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“Lisa Frankenstein” is Delightful and Disjointed (Movie Review)

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“Lisa Frankenstein” is Delightful and Disjointed (Movie Review)
IMG via Michael K. Short

Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is one of the most frequently adapted novels of all time. From James Whale’s monumentally iconic Universal works, “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein” in the early 1930s, to Terence Fisher’s Hammer Films adaptation, “The Curse of Frankenstein” in 1957, to Mel Brooks’ insatiably hysterical yet earnestly authentic take, “Young Frankenstein” in 1974, to Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” feature film in the 2010s, all the way up to Yorgos Lanthimos’ Academy Award-nominated 2023 masterpiece “Poor Things,” “Frankenstein” is part and parcel of pop culture. In fact, it’s a story that one can practically learn through cultural osmosis alone at this point, with key beats from the story having become so ubiquitous that every audience is overtly familiar with them.

It is in these unique circumstances that the 2024 film, “Lisa Frankenstein,” enters. Written by Diablo Cody (she of “Juno” fame and “Jennifer’s Body” mastery) and directed by Zelda Williams in her feature directorial debut, “Lisa Frankenstein” takes audiences’ overt familiarity with its source material and twists it in interesting ways. Much in the same way that Frankenstein’s monster was assembled from various odds, ends, and appendages, so too is “Lisa Frankenstein” a love letter to kitschy ’80s teen comedies filtered through an undying affection for camp classics like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and with a penchant for bursting into attempts at semi-expressionistic animated interludes. The resulting film does not always work, but it is frequently more charming than it should be.


5. The Female Gaze Strikes Back

Written as part of a contest amongst a close group of friends, including her husband, Mary Shelley’s original “Frankenstein” is and always has been a distinctly potent distillation of the destructive nature of masculinity through the lens of a ruthlessly incisive female gaze. And so, in a great many ways, it is immensely satisfying to see an iteration of this story spearheaded entirely by a female creative team.

What makes this even better are the ways in which both Diablo Cody’s inventive script and Zelda Williams’ direction lean all the way into the feminine elements of the story. The ‘creature’ of the story may be male, but it is Kathryn Newton’s titular Lisa who is grappling with the contradicting conundrum of her own existence here, and the film comes to a delightfully anarchic conclusion on what value she finds in her own existence.

4. Weak Spot: Frankenstein Himself

IMG via Michael K. Short

Let’s address this upfront: I’m a fan of Cole Sprouse. I believe he’s a talented actor. However, I find his portrayal of Frankenstein to be a misfit within the framework of “Lisa Frankenstein.”

Part of the issue lies in the structure and constraints of the film itself. The opening credits attempt to deliver a rapid backstory for Sprouse’s character through somewhat underdeveloped quasi-flash animations. This presents several challenges; not only do these initial visuals fail to leave a favorable impression, but they also inundate the audience with a surplus of information, resulting in a narrative that feels more told than experienced.

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Consequently, when Sprouse enters the main storyline, he appears underdeveloped, with neither the film nor Sprouse himself offering substantial resolution to this inadequacy. Many aspects of Sprouse’s performance seem to mimic superior works (such as “Edward Scissorhands” or Doug Jones’ remarkable portrayal in “Hocus Pocus”), leading to a central relationship that feels imbalanced and lacking depth.

3. Kathryn Newton as Lisa Swallows

When it comes to the central relationship, Kathryn Newton shines brilliantly as Lisa, contrasting with the film’s portrayal of Frankenstein.

Newton’s performance in “Lisa Frankenstein” is nothing short of remarkable, showcasing her talent and versatility, as seen in her previous work in Christopher Landon’s “Freaky.” She brings a unique blend of exuberance and nuance to the character of Lisa, effectively portraying her journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

Throughout the film, Newton’s ability to convey complex character arcs through subtle details is truly impressive and adds depth to the narrative. As the film progresses, she becomes the heart and soul of the story, captivating the audience with her charm and charisma.

By the film’s conclusion, Newton’s portrayal of Lisa has endeared her character to the audience, making the climactic tanning bed scene feel both earned and emotionally resonant. Her performance elevates “Lisa Frankenstein” and contributes significantly to its charm and appeal.

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2. Williams’ Ambition

Zelda Williams’ direction plays a crucial role in the charisma and charm of “Lisa Frankenstein.” Teaming up with cinematographer Paula Huidobro, Williams creates a visual aesthetic steeped in fluorescent neon and absurdist elements. While the film may not always hit the mark, when it does, it’s a delightful experience. Williams demonstrates a clear vision and isn’t afraid to take bold creative risks to bring it to life, imbuing the film with a visceral sense of authenticity.

