VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (USA/12A/109mins) Directed by Paul McGuigan. Starring James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Freddie Fox, Mark Gatiss, Louise Brealey, Jessica Brown Findlay THE PLOT: Told from the perspective of former circus freak turned assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), this take on Mary Shelley’s classic tale sees Frankenstein’s experiments to create life from death thwarted by the investigations of a suspicious and moral police officer, and Frankenstein’s disapproving father. THE VERDICT: Another year, and it seems it is time for another movie based on Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel. This time, the story seems to only have taken inspiration from Shelley’s book, as Igor has been introduced, and the initial creation of Frankenstein’s monster is the focus of the film.
James McAvoy seems to have a great time in the title role as Victor Frankenstein; he shouts and runs, spits and raises all kinds of hell on screen. This kind of hammy, over the top performance would be fine if the rest of the film was as manic as McAvoy, but it seems that he is out on his own here. Daniel Radcliffe further distances himself from the role that made him famous, and loses some more of his recognisable tics along the way, giving a strong performance as Igor, the moral heart and compass of the film. Radcliffe’s physicality is particularly good, although his character’s mind seems as changeable as the weather in the film. The rest of the cast features Charles Dance, Louise Brealey, Jessica Brown Findlay, Freddie Fox and Mark Gatiss. Since this is a story of Frankenstein and his assistant, not many of the cast have much to do, with the exception of Andrew Scott who plays a religious man obsessed with ending Frankenstein’s work “of Satan”.
Max Landis’ screenplay borrows lightly from the source material of the film, and adds in a story involving Frankenstein’s brother, a benefactor, a first experiment gone wrong and a police officer obsessed with finding out just what Frankenstein is up to, and putting an end to it… ‘cos his wife died… Or something. The trouble with the screenplay is just as a character establishes themselves as behaving one way, they quickly change their mind, get dragged off course or have a sudden revelation that leaves the audience consistently off kilter. As well as this, the final set piece is so bonkers, so over the top and filled with so many character changing their minds that the audience simply loses interest along the way.
Director Paul McGuigan has great fun with the first hour of the film, establishing relationships, Victorian London and the general feel of the film, but once we cross into the second hour everything becomes messy, manic and disconnected, with a final set piece that feels as though it doesn’t really matter, and a twist that was obvious throughout the entire affair. Still, the film looks good, but has very little going on under the surface.
In all, ‘Victor Frankenstein’ really brings nothing new to the tale of Frankenstein and his obsessions. Or rather, it does, but it is not anything that was needed, is engaging or is in any way satisfying. The film looks good and Daniel Radcliffe tries his damnedest but there comes a point when this entire affair is familiar, unengaging and rather silly, but not in a good way. RATING: 2/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE NIGHT BEFORE (USA/16/101mins)
Directed by Jonathan Levine. Starring Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, Mindy Kaling, Lizzy Caplan, Miley Cyrus, Michael Shannon, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer.
THE PLOT: In 2001, Ethan’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) parents were killed by a drunk driver at Christmas. Ever since, his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have made a tradition of keeping their friend company, becoming his new family. This year is different, however. Isaac is about to become a dad and Chris’s football career means he’s too famous to hang out with his friends, so the three decide to make their last Christmas Eve together one to remember. THE VERDICT: Another year, another Seth Rogen-led bromantic comedy. The Night Before takes advantage of the festive season by planting itself right at the heart of it, but the good news is that while the film is chaotic and rather madcap, it is also wonderfully funny and at times, rather smart.
Seth Rogen plays another Seth Rogen-esque character in Isaac, but since Rogen is good at playing drug addled in an entertaining way, this works out in his favour. Joseph Gordon-Levitt obviously has a whale of a time playing Ethan and Anthony Mackie rounds out this bromantic trio as the football player who is not telling his friends the whole truth. Elsewhere, Mindy Kaling turns up as a rapid talking party girl, Lizzy Caplan plays Ethan’s ex-girlfriend and they are joined by Miley Cyrus, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, Dave Franco as himself – again – and Michael Shannon in a wonderfully funny turn as the drug dealer Mr Green (geddit!?).
The story, written for the screen by Jonathan Levine, Kyle Hunter, Ariel Shaffir and Evan Goldberg follows the usual story of a wild night out gone even wilder, but has some clever touches thrown in; Michael Shannon’s character effectively works as Dickens’ ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, showing each of the men what they need to know, and there are plenty of references to great movies of the past, including Home Alone and Dogma. As well as this, the film is filled with nostalgia, and jokes are set up way in advance with great pay off, even as it is so scattered as to be messy and rather chaotic.
