Friday, February 12, 2010

Wolfman...strikes again?

Let's see...

A remake of The Wolfman. Okay. Let's see -

Mike Nichols directed "Wolf". Great performance by James Spader, ridiculous performance from Jack Nicholson, adequate performance by Michelle Pfeiffer, very interesting metaphor of the ravenous and evil world of publishing in NYC but, in the end, not very thrilling or exciting -- too cerebral.

The series of "Underworld" movies staring Kate Beckinsale. Dark, moody, ultra violent. The first one was a brooding affair which was somehow entertaining. The second held it's ground and had a lovely and tortured Scott Speedman to drool over. The ending was prophetic, violent and oddly thrilling. The third one was tepid and overwrought.

Joe Dante directed "The Howling". Scary, dirty, nasty and pretty damn fun. A nice sense of humor to the whole affair with a darling werewolf at the end.

Poor now-deceased Eric Red did the best job he could with "Bad Moon" in the 90's. But when you have Mariel Hemingway and Michael "I Should Be Doing Gay Porn Not Acting" Pare in the leads, there is only so much you can do.

Stephen "Hack" Sommers did a pretty good job with the frantic "Van Helsing". It was so busy and noisy and over-the-top it was hard to tell if if was good or bad. Best enjoyed on a few glasses of wine. Starred Kate Beckinsale again. The woman clearly likes hairy men. Wonderful demonic female vampires in this one.

John Landis directed the indisputable champ of funny/horror werewolf movies with "An American Werewolf In London". The sequel, "An American Werewolf in Paris" was pretty awful despite being directed by the VERY talented and underrated Anthony Waller (who hit a bulls eye with the terrifying and thrilling "Mute Witness").

The new remake stars Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving. Okay, good.

One of the writers is the writer of "Seven", Andrew Kevin Walker. Okay, he is dark, likes dark, isn't always a great writer, but a solid choice for this genre.

And the director is Joe Johnson. Hm. This is a tough one. Joe Johnson is a premier special effects guy in Hollyweird, which means he's very smart and very good at making fantasy come alive on the big screen.

Special effects guys or cinematographers moving into directing do not have a good track record in the movies. We all know why - they are craftspeople trained in the art of cinematography and images but not in the most important aspect of telling stories on the screen, which is, of course, screenwriting.

There are a million different ways you go with a new Wolfman. The filmmakers of the new Wolfman chose to do what many do when they are told by movie executives they want a hit, only a hit and nothing but a hit - they remake the original down to the very_last_frame.

But add lots of blood and guts and special effects.

You can see where this is going.

The story is extremely simple, which, as I always say, is very refreshing. It's 1871. A man travels from American to his isolated childhood home in the English countryside after his brother is brutally murdered. He wants to find out how his brother was killed. In the process, he tries to mend bridges with his evasive and emotionally absent father, make a peace with the violent death of his mother and find the love he never had in the widowed wife of his now dead bro.

Oh, and there are gypsies involved. In the form of a very haggard looking Geraldine Chaplin. Yes, Charlie Chaplin's daughter. Even she has to pay the mortgage somehow.

At the midway point, a curious thing happens in the narrative. You realize the filmmakers (and the writers) lost their way. They throw in a scene that so pulls us out of the story and plunges us into such dark, tragic terrain three things happen: 1) You realize the movie wants to be a poetic tragedy, but instead, has turned out to be a macabre blood bath; 2) You realize how the movie COULD have been a great tragic tale of 'beauty and the beast' but the filmmakers were not up for the challenge; 3) You start to giggle.

Del Toro does the best job he can to look sinister and glare into the camera, but half the time he sounds like he's on Valium and seems to be straining and not actually inhabiting this tortured man. I see the potential in him as an actor, but to believe he is a famous actor in the movie who has played Hamlet and King Lear is fairly absurd. He seems to ooze anguish and I'm not sure he and the director saw eye to eye. I'm fairly certain Joe Johnson didn't know what to do with him.

Anthony Hopkins is slumming here. He is paying his mortgage as well. There are even moments where he seems to play a version of Hannibal Lecter, down to the cadence and movement of his sentences and physical gestures. It's all very insulting.

Emily Blunt is a fairly enjoyable actress to look at, but the poor wench is given nothing to truly do in the movie. She looks lost and in one truly unbearable scene, falls head over heels for Del Toro's character DESPITE the fact he just told her he's a werewolf DESPITE the fact her husband was just mauled days before DESPITE the fact the police are busting down her door DESPITE the fact we have no true idea why this woman would be so attracted to such clear danger and violence.

But I digress...

It is so frustrating when watching a movie like this and you see fleeting images of what it could have been.

Such as:

The night after Del Toro first changes and wakes up in a bloody shirt, his eyes wide with fear, a demonic Hopkins leaning over him (all of this in full daylight, mind you) -- it's a horrific vision. A terrible image that tells us all we need to know about this poor, tortured man.

A mutated and changed Del Toro howling on the roof of a nighttime London building, the Thames in the background, the moon overhead - it's an iconic and sublime image and it's the image the filmmakers clearly were trying to achieve.

Del Toro walking through an old house, the sounds of the creaking floor boards, the deep moaning of a beast somewhere all around him...good, classic scare moments and great atmosphere.

But alas, these single images do not add up to a film and instead, bring about it's glaring imperfections.

Which brings me to Hugo Weaving.

Half way through the movie, I kept thinking, "Well, I"m sorry to say this, but Hugo Weaving should have played the Wolfman and Del Toro should have played the Inspector, clearly." And sure one point, this is hinted at and I realized that was truly the way the film should have gone.

When Hugo Weaving is on screen, the movie comes alive. Sure, he's still channeling his Matrix role, but he's so deliciously good at it it makes his scenes sing. Watching the movie, all one can wonder is how delightfully funny and tortured Hugo would have made the lead character. As it is now, it's all doll, dark, and dreary. No humor, not human feeling and in the end, a big bore.

And the gore. Dear, Lord. Severed arms, entrails, heads flying through the air, blood spouting out of mouth, eyes gouged out, arms shoved through mouths and stomachs - the film overflows with blood. Too much blood. Blood for the sake of blood is dull and the easy, visceral way out. Blood with you're talking. But the only humor in this film are the unintentional laughs at the sadness and absurdity of the entire affair.

In the opening, there is lettering on the screen which says something to the effect that no matter how morally solid or stable a man is, he is impervious to the effects of The Wolfman. Such dismal foreboding is the sort of justification horror writers give when they simply show horror with no apparent repercussions of deeper meaning. Surely the original movie on which this is based had much more on it's mind than that. But sadly, this does not. Dismal to the end.

Howling to the moon indeed.

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