The Weekend Warrior: I, Frankenstein

After a smokin’ busy Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, things will be slowing down for the rest of the month of January as we only have one new wide release this week and two lower-key releases at the end of the month, and while there’s still room for something to break out, we think nothing much is going to be happening until after the Super Bowl.

Regardless, this weekend we’ll see the return of Aaron Eckhart as I, Frankenstein (Lionsgate), a new take on the classic literary character by Mary Shelley that’s more in line with the type of video game-inspired movies we’ve been seeing over the past twelve years for better or worse. Appropriately, it’s the newest concept from Kevin Grevioux, one of the creators of the “Underworld” franchise, the first movie and its sequel grossing nearly $100 million worldwide, followed by the 2009 prequel “Rise of the Lycans” which fared better overseas. Fortunately, Kate Beckinsale came back for 2012’s Underworld Awakening and that ended up doing better domestically ($62 million total) and worldwide ($153 million).

Now mind you, I, Frankenstein is an attempt at a new take on a famous character in order to create another “Underworld”-like franchise and it even has a similar look and feels as those movies and other films like Priest (which never did well enough to warrant a franchise). It’s set in a dystopian world full of gargoyles and demons in a battle for power with Victor Frankenstein’s creation Adam caught in the middle of the war, again very similar to the premise from the “Underworld” movies.

Eckhart has had success with genre films in recent years, first starring in The Dark Knight, which earned over a billion dollars worldwide, then in Battle: Los Angeles, which grossed $83.5 million domestic and $212 million worldwide, and then co-starring in last year’s Olympus Has Fallen with Gerard Butler, which also opened big with $30 million on its way to $150.5 million worldwide. It might be a bit harder to believe him as a gargoyle-fighting monster, but clearly, this is trying to appeal to a certain younger male audience that is looking for something a little more escapist and different than what’s in theaters.

Co-starring with Eckhart is “Underworld” vet Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto from the “Lord of the Rings” movies and Jai Courtney, who was supposed to be one of last year’s hot breakout stars until he appeared in the worst “Die Hard” movie ever made. The movie is directed by Stuart Beattie, an Australian screenwriter who has been involved with many different types of genre films including Stephen Sommers’ G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and the earlier drafts for the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Unfortunately, he hasn’t proven himself as a director except with a movie called Tomorrow, When the War Began, which never received a domestic theatrical release.

Unfortunately, this movie just looks like too many other movies in a trend that’s slowly dying, and it just doesn’t have the same “fun factor” as last year’s Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, so it probably doesn’t have much of a chance against the one-two Universal punch of Ride Along and Lone Survivor, not to mention the hit family comedy The Nut Job, so it’s likely to end up in second place with less than $20 million opening and probably less than $50 million total i.e. no new franchise.

Mini-Review: One of the big trends of the past ten years has been trying to create high concept action movies based around known properties in hopes of stirring the interest of younger moviegoers looking for something that gives them the same rush as playing video games. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s just a disaster.

“Underworld” famously took the simple premise of a war between Lycans (werewolves) and vampires and proved quite successful, and now one of that movie’s original creators, Kevin Grievioux, is back with another try based around a comic book idea he conceived.

Opening with a fairly faithful telling of Mary Shelley’s literary classic, “I, Frankenstein” seemed to be off to a good start, but within minutes, Frankenstein’s creation (Aaron Eckhart) encounters something called the “Gargoyle Order,” literally a race of half-human, half-gargoyle statues who have some sort of stake in saving the human race from their evil counterparts, the demons. There’s a war going on between the two races and for some reason, Frankenstein’s “monster,” dubbed “Adam,” is caught in the middle of it and might be the secret to one side winning over the other.

The movie then cuts forward 200 years to show Adam walking through a trendy hipster bar to inform us that we’re now in the present day where the demons are trying to recreate Victor Frankenstein’s grand experiment in order to bring their fallen comrades back from the dead. Getting their hands on either Adam or Frankenstein’s journal or both are their top priority.