For a debut feature, Williams showcases impressive talent. From inventive visual sequences that depict Lisa’s inner turmoil externalizing into her surroundings, to subtle nods to classic films like “Bride of Frankenstein” and Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon,” Williams demonstrates a deep appreciation for cinematic history while infusing her own distinct style into the narrative. Overall, her work on “Lisa Frankenstein” is commendable and indicative of promising future endeavors in filmmaking.

1. Weak Spot: The Editing

The editing in “Lisa Frankenstein” emerges as a singularly detrimental element to the overall viewing experience. At times, the film feels more akin to a rough or assembly cut rather than a polished, professionally edited release.

The absence of internal rhythm and pacing renders the film a slog, with comedy, in particular, suffering due to the lack of effective editing. Well-written and staged gags fall flat as the editing fails to punctuate them effectively, robbing them of their comedic impact. Moreover, excessive padding contributes to the film’s bloated runtime, with extended moments of dead air deflating any sense of momentum or tension.

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The film’s conclusion compounds these issues, featuring multiple alternate endings that contradict each other both narratively and thematically. This decision leaves the film feeling unfinished and undermines the impact of its stronger elements. Overall, the unrefined editing of “Lisa Frankenstein” detracts significantly from its potential and hampers the enjoyment of its comedic and thematic content.


(C-)

Overall, I enjoyed “Lisa Frankenstein.” It had a fun and charming quality to it, although I found it frustrating how the film often undermined itself just when it seemed to be hitting its stride.

I can envision it gaining a cult following in the coming years, as it has the potential to be a campy delight. Personally, I hope that a director’s cut or some form of re-editing is pursued in the future to tighten up the film substantially. Despite its flaws, I believe there’s something special within “Lisa Frankenstein” that just needs the right adjustments to fully come to life.


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Movie Reviews

Film Review: Righting Wrongs (1986) by Corey Yuen

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Film Review: Righting Wrongs (1986) by Corey Yuen

“It’s money that counts, not guts”

Co-produced by Corey Yuen and Yuen Biao, with the two of them also function as action director, and the first being credited as the director and the second as the protagonist, “Righting Wrongs” is considered one of the best movies of the latter and has now reached the status of cult for a number of reasons.

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In that fashion, some trivia regarding the production are definitely interesting to mention. According to Rothrock, Golden Harvest originally signed her to play the villain opposite of Jackie Chan in Armour of God, but when production halted due to Chan’s near-fatal filming accident, the studio reassigned Rothrock to Righting Wrongs with Biao. While practicing her moves for the film, she injured her right ACL; rather than take time off to undergo surgery, she proceeded to shoot her scenes using her left leg for her kicks. Filming lasted five-and-a-half month, during which Biao sustained a back injury while filming the scene where his character jumped off the second story of a house, despite landing feet-first on some padding dressed up as grass

When the studio needed another female martial artist for the film, Rothrock recommended Karen Sheperd. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, Sheperd demanded that her character should not die, as it would ruin her reputation. In addition, she refused to kill a boy, as written on the screenplay. After Rothrock and Sheperd’s fight scene was completed, the crew filmed a body double doing the scenes the latter refused to do, including her character’s death.

The film’s original ending was met with a negative reception during its midnight screening in Hong Kong; because of this, Rothrock stopped filming China O’Brien and flew from Los Angeles to Hong Kong to reshoot the ending for the Mandarin and international versions. By the end, there were three different edits and four different endings, all of which are included in the Blu-Ray 88 films released in 2022.

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Jason Ha Ling-ching is a dedicated, by the book prosecutor who has tried to maintain patience and tolerance under the somewhat flimsy laws of the court and what is happening outside of it, in regards to how decisions are made. However, when his mentor is publicly gunned down in New Zealand, in a rather ominous and symbolic scene including a book of justice getting filled with bullet holes, and the key witness of Ha’s latest case and his entire family is wiped out overnight, Ha can no longer go by the book and decides to take justice in his own hands. However, when he succeeds in killing the first of the two he considers perpetrators, the Hong Kong Police Department sets mad dog Senior Inspector Cindy Si on his heels. With Jason being accused of one more murder he did not commit, it falls on Sammy Yu Chi-Man, a young man who was witness to the actual events to exonerate him, while it is soon revealed that someone named Crown is the mastermind behind all the crimes.