Director Jonathan Levine paces the film well, with each element worked out so as not to take up too much time, and to build up nicely to the mythical party the men have been trying to find for years. The trouble is that the film tries to fit in so much, that the pacing becomes rather manic and, although nothing is allowed to linger for too long, this is precisely where the film runs into trouble. That said, there are plenty of laughs and sight gags throughout the film, and the celebrity cameos are never all that gratuitous, with each poking fun at themselves in a way.
In all, The Night Before is not quite a return to the high of This Is The End, but it is an improvement on several of the recent stoner bromantic comedies from Seth Rogen. There is almost too much going on at times, but the central trio work well on screen, the jokes are there and the nostalgia present throughout. A little less chaos would have worked well, but as it stands The Night Before is a lot of fun; just don’t think about it too much. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
CHRISTMAS WITH THE COOPERS (USA/12A/107mins) Directed by Jessie Nelson. Starring John Goodman, Diane Keaton, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms. Marisa Tomei, Anthony Mackie. THE PLOT: On Christmas Eve, the Cooper family prepare to spend the holidays together. The trouble is that each of them is lying in their own way; Charlotte (Diane Keaton) and Sam (John Goodman) are disguising the fact they are about to separate after 40 years of marriage, Eleanor (Olivia Wilde) brings home a stranger she meets in an airport to pretend to be her boyfriend, and waitress Ruby (Amanda Seyfried) has not told her favourite customer Bucky (Alan Arkin) that she is moving away from Pittsburgh for good. THE VERDICT: ‘Christmas With the Coopers’ sounds like a great idea for a movie on paper; as a family prepare to come together for the holidays, they try to present the best versions of themselves, while their secrets come to light and bring the family closer together. On screen, however, only some of these intertwining stories actually work, and the choice to have a mysterious voice narrate the entire film is a strange one.
It is fair to say that all of the cast of the film – Maria Tomei, Anthony Mackie, Amanda Seyfried, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Diane Keaton – do well with what they are given. That said, it is also fair to say that many of the actors, given the ensemble nature of the film, are not given very much to work with at all. Olivia Wilde comes off perhaps best, with her story being engaging ad revealing, with Wilde lighting up the screen every time she appears.
Steven Rogers’ screenplay tries to unravel the mystery of why families resent coming together for the end of the year celebrations, and why they feel the need to lie to one another, but there is simply too much going on. A clearer focus on perhaps four of the stories would have made a stronger film, especially if there was a focus given to the couples pretending to be together for the sake of their families.
Director Jessie Nelson has experience with Christmas movies, having written the Vince Vaughn holiday comedy ‘Fred Claus’, but he has an uneven hand in ‘Christmas with the Coopers’. Some of the stories are more fleshed out than others, leaving the ignored to feel surplus to requirement. There are a couple of giggles to be had throughout the film, but the comedy simply is not there, and the entire film feels rather familiar, like we have been here before.
In all, there are good things within ‘Christmas with the Cooper’s, but an uneven hand, choppy editing and too many stories turns this from an examination of a family at Christmas to a rather messy ensemble piece that tries a little too heard to be heart warming. Still, it’s a step up from a lot of the cornier Christmas movies out there. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE LESSON (Bulgaria|Greece/12A/111mins) Directed by Kristina Grozeva & Petar Valchanov. Starring Margita Gosheva, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov, Ivanka Bratoeva THE PLOT: When her wallet is stolen by one of her students, schoolteacher Nade (Margita Gosheva), is determined to find out who is responsible. Not exactly flush with cash, Nade and her family’s woes deepen when they are told their home will be repossessed. Rather than lash out at the husband who spent the mortgage payments on car parts, Nade sets out to solve both of her problems, but soon finds the method she uses to be increasingly complicated and difficult. THE VERDICT: ‘The Lesson’ feels a little like last year’s ‘Two Days One Night’, with Nade finding herself increasingly alone as she journeys through her small Bulgarian town to try and find a way to save the family home. Like Marion Cotillard in the Dardenne Brothers’ film, Margita Gosheva carries the film with confidence and grace, allowing the additional, almost petty strains that pile upon her to fray away the edges of her calm. The rest of the cast, Ivan Barnev, Ivan Savov, Stefan Denolyubov and Ivanka Bratoeva do well in backing Gosheva up, but it is she who is the heart and soul of the film.
Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s screenplay feels relatable to so many, with homes being lost around the world, and the simplicity of how everything spirals out of control has the audience rooting for this mild mannered woman who wants nothing more than to live her life the way she has been.
