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Posts Tagged ‘Benedict Cumberbatch’

Two hundred years ago this month, at the age of just twenty, Mary Shelley published one a novel that still resonates in the cinema of today.  At last count, there are around 120 film and television adoptions of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. 

The origin of the novel came eighteen months earlier when Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was in  Switzerland with her lover and future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley visiting Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva.  Known as the “Year Without a Summer”, 1816 was particularly cold and wet due to the so called volcanic winter following the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.  Having read all the ghost stories the villa’s library had to offer the group decided to write their own.  History suggests Mary’s was the best.   Originally not a commercial success, the novel found early success on stage, then in the twentieth century on film.  Often referred to as the original adaptation, James Whale’s seminal Frankenstein (1931), was not the first. The first film adaptation, Frankenstein (1910) came from Edison Studios in the silent era and was written and directed by J. Searle Dawley  This was followed by Life Without Soul (1921), written by Jesse J. Goldburg, and directed by Joseph W. Smiley.  There was also the Italian version, the Italian Il Mostro di Frankenstein (“The Monster of Frankenstein”), no known prints of this film remain. 320px-Frankenstein_1818_edition_title_page

I am not sure when I first saw a Frankenstein movie, but have always been aware of Frankenstein or to be more precise, his monster.  But to many people, Frankenstein is the monster not the monsters creator, who is actually called Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein.  An easy mistake to make as the creator is the real monster, but I am getting ahead of myself.  The monster, or at least the Boris Karloff, Universal version of him is probably the most recognisable and iconic character in movie history.  When did I first see him?  Probably a clip on TV.  The first, I really remember is one of two things: cardboard Halloween masks given out by the ice-cream man, or the Frankenstein’s monster alike, Herman Munster who seemed to always be on TV in the 80’s. Herman Munster

Then at the age of around ten or eleven I saw Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) (shown in a double bill on channel 4 with  Dracula: Prince of Darkness 1966). I soon watched many more Hammer movies including their first Frankenstein, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) with Christopher Lee as the monster.  These are probably the best of the Hammer Frankenstein movies, and significant in the series.  Made off the back the Universal Monster Movies that were experiencing a renaissance on TV on both sides of the Atlantic, the 1957 film was the first significant adaptation in years.  Without the use iconic look, the rights to which were owned by Universal Hammer had to be creative.  Taking the board strokes the source material but telling its own story, with a subtext of a fear of science, this is after all a film made a decade after WWII and in the early days of the cold war. Directed with style by Terence Fisher and perfectly performed by Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.  Like Shelley’s novel, the movie was poorly received by critics but loved by audiences proving to be commercial success and a springboard to the Hammer movies of the next decade and a half. frankenstein-created-woman1

A few years later I saw the aforementioned James Whale, Universal movies.  Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) starring Colin Clive as Frankenstein, and Boris Karloff as the monster.  One of the few films where the sequel is better than the original, but like The Godfather, or Mad Max, it doesn’t matter, as they are both brilliant.  Great art often comes from the obscure places.  Universal were haemorrhaging money.  Dracula, essentially a filmed play starring Bela Lugosi, made a lot of money so they decided to fast-track further horror/monster movies.  They hired James Whale, two pictures into a five movie contract (His previous credits were a couple of world war one movies, one of which starred future Henry (changed from Victor) Frankenstein, Colin Clive.  He was also one of the unaccredited directors on Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels). Whale elevates the movie above Dracula’s stage origin by both expanding the canvas and through cinematic flair.  Influenced by German Expressionism, the film set a template for future horror.  It also helps that both Whale and Karloff, individually and collectively understood that the monster wasn’t really the monster of the story. frankenstein

Then I read Mary Shelley’s original novel and became obsessed with Frankenstein and its many adaptations.  They include Young Frankenstein (1974).  Not to be misunderstood, Young Frankenstein (1974) is actually among the best Frankenstein movies.  Written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder; Directed by Brooks and starring Wilder, it both tells Shelley’s story, understands the themes, and most importantly, it is devastatingly funny.  Utilising original props and set dressing from the 1931 movie, it also looks like a Frankenstein movie. young frankenstein

The total opposite to the Hammer version, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) received good reviews but was less popular with audiences; Audiences who had grown up with various film versions but were less familiar with the original novel, audiences who expected the monster to be a monster.  Kenneth Branagh directs with swagger and style and is ok in the lead but Robert De Niro wasn’t the best choice of monster.  It is a film well worth revisiting. mary shelley's frankenstein