As usual in the HK martial arts movies of the 80s, the script does not make that much sense, in distinct b-movie fashion, although in this case, some comments about how justice is implemented, corruption and the whole concept of vigilantism add a level of depth to the narrative. However, the way a number of the good guys are murdered, the punishment the police receive and the overall brutality that characterizes the story induce the narrative with a rather intense sense of drama that works quite well here. Add to that the misunderstandings that bring Jason and Cindy against each other, including a rather memorable fight sequence, and you have a movie that truly stands out from the plethora of similar films due to its intricacy.

The same actually applies to the acting, with Yuen Biao and Louis Fan as Sammy being quite good, particularly in the dramatic scenes, Roy Chiao as Magistrate Judge emitting authority from every move and gesture and Melvin Wong being a rather competent villain. On the other hand, the comedy elements are definitely mishandled, with the film probably being much better without them.

Of course, considering the nature of the film, the aspect that will define its quality is definitely the action scenes, and it is easy to say that the combined efforts of Yuen and Biao in the direction and the performance of the stuntmen and the actors is truly top notch. The scene with the fight between the two protagonists, the one where Biao is fighting Peter Cunnigham the Black Assassin, the final one and the one where Cynthia Rothrock is fighting Karen Sheperd are truly top notch, and among the most memorable in the whole genre. In that regard, the combination of the intricacy of movement, the speed, and the punishment all involved receive is truly astonishing. Add to that some non-martial arts murders, which are quite dramatic in their presentation, and you have an overall outstanding action aspect.

“Righting Wrongs” is an excellent martial arts film that both thrives on its action and includes enough drama and context to elevate it much above the standards of the category.

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Last Swim Film Review: Charming Debut

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Last Swim Film Review: Charming Debut

Sasha Nathwani’s Last Swim is a bittersweet vignette of a teenage awakening, full of turbulence, laughter, and poignant realizations about what we all live for.


Sasha Nathwani’s debut feature film Last Swim won the hearts of the jury at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival. What earned it the Silver Bear for Best Film in the Generation 14plus category is its touching celebration of youth and the overcoming of fear in the face of painful hardships.

Last Swim captures a fateful day in the life of Iranian teenager Ziba (Deba Hekmat), which is momentous and crucial for her future on multiple fronts. On one hand, she and her friends are receiving their final exam results, which are decisive for their acceptance into college programs; on the other hand, she has secretly decided to make her own life-changing decision to escape a greater suffering she doesn’t talk about. What ensues is an eventful, meticulously planned trip across the hidden gem spots of London and the unraveling of Ziba’s internal torments.

Throughout its runtime, Last Swim elegantly dances between masked melancholy and wholesome humor while knowing exactly how to channel the messy vivacity of being young, overwhelmed with fear of life and joy of life. 

Ziba is a likable, flawed character with a secret. She appears and exits the screen with a clear objective, clear motivation, and clear obstacles standing in her way. Her decision-making as well as her transformative arc visibly tick all the boxes of a formulaic character-building checklist. We hit all the common beats on the route of her development, but the persuasiveness of the story hides in its technical and artistic execution.

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The urban setting breathes life into this coming-of-age journey. There’s an indescribable spirit to the film due to the way it portrays the vibrancy of a London summer, reminiscent of the recent energetic (although very differently stylized) rom-com Rye Lane (2023). The city feels as young as the characters roaming its streets.

The effortlessly gorgeous cinematography (Olan Collardy) works in tandem with the actors’ naturalistic performances, giving the film a casualness that makes it more delightful to watch and more inviting to invest in the friend group’s buzzing chemistry. The interactions between the four come across as genuine and relaxed, as if they aren’t trying too hard, in the best way possible.

Lydia Fleming, Deba Hekmat, Denzel Baidoo and Jay Lycurgo cycle in the film Last Swim
Lydia Fleming, Deba Hekmat, Denzel Baidoo and Jay Lycurgo in Last Swim (© Caviar, Pablo & Zeus / Berlinale)

Tara (Lydia Fleming), Merf (Jay Lycurgo), and Shea (Solly McLeod) luckily do not tumble into the traps of the coming-of-age genre and its frustratingly stereotypical portrait of the sidekicks, bound to the protagonist by the script and the script alone. Ziba’s friends are not defined by particular teenage archetypes. Their distinct qualities are not written in to serve purposes. They are written in to flesh out their humanity, crafting them into three-dimensional, layered, confused young adults the audience could believe.

