DVD / BLU-RAY Review: THE WOLFMAN (2010)


Lawrence Talbot: Are you expecting a war?

Singh: A Sikh is a warrior of God. He must always arm himself against evil.


or


Sir John Talbot: You’ve done terrible things, Lawrence. Terrible Things.

The quotes come from the 2010 Joe Johnston film, WOLFMAN. I was a huge fan of this film when it hit the theaters a couple years ago, see my original review here, and have been meaning to pick up the unrated Blu-ray Director’s Cut for sometime.

I own very few Blu-Rays, I find on a whole it to be only a marginal quality difference to DVD, and all other things being equal, I’m unwilling to shell out more for a Blu-Ray

The exceptions being a movie deserving of the extensive and elaborate special features and dissection/discussion that a Blu-Ray can bring to bear.

I find the WOLFMAN to be one such film. Unlike many I was a huge fan of the film in the theaters, and I’m happy to say the Blu-Ray experience, with the Director’s Cut, only solidifies my enjoyment and praise for this film.

I won’t get into specifics of the film except to say the additional 15 or so minutes of the Unrated Director’s cut helps to make more cohesive and strong a film that did suffer from unevenness and feeling rushed. Particularly Benicio Del Toro’s unfairly maligned portrayal, is expanded and fleshed out, as well as his relationship with his father played by Sir Anthony Hopkins.

They both, in my opinion did well in the theatrical version, and shine in the Unrated Director’s Cut. And all the parts are likewise… raised.


Lawrence Talbot: Why did she do it?

Sir John Talbot: She struggled with life, as we all do. She lost.

The only minor qualm in the Unrated version is, it is less subtle in terms of the villain, for this reason it may be more prudent to see the theatrical version first, then graduate to the Unrated version.

But that minor issue aside, in every other way the Unrated version makes more compelling an already very good film. I’d go so far to say the Unrated version makes it a great film, particularly if you take into account the wealth of extra features.

Now picture wise, the WOLFMAN Blu-Ray is a negligible improvement over DVD, owing much to how it was shot, it’s a muddy, subdued, grainy type of film that does not play to the strengths of Blu-RAy.

But the extra features, interviews with Rick Baker, etc., and some nifty new interactive features makes this well written, beautifully filmed, wonderfully directed, masterfully edited (really effective jump scares, that no matter how many times I see the film… stay scary. That takes talent!) and well performed Horror/Monster film… a fun addition to anyone’s library.

Grade: Recommended! B+.

The Wolfman (Two-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut) [Blu-ray]

Movie Review: CAPTAIN AMERICA : THE FIRST AVENGER aka why AMC and REALD 3D should be ashamed

Just came from seeing Joe Johnston’s CAPTAIN AMERICA. Verdict In six words or less?

‘I can do this all day.’

The above being a quote from the film, and translates into me saying: “Yeah. I dug it.”

CAPTAIN AMERICA:FIRST AVENGER is an exceptionally well written encapsulation of a character I grew up with, and yet tweaked to make an easy jumping on point for those coming into the film without any prior knowledge of this character.

The script by the screen-writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely delivers the universals of courage and sacrifice, that are as old as the race of man; as old as our ballads of heroism and blood.

Plus I was quite impressed, with how well the movie does touch on much of Marvel Comics’s rich mythology. Offering easter eggs for those in the know, from Bucky Barnes to Stark to the Howling Commandos to Arnim Zola (his first appearance his face framed in glass, ala the comics) to a quick view of the golden age Human Torch, while not bogging down newcomers with exposition on this minutiae… it’s an impressive script.

Impressive, even touching performances, Chris Evans laying to rest any qualms about his ability to own the role, Derek Luke as the howling commando Gabe Jones (I like this character in the comics, and I like the fact of this character in the film. I like the fact the film notices, if only peripherally, the large number of people of color, some would say disproportionate number, that serve in every war, but particularly WWII). Hugo Weaving, even acting under tons of latex, delivers the gravitas, as of course does the great Tommy Lee Jones. And Stanley Tucci and Sebastian Stan of KINGS fame, are also highlights of a very strong cast.

All capably directed by Joe Johnston of the much maligned (unfairly maligned) WEREWOLF. Plus, I did like the present day framing sequence. Nicely done.

All that’s to the asset column. The minus is… while THE FIRST AVENGER is a very good movie, it never really feels great.

You don’t leave the theater going, “that was amazing!”. Like you might… having just left the theater from seeing Spiderman II or Empire Strikes Back or Tombstone or SuperMan The Movie.

