The Wolfman reviews

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Postby criddic3 » Sat Feb 13, 2010 3:40 am

I'm probably in the minority, but I also enjoyed Wolf, with Jack Nicholson. If it weren't for such a silly ending, the movie would have been among the best of the genre for the 1990s. The pairing of Nicholson and Pfeiffer works well, and the supporting cast is excellent.
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Postby Big Magilla » Fri Feb 12, 2010 11:02 am

The original is one of my favorite horror films. The 1981 update, An American Werewolf in London, though not a remake, comes closest of all the subsequent werewolf films to capture the thrill of the original.
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Postby criddic3 » Fri Feb 12, 2010 4:27 am

I don't agree. The original was pretty compelling, thanks to the classic Universal Horror atmosphere and Chaney's sympathetic Wolf Man. It's one of my favorite classic horror movies. While I never thought that the remake would be an instant classic, I was hoping it would be an entertaining throw-back. These reviews are beginning to diminish that hope.
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Postby Damien » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:41 am

Let's be honest. The 1941 original, while fun, is pretty lousy, too.
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Postby Big Magilla » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:32 am

Rex Reed was, as usual, a little more blunt:

Old monsters never die. They just keep coming back, in an endless series of unnecessary remakes. So get ready to hear once again legendary screenwriter Curt Siodmak’s famous line: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.” The Wolf Man is back—and he’s not just another pretty face.

Based on the classic 1941 horror film The Wolf Man, with Lon Chaney Jr. as Lawrence (Larry) Talbot, a soft-spoken British-born nobleman who returns from America to run the country manor of his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), and has the rotten luck to get bitten by a werewolf (Bela Lugosi), the 2010 retelling, for no logical reason, changes the spelling to The Wolfman. A lot of other things change, too, and not always in ways you could call improvements. The tense prewar setting is now an ornate and overproduced Victorian England in 1891. Larry, now a hopelessly adrift Benicio Del Toro, is no longer a California astronomy student but a New York actor playing Hamlet in London. (Don’t ask.) Sir John, his father, is now a weird, disappointing Anthony Hopkins. Chaney was a soft, fleshy actor with a wimpy voice and clammy skin, but he brought a sympathetic sweetness to the role of the ill-fated Lawrence Talbot. Mr. Del Toro may be a stronger screen presence than Chaney, but he mumbles and scratches so much that nobody in his right mind would ever believe him as Hamlet, and he looks so baggy-eyed and ravaged before the wolf ever appears that there’s nothing to build his character on. Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) no longer runs the village antique shop, but is a mixed-up girl who was betrothed to Larry’s dead brother, and who has a sick penchant for wandering around in the fog, and makes the dumb mistake of thinking she can cure lycanthropy. As the titular head of one of England’s finest families, Mr. Hopkins displays a spectrum of curious accents that wander from Southern trailer trash to Irish brogue to Hannibal Lecter, sometimes all three in the same scene. With all due respect, he is no Claude Rains.

After the werewolf rampages through a gypsy campsite, attacking everyone who ignores the warnings of ancient fortune teller Geraldine Chaplin (where is Maria Ouspenskaya, now that we finally need her?), the movie makes a number of tactical errors from which it never recovers. The folks at the local tavern still wisely melt their silver into bullets and keep plenty of wolfbane handy, full moons still rise like white pumpkins and snarling creatures still pop out of the swamp with teeth that need a dentist, but any resemblance to Curt Siodmak’s 1941 script ends there. Siodmak was a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazis and retained a lifelong hatred of the Germans; many symbols of horror in The Wolf Man were references to Nazi persecution, and the pentagram that appeared in the palms of the werewolf’s next victims was an obvious substitute for the Star of David. This time, there are no pentagrams to make your blood run cold. Elegant Talbot Hall is no longer a safe refuge from a world gone mad but a mausoleum full of cobwebs, candlelight and underground crypts; it looks less like one of England’s fanciest estates and more like the House of Dracula.