The adaptations are still coming thick and fast, here are a few from the current decade:

  • 2011: The BBC broadcast a live production from Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds; billed as Frankenstein’s Wedding.
  • 2011: The National Theatre produced a version by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle. Actors Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Frankenstein and the monster.  The play was broadcast live to cinemas worldwide.
  • 2014: Dr. Victor Frankenstein and the Monster were both recurring characters in the (excelled) TV horror series Penny Dreadful.
  • 2014: I, Frankenstein: Frankenstein’s monster joins an age old battle between and Gargoyles.  A truly terrible film.
  • 2015: Frankenstein: a modern-day adaptation told from the monster’s point of view.
  • 2015: Victor Frankenstein:  Victorian set drama told from Igor’s perspective.
  • 2016: Frankenstein: A full length ballet performed by The Royal Ballet and simulcasts worldwide.
  • 2019: Bride of Frankenstein: The second film in the “Dark Universe” with Javier Bardem as the monster was due out next year, but is currently in turnaround.

If you are interested in Frankenstein, but don’t know where to start, I would recommend either the 1931 movie or Mary Shelley’s original novel.  Don’t wait for the next adaptation, it is unlikely to live up to either of these.  And finally for those who are wondering, the title of the article comes from a line that appeared in Bride of Frankenstein (1935), and not a line spoken by Russell Crowe in the trailer for The Mummy (2017). bride of frankenstein 1935

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The British Academy Film Awards will be awarded on Sunday.  Here are my predictions along with what I would like to see win in the major categories:

Best Film

  • My Choice: Boyhood
  • Prediction: Boyhood
  • Other nominations: The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Theory of Everything, Birdman, The Imitation Gameboyhood-poster

 

David Lean Award for Direction

  • My Choice: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  • Prediction: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  • Other nominations: Alejandro González Iñárritu for Birdman, Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, James Marsh for The Theory of Everything:richard linklater boyhood

 

Best Leading Actor

  • My choice:  Ralph Fiennes for The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Prediction:  Michael Keaton for Birdman
  • Other nominations: Benedict Cumberbatch for The Imitation Game, Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything, Jake Gyllenhaal for Nightcrawler.ralph fiennes the grand budapest hotel

 

Best Leading Actress

  • My Choice: Reese Witherspoon for Wild (I haven’t seen still Alice)
  • Prediction: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
  • Other nominations: Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl, Felicity Jones for The Theory of Everything, Amy Adams for Big Eyes.Wild

 

Best Supporting Actor

  • My Choice: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
  • Prediction: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
  • Other nominations: Mark Ruffalo for Foxcatcher, Ethan Hawke for Boyhood, Edward Norton for Birdman, Steve Carell for Foxcatcher.j k simmons whiplash

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • My Choice: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
  • Prediction: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
  • Other nominations: Keira Knightley for The Imitation Game, Emma Stone for Birdman, Imelda Staunton for Pride, Rene Russo for Nightcrawler.patricia arquette boyhood

 

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer

  • My choice: Stephen Beresford & David Livingstone for Pride (I haven’t seen Kajaki but have heard great things about it)
  • Prediction: Stephen Beresford & David Livingstone for Pride
  • Other nominations: Elaine Constantine for Northern Soul, Yann Demange &Gregory Burke for ’71, Hong Khaou for Lilting, Paul Katis & Andrew de Lotbiniere for Kajaki.Pride

 

Best Original Screenplay

  • My Choice: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  • Prediction: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  • Other nominations: Wes Anderson for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Damien Chazelle for Whiplash, Dan Gilroy for Nightcrawler, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo for Birdman.richard linklater boyhood

 

Best Screenplay (Adapted)

  • My Choice: Gillian Flynn for Gone Girl
  • Prediction:  Graham Moore for The Imitation Game
  • Other nominations: Jason Hall for American Sniper, Graham Moore for The Imitation Game, Anthony McCarten for The Theory of Everything, Paul King for PaddingtonGillian Flynn

 

Best Cinematography

  • My Choice: Emmanuel Lubezki for Birdman
  • Prediction: Dick Pope for Mr. Turner
  • Other nominations: Hoyte Van Hoytema for Interstellar, Robert D. Yeoman for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ryszard Lenczewski for Ida: Lukasz Zal,emmanuel lubezki birdman

