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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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Choose life. Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares. Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently. And choose watching history repeat itself. Choose your future. Choose reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn. Choose a zero-hour contract, a two hour journey to work. And choose the same for your kids, only worse, and smother the pain with an unknown dose of an unknown drug made in somebody’s kitchen. And then… take a deep breath. You’re an addict. So be addicted, just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.

t2 trainspotting

I saw T2 Trainspotting back in January on general release.   I didn’t get around to writing about it at the time so wasn’t going to bother.  With the North American release imminent now is as good a time as any.  However, there is little point in reviewing it as there are already a plethora of opinions online.     

To talk about T2 Trainspotting, first we have to go back to the original film from 1996.  Trainspotting was a special film in its day.  In 1996 I was a student and immersed in the culture of the day.  Times were good, it was pre 9/11, the economy was booming after the recession of the early 90’s, Brit Pop was at its height, The England football team weren’t.  At the movies Richard Linklater, Kevin Smith and particularly Quentin Tarantino were spearheading a new independent cinema that spoke to our generation, but they are all American.  Trainspotting was different, Trainspotting was British, Trainspotting was ours.  Overnight Trainspotting posters started replacing Reservoir Dogs posters on the walls of every student house in town.  It was the tinny glimmer that a British film industry could make modern contemporary and exciting films.

Trainspotting-Poster

The first thing that is worth mentioning is that Trainspotting wasn’t really set in 1996.  Based on Irvine Welsh’s novel from three years before it, a date is never actually mentioned but it feels more like the late 80’s early 90’s, a less hopeful time.  The Choose Life mantra dates back to the Katharine Hamnett T’shirts of the mid 80’s.  Did this squalor make us feel even better about the time we were living in?  The new film appears to be set in the modern day, Renton’s new choose life speech tells us how it all went wrong and how we have a less optimistic outlook, making it truly a film for 2017 and the political climate.

Irvine Welsh

Back in 1996, there was a certain buzz about Trainspotting long before release, partly thanks to the cult status of Welsh’s novel but more to do with Danny Boyle’s feature début Shallow Grave from two years before.  I still went to see the film with a certain amount of trepidation because of the subject matter.  How much fun could a film about heroin addicts be?  But Trainspotting isn’t about heroin, it is about life, it is about the choices we make.   It doesn’t glorify heroin, but it doesn’t condemn its protagonists, it glorifies life.  Along with well drawn characters, this is what lets the film be both compelling and devastatingly funny.

So, as Simon aka Sick Boy asks Mark Renton: what have you been up to, For 20 years? For a start, director Danny Boyle and star Ewan McGregor had a famous falling out over the studio’s insistence at casting the more bankable Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach.  This gap has made a difference.  Boyle has spoken about how they tried to make a sequel after ten years based on Welsh’s follow up novel Porno.  The twenty year gap has given the story and its characters space to breath.  The film starts with Renton running on a treadmill, a perfect juxtaposition to his running from security guards after shoplifting in the opening to the first film.  Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie are all doing about what you would expect of them.  Spud (Ewen Bremner) is the biggest revelation of the movie, the least used and often comic relief of the first film becomes the most significant and poignant character of T2.  I have never seen a sequel that uses so much of the original film.  The nods and flashbacks are a great risk, but actually provide many of the films best moments.  Along with flashbacks to the main characters as children this not only makes for an interesting film, it also adds extra colour to the original film.

t2-trainspotting-teaser

I was lucky enough to catch a screening of the original film a week before seeing the sequel.  Anyone planning on seeing T2 should re-watch Trainspotting first to get the most out of both films.   In the movie, Sick Boy accuses Renton of being  nostalgic, “You’re a tourist in your own youth”.  The film is nostalgic, in fact, it is both more nostalgic and melancholic than I expected but no less enjoyable.  It isn’t as good as the original but Trainspotting set the bar so high I didn’t expect it to be, most fans won’t be disappointed. 

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For me (and many movie fans) the highlight of Danny Boyle’s spectacular Olympic opening ceremony was James Bond and the Queen. 

I had never thought about Danny Boyle as a potential director of a Bond movie, but now I think about it, he would probably do a great job. So not for there first time here are a few thoughts on who I would like to see direct the next Bond movie:

Kathryn Bigelow

What would it be like?

A Kathryn Bigelow Bond film would be like every other Kathryn Bigelow, full of action played out by troubled and conflicted characters. This is why she would be perfect as a Bond director, there is already a little bit of Johnny Utah, William James and Lenny Nero in Bond.

Who would play Bond?

Bigelow doesn’t seem to play the Hollywood favouritism game so she would probably go with who ever was incumbent in the role.

Will it happen?

Sadly, probably not.

Christopher Nolan

What would it be like?

As with Batman, I would expect a deeper darker more political Bond, possibly without the existentialism. The action would be big, grand and most importantly real (in camera, not CGI where possible). Like with Bigelow’s take on the character, Bond will be a complicated and conflicted one, but possibly more focussed and driven.

Who would play Bond?

Nolan has a reputation for returning to actors he has used in the past. This makes Christian Bale and Tom Hardy the most likely candidates. I’m not sure I can see either of them in the part, but am willing to give Nolan a chance as he certainly hasn’t let us down yet. I also like the idea of Anne Hathaway and Marion Cotillard as Bond girls and Memento star Guy Pearce as a villain.

Will it happen?

Given his ability to make profitable movies and his declared interest in the job I think it will happen eventually.

Quentin Tarantino

What would it be like?

I still want to see a 1950’s and/or 60’s set Bond series based on the original Ian Fleming Novels starting with Casino Royale. I can think of no director I would rather see take on (or at least start) such a project. He would make the movies fun without the silliness of Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, the right blend on bonkers and brilliant.

Who would play Bond

I have no idea, when he spoke about his desire to have made Casino Royale (after the 2006 was had been made) he said he would have used Pierce Brosnan not Daniel Craig. Having worked with him on Inglourious Basterds, Michael Fassbender stands has a good chance but all bets are off if you hire Tarantino.

Will it happen?

Extremely unlikely.

Nicolas Winding Refn

What would it be like?

The leftfield choice. The Danish director would make a very different Bond movie. It would certainly be slick stylish and violent but it could also take it back to a smaller more concise story.

Who would play Bond?

Again I would go with Michael Fassbender.

Will it happen?

Probably not commercially viable.

David Fincher

What would it be like?

A darker and more thoughtful Bond with more of an eye to conspiracy and investigation than action but with an underlying brutality. Stylish looking with stunning photography and great acting.

Who would play Bond?

Having worked well together on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, stick with Daniel Craig.

Will it happen?

Stands a chance.

But before that, we have Skyfall set for UK release on 26 October.

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