The monster is now a computer-enhanced behemoth in Rick Baker makeup that drools noisily, severs heads with a single claw and makes an awful mess on the carpet. Larry is hounded by a Scotland Yard inspector played by Hugo Weaving, one of the three drag queens in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and dragged away in chains to a gothic madhouse where a primitive brain doctor (the great English stage actor Anthony Sher) tortures his patients with horrors of his own—dunking Larry screaming into vats of ice and jamming footlong hypodermic needles into his jugular vein. (Think Fogg’s Asylum in Sweeney Todd.) While these lunatics treat lycanthropy as a self-induced delusion, you can hardly wait for them to experience their first full moon. In the resulting carnage, the Wolf Man rips out human kidneys and spleens with bare teeth in a bloodbath that is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, followed by a leapfrog across the roofs of London that looks like outtakes from Godzilla, King Kong and Mighty Joe Young.

The film’s biggest departure from the 1941 classic—and its silliest mistake—is making Sir John a werewolf, too. Yes, for reasons that are not entirely clear, he killed his whole family and applied the fatal bite that turned his own son into a savage beast forever—a disease from poison fangs for which there is no cure. In an explosion of mayhem that leaves Talbot Hall looking like a slaughter house, everything leads up to the big showdown between father and son that gives you two wolf men for the price of one. There’s more, and some of it is effective enough to turn your hair gray overnight. But the direction by Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) sacrifices originality for computer graphics and stop-motion camera tricks, and the script, by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, bulges with real howlers: “I didn’t know you hunted monsters.” “Sometimes monsters hunt you!”

In 1941, the Wolf Man was so popular he was revived in four more Universal horror classics, two with Abbott and Costello. He’s still entertaining enough to rise several notches above the dumb remakes of The Mummy and Dracula, but can history repeat itself? How scary is the Wolf Man in 2010, when half the people in the New York subway look like werewolves already?
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Postby Reza » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:01 am

The Wolfman

A Universal release presented in association with Relativity Media of a Stuber Pictures production. Produced by Scott Stuber, Beneicio Del Toro, Rick Yorn, Sean Daniel. Executive producers, Bill Carraro, Jonathan Mone, Ryan Kavanaugh. Directed by Joe Johnston. Screenplay, Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self, based on the motion picture screenplay by Curt Siodmak.

Lawrence Talbot - Benicio Del Toro
Sir John Talbot - Anthony Hopkins
Gwen Conliffe - Emily Blunt
Aberline - Hugo Weaving
Maleva - Geraldine Chaplin
Singh - Art Malik
Dr. Hoenegger - Antony Sher
Constable Nye - David Schofield

"Why so serious?" would be an excellent question to direct at the makers of "The Wolfman," a high-toned, bloody but otherwise bloodless effort to resurrect one of Universal's venerable horror franchises for modern times. Approaching the matted-haired genre with a straight-faced studiousness befitting a bigscreen version of the Dead Sea Scrolls, director Joe Johnston & Co. know how to startle with innumerable shock cuts but don't know how to build tension and intrigue, or how to approach the job with a sense of fun and relish. Long-delayed and reworked Oedipal take on the lycanthropic condition should take a meaty opening-weekend B.O. bite, but long-term prospects will certainly fall short of what must have been imagined when the project was launched.

"You've done terrible things," Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) informs his son Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) the morning after the latter has transformed into a vicious beast for the first time and notably reduced the population of late Victorian England. Well, he's not the only one, in a tale that scripters Andrew Kevin Walker ("Seven") and David Self ("Road to Perdition") seem to intend as the "Hamlet" of werewolf movies, given the woe that befalls multiple generations of the Talbot family and the torment suffered by the hair … er, heir apparent.

