Review: ‘Lisa Frankenstein’ stumbles over pacing issues

If you dig the films of Tim Burton, slasher flicks, and the romantic dramedies that dominated the late 1980s, you might find this movie entertaining.
Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse in Lisa Frankenstein (Courtesy/Focus Features)

This might be the biggest year for the character of Frankenstein and his various creations since the novel debuted 206 years ago.

There are two competing big-budget adaptations of “Frankenstein” being produced as we speak.

The first is “Frankenstein” by director Guillermo Del Toro, with stars Oscar Isaac, Mia Goth, and Jacob Elordi headlining. The film is being produced by Netflix, but is slated for a theatrical release.

The next is “The Bride of Frankenstein” by Warner Bros., with Maggie Gyllenhaal in the director’s seat and Christian Bale and Peter Sarsgaard set to star.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” which was no doubt inspired by Shelly’s horror classic, is in theaters right now and has been nominated for 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Emma Stone, and Best Supporting Actor for Mark Ruffalo.

And today “Lisa Frankenstein” opens in theaters.

I wouldn’t expect the horror-tinged comedy to be up for an Oscar next year like “Poor Things,” but the romp directed by Zelda Williams from a script by Diablo Cody surprised me by being better than I thought it would be.

Make no mistake, it is an uneven effort, but if you dig the films of Tim Burton, slasher flicks, as well as the romantic dramedies that dominated the late 1980s, you might find this movie or at least portions of it entertaining.

The movie is unabashedly campy as angsty teen Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) struggles both with the death of her mother, her dad’s new wife Janet (Carla Gugino) hating her, and the adjustment to a new high school in 1989.

To cope, Lisa often retreats to a nearby graveyard for solace, where she tends to the gravestones as a coping mechanism. After getting high at a party, Lisa retreats to her creepy safe space where lightning strikes her favorite headstone of a man who died in 1837.

As in all Frankenstein movies, the galvanistic properties of the lightning bolt revives The Creature (Cole Sprouse). Craziness ensues as Lisa and the Creature begin a quest for his missing body parts, and along the way, they both learn lessons about love, acceptance and identity.

Despite the gruesome subject matter, I found the movie to be cute, but pacing issues when the film becomes too introspective derails its flow. This continual rise and fall wore on my patience.

The film does a great job at recreating the 1980s aesthetic with the hair-sprayed ’dos, heavy make-up, and layered clothing with neon accessories.

Newton gives a winning performance as does Liza Soberano as her stepsister Taffy. Newton’s timing and body language really sell the sarcastic elements of her character.

Soberano has a quirky delivery that plays well off Newton’s “as if” attitude. The charisma and chemistry of their interplay is the highlight of the film along with Cody’s snappy dialogue.

I had more fun watching it than I expected, possibly because its a throwback to the type of movies made in the mid to late 1980s, but this is still a second-rate comedy that needs a lot of grace from the audience to land.

Still, I could see it becoming a Halloween cult classic along the lines of “Hocus Pocus,” despite this film being harder edged. Or it might be one that’s just forgotten by the time spooky season gets here.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 43 min.
Grade: C

New in Local Theaters – Feb. 9, 2024

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    AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle, Rogers Towne, Skylight
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Opening Feb. 14, 2024

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Classic Corner – Valentine’s Day Movie Suggestions

Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally… (Courtesy/Castle Rock Entertainment)

If you’re spending Valentine’s Day at home or are looking for some cinematic suggestions once you’ve returned home from a night on the town, here’s three romantic classics that fit almost any occasion whether it’s the evening’s key piece of entertainment or just background noise.

Singin’ in the Rain

There are a lot of great musicals, and everyone has their particular favorite, but there is no doubt that directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen crafted a classic with “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Set at the dawn of talking motion pictures in 1929 and lightheartedly depicting some of the struggles Hollywood went through in making the transition to sound, the film is a tour de force for Kelly who not only directed and starred but also choreographed it, too, like he did with most of his films.

Kelly obviously shines, particularly while dancin’ and singin’ in the rain for the title tune. It’s in one of the most charming and historic numbers ever filmed.

However he and his co-director Donen trained ample light on co-stars Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.

O’Connor’s performance of “Make ‘Em Laugh” is every bit as strong as Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” outstripping the song’s introduction in a 1948 Kelly film “The Pirate.”

Reynolds is the female lead Kathy Seldon, a chorus girl hired to sing and speak for caustic silent film star Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen. Lamont’s voice rivals fingernails on a chalkboard in timber and intensity. The movie and her performance lifted Reynolds’ career to star level.

The film is wonderfully shot by Donen, and the Technicolor creates a gleeful kaleidoscope on the screen that’s sure to lift one’s spirits. The film can be streamed on HBO Max.


Some movies are like comfort food, no matter how many times you’ve enjoyed them, you always want more. “Casablanca,” which is also available to stream on HBO Max, is one of those films for me.

It’s also a movie where I notice a new bit of business or nuance every time I see it.

Humphrey Bogart stars as the no-nonsense night-club owner Rick, who is knocked for a loop when his old flame Ilsa, played to perfection by Ingrid Bergman, turns up in his establishment with her husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henried), a Czech Resistance leader who has escaped from Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.

There is romance, political intrigue, twists, turns, double-crosses, and heart-wrenching decisions before the climax, which features one of the most selfless acts in film history.

The 1942 film is expertly directed by Michael Curtiz and features strong character turns by the likes of Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Conrad Veidt.

And of course there is that song, “As Time Goes By,” sung by Dooley Wilson as Sam the house pianist at Rick’s.

There might not be a perfect movie in existence, but “Casablanca” is mighty close.

When Harry Met Sally

I have to admit, “When Harry Met Sally” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s easily one of my favorite three comedies.

Billy Crystal as Harry and Meg Ryan as Sally are perfectly and adorably cast in the movie that was directed by Rob Reiner from a wonderful script by Nora Ephron. Crystal and the late Carrie Fisher, who plays Sally’s pal Marie, also took turns at punching up the dialogue.

The story takes place over a 12-year period when Harry and Sally meet and re-meet each other at different points in their lives. There’s an immediate spark between the two even though they can’t stand each other after their first encounter on a road trip of convenience to New York.

On that trip, Harry drops his classic bit of wisdom that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

With each meeting, Harry and Sally’s relationship grows and matures. They do actually become friends, and yes, the sex part does get in the way before the two ultimately realize that friendship is at the heart of the best relationships.

The movie contains many great scenes, but the showstopper, of course, is when Ryan fakes an orgasm in a deli to prove a point to Harry. The kicker comes when an older lady quips to her waitress, “I’ll have whatever she’s having.”

Fisher is great in what was perhaps her best role — sorry Princess Leia fans — as Sally’s friend, Marie, who falls for Harry’s best bud Jess (Bruno Kirby) on a double date.

I don’t know of a movie that portrays male and female friendships better, while also nailing the bond of truly finding your soul mate.

The interludes where couples sit together on a sofa and reminisce with short stories of how they fell in love are perfectly woven throughout the narrative of the film until we finally get Harry and Sally on the sofa together at the end of the movie.

The soundtrack of the film is also one of my all-time favorites, featuring Harry Connick Jr.’s jazzy take on a number of standards, including his now classic rendition of “It Had to be You.” The song garnered him his first Grammy for Best Male Jazz Performance.

The film is currently streaming on Tubi.