Thursday, June 28, 2012
I know what you're thinking here I go again with yet another werewolf film but this is a little different from the films I have talked about in the past. Yes based on the title a man does turn into a werewolf but that word is never really mentioned in this film and the mythology is completely different. Yes Rick Baker of An American Werewolf fame is in charge of the special effects make-up but this is a film that is a sophisticated look at the inner struggle of good and evil in all people against the primeval animal in all of us. Okay we'll get into that later but let's just look at the story first.
What's The Plot?
Will Randall is the aging editor-in-chief of a publishing house with a seemingly charmed life. His marriage is stable and he is worshiped by his employees but that all changes the night he accidentally hits a wolf in the middle of Vermont. After the wolf bites him, Will's life begins to unravel as he begins to change. First, his younger protege Stewart Swinton takes advantage of his mentor's diminishing skills and uses this to impress the publishing house's new owner Raymond Alden, who then demotes Will. The almost final blow is when Will, using his new heightened sense of smell, discovers that his wife Charlotte is having an affair with Stewart behind his back.
Stuff like this would probably destroy a normal man but Will is discovering that he is no longer a normal man as it seems the bite of the wolf has rejuvenated him. Now more aggressive, self-confident and revitalized with sexual energy, Will begins to try and outmaneuver Stewart to get his old job back and soon finds himself beginning a relationship with his boss' daughter, the headstrong yet jaded Laura. All of this seems to be a change for the better until Will starts waking up with blood on his hands and no memories of what his lupine side has done the night before which leads Will to think the worst when Charlotte is found murdered with canine DNA found on her body.
Turning to Laura, Will informs her that he is becoming a wolf and even though skeptical Laura decides to help Will try and fight the animal inside of him before it takes over completely. Is Will really turning into a wolf or is the primordial animal within him just trying to come to the surface? Could the bite of a regular wolf be changing Will or is it all just in his mind...a mind that is slowly becoming unhinged from reality?
Now most of the time when you think of werewolf films you think of a lot of blood and carnage...Wolf has no need for full out horror. It is more of a psychological level of horror although there is a little bit of blood and violent imagery but as we all know not even normal wolves are big cuddly dogs so to show that animal change Will undergoes when the wolf characteristics emerge is needed. Director Mike Nichols is no horror director and Wolf is not really a horror film to my standards it is more a psychological thriller that takes that werewolf motif and changes it to a modern age urban setting.
Will Randall is never shown to be evil and committing the things he does with intended malice just normal animal instinct that is aggressive when provoked. That said this is why this is one of my favorite performances of Jack Nicholson because it is believable and so low key compared to his normal over the top performances but Nicholson is by no means boring. As I stated in my blog post on The Witches Of Eastwick, Jack Nicholson to me is not an attractive man but he does have charm and since his character of Will is made a little more sexually energized thanks to being bitten by a wolf and exuding animal magnetism, it kind of fits here.
Speaking of The Witches Of Eastwick, Nicholson is reunited with Michelle Pfeiffer his co-star from that film in Wolf where she plays the world weary Laura Alden. They both have chemistry together obviously and work well alongside each other and of course, Michelle Pfeiffer is always an amazing actress. Her portrayal of Laura is an identifiable character for me as she is sort of withdrawn and sullen which I can sometimes be but she is also sometimes hostile and rude which I can be if pushed the wrong way I won't deny it. Even though Michelle Pfeiffer has done some comedy it's her dramatic work that I always fancy and it is why I love her here in Wolf as the dramatic actress playing a character who is headstrong and by no means just there to be a doe-eyed love interest for Jack Nicholson's character.
James Spader as Stewart Swinton is there to do what he does best: playing a character who is a smarmy, manipulative douche bag who seems to have some sort of psychological need to be well...an asshole. Now in real life I hear James Spader is a very nice guy and I guess it can be fun as an actor to play the guy everyone hates and if any actor is good at that it is Spader. Stewart is kind of the opposite of Will as he is more attractive but his aggressiveness is more manipulative and petty in nature and kind of makes him the evil counterpart and more of a villain on a human level than even Will at his most animalistic point (oops I think I just gave you a spoiler right there.)