Lo and behold, Lawrence is a vaguely American-accented actor who is actually playing the brooding Dane on the British boards when he's called home to the village of Blackmoor upon the death of his older brother from "unnatural wounds." Having fled to the U.S. as a boy after his mother's violent demise, Lawrence should well understand his father's warning that, "the past is a wilderness of horrors," but decides not to heed it when his brother's high-calorie cupcake of a fiancee, Gwen (Emily Blunt), wants to know what really happened to her beau.

Despite the concerns of his father, an eccentric old coot who stalks around his vast estate carrying a shotgun, and a gypsy fortune teller (Geraldine Chaplin), Lawrence ventures out under the full moon and gets mauled for his trouble. Strangely, however, his wounds heal quickly and he emerges stronger than ever, so as to be ready for the next bright evening 28 nights hence.

Once Lawrence becomes the Wolfman, the mayhem comes fast and frequently -- in the countryside, in London (to where Gwen has retreated -- and to where Hugo Weaving's Scotland Yard inspector follows Lawrence) and even in a medical teaching theater, where a temporarily subdued Lawrence becomes enraged, like King Kong, and breaks free to assault his examiners, including the chief doctor (a marvelously oblivious Antony Sher). As with Kong and Frankenstein's monster, one is meant to respond to the pathos implicit in the tragedy of a man's soul being imprisoned in the body of a beast, and Gwen does her best to try to break through to it even in the worst of times. But the emotion just isn't forthcoming.

The werewolf attacks generally consist of abrupt cutaways to the face of the beast, accompanied by a sudden roar, then bites or, more often, slashing swipes by giant claws, which leave human hamburger meat in their wake. The constant repetition of these shock tactics, in lieu of genuine suspense, makes "The Wolfman" feel cheap, despite the vast amounts obviously spent on Rick Heinrichs' opulent production design, the extensive visual effects, the more-than-effective special makeup effects (Rick Baker, back on familiar turf), Milena Canonero's luxurious costumes, Danny Elfman's insistent score and the tony cast.

Del Toro is unquestionably hirsute enough for the role (although his haircut freakily comes within a whisker of resembling the "Moe" cut he may yet wear in the long-gestating "Three Stooges" opus) and he communicates the inner torment of one of nature's unfortunates. But his manner is awkward, caught mid-Atlantic somewhere like his accent, and one would be curious to hear Lawrence recite a bit of "Hamlet" and observe how London audiences respond.

Hopkins stops just short of raising his eyebrows through the roof and literally licking his chops as he rolls dire admonitions and ghastly revelations around in his mouth like samples of wine. Blunt is called upon to look alternately stricken and determined; perhaps, in the end, it would have been more fun for all concerned if she had played the wolf.

A mysterious credit buried in the final scroll is one for "assistant to Mr. von Sydow -- Catherine von Sydow," even though there is no Mr. von Sydow visible in the picture.

Camera (color), Shelly Johnson; editors, Dennis Virkler, Walter Murch; music, Danny Elfman; music supervisor, Kathy Nelson; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; supervising art director, Andy Nicholson; art directors, Philip Harvey, John Dexter; set decorator, John Bush; costume designer, Milena Canonero; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), David Stephenson; supervising sound editors, Karen Baker Landers, Per Hallberg; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montano; visual effects supervisor, Steve Begg; visual effects, the Moving Picture Co., Double Negative, Peerless Camera Co.; special effects supervisor, Paul Corbould; special makeup designer, Rick Baker; stunt coordinators, Steve Dent, Wendy Armstrong; assistant directors, Richard Whelan, Stratton Leopold; second unit director, Phil Neilson; action unit second unit director, Vic Armstrong; second unit camera, Fraser Taggart, Harvey Harrison; additional editors, Mark Goldblatt, Michael Tronick; casting, Priscilla John. Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Los Angeles, Feb. 8, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

The Wolfman -- Film Review: The Hollywood Reporter
By Michael Rechtshaffen, February 10, 2010 02:48 ET

"The Wolfman"
Bottom Line: Not so much howlingly bad as it is disappointingly lifeless.
"The Wolfman" finally limps into theaters this weekend following extensive rescheduling, re-shooting and re-editing, and all that tinkering has taken its toll.