And yet, the Gargoyle Order is still around, still dressing and acting the same way they did hundred of years earlier, living in an enormously obtrusive cathedral in the middle of the city where they are constantly in battles with hundreds of demons, completely unnoticed by anyone around them. You may wonder why bother cutting forward to present day at all since so much time is spent focusing on the gargoyle-demon conflict that Adam disappears from the movie for a good chunk of time. Eventually, we get back to Adam, but watching Eckhart’s shirtless brooding starts to get so tiring, you start wishing for more of the Gargoyle Order, because it’s such a ridiculous concept that it’s semi-amusing.

It’s never explained whether the Gargoyle Order wants Adam on their side–early on, they mention how his great strength could help them in the war against the demons–but then they chain him up during one of the larger battles… and then seem to want to kill him a few minutes later.

Essentially, the movie cuts between this giant cathedral with the likes of Miranda Otto and Jai Courtney in ancient costumes acting as if they’re in a budget “Game of Thrones” to this scientific laboratory where Yvonne Strahovski, with a needlessly atrocious British accent, is trying to recreate Frankenstein’s experiment (In fact, the only one who really should have any sort of accent is Eckhart’s Adam being since he’s from 18th Century Europe, but he doesn’t even bother trying.) Bill Nighy shows up as the financial backer of the experiment–we already know he’s actually the demon prince Niberius–and for roughly ten minutes, he’s one of the movie’s only saving graces, though by the end of the movie, he’s wearing the same ridiculous demon make-up as others and going off the rails.

The CG is just abysmal with long sequences where filmmaker Stuart Beattie allowed the computer geeks to throw whatever they want at the screen with crazy plumes of fire and badly-rendered gargoyles. We get 10 minutes of that then cut back to the actors trying way too hard to give gravitas to the terrible dialogue. The more serious they play it, the more unintentionally hilarious it gets.

The last ten minutes of the movie is so insane in terms of CG insanity that one’s mind just gives up trying to figure out what they’re trying to achieve, yet the sloppy 3D conversion is just as much a waste of time and money as anything else in the movie.

“I, Frankenstein” isn’t just a bad movie – it is an abysmally awful one. It is embarrassing and someone in production should have realized it didn’t work in the script phase and put a stop to it before it went this far. Rating: 2/10

This weekend last year saw the release of three new movies in wide release, none which got particularly sterling reviews, but the Jeremy Renner-Gemma Arterton action movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Paramount), directed by Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow) won the weekend, topping the box office with $19.7 million in 3,372 theaters. Jason Statham returned to the screen in the role of Donald Westlake’s Parker (FilmDistrict), but that didn’t fare that well, only bringing in $7 million to take fifth place. Despite an all-star cast of actors who probably had better things to do with their time, the raunchy R-rated anthology comedy Movie 43 (Relativity) tanked with just $4.8 million to open in seventh place, averaging less than $2,400 per location. The Top 10 grossed $81.2 million last year although this weekend should do significantly better with a lot of strong returning movies.

This Week’s Updated Predictions

UPDATE: Not much more to say about the single new movie of the week, I, Frankenstein, except that it’s trying to open against a lot of strong returning movies that have good word-of-mouth, many of them which are expanding into even more theaters this weekend, including August: Osage County (adding 360 theaters), Gravity (re-expanding into 1,260 theater), 12 Years a Slave (470 more theaters), Dallas Buyers Club (691 theaters) and Nebraska (finally expanding nationwide into 968 theaters)–most of those trying to take advantage of their Oscar nominations from last week. Universal are also expanding their hit military drama Lone Survivor into over 3,000 theaters maybe get it into a few new areas that haven’t screened it yet, and Ride Along shouldn’t have any problem being #1 for a second weekend in a row.

Also, Roadside Attractions is opening the indie drama Gimme Shelter, starring Vanessa Hudgens and Rosario Dawson, int roughly 384 theaters which may be enough for it to pull in a million or slightly less, but not enough to get into the Top 10.