So THE FIRST AVENGER is a very good movie, but even while watching it, you’re aware, acutely aware, that it is never more than very good.

And that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be great, though, I guess that’s the hope. But it hits all the points it needs to, and does it in a serviceable manner, I mean even with hindsight being 20/20 I myself can’t say how they could have made the movie any better than it was, and accomplish the inherent goals of an origin and lead-in movie.

It suffers from the needs of its duties.

As must we all.

It does have a tendency to feel long and episodic, but it is not a long movie, so there’s something pace-wise there, that is off just enough to be noticeable; But not enough to be disappointing.

And another problem with the film is you are not with any character long enough for them to be more than caricature.

In fact, I’m thinking through the movie that the film would possibly work better, pacing wise, as one of those 6 part BBC or HBO tv seasons rather than a film. Just because every character is touched on in just such a cursory manner.

And if this occurs to you while watching the movie in the theater, then you do have a pacing issue. And the final battle with Red Skull, both battles actually, come off as anti-climatic. Neither one really wows.

This is coming across as if I didn’t like the film, I did. I liked the film, and will add it to my DVD collection, when it comes out. I just think it could have been more.

I think Marvel Studios is to be applauded for in a market where quality is a crapshoot at best, creating consistently well written and over-all satisfying films, that not only stand alone but integrate into a larger cinematic tapestry. You have to go all the way back to the silent films of Fritz Lang, to get anything close to as cohesive and ambitious a cinematic mythology.

That said, the films CAPTAIN AMERICA and to some extent THOR, I do think illustrate the… lack of climax to Marvel’s individual films. They are being thought of in many ways as episodic television, episodes in a larger serial, which is great for the long term plan, but I think leaves you with a safe, but less then sensational individual movie.

It’s a hard tight rope Marvel Studios is walking, and to this point a quite successful walk. The telling moment will come with their AVENGERS movie, that all these half dozen films have been building toward, and to some extent… sacrificed toward.

Will the Avengers be that amazing, climatic movie that stands the test of time and is the worthy culmination of all this buildup?

Because failing that, failing a really great film (not an okay film, not a good film, not a B grade film, but a GREAT film)… failing that, then the studio that trained audiences to sit through credits to see teasers and trailers (a brilliant move by the way, that if you had asked me if it was possible to do in the age of Attention Deficit Disorder… I would have said no, and am glad to be wrong)… this same studio, may end up training audiences to wait for the DVD when it comes to future comic movies.

Marvel Studios needs a HUGE homerun with the AVENGERS film. Especially with chains like AMC pulling stunts to make the crappy and more expensive REALD 3D versions of the film, the only versions available most of the time.

I went to see a matinée showing of CAPTAIN AMERICA. Turns out that one was in REALD 3D (that was not advertised as being in 3D when I checked the times. It’s like theater chains are starting to hide which versions are in 3D so they can surprise you with the higher price when you get there).

So I’m already at the theater, and no other options available, so not only do I end up seeing this flick in REALD 3D, a crappy process that darkens the screen too much, and the stupid “one size fits none” glasses, sits on your nose just at the right spot to give you an annoying headache, but you have to pay MORE for this mediocre viewing experience??!!! Really???!!!

Anyhow, I spent most of the movie holding the glasses away from the bridge of my nose, and completely taking them off in night scenes so I could actually see some brightness in the picture.

AMC is on my frigging list. AMC and the stupid Sony Backed REALD 3D process.

This is why I say Marvel Studios is going to need a homerun with THE AVENGERS, cause people are not going to continue putting up with this price gouging from the theaters, and annoying viewing experiences, for simply okay films.

AVENGERS needs to be outstanding (and not offered in Reald 3D) or from now on Marvel Studios films gets relegated to the wait for DVD list.

Time will tell.

So Final Thoughts: CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER is a solid B movie. But it’s low on re-watchability and the ‘wow/impressive’ factor. If you haven’t seen it in the theater, if you can get a standard 2d Matinée showing cheap, go for it. Otherwise just rent it on DVD. If you, like me, enjoy DVD commentaries, and are looking forward to cast and crew discussing the film then go ahead and purchase. Otherwise… stick to rental.

The Rise, Fall, and Rise of Kenneth Branagh or Marvel Studios Thor and Black Norse Gods!


