The Shelf: THE FIFTH ESTATE, CLOUDY 2, FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN
by Kyle Anderson on January 28, 2014
This week’s movies all seem to be about obsession and madmen and the monsters they create. Weird, right? I mean, sometimes things just work out that the world’s collective unconscious decides that this one day is when disparate yet similarly-themed films would all be released on home video platforms, that regardless of genre or medium, today would be the day for it to all come together in massive, cosmic harmony. Or it’s just a huge coincidence; I’m not convinced either way.
The dissemination of information is a very touchy subject, given the ease of sharing things with millions of people. Look at the whole Quentin Tarantino thing and how quickly that was blown up. But that was just a script getting leaked; it’s a whole separate level when that information might cause the harm or death of people. Whether or not the public has a right to know things is the argument at the center of Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, a movie that describes the humble beginnings of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks all the way through the 2010 scandal that released pages and pages of U.S. government secrets and, eventually, which named many names that were redacted by the “legitimate” news agencies, like the New York Times and The Guardian. It’s a very of-the-moment story, or at least of the recent past story.
The film is packed with fantastic actors, beginning with Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, who, because the real man never agreed to meet with the actor, straddles the line between believable person and caricature. The film is based on two books, one of which was written by Daniel Berg, Assange’s former partner in WikiLeaks who in the film is portrayed by Daniel Bruhl. Bruhl has a bit of an easier job to do, given that he’s playing someone who’s actively involved in the making of the movie, but he still gives quite a good performance. The rest of the cast includes David Thewlis, Peter Capaldi, and Dan Stevens as Guardian staffers and Laura Linney, Stanley Tucci, and Anthony Mackie as U.S. CIA and Defense Department personnel. All of them do a fine job as well, but to what end is the larger question.
The film feels like it’s trying to be an edgy press thriller like All the President’s Men and a tech-world character study like The Social Network, and it doesn’t do either all that well. Condon does a lot to try to make what is essentially just people sitting around laptops visually interesting, and even having an interpretation of what the inside of a network looks like re: an old-school newspaper office, but ultimately a lot of it falls a bit short of the importance of the actual events. Blowing the lid off of official secrets is a huge thing, and whether you think he should have or not, what Assange did was at a huge risk to both himself and others. Ultimately, the film tries its hardest not to make anyone look all good or all bad, but it ends up losing a lot of the auteur point of view that it might have needed. More stylish than substantial, despite the impressive component pieces.
2009′s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a surprisingly weird and subversive kids movie that had great visuals and a terrific story. It was even nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature that year, losing to Pixar’s Up. Losing its directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, who went on to do other stuff, its sequel was directed by animation career guys Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn. It reunites most of the cast for a story that begins literally the second after the first movie ends.
Inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader)’s food-creating machine went on the fritz and was threatening to destroy his tiny island town, but fortunately for him and everyone, he got help from reporter Sam Sparks (Anna Faris), to whom he’s quite attracted. While they think everything is hunky dory, it appears that the food machine that floated out into the ocean has created a jungle whereupon giant food creatures (or “foodimals”) are running amok. Flint is tasked by his lifelong hero, scientist Chester V (Will Forte), to stop these creatures and he’s joined, against his wishes, by Sam, his dad (James Caan), Baby Brent (Andy Samberg), Officer Earl (Terry Crews, replacing Mr. T), cameraman and jack-of-all-trades Manny (Benjamin Bratt), and his monkey that talks, kind of, Steve (Neil Patrick Harris).
While the visuals are incredibly lush and the foodimals are inventive and exotic, if a little on the nose in some cases, the film is much more of a typical “kids” movie than its predecessor, despite having input from Lord and Miller on the story and a screenplay by Horrible Bosses writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein. It’s an okay movie and a fair bit of fun to watch, but don’t expect the bizarre brilliance of its predecessor.
What’s more terrifying than a mangled, bloodthirsty corpse creature? Why, a reanimated hot blonde who is also psychopathic, of course. This 1967 film was Hammer Films’ fourth Frankenstein movie starring perennial horror icon Peter Cushing as the amoral scientist looking to play God. In each of the previous entries, Frankenstein has experimented with bringing back large, hulking men (or pieces of men) to life, but he’s finally learned the error of his ways, or just wanted to look at cleavage, by bringing back a relatively ungrotty (in fact, quite hot) young maiden, played by Swedish model Susan Denberg. But, it doesn’t go as well as he might have initially hoped when she decides murder is pretty cool.
Like all of Hammer’s Cushing Frankenstein movies, this one was directed by Terence Fisher, who is probably the best and most famous of the studio’s directors. He populates this film with lots of day-glo Kensington Gore and the usual Victorian-era garb. It’s most of what you could want from Hammer’s a-list personnel working on one of their middle-tier pictures. By this point, they were already trying to do whatever they could to make their well-worn horror characters more interesting and get teens to come see the latest in their machine of Gothic scares. This is why, by the end of the ’60s, and especially the ’70s, they upped the sex factor by a lot and showed a lot more skin than before. Still not quite as nudity filled as later movies, this one’s got titillation and violence in ready supply.
Only the second Blu-ray release in the States from Millennium Entertainment’s collection of most of the Hammer catalog, and a weird one to choose to follow last year’s release of Dracula Prince of Darkness, this disc has a commentary, two episodes of World of Hammer, a brand new documentary called “Hammer Glamour” about all the babes they hired to be damsels and the like, a trailer, stills gallery, and collectible cards. Not a must-see in Hammer’s pantheon, but a good release to tide us over until the (hopefully soon) release of some of their bigger titles. I’m hoping for Quatermass and the Pit or Plague of the Zombies next.
Rush – Ron Howard’s biopic of Formula 1 drivers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).
Downton Abbey Season 4 – I guess people still watch this.
Last Vegas – Some aging Hollywood greats who probably should have known better do their version of The Hangover.
Bad Grandpa – Hidden camera movie with Johnny Knoxville in old-age makeup and a little kid who they make do rude and obnoxious things.
Metallica: Through the Never – A quasi-metal opera thing starring Dane DeHaan.