I, Frankenstein Review

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In an unfortunate trend that still continues to this day, Hollywood has been obsessed with Frankenstein and his monster almost since the inception of film as a medium. Somewhere along the way though, Frankenstein’s monster has become synonymous with cheap rubber masks and even cheaper special effects as film after film is stamped with the property license and twisted into something vaguely sellable. Unfortunately, I, Frankenstein appears to be no exception.

Stuart Beattie helms this malarky in his sophomore directorial effort. Previously responsible for the unremarkable action/drama Tomorrow, When the War Began, Beattie has decided to stick with a genre he knows with I, Frankenstein. The film is a loosely based adaptation of a graphic novel of the same name, written by Kevin Grevioux- who is also responsible for the absolute mess of a screenplay. Grevioux seemed determined to crowbar in his bloated exposition and nonsensical world building somewhere, but likely had no idea how to do it- but I’ll talk more about that in a moment.

Featuring stars like Aaron Eckhart and Bill Nighy, you could be forgiven for expecting much more from I, Frankenstein, given it’s capable cast. While Nighy clearly has a good time hamming it up as Demon Prince Naberius (because why wouldn’t he?), Eckhart does the typical action hero thing; that is, remaining mostly impassive and delivering every line of dialogue like he’s got a burning cactus lodged in his throat. More importantly though, I don’t really think that’s direction in which I want to see his career headed. He’s got so much more potential that the growly-voiced, stone-faced monster that he portrays that it comes off as nothing less than a gross misappropriation of talent. Eckhart, further reinforcing my point, is clearly acting his heart out and selling the role for all it’s worth- which unfortunately turns out to be significantly less than the price of admission.

More than the acting or the admittedly mediocre direction, I blame the writing for this train wreck of a film. I, Frankenstein has pretensions towards being a spiritual sequel to Mary Shelly’s classic gothic horror story, but while Shelly’s Frankenstein was heavy on staring, existential horror, a lot of that has been replaced with generic action sequences, presumably to cater to the lowest common denominator. Grevioux tries to incorporate a kind of Milton-esque, Paradise Lost sort of conflict between the forces of good and evil which fits into the established story line about as smoothly and naturally as Mitt Romney at an anime convention.

For instance, within five minutes of the film’s opening, the audience is already being beaten over the head with layers of half-baked, rambling exposition of only borderline relevance. The strange thing about the central conflict is that it’s surprisingly straight forward, but you wouldn’t think that considering the multiple monologues full of incomprehensible betrayals, motivations, and back story, all delivered awkwardly and disjointedly. There’s just no engagement with the audience on a narrative level, which makes the 90 minute runtime seem tortuous at best.

As far as the action is concerned, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before. What I assumed was the selling point of the movie- that whole demons vs. angels vs. Frankenstein’s monster thing- is actually pretty marginalized and the two main fight scenes do little to break up the monotony. Not helping matters is the essentially monochrome visual aesthetic which might best be described as a cross between Van Helsing and Daybreakers, which sounds pretty awesome on paper, but in the hands of Beattie, it just ends up being as sloppy and uninspired as the narrative.

The fact is that no one probably expected I, Frankenstein to set the world on fire, but it baffles me how anyone willingly sunk $65 million into the project. At time of writing, the film has only earned back about a third of that number. Although it pains me to say it, in this particular instance, the majority appears to be totally right in their judgement of this sloppy excuse for an action flick- and that’s saying something.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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Olympus Has Fallen Review

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After the estrogen fueled extravaganza that was Spring Breakers, I needed something to balance out the old hormones; something with lots of bullets and explosions and blood! Enter Olympus Has Fallen— a decidedly masculine affair. 2013 is going to be a big year for action movies, so the question arises: will Olympus be able to bring something new to this charred and bullet-riddled table, or will it soon be forgotten amid the cavalcade of mediocrity? Let’s find out!

Directed by genre veteran Antonie Fuqua, the man behind Training Day and Shooter, Olympus tells the story of a North Korean assault on the White House wherein the President is captured and forced to divulge certain classified information concerning the US nuclear stockpile. Mayhem ensues, and disgraced ex-secret service agent Mike Banner is the only one who can save the day. Direction is generally functional and Fuqua proves that he still has the knack for action with tight, fun to watch firefights and engaging visuals.

Olympus stars the world’s sweatiest man, Gerrard Butler, as the aforementioned Mike Banner who is charged to protect the President, played by Harvey Dent, fresh from his stint as Gotham City DA. Morgan Freeman also lends his talents and vocal chords to the production as Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull. The film is generally well acted and I’m convinced that Butler is incapable of appearing as anything other than sincere on-screen. Oddly though, Freeman of all people seems strangely detached from the proceedings. I get that he’s supposedly trying to keep a level head amidst the greatest crisis in US history, but I can’t help but feel that he comes across as unconcerned and really seems to be phoning this one in.

The thing that I find weirdly inconsistent about the whole affair is that while the action and acting are both done earnestly and, barring some of the more incredible fight scenes, relatively realistically, the plot line is just ludicrous. North Korea, after all, is a country that literally cannot feed its population, simultaneously financing a sleeper cell operation that would have no doubt cost obscene sums of money, required decades to plan and successfully execute, and warranted a technical know-how beyond the skill of even the most ambitious CIA operative. It just doesn’t make any sense. If, however, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief enough to pretend that maybe SPECTRE is behind the whole thing, then perhaps an immersive experience isn’t wholly out of the question.

Another point that the movie has in it’s favor is the absolutely brutal depiction of violence. Gunfights didn’t come off as heroic or exciting, but actually terrifying, thereby adding a welcome sense of weight to the fate of the characters. North Korean commandos execute wounded Americans with the camera in the prime angle to capture the brains splattering across a nearby wall. Civilians aren’t spared either as a gunship opens fire on the unsuspecting crowds below, and as they are mowed down bullets seems to have a tendency to send up geysers of flesh and blood. On the other hand, however, blood geysers only continue to register on an emotional level so long as they are used in moderation and aren’t being shoved in our face literally every five seconds. Overuse kills impact, as it does in every other medium.

For all of its positive aspects, the film really doesn’t have any memorable unique selling points. Franky, I found the whole experience kind of bland and unsatisfying, like being served a single piece of dry toast when you paid for a three course meal. I found myself trying to anticipate a plot twist that never actually came, like Morgan Freeman secretly being evil or the North Koreans breaking into the White House to wish the President a happy birthday. Predictability plagues the plot, and none of the characters are interesting or dynamic enough to warrant anything more than a superficial engagement in the pretty lights and explosions flashing on the wall.

Ultimately, Olympus falls victim to the sizzling brand of mediocrity. It’s a competent but wholly unremarkable little action flick that in all likelihood will, or at least should, be looked over in favor of the much better Spring Breakers or Stoker. My guess is that it will very quickly be forgotten in the white noise of machine gun fire emanating from many other interchangeable action movies coming out this year.

Rating: 3 out of 5