Mavel Studios 2011 feature THOR, will be the latest film from director Kenneth Branagh, following up his 2007 film SLEUTH. SLEUTH met with uneven reviews at best, generally considered to suffer in comparison to the original.

I haven’t seen Branagh’s SLEUTH, and indeed have not followed a film by Kenneth Branagh since his 1996 film HAMLET. I consider Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 debut film, HENRY THE V, to be an undisputed masterpiece. It’s one of those rare debuts that is so good, that the rest of a filmmakers filmography can, if he is not careful, suffer in comparison.

It is a fate that befalls many a great director:

Orson Welles spent all his life in the shadow of the success of his first film, CITIZEN KANE.

Tobe Hooper has never quite crafted anything to rival, much less exceed the filmic power of his first film 1974′s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.

Michael Bay who made himself a Hollywood Power, on the strength of the blockbuster success of his first film, 1995′s BAD BOYS, but arguably (while his films get bigger) he hasn’t yet made one better, than that early buddy film.

And that brings us back to Branagh. Following up his debut with DEAD AGAIN (Branagh’s most financially successful film to date. Nearly tripling its 15million Dollar budget, with its US take alone), PETER’S FRIENDS, and MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (A theatrical hit, doubling its budget in US sales alone), all good films, but all paling in critical comparison to his first film, and then releasing his first unquestioned financial and critical failure in 1994′s FRANKENSTEIN (which in the years since has managed to recoup its cost in Worldwide sales).

FRANKENSTEIN is the kind of film that can easily end careers, however Branagh, being Branagh, follows it up with a beloved comedy A MIDWINTER’S TALE and his best film since his debut, the magnificent, audacious 4 hour magnum opus HAMLET.

Long before LORD OF THE RINGS sold America on extended length films, in 1996 Branagh, backed by three brave production companies (The now defunct Turner Pictures and Fishmonger Films, and the still swinging Castle Rock Entertainment) released this stunning production on an unprepared America (Distributed by Sony Films and Columbia Pictures) . It did Katherine Hepburn type business (critically acclaimed, but too high-faluting for middle America, the theaters that did show it, showing it in a butchered 150min print), which is to say it lost money theatrically.

However on DVD the film would gain a new life, and continues to be considered not just one of the most ambitious Shakespearean productions ever staged, but one of the best. You can make a strong argument for HAMLET being Branagh’s best film. And I think the more often you watch it, the better it gets. Though personally for me, HENRY THE V is the stronger film. Part of it being, it’s no fat on it, it’s gripping from beginning to end. That said HAMLET is a brilliant and strong film, and is deserving of all accolades, and is a very close 2nd.

It is obvious Branagh put his heart and soul into this film, and its theatrical failure was a clear disappointment and setback to the director, as he would not make another film for 4 years, the 2000 film LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST. By all accounts a good film, but on a 13million dollar budget, the film would receive virtually no distribution, only being released in less than 200 screens in the UK, and only TWO SCREENS in the USA. Needless to say the film was a financial disaster.

Following this Branagh would not make another film for six years, 2006 ‘s AS YOU LIKE IT for HBO Films, and 2006′s THE MAGIC FLUTE (a French/Uk production, Branagh’s most expensive film to that time, at a reported 27 Million Dollars) both films, virtually unknown in the US, generating little theatrical business. Though both films, as well as LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST I’m in the process of acquiring the DVDs to, and viewing, as they all sound compelling.

So That brings us to 2007′s SLEUTH. Five different production companies, including Sony, an undisclosed budget, and Branagh coming off a string of Eight theatrical misses, and a piecemeal distribution schedule, the film did not have hit written over it, and unfortunately it wasn’t. Managing to gross only a sickly $343,000 in the US. And considering the actors involved the budget was most likely between 18 and 30 million dollars, the loss can only be called… staggering. Whatever its actual budget it’s clear the film was yet another crushing theatrical failure, Branagh’s 9th in a row.

With a budget of $150,000,000 Dollars Marvel Studios’ THOR is yet another of their very expensive super-hero franchise films, and kenneth Branagh has been chosen to helm it.

To date Marvel Studios, since taking over production in-house at the end of 2007 (with David Maisel as Chairman and Kevin Feige as Head of Production) , has been hitting all homeruns, starting with 2008′s Iron Man which grossed $319 Million domestically, followed by HULK in the same year, it was a powerful and successful one-two punch. Followed in 2010 by the equally successful IRON MAN II. 2011 year sees the release of the latest Blockbuster films from Marvel Studios: THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA. At budgets of a $150 Million and a $140 Million respectively, no one is going to confuse these with cheap movies. And it is clear THOR is the one they are banking on , hoping to be this year’s IRON MAN.

