Monday, February 15, 2010

Review: "The Wolfman"

I almost titled this post "The Hair of the Dog that Bit You," but thought it might be a little too on the money, especially given the plot-twist that's been added to Curt Siodmak's 1941 screenplay by modern screenwriters Andrew Walker and David Self. But since I refuse to be a spoiler, that's almost all I'm going to say about it.

Anyway, Dear D and I met this afternoon at our favorite local multiplex to see a movie both of us have wanted to see for a long time. Since today was a holiday, the place was unusually crowded for a late Monday afternoon, especially with the threat of more snow looming in the very near future. After sitting through a series of rather uninspired trailers for movies neither of us is likely to see, we settled back and watched The Wolfman with lowered expectations, hoping we wouldn't be disappointed by this remake of a childhood favorite. And I'm happy to say that were not disappointed. Well, not exactly.

Benicio Del Toro (who also serves as a producer) plays Lawrence Talbot, a classical actor raised in America, now touring London in a production of Hamlet. When his brother's fiancee Gwen (Emily Blunt) writes to him, asking him to return to the family manse to help find his missing brother, he does so, only to find out he is too late and his brother's mangled body was found in a ditch two days before he arrives at said manse, a typical Gothic mansion in need of a good dusting and a power wash. There he confronts his father, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), a former big-game hunter with a penchant for wearing tiger's fur robes and spouting cliches. The locals seem to blame brother Ben's death on a dancing bear in the employ of some gypsies encamped nearby, so Lawrence naturally heads out to gypsy camp for some answers. There he encounters Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin), an old gypsy who warns him against digging too deep. But she barely gets the words out when the camp is attacked by a monster, and Lawrence soon finds himself the victim of the beast's bite. Lo and behold, on the next full moon he transforms into the titular Wolfman, tearing apart victims and reveling in the eviscerations and limb-tearings. Meanwhile, Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) of Scotland Yard has arrived in town to investigate a series of murders which he attributes to a madman on the loose.

Director Joe Johnstone clubs us over the head with his images of the moon, while reveling in beautiful (if pointless) long shots of distant figures among the woods, in a field or atop Victorian London buildings. Blunt is fine as the damsel in distress, who inexplicably falls in love with her fiance's brother, and Hopkins is having a grand time playing a crazy old guy (something he has specialized in since The Silence of the Lambs). Weaving does a Victorian twist on his Agent Smith character from The Matrix and Chaplin tries to channel the late Maria Ouspenskaya with limited success. Sadly, the least successful performance here is Del Toro's, mumbling his way through the film in what I can only assume was an attempt to apply 'method' acting to what is obviously a 'technical' acting role. For an actor playing an actor in an era long before 'method' acting was invented, he seems far too distant and self-involved, even during what are supposed to romantic moments with Ms. Blunt. Antony Sher is hilarious and creepy as a torture-minded psychiatrist who gets his comeuppance, while Roger Frost is a hoot as the local vicar.

Makeup artist Rick Baker (who has a fun cameo as an early victim) does a bang-up job of modernizing the look created by Jack Pearce in the 1941 original, and the CGI transformations are well-done (though I did have issues with the obviously CGI dancing bear). Composer Danny Elfman turns in his most 'un-Elfman-like' score, to date, setting the tone most effectively. There is plenty of gore, intestines, flying body parts and rotting corpses, though Johnston has a habit of lingering on them for a few seconds too many. And as for that plot-twist I mentioned earlier, it might have worked if it hadn't been so obviously telegraphed so early on in the picture. Let's just say it was very much a case of "less is more' and leave it at that. I'm glad I saw it, but also glad we only paid the matinee price to do so.

All in all, The Wolfman is a fun (if flawed) B-movie, perfect for gorehounds and Horror lovers, especially those who have never seen the original.

**1/2 (Two and a Half Stars out of Four).

More, anon.

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