What might have been a ripe reimagining of the 1941 Lon Chaney original instead emerges as an all-too-apparent salvage effort -- a jury-rigged Frankenstein's monster of a patchwork lacking any cohesive tone or singular artistic vision.

Not bad enough to be considered a camp, guilty pleasure, it's more of a dull, defanged dirge with the reliably intriguing Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins turning in oddly disaffected performances.

Given the film's rabid fanboy following, it could still enjoy a respectable opening weekend, but the curiously anemic end product ultimately won't be able to break Universal's prevailing boxoffice curse.

Director Joe Johnston, who came on board after a last-minute departure by Mark Romanek ("One Hour Photo"), certainly knows his way around otherworldly fantasy, having helmed the likes of "Jumanji" and "Jurassic Park III."

But at least not in its present cut-to-the-bone form does it manage to forge its own distinct path.

Instead, the visual cues and the script -- by Andrew Kevin Walker ("Seven") and David Self ("Road to Perdition") -- seem to constantly waver between wanting to pay homage to the Curt Siodmak-penned original and doing something daringly unique and different without successfully landing on a workable angle.

Again, with all that re-cutting (veteran editor Walter Murch was brought in to rework Dennis Virkler's first pass), it's hard to assess the actual depth of the performances, but what's left onscreen lacks the customary reflection the likes of a Del Toro and Hopkins bring to their roles.

As Lawrence Talbot, who returns to the Blackmoor family fold after years abroad in the U.S., Del Toro, who was among those spearheading the project, has the internalized brooding down cold, but those nocturnal transformations never seem to elicit much of a reaction, remorseful or otherwise. And a third act father-son lycanthropic throwdown falls short of delivering the visceral goods.

Behind the scenes, Danny Elfman's reinstated score works awfully hard to inject excitement, and creature effects whiz Rick Baker shows he has learned a few nifty new tricks since setting the bar with "An American Werewolf in London," but, like all those zippy visual effects, they ultimately fail to bring "Wolfman" to life.

'The Wolfman' finally gets a chance to howl

'Wolfman' was a monster project, but director Joe Johnston wasn't scared.
By Geoff Boucher >>>

February 10, 2010

Forget silver bullets, blooming wolf's bane and full-moon fever -- the real curse of "The Wolfman" was all the hard luck that the Universal Pictures release had to claw through to reach the screen Friday.

The old-school monster revival, which stars Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, arrives after enduring a late change in director, three release-date postponements and a major reworking in the edit bay. The strange thing, though, at least according to director Joe Johnston, is that somehow the film underwent a startling metamorphosis in the final cut.

"I think it's turned into a film that is much, much better than the studio or probably anyone else expected," the filmmaker said while sitting down for lunch at a Beverly Hills hotel. A few minutes later, though, he sounded less certain: "Sometimes you're too close to something and after a period of time you just can't really see it."

Johnston, whose past credits include "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "Jurassic Park 3," was brought onto the project in February 2008 -- just three weeks before principal photography was set to start in England and only three days after the previous director, Mark Romanek ("One Hour Photo"), left the production amid a nasty budget conflict with Universal executives who were adamant that the movie stay at $100 million.

Johnston, a Texan by birth and an industry veteran with a reputation for candor, explained, with a shrug, that he was brought aboard the reeling production "because I could shoot the movie on budget in a certain number of days."

He chuckled when asked if that feat was like jumping on a moving train. "The train, at that point, wasn't moving at all. It was stopped on the tracks. I needed to get it moving and then change directions."

A conductor with a steady hand can only do so much, though, and the film was yanked off this past November's release schedule when studio chiefs decided they wanted more (and better) visual effects. Some 200 visual-effects scenes were added and the extra shooting time and necessary computer labor pushed the budget closer to $120 million.