 

Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film

  • My Choice: Pride or Under the Skin
  • Prediction: Paddington
  • Other nominations: ’71, The Imitation Game, The Theory of EverythingUnder The Skin

 

EE Rising Star Award

  • My Choice: Jack O’Connell
  • Prediction: Shailene Woodley
  • Other nominations: Miles Teller, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Margot RobbieJack OConnell

 

Best Film Not in the English Language

  • Unfortunately, being the only one shown at my local cinema Trash is the only film I have seen so have no opinion on this category.  The nominations are: Ida, The Lunchbox, Two Days, One Night, Leviathan, Trash.Trash

 

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Last night I attended the European premier of The Imitation Game.  This isn’t entirely true, the European premier at The Odeon Leicester Square doubled as the opening film the 58th BFI London Film Festival.  It was simultaneously screened across the country at 30 cinemas.  While the stars squelched down the red carpet in pouring rain I was sat 120 miles away in the comfort of Cineworld Birmingham.  Given the absence of a large film festival anywhere in the UK outside London and Edinburgh I jumped at the chance of seeing the film over a month before its general release.The Imitation Game European premier

By way of introduction, Alan Turing was a British mathematician and computer scientist. An early pioneer of the concepts of “algorithm” and “computation” he is regarded as the farther of computing, his “Turing machine” is considered a forerunner of what we now know as a computer.  During World War II he worked at Bletchley Park, Britain’s code-breaking centre. As the head of “Hut 8” he was largely responsible for cracking Naval Enigma.  Winston Churchill is believed to have said Turing made the “single biggest contribution to Allied victory”. A decade later he committed suicide after being persecuted by the authorities for being homosexual, a crime at the time.Alan Turing

I first became aware of Alan Turing in the late 90’s when I read Robert Harris’ excellent novel Enigma (published in 1995 and made into a film of the same name in 2001).  A fictional account of the battle to decrypt Enigma.  Although fictional the film gives a good overview of the exploits of the cryptanalysts of Bletchley Park and encouraged me to read more of the true story that was just becoming public knowledge fifty years after the fact.

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as Alan Turing and to the films credit isn’t afraid of showing the antisocial and socially awkward side of his character.  His performance is heartfelt and convincing making it captivating.  The supporting cast is excellent with Matthew Goode and Mark Strong being as good as ever and Keira Knightley proving her critics wrong again.the imitation game

Based on Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges and directed by Morten Tyldum (best known for Headhunters (2011)).  The film is well paced and constructed but does suffer from a lack of focus.  Told in flashback from his arrest for indecency (for being gay) in 1951 to his school days and his exploits during the war.  The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a biography of Turing or a story of the cracking of Enigma.  Personally I would have liked to have seen one or the other, either a full bio-pic or a more in depth look at the Bletchley Park years.  Anyone who has read up on the subject will learn little from the movie and are likely to enjoy it as a film, but those with little or no knowledge it is perfect introduction.the imitation game cast

Not without its faults, but an enjoyable and informative film and a fitting tribute (largely thanks to a monumental performance from Benedict Cumberbatch) to a British war hero who is finally getting the recognition he deserves.  Well worth checking out when it goes on general release 14 November 2014. 

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Movies seen in May:

Dead Man Down: Two damaged people (Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace) looking for revenge find each other. A disjointed crime thriller that has its problems but gets away with them because they are outweighed by the charms of the leading actors.IMG_5538.CR2

Star Trek Into Darkness: Kirk, Spock and the crew of the Enterprise go after a terrorist (perfectly played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Lots of well placed nods to the original series but the movie feels a little hollow and undoes some of the great work of the excellent first reboot movie.Star Trek Into Darkness

Mud: Two young teenage boys find a fugitive living in a boat stranded in a tree on a river island. They agree to help him despite the obvious dangers. Further proof that given a decent movie Matthew McConaughey is one of the most underrated actors of his generation coupled with the emerging talent of Tye Sheridan who you may have seen in The Tree of Life.Mud

The Great Gatsby: Baz Luhrmann’s take on the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is as good as it can be for a story that belongs on the page not the screen. The best things about it are the visually stunning party scenes and the stunning performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Sadly the best things about the film work against each other not with each other making a good and stunning film but not a great and mesmerising one.The Great Gatsby

