells, those types of things. Other than that I wasn’t too impressed. This is a 3-star film at best. Shelley’s original story is one I love, and there are absolutely some excellent revisions here, making parts of the film fun. But in the end, Victor Frankenstein has tonal issues and drags on due to a lack of focus. The efforts of McAvoy and Radcliffe are not enough to save this picture, which is too bad because they are talented actors with plenty to offer. Everyone here tries, I can’t even fault Landis for not trying. Simply put, a swing and a miss. Entertaining enough to watch some night with the lights down low, but don’t expect any sort of classic in the making. Because this is only a relatively decent popcorn flick.

Chronicle: Teenage Found Footage Superheroes

Chronicle. 2012. Directed by Josh Trank. Screenplay by Max Landis.
Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hinshaw, Bo Petersen, and Anna Wood. Twentieth Century Fox.
Rated 14A. 84 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★1/2
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I’m always a defender of found footage. There are plenty of instances of bad found footage films, but who cares? Why does it bother people SO MUCH? For every few bad ones, there’s a really good one waiting to be found. Honestly, if you dig through a lot of the indie found footage efforts you’ll find more than just a few good movies. Any genre or sub-genre can be used well if it’s done appropriately, in a way which helps the story a film is telling or a mood that’s trying to be attained.
I’m not a huge fan of Max Landis, solely because of some of his interviews and his incessant Twitter ranting/whining – who am I, though, to have an opinion on his personality really? That’s merely how he comes across on social media, and IN the media. Either way, I don’t particularly like how he bashes other films while some of his own don’t do so hot. It’s as if every movie that comes out he’s got his own version, his own ideas, a fan-fiction script built around his conception of how the plot and story should’ve went. Or, he simply has negative opinions instead of being constructive. This doesn’t get in the way of me enjoying any work he does that’s actually good. But honestly? To me, Chronicle is the only decent output of his. Only one man’s opinion.
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The fun really begins once the guys are documenting themselves a little while after their encounter with the glowing meteor. First, they throw baseballs at one another and hit each other in the faces, until Andrew (Dane DeHaan) steps up and stops one of them right before it hits his face – the look in his eyes and the reaction they all have is excellent. One of the things I love most about this part is how natural they all feel together. Of course they each have their own separate personalities within the group, the three do feel like friends and the relationship seems natural on camera. Part of why some found footage does not work is because everything feels so forced and inorganic. Here in Chronicle I feel that how the actors make the relationships between their characters feel so organic is a huge part of the film’s overall charm. When you’ve got actors like Michael B. Jordan and Dane DeHaan holding up this type of movie, the relationships and the characters themselves all feel tangible. As opposed to other movies where young actors don’t pull their weight, the main trio including Alex Russell have tons of charisma. Plus, their energy and their commitment to the respective roles is evident. I often say certain roles couldn’t be played by anyone other than who was cast; that’s not always true. Although, here it’s pretty damn true.
DeHaan is a solid actor. As of late, he’s been banging out good performances. From his work as Lucien Carr in Kill Your Darlings to The Place Beyond the Pines and his short part in The Devil’s Knot. Almost everything he touches, whether his role is big or small, has been very interesting; sometimes if only for his efforts.
The other person whom I love is Jordan. He’s a charismatic man who brings an immediate likability to the character. And it goes well with the others. They each have distinct and different personalities, but Jordan’s character has the personality which anchors them all. All three of the main characters are representative of people we all knew in high school, certainly, and Jordan is that funny, nice, inclusive sort of dude who bridges the gaps. At the same time, he’s almost a perfect parallel for the character DeHaan plays, so that’s another reason why I loved him in the film. Mostly, the actors are able to bring us into the human dramatics at the center of the action, the root of why the movie and its screenplay are so damn interesting in the first place.
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A big aspect of the movie and why it succeeds in being so innovative as a found footage film is the incorporation of a good deal of special effects. And awesome ones, too. The best part of this is the fact the video camera has a plausible way of staying around, no matter how wild it may seem in its placement. Because with the powers, the camera can go anywhere, be anywhere, simply by DeHaan’s character levitating it and taking it wherever he goes. A reason why I hate reading reviews on found footage movies sometimes is because so many people are too concerned with the footage itself – and yes, I understand that’s part of it, but why nitpick SO HARD? Sometimes, it’s deserved. Others it doesn’t need to be a relevant factor, you can just enjoy the found footage premise. At least Landis wrote his screenplay in a way that takes this into account, and jumps that hurdle in a fairly excellent manner. So then when you add in all the special effects on top of that, there’s an impressive feeling to many of the film’s scenes.
One favourite part of mine is when they go flying, tossing a football, and the danger of the powers slowly starts to become more and more evident. The fact these high school kids are blessed with such intense superpowers, and they’re so immaturely interested in testing them out, makes the stakes of the film higher. We work up to that, too. First, the special effects start with the baseball throwing, then as above, the Lego building (which I love love loved). Then, it moves onto bigger things, taking us further and further with these high school guys until the scary aspects of their newly gained powers emerge, becoming dangerous for them personally and later violent for anyone and everyone around them.
Even more than that, the special effects and the powers are on display in a vastly different sense than any regular superhero film.
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I’ve always been amazed by Chronicle, from the first time I saw it when it was released a few years ago now. 4.5 stars all the way. There were a few minor nitpicks I have, but they’re not worth discussing. Overall, this is a solid piece of cinema with plenty of drama and science fiction to go around. Furthermore, despite anything else Max Landis was able to flip the superhero genre on its head with this one, at least slightly. We’re so used to seeing superpowers used for good, other than the villains we see in the good guys’ movies – because let’s face it, the heroes are always the focus anyways. But here, we almost see the birth of a villain, and it gives us a sort of prequel to life of a supervillain; also with the same care and tact superheroes are given, showing us the inner life, the workings of his mind and how he comes to be who he is in the end.
If you’ve been dragging your feet on this one, give that shit up. Check this one out and hopefully it might prove to be a nice counter-balance to all the superhero movies now inundating our senses, of which I’m not a fan. This is a different twist on an old story, so there’s plenty of fresh, fun stuff to keep your mind aflutter.