Marvel’s choice of directors for both films is quite interesting.

Branagh for THOR and Joe Johnston for CAPTAIN AMERICA.

Their choice of directors from day one has been unusual to say the least. Their choice of Jon Favreau to helm their first film, a huge expensive action blockbuster, IRON MAN, when Favreau’s filmography didn’t hint at the background to pull it off, had many people seeing a repeat of Tim Story and The Fantastic Four films (Which are better films than Story is given credit for, the issues being not directorial, but script and production). However Favreau steers the ship, creating one of the best films of the year, and duplicating his success with 2010s IRON MAN II. So not sure what made someone think Favreau could do the job, but they were correct. Or was it just a case of economics? Was Favreau the right price? Much like Branagh for THOR and Joe Johnston for CAPTAIN AMERICA, Favreau was coming off of a movie that was a theatrical disappointment.

While I personally was a huge fan of Joe Johnston’s WOLFMAN, it was a theatrical failure.

Could Marvel be selecting directors that have fallen on hard times, coming off theatrical failures, directors they can control? Directors that have name recognition among fans for films done early in their career, but have not been successful of late. This extends to Joss Whedon, that both the big screen and small screen, have been not exactly favorable to in recent years.

This way the studio gets a name director, but without the prima-donna stance that is typically the director’s right. An auteur as hired gun.

The only exception to this being Louis Leterrier, director of 2008′s Hulk, unofficially co-written and co-directed by Edward Norton. Leterrier coming to the table with a short filmography, but a filmography of films that make money domestically. Unfortunately THE HULK, which I found to be a great film due to what Norton and Leterrier brought to it, and tried to bring to it (the conflict between director/star and studio being well known), didn’t recoup its $150000000 cost domestically. But I see this as less supporting Marvel’s producer heavy style, and more indicating the flaws of handicapping your director/star.

I’m still waiting to see THE HULK director’s cut.

The least interesting part of the Hulk film was the 30 minute CGI fight at the end. What was interesting about that film was Ed Norton’s Bruce Banner, the journey he took that character on. So the fact that Marvel Studios is quick to flex their producer muscles, and throw actors under the bus they deem difficult, ignores the fact that those actors may be difficult, beyond just monetary reasons (we’re not talking Terrence Howard here) but because they invest themselves in those characters, and they really deeply care. And in the case of Ed Norton, they may be completely right about how that character should be played.

Kevin Feige came out with a pretty scummy press release about Ed Norton back in 2010, trying to label him a troublemaker, and justify the studio’s, I feel, bad decision to replace him. Kevin later on stating they wanted basically a weaselly, simplistic Bruce Banner, who basically will just be there as a place holder for their CGI nonsense. In essense playing up what didn’t work about the previous two Hulk films, which was the Hulk, and discarding the thing that did, which was the heroism and humanity Ed Norton imbued the character of Bruce Banner with.

It is a bad decision by Kevin Feige and a bad decision on Marvel Studios part, and shows the first chink in their armor, the chink being a mentality of treating directors and actors as commodities that should obey, rather than as collaborators that should care. It’s a policy of hubris, that if not watched, will begin to chip away at the studios… successes.

Already in IRON MAN II you begin to hear the grumbling, and the diminishing returns of just special effects. Of just CGI. The film cost more than IRON MAN I and made less. A movie needs a heart. That means actors of the level of Ed Norton, who care enough to tell you when you can do better. And you need a head of production, who is not so full of himself, that he is actually capable of listening, and letting the director do what he is paid to do, which is make the decisions on set, and make the best film he possibly can.

Which, again, brings us back to Branagh.

I do think it was a great idea, recent films notwithstanding, to hire Kenneth Branagh for the THOR film.

For my money they could not have chosen a better director to get people excited about this film. Branagh’s name, and his Shakespearean Pedigree, brings an air of legitimacy, that will attract people with no interest in a comic movie. People who want more from their films than CG/Video game action.

I think Branagh can deliver that.

And the cast is beyond reproach. I too was a bit up in arms by the choice of Idris Elba as a Norse God. Nothing to do with his acting, it’s understood that Idris Elba is one of the best actors of his generation, but there was some, justifiable question, about a Black guy playing a Norse God.