As directors, Grozeva and Valchanov build the tension of The Lesson throughout the film so skilfully, that when Nade finally reaches her limit, the tension on screen and in the cinema is palpable. There could be a morality tale at the heart of the film, but this is not what The lesson has set out to do; instead, this is the story of a woman remaining graceful under extraordinary odds. Although the audience may not always agree with her decisions, ‘The Lesson’ is so carefully constructed that we do always understand why Nade makes the decisions she does, and we are always on her side.
In all, ‘The Lesson’ is a film about tenacity, pride and desperation. Margita Gosheva is solid, emotional and powerful in the leading role, and the film is so cleverly constructed as to pull the audience in from the opening moments. There are times where we wonder just how much one woman can take, but the resolution of the film is uplifting and satisfying. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
SUNSET SONG (UK|Luxembourg/16/135mins) Directed by Terence Davies. Starring Agyness Deyn, Peter Mullan, Kevin Guthrie, Ian Pirie, Niall Greig Fulton THE PLOT: Chris (Agyness Deyn) is a young woman living Scotland in the early 1900s. Talented at school, everything changes for her when her mother dies and her brother leaves home. It is up to Chris to make a life for herself, a better one than her mother lived.
THE VERDICT: Director Terence Davies has made acclaimed films throughout his career, including the recent film ‘The Deep Blue Sea’. In turning his hand to adapting Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ novel for the big screen however, Davies makes a film that is episodic, uneven, and where nothing really happens.
Agyness Deyn proved that she is a talented actress with last year’s ‘Electricity’, but she is woefully miscast in Sunset Song. Deyn tries her best, but seems to over act in every scene she is in – which is most of them – and she never truly bonds with the other actors on the screen, making this seem like a badly acted one woman show. Peter Mullan is on great form, as usual, as Chris’ abusive and controlling father. This is a strong performance, but a role that we have seen Mullan do before. Kevin Guthrie is sweet as Chris’ young suitor Ewan, but abruptly turns from sweetheart to monster in a matter of two or three scenes.
Terence Davies screenplay takes the narration from the book and plants it into the film, but since this is sporadic, the beautiful imagery it creates falls quickly away, and when the voiceover returns it feels jarring and laboured. The rest of the film feels episodic, as time passes as an uneven rate, characters go through abrupt changes, and the film feels like a collection of scenes, rather than a coherent story.
As director Davies does not pace the film well, in fact, there seems to be no urgency to the storytelling at all, making the story feel secondary to the admittedly beautiful cinematography. The performances are uneven in the film, and the entire affair is so badly edited that scenes seem to happen for no other reason than it says they should in the script.
In all, ‘Sunset Song’ is a dour affair; drawn out, badly paced and no real story to glue it together. Deyn tries her best to carry the film but seems to have been over directed as her hammy performance becomes entertaining for all the wrong reasons. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
11 MINUTES (Poland|Ireland/15A/81mins) Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. Starring Richard Dormer, Paulina Chapko, Wojciech Mecwaldowsk, Andrzej Chyra, Dawid Ogrodnik THE PLOT: In an unnamed Polish city, several people encounter each other over the space of 11 minutes, changing each of their lives forever. THE VERDICT: Director Jerzy Skolimowski takes a leaf out of the best episodic ensemble films – including ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Magnoli’a – to try and tell the story of how some events are inevitable, and the moments leading up to tragedy. The trouble is that there are very few reasons to care for this cast of characters, since we never truly get to know any of them.
The cast is led by our own Richard Dormer as a sleazy Hollywood filmmaker, and he is joined on screen by Paulina Chapko, Wojciech Mecwaldowski, Andrzej Chyra, Dawid Ogrodnik, Agata Buzek, Piotr Glowacki and Jan Nowicki. It is nigh on impossible to tell whether the cast are giving good performances, bad ones or something in between as the script they are given to work with seems to be a jumbled mess.
Written for the screen and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, ’11 Minute’s is disjointed, fragmented and a genuine mess. The audience is never given a chance to get to know the characters that flit on and off screen, other than the things that they would tell people they are meeting for the first time; one is a film director, one got married yesterday, one is an artist… And so on. The screenplay is completely underdeveloped, so when disaster strikes it does not, and cannot, elicit any sort of emotional response from the audience since they are never given a reason to care. There is the germ of a good idea in 11 Minutes, but it is lost in incidentals.
In all, ’11 Minutes’ is quite simply, a mess. The audience is never given a chance to root for the characters or get to know them, so this ambitious project about the moments before disaster is emotionless and unengaging. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes