Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not billed as a remake of ROMANCING THE STONE (1984), and perhaps that’s because it borrows from many adventure romantic-comedies over the years. Brothers and co-directors Aaron Nee and Adam Nee (BAND OF ROBBERS, 2015) have proven they can deliver exactly what is promised from a script by co-writers Oren Uziel (MORTAL COMBAT, 2021) and Dana Fox (CRUELLA, 2021). Seth Gordon receives a story credit, which is a bit ironic considering he has been quoted with, “The best stories are rooted in reality.”
Oscar winner Sandra Bullock stars as grieving, reclusive and highly successful romance novelist Loretta Sage, and Channing Tatum co-stars as her long-time and extremely popular cover model, Adam (in what is obviously a ‘wink and a nod’ to Fabio). Loretta’s love of history, and the passing of her husband, have combined to make her despise the books she writes and the publicity tours she’s required to attend … especially when being forced to wear a skintight purple/fuchsia sequined onesie. On the other hand, vapid model Adam relishes giving the audience what they want – strutting, hair waving, and bare chest.
After their most recent event goes sideways, Loretta is kidnapped by the villainous rich guy with a so-called gender-neutral name of Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe). He’s read her latest book and needs her help in locating the ‘Crown of Fire’ hidden somewhere on a remote island he purchased for this reason. Things have to move quickly before the volcano erupts and buries the treasure. At this point, Adam is committed to rescuing Loretta and proving that he’s more than a pretty face. Loretta’s stressed out literary agent Beth (Da’Vine Joy Randolph, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, 2019) is determined to save her writer-asset, while the newly hired social media director (Patti Harrison) acts goofy (and deserved better lines).
It’s regrettable, yet a sign of the times, that (2-time Oscar winner) Brad Pitt’s cameo is included in the trailer. This should have been a pleasant surprise for viewers, and instead is spoiled by the clip. He has fun with his role as former Navy Seal and meditation partner with Adam, as the two work towards Loretta’s rescue. The time on the island combines the adventure sequences with the slow-build of the romantic bond between Loretta and Adam, and both actors do their thing. It’s mostly Mr. Radcliffe who seems a bit out of place as he goes big in his role as villain, when some subtlety might have played better. Then again, there is nothing subtle about this production, including the scenes with Beth and an oddball pilot with a goat-fetish played by Oscar Nunez (“The Office”).
Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum can play these characters in their sleep, and to their credit, they both seem engaged and willing to put forth the necessary effort. Tatum especially embraces the duality of a preening cover boy and the sensitive type out to prove he has substance. It’s an easy film to criticize, but why would you? It’s meant to be harmless fun and bring joy to movie lovers. It’s totally fine to make a silly formulaic movie when your objective is to make a silly formulaic movie.
Greetings again from the darkness. If a filmmaker is going to mess with the classics, there are two paths of creativity from which to choose: stay true to the original, or put a new spin on it. In this case, the classics in question are the nearly 200 year old novel from Mary Shelley (1818) and the nearly 85 year old movie from James Whale (1931). The filmmakers doing the messing are director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) and screenwriter Max Landis (son of director John). The spin they chose was (in theory) to tell the story from the perspective of Igor, the loyal assistant to Dr. Frankenstein.
It’s an interesting approach, but one that immediately presents a problem … since the title they chose was not “Igor”, but rather Victor Frankenstein. The film does begin with Igor’s backstory in the circus as a hunchbacked clown/amateur doctor, and the character does provide some early and late narration. The conundrum stems from the fact that pretty much everything else in the movie is centered on the mad scientist, rather than the skilled apprentice/partner.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Igor and James McAvoy plays Victor Frankenstein (not Fron-kin-steen, in a nod to Mel Brooks), and both actors seem to be doing everything possible to bring energy and enthusiasm to a movie that can’t seem to decide if it’s a reboot or a reimagination or simply an origin story. Radcliffe effectively uses his physicality as the circus clown who is so mistreated and misunderstood, and McAvoy is such a hyper-active mad scientist that I’m sure his fellow actors many times were inclined to advise “say it, don’t spray it”. McAvoy does seem to be having a grand old time playing the brilliant yet unhinged young doctor-to-be, and to his credit takes a much different approach than Colin Clive when he gets to the infamous line “It’s ALIVE!”
The best parts of the movie are the intricate and amazing sets, the monster himself (albeit too brief), and the expert use of classical music and film score. The circus sets are colorful and active, while Frankenstein’s soap factory home/laboratory is fascinating and creative, and the final Scotland castle on a cliff is breath-taking. Pulleys, chains and cranks are everywhere … as is an incredible amount of body parts, organs and fluids.
After a very well done circus opening, we are jarred with a seemingly out of place action sequence involving a slo-motion chase and fight scene that seems to be attempting to mimic some of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie stunts. Here they are unwelcome and ruin the flow. Another aspect that seems forced and unnecessary is a romantic interlude between Igor and a trapeze artist (played by Jessica Brown Findlay). It feels like an add-on to remind us that it’s supposed to be Igor’s story. Additionally, Andrew Scott plays an intriguing Scotland Yard Inspector who is every bit as obsessed with his faith-based beliefs as Victor is with his science-has-no-bounds stance. A story told from the Inspector’s perspective might have worked, but instead it comes across as another add-on. Another add-on is the filthy rich and very devious fellow med student (played by Freddie Fox) who agrees to fund the experiments, but mostly the character is an after-thought necessary to move the plot along. Wasted is the always menacing Charles Dance, who has but one scene as Victor’s strongly disapproving daddy.
A combination of the romance, minimal role of Igor in the grand finale, the medical school bumbling, the clunky Inspector involvement, and the all too brief monster appearance makes the film all but impossible for viewers to connect. They tell us twice “You know the story … a crack of lightning, a mad genius, and an unholy creation”, but the reality is, the fact that we know the story, makes this one all the more disappointing. It’s fun to look at, but is lacking the depth and soul that has allowed Shelley’s book to stand up over two centuries.
Greetings again from the darkness. Every once in awhile a movie comes around that seems to have all the markings of a cult film that could become a midnight movie favorite. Since I can best describe this one as “a darkly comedic supernatural horror film”, its only real hope for staying power is that teens and young adults embrace the outlandish look at good and evil, and make it a regular on the midnight movie circuit.
Director Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes) has long been part of the “splat pack” and this time his source material has good genes. The popular book was written by Joe Hill, son of the great Stephen King. It’s an oddly atmospheric and sometimes funny film with theological undertones, and Aja stays mostly under control until the ultra-violent ending sequence.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ig, a young man widely suspected by his fellow small town residents of murdering his true love (Juno Temple). After a visually creative opening that turns Ig’s world upside down and moves us from heaven to hell, we follow Ig’s attempt to solve the murder with the help of his attorney and long time friend (Max Minghella). And then one morning, things get really weird. Ig sprouts devil horns from his forehead. Things also get fun. This devilish look has the effect of causing people to confess their darkest inner thoughts … those thoughts we don’t even admit to ourselves!
Much of the movie plays as a basic whodunit, and the entire thing has a “Twin Peaks” feel to it … right down to the diner (Eve’s Diner with an apple logo). There are flashes of satire aimed at the news media, the drug culture, religion, and parenthood; and its core is a theme of “every devil used to be an angel“. With the satanic element, you can be sure Rock ‘n Roll comes into play (David Bowie, Marilyn Manson, The Pixies), and it’s actually kind of fun to watch Ig take advantage of his supernatural powers with a combination of evil and charm.
Radcliffe takes the role seriously and his approach adds some bite to the humorous elements. Juno Temple has limited screen time as his love interest, while Heather Graham goes full out nutso as the publicity seeking waitress, and Kelli Garner has the most frustrating role (her talents are wasted, except for a bizarre donut scene). Minghella doesn’t bring much to a role that had some potential, but Joe Anderson delivers as Ig’s drug addicted trumpet playing brother. James Remar and Kathleen Quinlan each have an extended scene as Ig’s parents, and David Morse delivers as the angry dad who has lost a daughter.
Mr. Aja throws a mixture of style and elements as he takes full advantage of the gloomy and colorful Pacific Northwest setting. Numerous flashbacks are utilized, including some childhood events that impact the current situation. The pitchfork, horns and serpents are there to distinguish good versus evil, but mostly you better be prepared for a twisted hoot that reminds a bit of Bubba Ho-Tepin the outrageous blend of comedy and horror … yep, the makings of a midnight cult favorite.
Greetings again from the darkness. The quest for quality horror films is a never-ending project. Since low budget fright fests are the easiest way to make money in Hollywood, most take shortcuts that leave us feeling cheated. This remake of a 1989 British TV horror film actually has wonderful production design … the Gothic mansion is a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the shortcut here was a story that offers little substance, despite being based on Susan Hill‘s novel.
Daniel Radcliffe (yes, Harry Potter himself) plays a young, widowed solicitor named Arthur Kipps, who is still grief stricken, and now on the verge of losing his job. He is given one last chance to prove his mettle to the firm by going to a remote village to settle the affairs of recently deceased client. His young son (Misha Handley) and his nanny are to meet him in the village a few days later.
The local townspeople clearly don’t want him there and are constantly trying to shoo him back to London. Of course, no one ever bothers to tell him why they are frightened and why they are so angry with him for going to the old house. This mansion is a work of art. It has the necessary creep factor to star in a real horror film. The furnishings and fixtures and decor are really the star of the movie. In fact, the DVD should include a segment on the antique mechanical toys. It’s not giving away anything to say that every time Radcliffe sees this mysterious woman in black, something bad happens in the village. The mystery is solved easily enough as we read along while Radcliffe organizes the letters.
The annoying thing about the film is that whenever we get a chill-inducing moment like a shadow in the background or a figure passing by a mirror, it is immediately followed up by a cheap parlor trick involving a sonic blast of music and an ear-piercing scream. It’s as if the director (James Watkins) is convinced movie goers are too ignorant to know when to be scared. His solution: provide clues to say “Scream now!” Ciaran Hinds and Janet McTeer add a touch of class to the film as Mr.and Mrs. Daily, who recently lost their son. Mr. Daily has found solace in the bottle, while Mrs. Daily teeters on the brink of insanity. My theory that no film featuring Mr. Hinds can be all bad is tested here, and Ms. McTeer was seen recently as the best thing about the Albert Nobbs film.
On a positive note, this is a nice transition movie for Daniel Radcliffe. He has quite a career challenge as he tries to break loose of the Harry Potter clamp. He succeeds here with quite a different physical appearance, though he really has little to do but alternate between a distantly forlorn look and peering cautiously around dark corners. A couple of interesting notes: the boy playing his son is Radcliffe’s real life godson; and the actor who played Radcliffe’s role in the 1989 original is Adrian Rawlins, who played Harry Potter’s father in those movies.
By the way, how long until Daniel Radcliffe realizes he should just steer clear of train stations?
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are desperately seeking a horror film that isn’t a slasher … even if it’s not very good OR you are anxious to see Daniel Radcliffe first real step towards a film career outside of “Harry Potter” OR you just want to see a beautifully creepy haunted house
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting a classic horror story in the vein of Poe OR you have had your fill of cheap tricks designed with no purpose other than to cause viewers to jump
DANIEL RADCLIFFE was cast at age 11 (left) for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The final Harry Potter film was the number 1 film at the box office for 2011. Radcliffe is now 22 years old (below) and his next film is a remake of the 1989 ghost story (based on the book by Susan Hill) The Woman in Black. Radcliffe plays an attorney settling the affairs of an unsettled spirit. Do you think he can make the transition from child star to adult actor? Expected release date: February 3, 2012