But I’ve seen the trailer, and it’s not just Idris, there are Asian characters as well, they are going for a whole multi-cutural feel, and I had a chance to think a bit, and especially weighed against some extremely stupid, moronic comments I read online, I can see the casting making sense.

Some less than enlightened individual (I won’t credit him, because he is undeserving of credit) posted the following (his mistakes of spelling left in), regarding Kenneth Branagh and Thor:

“if he really loved the character and world of thor he wouldnt have casted Idris Elba as Heimdall. and dont give me all this racist crap everyone here always does. Heimdall is white, the actor should be white, Norwegians are white, do you know what ancient Norwegians called black people? NOTHING because they didnt know they [frick]ING EXISTED! so go bring on your hate “

The problem with the above is it is written by someone who sees but poorly. But it helped, by its moronic and belligerent stance, clarify the problem I initially had with Idris’ casting. Yes Norwegians are white, and yes Norwegians were ignorant of Black people. But the film is not about Norwegians, it is about the Gods they worshiped.

I was hung up on this idea that Gods are extensions of the men that worship them. In short we make them up, so they should look like those who worship them.

But here in this fiction, Gods are real tangible things. Which means they are not extensions of the limitations of men, therefore our definitions of them, encompass them but poorly. And let us assume Gods are not as limited or ignorant as men. Let us assume the Gods the Norwegians prayed to, were real gods, of real colors, and that they were not ignorant. That they were the real spacefaring fact, behind the Norwegians flawed and biased fantasy, and the Norwegians being only human made in their own image… those who were not of their image.

Same way even today Hollywood portrays Nubian Queens with Elizabeth Taylor, or Black Scouts with John Wayne. Or for that matter the way churches still propogate the idea of a white Jesus Christ, of the straight hair and the blue eye, which goes contrary to his description in the bible. So let us assume the ancient Norwegians were as close-minded when recounting their tales of Gods and heroes as modern day man. Were as willing to whitewash the truth.

Now I’m saying all this without having read the script, or having seen anything more than the trailer, but just throwing out some ways the casting of Asiatics and Nubians could work.

So yeah, I can totally see that these Gods adopted by the ancient Norwegians, were not then, nor now, Norwegian. They were Gods, or Advanced Aliens ( The Trailer looks like they may be going for that), they don’t have Norwegian names, Norwegians adopted their names. and as such the multicutural cast works fine.

So if you go into the movie, with that perspective, it works fine. But I can definitely see how initially that casting, sans anytype of explanation like what I just gave you, could cause issues.

I personally have a bit of an issue, everytime I see a White person playing an Ancient Egyptian/Nubian. And I would have similar issues seeing a Black person playing a historical Norwegian. However if we accept my previous hypothesis that the Gods (Aliens) are not the men, and the Men are not the Gods, you know a nifty scifi explanation, then I can work with it.

Going back to Elba for a second and the heat he has been taking; he’s an actor, it is not his job to justify the roles he chooses to accept, it is his job to do those roles credit. And Elba has made a career of doing that job well.

So any questions, concerns shouldn’t be directed at him in the first place, but the filmmakers. And I’m confused why Elba is the only one getting heat. As I pointed out, he is not the only actor of color cast in this film as a ‘Norse’ God, however he’s the only actor to get any grief about it. So I would say… back off. Those issues need to be taken up with the producers, not the actors.

Anyhow, Marvel Studios, Branagh, I gave you guys a way to make this casting right for the complainers. You can put my check in the mail. :)

Okay I hope I’ve put that argument to rest.

I am looking forward to the THOR movie. Based on the trailer, and Branagh’s track record with the dramatic and Shakespearean I think it will be a good film, and I definitely think it will make money. At least as much as IRON MAN II. My only concern is the budget of these Marvel Studio’s films. I think with budgets of 150million and 200million, you have to do a lot more to make a sizeable return on that investment. I think from a business standpoint if they could bring these films in for 100million or under, it would take a lot of pressure off of needing the film to crack 300 million domestically.

Now the question is could they bring it in and still get the quality actors and directors, and special effects? Well Look at DISTRICT 9, that was done relatively affordably and it looks great. So I would think it can be done. Of course, I guess being backed by Disney these days, money is no object for Marvel Studios.

Though I tend to think extravagance, for extravagance sake, does not usually translate into great film-making. Look at TERMINATOR 3. Very expensive film at the time, pales in comparison to the first two films.

So in summation, very excited for a good THOR film, and more than that I’m excited for a strong showing from Branagh. Here’s hoping we get both.