On top of that, Oscar-winning film editor Walter Murch was brought in late in the game to replace editor Dennis Virkler and to re-cut the entire movie. From the outside, the move looked like a salvage effort but Johnston spoke about it in the breezy terms of a student picking up new lessons.

"I sort of rediscovered what the movie was all about with Walter," Johnston said. "He wrote the book, literally , on film editing ["In the Blink of an Eye"]. Walter believes in trying things that are a little unorthodox. If there's a scene that you, as a director, know is central to the film and that you can't live without, he'll say, 'Let's cut that out.' A film at that point is a liquid medium and it's amazing how the loss of one shot or a piece of one shot will change an entire film. . . . With Walter, it was a good experience for me."

Johnston didn't laugh, wink, wince or cry as he said that, which will surprise many Hollywood observers who have followed "The Wolfman" and its travails. This is a film where even the composer changed as Paul Haslinger replaced ubiquitous spook-maestro Danny Elfman a few months ago.

Johnston also points out that, within days of taking on the director's job, he flew to England and met with Hopkins for a pleasant drink -- at which time the actor casually announced that he would be leaving the cast. Johnston coaxed him back by promising to re-insert several scenes that Romanek had trimmed. Those scenes didn't make the final cut, but Hopkins isn't complaining now.

"I don't to want to go into the politics of it because I kept well out of it," Hopkins said. "But there was a lot of pressure on Johnston by the studio and one day he even said to me, 'They've asked me to direct it and now they need to let me direct it.' He was very even-tempered. He just rolled with the punches. I don't know how he kept his patience. I told him, 'Joe, you're a saint. I don't know how you don't just decapitate people.' "

Interesting choice of words. There are more than a few heads that get lopped off in the film ("It's sort of his signature move," Johnston proudly said of his feral title character), and it will be a bit jolting to family and friends of Johnston whose previous movies included "Hidalgo" and "Jumanji." Asked about the disconnect, he said that, oddly, this horror film reminded him of the theme-informed escapism of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

"In the same way that my first film appeals to kids with this notion of being shrunk, thrown away by their parents and lost in their own backyard, there's something appealing in this one for adults," Johnston said. "This is the first R-rated movie I've made. And I was committed to making the blood and violence be organic. I didn't want it overlayed on the movie, which I feel happens with a lot of movies. The main character, Lawrence Talbot, is an extreme case but I think we all have that potential, we all have a dark side within us, a beast waiting for release."

The film is a remake of the 1941 classic "The Wolf Man," which made a star out of Lon Chaney Jr. in his signature role as Lawrence Talbot, an ill-fated Everyman who is bitten by a cursed beast in the English countryside and becomes a supernatural killer.

This time, Del Toro is in the Talbot role while Hopkins plays his father, Sir John, who is a more central character in the story by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. Emily Blunt is on board, as is Hugo Weaving, who plays a policeman.

Johnston was so struck by Weaving's performance that he tore out the script page with his death scene; the movie now keeps Weaving in play for a sequel. Johnston looked conflicted when asked if he would consider coming back for another "Wolfman." "That depends on the story," he said. "And a lot of things."

A sequel may be mad optimism for a film that originally was supposed to be here in November 2008. Still, Hopkins said that when the theater lights finally darken for "The Wolfman" this week, good things may happen.

"I saw the final result and it was terrific," Hopkins said. "There was a bit of a scrum to get it going, but it's turned out really well."

All will become clear in short order. Moviegoers will ultimately decide whether this latest Universal creature-feature is more like the studio's forgettable "Van Helsing" or a throwback success like the "Mummy" trilogy, which racked up $1.25 billion worldwide. Unlike "The Mummy" films, though, this film is deadly serious -- it's closer in ethos, perhaps, to 1994's "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein." Johnston isn't making predictions.

"The struggle of making a film for any studio is the fact that the producers and the studio have an idea of what the movie should be, but that is especially the case when the director is being replaced three weeks before principal photography," Johnston said. "The challenge for me was to make sure that was my version of 'The Wolfman.' And I've done that. I think."

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