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Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Branagh’

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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Thor and The Hulk are difficult characters within the Marvel universe. They are big brash characters that should be cinematic, and in some ways they are, but in others they are just a little dull and limited. The great success of Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 3 (2013) is that we see more of Tony Stark than of Iron Man. The biggest failure of Iron Man 2 (2010) is its reliance on Iron Man and not Tony Stark. And that is possibly why The Hulk has never really worked in his own movie, the various filmmakers have never found a balance between Banner and The Hulk.Thor and The Hulk

When the first Thor film came out two years ago I wasn’t really interested. I have never read any Thor comic books and knew nothing of the character. I was also sceptical of how a fantasy character would fit into the Marvel universe as seen in Iron Man. I went to see it out of curiosity and to see what Kenneth Branagh was doing with a film so far from what you would expect for him. The result was a total surprise. It fulfilled every expectation for an action adventure movie, but I never expected it to be so funny and such good fun. Tom Hiddleston who I had never heard of at the time was brilliant. Natalie Portman is sensational in everything she does. Stellan Skarsgård was surprisingly funny. Kat Dennings isn’t the best actress in the world but she is always adorable and her character is always hilarious. All the same is true of Thor: The Dark World, it also gives Idris Elba and Rene Russo a little more to do. All things considered it isn’t as good as the first movie, but it is still great fun and ticks all the boxes you expect it to tick.Thor The Dark World

The Hulk had the most memorable moment of The Avengers but until that point he had never really made his mark in movies. Despite its reputation, the Ang Lee movie from 2003 wasn’t bad. Eric Bana wasn’t a bad Bruce Banner. But it was just that, not bad, no better. The next movie, The Incredible Hulk (2008) was better and Edward Norton was actually really good. But the character never truly worked until The Avengers (2012). Mark Ruffalo is the perfect Bruce Banner, his banter with Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark was brilliant, but more importantly the plot actually found a way to use The Hulk including the movies aforementioned best moment with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.The Hulk

The success of The Hulk in The Avengers is partly down to the time constraints of an ensemble movie, but Thor has hade it work Twice. As mentioned at the top, there is no getting away from the fact Thor is a limited character. In the first movie he was a fish out of water, in the avengers he was one of a collective, in the second Thor movie a lot of the plot is developed without Thor (Chris Hemsworth). This is a brave move, but one that pays of thanks to such a strong supporting cast. This is what The Hulk needs, if he is going to have his own movie again. That, however looks unlikely at the moment. While I am sure Marvel haven’t given up on the big green fella he doesn’t appear to be in Marvels plans at the moment beyond The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Other forthcoming Marvels movies are: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015) and possibly a Nick Fury movie after that. While I wouldn’t mind seing another Hulk movie I would be more interested in seeing move of Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS

Ultimately they are two characters that have a lot to offer but with limited cinematic appeal, one has been perfectly handled and scripted to overcome the limitations, the other that is yet to live up to its potential. As the first phase of The Avengers got under way, I don’t think anyone expected the immediate future of the franchise to be dominated by Iron Man/Tony Stark, but that is what happened. This is all down to great scripts and the charisma of Robert Downey Jr. In Mark Ruffalo, they have the perfect actor, if they are going to give the hulk another go they just need to find a great script.

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Already the most talked about movie of the year so far, the one thing we don’t need is another review of The Avengers. Therefore I am going to try and avoid reviewing the movie other than to say I have seen it, and I loved it. So what follows are just a ramblings and thoughts on the franchise and where it is going. To begin with, lets get one thing straight, the new UK title Marvel Avengers Assemble is a bit of a mouthful and is frankly crap so from this moment on I will refer to the movie as The Avengers.

Making a movie of The Avengers must have seemed like a good idea, but how do you bring together a disparate group of characters in a coherent story? By starting with a series of movies involving the individual characters gives a strong base and also solves the problem of protracted introductions of multiple characters. The problem, it builds expectations of the fans and risks alienating the uninitiated. The greatest challenge is probably containing Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark / Iron Man who could run away with the whole movie, but there is even more to it than that. How do you use Bruce Banner and The Hulk within the team? To add to this problem Mark Ruffalo is the third Bruce Banner in less than a decade, do you introduce him again or go with an assumed back story? Then you have Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who have made fleeting appearances but have not had their own movies, they also seem to lack any supper abilities. Slotting the two fish out of water character, Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) into the mix also has its challenges. If you can solve all these problems you then need a suitable villain. The X-Men movies accomplish this by using multiple villains to pair off against the heroes, this works for them but The Avengers are a very different group to The X-Men. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) was a great choice, having already been introduced in Thor we already know his back story. He is also an interesting villain with a typically comic book agenda.

Where do you start a project like this? The director. It would have been easy to pick one of the successful directors of the earlier films: Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger), Kenneth Branagh (Thor), but the avengers needs to be its own movie not an Iron Man or Thor sequel. My interest certainly increased when Joss Whedon’s name was attached to the project. To put it simply, Whedon just gets it. Treating the group as a dysfunctional family whose personalities get in the way whenever they are put in a room together. This clash is what makes the movie funny, but it is also the basis that makes the team work as just that, a team. The key to the success is the relationships, as a group of individuals they are defined by the way they interact. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are like bickering siblings, but Iron Man and Captain America are a proficient team. The biggest beneficiary of the Whedon effect is Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who is promoted from little more than eye candy in Iron Man 2. She is funny and sexy and is a surprisingly deep character. There has to be some mileage in giving Black Widow an origin movie of her own or possible one shared with Hawkeye. Given his background of ass kicking female characters (Buffy/River/Echo), Joss Whedon would be the perfect director to take it on.

One of the first things I noticed about the film was the unusually narrow aspect ratio (1.85:1), the fact that I completely forgot this within a few minutes suggests it wasn’t important and the chosen format worked. I have read that Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey chose the ratio to help frame the unusually tall characters like The Hulk along side normal and short characters. It has also been mentioned that Joss Whedon favoured this ratio of the more normal wider ratios with his climatic Manhattan, sequence in mind.

Given the least back-story I wondered where Clint Barton / Hawkeye would fit in to the story. He is actually really important to the plot and along with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow give the team and the movie a grounding. It all helps in the meteoric rise of Jeremy Renner, I had little idea who he was a few years ago, I vaguely remember him in 28 Weeks Later and S.W.A.T. and have no recollection of him in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. His breakthrough performance came in The Hurt Locker where he received a much deserved Oscar nomination. Clearly Hollywood was just as impressed as I was, he has found his way into three big franchises. As well as Hawkeye in The Avengers he also landed a part in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol that is rumoured as a future replacement for Tom Cruise as the main star of the franchise. Later this year he will appear in The Bourne Legacy, possibly the first part of a new trilogy.

With a positive response from critics and a strong box-office this will not be the only time we see the Avengers assemble, but here dose the franchise go from here? Avengers 2, Iron Man 3, Captain America 2, Thor 2, The Hulk 3 (or rebooted)? Probably all of the above. As mentioned above I would also like to see a Black Widow and/or a Hawkeye prequel/origin. There is also space for a Nick Fury stand alone movie. Not to mention all the other Marvel Characters who could appear. The most obvious would be Spider-Man, this probably isn’t possible at them moment as Sony currently own the rights (along with Ghost Rider). A similar problem exists with Fox who hold: The X-Men, Daredevil and The Fantastic Four. This isn’t a bad thing as I am happy to see the Avengers and X-Men universes kept apart.

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