Fast and Furious 6: Dominic Toretto, Brian O’Conner (Vin Diesel & Paul Walker) and their crew are once again hired by Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). This time they are after British thief Shaw (Luke Evans) who is working with (back from the dead) Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). The story is rubbish leavening the film feeling flat after the surprisingly good previous film. There is enough car action for fans of the series and the fight between Michelle Rodriguez and Gina Carano is good.Fast & Furious 6

Byzantium: After being discover by a mysterious organisation who is tracking them a pair of female vampires (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) flee and end up in a rundown English seaside town. Neil Jordan returns to the vampire movie in the atmospheric and melancholic British horror that may just be the antidote to twilight.Byzantium

The Purge: Set in a near future America where on one day every year there is a 12 hour window when murder is legal. A suburban family get caught in the crossfire when the son decides help a man fleeing from a mob. What could have been a great sleazy B movie or a classy allegoric tale tries to be both and ends up being neither. Interesting and fun but flawed.The Purge

Byzantium Just misses out as movie of the month to Mud:Mud Poster

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I’m not a diehard fan of Sherlock Holmes but have enjoyed the two novels and handful of short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle that I have read. I didn’t actually read any of them until around five years ago, the problem? Put simply like a lot of people I came to the character via the screen not the page. This is possibly because there have been so many adaptations (beating even Dracula and Robin Hood he is possibly the most portrayed movie character ever), but despite the numerous incarnations I have never been satisfied with the film and TV versions. I have always found them to be just a little dull and full of undeserved self-importance. The mixture of first person narration (via Holmes’s friend and biographer, Dr. John Watson) and third-person omniscient narrative is an important part of books giving an insight into Holmes from the point of view from an everyman. This doesn’t always translate to the screen. There is also an issue of setting; whether on television or the big screen of the cinema, the Victorian setting is rarely convincing, probably because of financial constraints but more likely a twee vision of the past.

There have been attempts to make original movies based on the characters like Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) and Without a Clue (1988). They are both great ideas but the execution is only partly successful. Now after years of been under-whelmed by adaptations there have been two successful takes on the story in a short space of time. Firstly, the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law as Holmes and Watson. Then a year later came the BBC TV show Sherlock created by Mark Gatiss and Steven (Doctor Who) Moffat, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. Changing the setting from the Victorian era to the present day is the shows biggest risk but turns out to be the greatest accomplishment. The reason it works so well is the way it plays with the character within its modern setting. How he interacts with modern society and technology is both interesting and amusing. It is also fun to spot the original plots and ideas that are shoehorned into the modern stories, some more obvious than others. The second (sadly too short) series of the TV show premiered just a couple of weeks after the release of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), the sequel to the Guy Ritchie movie.

So why do these two adaptations work so well when previous incarnations have been so dull and predictable? Firstly I think I have to say diehard Sherlock Holmes fans will probably hate them and that is why I think they are so good. The biggest criticism of films based on books that I tend to hear is that they aren’t faithful to the book. What people who say this forget or aren’t willing to admit is that books and movies are very different mediums and therefore movies shouldn’t slavishly follow the books, especially when they are telling hundred year old stories that are well known. A perfect example of this is Christopher Nolan’s take on Batman. Taking parts of the plot from graphic novels (notably Batman: Year One) but essentially creating a new story from the mythology of the character. The same is true of James Bond, although there have been many missteps along the way, the story has remained up-to-date and relevant long after Ian Fleming’s original stories had dried up.

The thing that both the new film and TV incarnations have in common is a perfect balance of when to be silly and when to be serious. That balance is different in both cases in keeping with the dynamic of the version but works equally as well. As does the casting that is perfect in both. Getting the same things right also means they get a lot of the same things wrong. The constant bickering and reconciliation between the characters is overdone as is the overplayed bromance. These in themselves are minor criticisms but could get worse if they string things out for to many sequels/seasons. They also get the supporting cast right with Una Stubbs, Rupert Graves and Mark Gatiss is the TV show, Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan and Geraldine James in the films. The films also boast Mark Strong and Jared Harris amongst their villains.

If you haven’t seen the film or TV show because of any preconceptions, I hope I have convinced them to give them a go. Similarly, if you are a fan of either version but haven’t read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, why not start at the beginning and pick up a copy of A Study in Scarlet (first published in 1887) and start reading.

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