Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: "The Wolfman" is Surprisingly Very Good

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 5 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Wolfman (2010)
Running time: 102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – R for bloody horror violence and gore
DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston
WRITERS: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self (based upon the 1941 screenplay by Curt Siodmak)
PRODUCERS: Sean Daniel, Benicio Del Toro, Scott Stuber, Rick Yorn
EDITOR: Walter Murch, Dennis Virkler, and Mark Goldblatt (no screen credit)
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman


Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik, Nicholas Day, Michael Cronin, David Sterne, David Schofield, and Roger Frost

Universal Pictures’ new film, The Wolfman, the remake of the studio’s classic, The Wolf Man (1941), was originally supposed to debut in February 2009. The film also missed a November 2009 release date, and missed release dates sometimes means that a movie is probably mediocre, at best, or a disaster, at worst.

The Wolfman was worth the wait. This is one of those movies that puts the big bad monster back in the monster movie genre, and the audience is the better for it. Personally, I want to see The Wolfman again. It starts off slow, but when the monster shows up, The Wolfman proves to be all killer.

As in the 1941 film, The Wolfman focuses on Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro). Talbot is a haunted nobleman who mostly plies his trade as an actor in the United States. A letter from his brother’s fiancĂ©e, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), lures Lawrence back to his family estate in the sleepy hamlet of Blackmoor. Ben Talbot has vanished, but by the time Lawrence arrives at the family home, Blackmoor Estate, Ben’s corpse, ravaged and torn, has been found.

Lawrence is reunited with his estranged father, Sir John Talbert (Anthony Hopkins), an odd fellow who lives in the dark and musty family home with his assistant, Singh (Art Malik). Lawrence is determined to discover the mystery behind his brother, Ben’s gruesome death. Lawrence learns that a beast with brute strength and an insatiable bloodlust has been killing villagers, but his search for that creature will only lead to a horrifying destiny for himself.

The Wolfman is one of those movies where the argument can be made that none of the primary filmmakers and no one of among the main cast delivers their best work. However, all of them deliver the kind of high quality work and performances for which they’ve gained their good or, in some cases, superb reputations. For instance, Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for playing legendary villain, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, in The Silence of the Lambs, and, while Sir John Talbot may not be Lecter, Hopkins plays Sir John with enough of Lecter’s menacing glee that people will want to see this new performance. Del Toro won an Oscar for the film Traffic, and he plays Lawrence Talbot with the same tremendous pathos and brooding passion that earned him his Academy Award. Even Danny Elfman presents a lovely gothic score that sets the right tone for The Wolfman.

The underrated and under-utilized Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) directs The Wolfman with shifting styles and tones that give the storytelling depth. Johnston weds this film to the 1941 original with class, and he adds visual touches that are similar to the movies of Italian director Mario Bava, which give the violence and gore here a touch of moody elegance. Johnston makes full use of the advances in cinematic science and technology to create a Hollywood blockbuster that offers special effects magic, but still looks, feels, and moves like an intimate horror flick. In spite of the visual splendor of CGI, Johnston makes sure that it feels real and that a viewer will believe that he is alone in a theatre with a terrifying monster.

Of course, six-time Oscar-winning special effects artist/god/maestro, Rick Baker, is also very important to this film. Are his design and makeup talents that transform Benicio Del Toro into the fearsome title character Baker’s best work? Sometimes, it seems as if each film for which Baker does makeup is his best work. The first good look you get at the monster’s face will probably tell you that The Wolfman is going to be a good film no matter what year in which you see it.

7 of 10

Sunday, February 14, 2010



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