Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wolfman

"Go now, and Heaven help you!"
A man returns home after a long absence, to investigate the death of his brother. But when he gets there, he finds much more than his inner demons waiting for him.

I find The Wolfman hard to categorize. Not in terms of genre, but in terms of my feelings about it. On the one hand, pieces of it soar far beyond any predictions I might have had on how good a monster-movie remake could really be. But on the other hand, there are the pieces possessed of garish flaws that actually made me cock my head in disbelief as I watched in the theater. It's moments like these that make me regret deciding against offering "scores" on the movies I reviewed. I feel as though within that scale it might be easier to explain and justify my feelings.
...Where to begin... I guess we can start with one of the most obvious flaws of this movie: Benicio Del Toro. Until now (and I didn't really realize this until I sat down to write this review) he and I had a "friend of a friend" sort of arrangement. I'd only ever seen him in movies with a large cast full of big names or many stories bound together like The Usual Suspects or Traffic, as oddly stylized characters like Jackie Boy in Sin City, or in quick cameos like Snatch. Add this to the fact that I can't seem to track down a copy of the Che miniseries he starred in, and you have this as my first experience with him as a leading man. And let me tell you, I was wholly unimpressed.
As Lawrence Talbot, Del Toro spends half movie skulking around like a whipped dog (pun intended), and seems to have an affinity for hanging his head in shame -something the character really doesn't require by the way. This means that half the time he's looking at another character he's looking at them past his heavy eyebrows, which quickly grows annoying. He also plays even his subtlest cues as though he's being hit by a sledge-hammer; in one scene he jumps like he's been electrocuted when the character hears something strange.
On top of this he delivers his lines like he's the star of a community drama production, hamming and oddly inflecting his way through almost two hours of screen time. On the one hand, I wonder if this isn't a result of him trying to hide his accent; but on the other- is that really an excuse? And then there are the down right wacky looks he casts at the other characters whenever they say something even remotely revealing- but only when not giving them the brow-stare of course.
Luckily he's the worst of the leads. Anthony Hopkins delivers a like-wise questionable attempt at being mysterious in the first act as Sir John Talbot, only to return in the second and third with that venomous tongue that made us fall for him back in 1991. Emily Blunt turns in a great performance in spite of the fact that the predominant part of her role as Gwen Conliffe consists of standing around looking worried. By far, the best performance comes from Hugo Weaving. Watching him chew his words and spit them out the side of his mouth beneath that Fable-style beard as Detective Abberlein is almost a little too entertaining. Though obviously written as a throw-back, he makes the camp work as a character. Congratulations Mr. Weaving, you've stolen yet another movie.
In terms of direction, I know we already had a previous discussion about Director Joe Johnston, and I must say I'm a little disappointed. Outside of the random face shots of the the wolf-man running on all fours, it's a well if not blandly shot movie. The real problem is the choice on how to approach the handful of the movies attack sequences. These, again, are a mixture of genius and foolery. There is one moment, at the very beginning of the second sequence (which comes relatively early in the movie) where the entire theater literally gasped in amazement. My heart was racing with little-boy-glee at my favorite type of movie "monster" making an entrance that left me spoiling for more. Unfortunately, the action sequences rarely displayed that kind of affect again.
This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest faults of this movie. To this day I shiver when I think of what could possibly happen to a human body to cause it to make the horrid noises that Lambert makes as Ripley runs to save her in Alien. What the audience can imagine is always worse than what you can show them, but Johnston chooses to show us everything. What's worse, he revels in his gore. Showing us flying limb after flying limb and spraying bits at the camera. The thriller angle dies early in The Wolfman, and with it - a lot of the movies mental staying power.
And with that last paragraph, this is probably a good time to talk about creature effects. For the most part, The Wolfman's are strong. The update of the classic make up works for me as such, and the CG transformation sequences are brutal and fascinating. Even the updated howling is hauntingly human, and at the same time bestial- though unfortunately it's also a bit over used. The strong creature effects, unfortunately, make the oddities stand out. For one thing, I'm not sure if the prosthetics were broken during the course of filming, or whether it was intentional choice, but in the climax of the movie there are shots where the beast doesn't seem to be able to close it's mouth. This may seem trivial, but for me it kills the immersion a bit. Instead of cowering in fear, I found myself wondering why the beast was starring with his mouth agape, wiggling his tongue inside like a snapping turtle.
This is the essence of this film. All the praise is accompanied by complaints. There are no purely strong or purely weak pieces of The Wolfman. From the cast to the creature effects, the good is tempered with the bad. Truthfully, even as a script it's a bit bitter sweet, as I must admit I had hoped for better from a writing team composed of members with movies like Se7en, and Road to Perdition among their -admittedly sorted- accolades.
I'd read many an article about this films final approach to the screen reporting that Johnston and Universal spent a great deal of time warring in the editing room. We'll never know how far this final product is from what either faction wanted to show us- or whether either direction might have made this a better movie. The fact is, it's not a better movie. The Wolfman is enjoyable, and it's faults are, in the end, mostly forgivable on their own. However they are not on their own, and as a whole there are enough of them that, even if they can't bring the entire thing down, they hobble it as an experience.

Watcher X says: "Too much snarling and hissing, not enough story."
Real Deal Recommends:
Snatch.: This really has nothing to do with Del Toro. I just love this move.
Fracture: A crime drama with Hopkins as fantastically detestable villain.
The Devil Wears Prada: An "eh" movie with a hilarious showing of Emily Blunt.
The Matrix: Another movie where one of it's strongest attributes is listening to Weaving talk.

1 comment:

Kello said...

This remake seems (and I say "seems" because I obviously haven't seen the film) indicative of today's average movie goer. The less thinking invlolved, the better. That might explain why Del Toro wears his heart on his sleeve so much, so the audience won't be confused if he suddenly decides to change emotions.

It seems like whenever they have remakes of things nowadays there's a need to use as much CGI as they can, as if to "redeem" the less technological parts of the older films. The problem is, as film making techniques progress, the remakes feel even more outdated.