Other actors to note are of course the charming Christopher Plummer as Laura's father and Will's boss. Not a lot of screen time but when he is on screen, Plummer's presence is always one of class and he seems to be having fun even though it may not look like he is. Also of note is a small role played by David Hyde Pierce, who plays another one of Will's proteges but with a more loyal appeal, and like always Pierce is charming and shines in the small bit of screen that he inhabits. Notice that I have said that most of the actors are charming in this film? That is why Wolf works the way it does it uses the werewolf motif in a high class way that doesn't rely on over the top horror. Mike Nichols is a respected director so it makes sense to have respectable actors doesn't it?
Kate Nelligan plays Will's cheating wife Charlotte and even though her acting is not to be questioned, I find I don't really like her character that much. Granted she does get killed and is shown to be guilty for having an affair, Nelligan's Charlotte is kind of a cold woman who seems to have just jumped in bed with Spader's Swinton because he is younger and more attractive and only seems to turn back to her husband because the wolf in him has made him more sexually appealing in bed. It seems to me that Will is better off without her so that of course leaves poor Kate Nelligan, a great movie and stage actress, playing a character I really have no sympathy for in a role in which she plays marvelously.
So being a werewolf fan, I like Wolf for being different from the normal horror portrayal and the story is engaging with drama, fine acting and direction from a Hollywood master. For a horror fan, I can say that Wolf is pleasant to watch if you want a small break from gore but is still suspenseful enough to watch to get your adrenaline running. Of course, I don't blog about movies that I hate so I think that Wolf is a must see film for anyone whether you like horror or drama or you just happen to be a Jack Nicholson or Michelle Pfeiffer fan and have yet to see this movie. If you ever come across this film, I highly recommend giving it a shot.
Next Blog: I sometimes don't like to play to convention of talking about certain movies when it seems appropriate that I should. Since I love you, dear readers, so much you all deserve a little...Valentine
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Sometimes horror/supernatural/sci-fi story ideas can not be fleshed out into a full length motion picture on their own into a two hour time frame...this is where the anthology film comes into play. They are movies with three to five segments telling stories in little mini movies. George A. Romero, zombie horror master himself, began producing a little show called Tales From The Darkside after he and Stephen King had created the anthology horror film masterpiece known as Creepshow. They wanted to have a series that showcased stories like those featured in Creepshow but changed the title to Tales From The Darkside which ran from 1983 to 1987 which was also the year that Creepshow 2 was released.
Creepshow's composer John Harrison who directed episodes from Tales From The Darkside directs the movie with one story adapted by George Romero from a Stephen King short story and Tales From The Darkside writer Michael McDowell wrote two of the stories with one (Lot 249) being an adaptation of a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Since this is my first time reviewing an anthology film on this blog we will go plot by plot of each segment separately.
Wraparound Story: Main Plot
Seems like little Timmy (a young Matthew Lawrence) is in big trouble. See he got roped into doing his older brother's paper route and now he is being held by a witch (played by the lovely Debbie Harry of Blondie). She's no ugly hag but Betty, a modern day suburban housewife who just happens to want Timmy as the main course for her dinner party. Timmy has been given one of Betty's favorite books a collection of stories called Tales From The Darkside to pass the time and he decides that if he can't escape he'll at least stall the witch as long as he can by telling her three stories until his chance for freedom presents itself.
Story #1: Lot 249
Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) is a graduate student who is not having very good luck lately. He has been cheated out of a scholarship by the rich, handsome and smarmy Lee and framed for theft of an ancient artifact by Lee's beautiful but just as snotty girlfriend Susan (played by a younger Julianne Moore with early 90's hair). About to be expelled from the university, Bellingham is prepared to take revenge but he's not about to sully his own hands. He has in his possession Lot 249: an ancient mummy who with the right ritual can be summoned to life to carry out its master's demands. When Lee is found murdered, Susan's little brother Andy (Christian Slater) who was Lee's friend, remembers hearing strange chanting from his dorm neighbor Bellingham's room and seeing a dark figure shambling from the building. Is Andy imagining things or could the mummy really be under Bellingham's control? If so, can Andy stop it before Susan ends up dead or worse...Andy himself?