The original score (Federico Albanese) is an everpresent element of Last Swim: urban, energetic, and most importantly, a culturally balanced infusion of Ziba’s British and Iranian heritage, blending in more commercial beats with the traditional, serving as subtle, complementing colors on a backdrop for Ziba’s individuality. 

Sasha Nathwani’s background as a music video director quite visibly comes through in his multiple slow-motion “happy moment” montages of Ziba smiling and laughing with her friends, which grow a tad redundant once we pass the third one. Their emotional impact diminishes with every next attempt at conveying the young innocence of those moments with the same exact technique. 

Towards the transition into the second act, the friends are joined by an unfamiliar acquaintance named Malcolm (Denzel Baidoo), whose involvement in the group becomes an important catalyst for Ziba’s self-discovery but never cements its necessity more than just on a narrative level. What I’m referring to is not the character dynamics he creates or is written in, but the natural integration of his storyline to the point where it matches the rest. The barrier between Malcolm and the four never really recedes completely. The chemistry there remains forced until the end, especially in contrast to the effortless chemistry of Ziba, Tara, Merf, and Shea, and especially after the film’s abrupt emotional shift in the third act. 

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With all its good and bad, Last Swim is an impressive debut feature film from Sasha Nathwani, who already displays refined control over his artistry through the lens of a sentimental letter about growing up in London and coming to terms with one’s own mortality and appreciation of life.


Last Swim premiered at the 2024 Berlin Film Festival, where it won the 2024 Youth Jury Generation 14plus Crystal Bear for Best Film.

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Masthu Shades Unnai Ra review. Masthu Shades Unnai Ra Tamil movie review, story, rating – IndiaGlitz.com

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Masthu Shades Unnai Ra review. Masthu Shades Unnai Ra Tamil movie review, story, rating – IndiaGlitz.com

Masthu Shades Unnay Ra sounds like an intriguing story of an artist’s struggle and adaptation to modern challenges. The theme of staying relevant in a rapidly changing world is quite relatable. It will be interesting to see how the protagonist navigates through these challenges and whether he succeeds in reclaiming his spotlight.

Story:

In Masthu Shades Unnay Ra, Manohar (Abhinav Gomatam), an ordinary artist, faces a life-altering event on his wedding day. Rather than letting it deter him, he decides to embark on a new journey by starting his own business. Along the way, he encounters Umadevi (Vaishali Raj), and their interaction sets off a chain of events. Rahul (Ali Reza) is also intertwined in this narrative, adding depth to the storyline. The film seems to promise an engaging narrative with twists and turns, as Manohar navigates through life’s unexpected challenges.

Masthu Shades Unnai Ra Movie Review

Analysis:

Abhinav Gomatam, known for his comedy timing, took on a different role in his debut, showcasing sincere emotions and mannerisms. Vaishali Raj’s chemistry with him was praised, along with her natural presence on screen. Ali Reza and Nizhalgal Ravi also left a mark, while supporting actors like Moin Mohammad, Ananda Chakrapani, and Lavanya Reddy performed adequately.

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Director Tirupathi Rao’s story in “Masthu Shades Unnai Ra” follows a familiar underdog narrative, with some viewers finding the plot predictable. Despite attempts to inject excitement, the film was criticized for being tedious overall. The title was also misleading, leading to initial disappointment for some viewers.

Tirupathi Rao’s storytelling in “Masthu Shades Unnai Ra” begins at a leisurely pace, gradually building up to the main plot. The first half, however, tends to drag with minimal developments, causing some viewers to lose interest. The second half picks up the pace slightly, offering a more engaging narrative. The interval block, in particular, stands out with a compelling twist that piques curiosity for the second half.

Masthu Shades Unnai Ra Movie Review

Emotions are more effectively portrayed in the latter part of the film, adding depth to the characters and storyline. However, the climax feels rushed, potentially impacting the overall impact of the film.

While the music by Sanjeev was appreciated for enhancing the narrative, Raviteja Girijala’s editing and Siddhartha Swayambhoo’s cinematography fell short. Production values were also deemed below par, contributing to the film’s mixed reception.

Verdict:

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Masthu Shades Unnai Ra, starring Abhinav Gomatam and directed by Tirupathi Rao, had the potential to be better with a reworked script and a stronger emotional core. While the film had a good concept, Tirupathi Rao’s execution lacked an engaging screenplay and impactful direction.

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