1. Ride Along (Universal) – $24.0 million -42% (up .5 million)

2. I, Frankenstein (Lionsgate) – $16.8 million N/A (down .5 million)

3. Lone Survivor (Universal) – $13.5 million -40% (up .8 million)

4. The Nut Job (Open Road Films) – $12.0 million -38% (up .5 million)

5. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (Paramount) – $8.0 million -48% (down .2 million)

6. Frozen (Walt Disney) – $7.5 million -37% (same)

7. American Hustle (Sony) – $7.1 million -28%

8. August: Osage County (The Weinstein Company) – $4.6 million -38% (up .4 million)

9. The Wolf of Wall Street (Paramount) – $4.1 million -42%

10. Devil’s Due (20th Century Fox) – $3 million -65%

Nebraska (Paramount) – $1.8 million +100%

Gimme Shelter (Roadside Attractions) – $850 thousand

Koyaanisqatsi director Godfrey Reggio returns with Visitors (Cinedigm), his first full-length documentary in 11 years and his latest collaboration with composer Philip Glass and producer Jon Kane. It’s another dialogue-free visual film presented by Steven Soderbergh in black and white high-definition 4K Projection as it looks at the relationship between humanity and technology. The film uses a similar approach as Reggio’s previous films with a minimal number of time-lapsed shots. It opens at the Landmark Sunshine in New York on Friday and one expects that it should only be seen on the big screen.

Steph Green, who directed the Oscar-nominated short New Boy makes her directorial debut with Run & Jump (Sundance Selects), starring Maxine Peake as Vanetia Casey, an Irish woman trying to get her life back to normal after her 38-year-old husband Conor (Edward MacLiam) has a stroke. When an American doctor (played by Will Forte) shows up in Ireland to stay with them to help Conor using a grant, Vanetia finds herself overwhelmed.

Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) tries his hand at an erotic thriller with 24 Exposures (Sundance Selects), starring Adam Wingard (You’re Next) as a photographer specializing in semi-nude photos of dead corpses, while Wingard’s writing partner Simon Barrett plays a detective looking into how these realistic looking corpses tie into actual bodies that have been found in similar poses.

After seemingly being shelved for years–they showed footage for this at Comic-Con in 2012 or maybe even 2011!–Joe Lynch’s LARPing comedy Knights of Badassdom (eOne Films) finally sees the light of day. The film stars Ryan Kwanten, Steve Zahn, Summer Glau, Peter Dinklage, Danny Pudi (from “Community”) as live action role-players who accidentally conjure up a demon from hell.

Ron Krauss’ Gimme Shelter stars Vanessa Hudgens as 16-year-old Agnes “Apple” Bailey, a pregnant teen living on the streets until she finds a home at a suburban shelter for homeless teens (hence the title). Also starring Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser, James Earl Jones and Ann Dowd, it will open in nearly 350 theaters across the country on Friday.

Roadside Attractions is also releasing Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria, Chile’s entry to this year’s Oscar race, on Friday, this one starring Paulina Garcia as a lonely “woman of a certain age” who makes the most of her situation by going out dancing at social clubs for singles where she one day meets Rodolfo, with whom she starts a passionate relationship. It opens in New York and L.A. on Friday.

Jean-Claude Van Damme stars in Peter (Time Cop) Hyams’ Enemies Closer (Lionsgate) as a forest ranger and former Navy SEAL who becomes trapped in the wilderness between the U.S. and Canada when a big shipment of drugs goes missing and a drug cartel forces him to get back their package. Yup, sounds like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie alright.

Rodrigo H. Vila’s doc Mercedes Sosa: The Voice of Latin America (First Run Features) takes a look at the 50-year career of Argentina’s most famous singer who has sold millions of records during her career and lastly, Stranger by the Lake (“L’Inconnu du lac”) (Strand Releasing) is an erotic thriller from Alain Guiraudie, starring Pierre Deladonchamps as Frank, a man who spends the summers looking for companionship at a French lake when he ends up falling for the mysterious Michel… And then someone dies. After winning multiple prizes at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, it opens in New York on Friday and in L.A on the 31st.

Next week, the first month of 2014 comes to a close with Tom Gornican’s romantic comedy That Awkward Moment (Focus Features), starring Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller, and Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel Labor Day (Paramount), starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet.

You can read stuff like this and regular box office, awards and festival coverage on the Weekend Warrior Blog and to keep up with the latest articles and posts, you can follow us on Twitter.”

Copyright 2014 Edward Douglas


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