Story #2: The Cat From Hell
Pharmaceutical mogul Drogan (William Hickey) is an elderly man with one huge problem and he wants hitman Halston (played by David Johansen aka 80's pop novelty singer Buster Poindexter) to solve it. He's offering to pay $100,000 to Halston if he can kill what has to be the strangest target of his career: a black cat. Halston thinks Drogan may just be off his rocker but Drogan isn't laughing because he thinks the cat is out to kill him after inadvertently causing the deaths of Drogan's sister, butler and their family friend Carolyn. The cat may or may not be evil but Halston isn't about to pass up this much money for what may just be the easiest and most lucrative target of his whole hitman career. Halston has no idea what he is in for because vengeance hath no fury like a black cat from hell with nine lives to spare while our hitman only has one to lose...
Story #3: Lover's Vow
Down on his luck artist Preston (James Remar) is not having the best of nights. His agent Wyatt has just dropped him like a hot potato and then he watches as a hideous gargoyle creature murders his bartender friend Jerry in a grisly and gruesome fashion. Before he can escape, the creature corners Preston and makes him promise to never reveal what he saw to anyone in exchange for sparing his life. The creature also tells Preston that he can never tell what he looks like nor that he spoke to him and seals the vow by crossing a deep scratch over Preston's heart as the man yells that he will keep this promise. Despite carrying this burden of guilt, things soon go from bad to better when Preston soon meets a beautiful woman named Carola (played by fetching actress Rae Dawn Chong) and ends up falling in love with her.
Soon, Carola becomes pregnant and she and Preston get married. Carola seems to be bringing luck with her love as soon after she tells a friend of hers about Preston's work and he soon has his art in a hip gallery downtown and a resurgence in his creativity. Ten years later, he and Carola now have two children but Preston can not shake that horrifying night and the promise he made to a demon. Which vow will he be able to keep...the one he made to spare his life or the one he made to the love of his life? Can Preston keep the secret from Carola after all these years and all the luck she has brought to him and if he does what sort of price will he pay?
It's a lot harder to tell you the plots of each story without giving any of them away. If you couldn't tell by my description of each plot the last and final story Lover's Vow is my favorite one mostly because it is a combination of two things I love: romance and horror. They save the best for last because not only do I love the story but James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong have great chemistry with one another and the ending is one of my favorite kinds. Cat From Hell is probably my second favorite because it happens to be based on a Stephen King short story and I am a fan of Stephen King if you didn't already know! I also have an appreciation for George A. Romero even if zombies are not my favorite movie creatures but after seeing him direct Creepshow and handle Stephen King's works so marvelously its my third favorite combination after romance with horror and peanut butter with chocolate! Besides the story and direction I also love William Hickey, rest his soul, as the elderly Drogan because you could always find ways to hate and sympathize with any character he played. Acting aside, William Hickey was also a stage actor and a teacher of the arts where Babara Streisand studied underneath him in New York's Greenwich Village so if that's not awesome I don't know what is!
You may think Lot 249 is my third favorite but I actually like the wraparound segment a little bit more because not only is young Matthew Lawrence as cute as a button to look at (just as cute as he is now...wowzers is he hot!) but he can act just as well as his older brother Joseph (call him Joey if you want but he is Joe or Joseph to me now and whoa he's just as hot too!) Even though she is technically the villain, Debbie Harry is fun to watch and you can't deny that she can act as well as she can sing and you can tell she is having fun. Not too much fun where she is overacting or campy, Debbie Harry plays off Matthew Lawrence well and they are the reason the stories are set into motion in the first place.
Now do I have anything good to say about Lot 249 you ask? Well, the acting isn't bad and the twist isn't bad at the end but I don't really sympathize with any of the characters except maybe Christian Slater's Andy. I mean Steve Buscemi and Christian Slater seem to be playing characters the always seem to play and I haven't watched enough of Julianne Moore to know if she is being typecast or not in such an early role but she falls in the same lump with Buscemi and Slater as not particular stirring. As a whole, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is a good film and as I have never seen the television series, I would say this is a good introduction to its TV counterpart. If you have watched the series and enjoy it and have never seen the movie version, I recommend it. If you have seen neither one, well it's pretty much up to you which one you would rather view first but the movie is certainly my first choice.
Next Blog: I'm going to be talking about a film that will make me the little girl that cried...Wolf
Saturday, June 16, 2012
There have been many adaptations of the Snow White fairy tale written by The Brothers Grimm and the most recent Snow White And The Huntsman took more of dark approach to the movie but it was not the first. Snow White: A Tale Of Terror has the title of being the first of the much more grim versions of the fairy tale must of us first saw thanks to Walt Disney's animated masterpiece. This film is nothing like the version your grandmother saw when she was a little girl and is, in my honest opinion, even darker than Snow White And The Huntsman. Of course we all know how the story goes and ends so this time I don't feel so guilty about telling you most of the plot so instead...
Once Upon A Time In This Version
Named after her deceased mother our Snow White of this tale is Lilliana Hoffman. Her father Fredric is a nobleman around the 14th century in some undisclosed European country and after many years he is about to be remarried to the very beautiful Lady Claudia who at first is not as evil as you think but after marrying Fredric and trying to get on Lilli's (as she is called) good graces has become more of an overbearing stepmother. All of that changes when Claudia ends up miscarrying the son that Fredric always wanted and an evil presence from her mirror convinces Claudia that it is all Lilli's fault for reminding her husband of his late wife proving that he may have only married Claudia to conceive a son which now after her miscarriage she can no longer provide.
Claudia orders her mute brother to kill Lilli but she escapes into the woods and finds herself amongst seven miners who are by all means not dwarves (except for one while the others range from scary to medieval equivalents of modern day grunge rockers) but outcasts from the church and society in general. They begrudgingly offer her shelter and in the beginning Lilli is frightened and mildly hostile to the men who are below her station. The dynamic begins to change once the mirror shows Claudia that Lilli is still alive and she begins to use dark magic to destroy her stepdaughter and ends up killing the miners in the process and now they are Lilli's only protection when her father becomes injured while looking for her and becomes incapacitated and isolated thanks to Claudia's dark magic.
Lilli soon becomes attracted to the unofficial leader of the miners- a young man named Will who is tall, dark and handsome yet also tortured by his past. When it appears that Will returns the same mounting attraction for Lilli, the timing couldn't be worse because Claudia is now given a means to destroy her enemy by the evil darkness that possesses her mirror and it may be a temptation too sweet for Lilli to refuse and a power too dark for her to resist. There may not be a happily ever after for this tale but it is far from over...
Okay so I lied a little about divulging the whole plot because even though its the same old tale no version is ever told the same and the most climatic scenes are at the end and they are the best part of the film!
This may be a Snow White movie but as always the evil Queen is the character that takes the spotlight and though not a Queen Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of Lady Claudia is pretty much the movie. I've noticed that a lot of actors and actresses like the villain roles because it gives them a chance to overact and indulge and when you win an Emmy for that role you have done your job very well and Sigourney Weaver did just that. She has a very nice evil cackle much closer to maniacal laughter and when she becomes the bearer of the dreaded apple, her old peddler woman makes me a little uneasy at how creepy and ugly they can make such a beautiful woman as Sigourney Weaver become with a little special effects make-up.
Our Snow White Lilliana played by Monica Keena is a very assertive and rebellious Snow White and in the beginning a little haughty but she breaks out of that if not completely but she still is a genuine person to be the heroine of our story. I wish that Sam Neill's role as Fredric Hoffman was much larger because he is a distinguished and charming actor but the role of Snow White's father is always absent by either death or war so I can't really blame the screenwriters for something the Grimm Brothers wrote hundreds of years ago. When he is onscreen, Neill of course is genius in his role as loving father unaware of his new wife's evil until it is too late and he deserves some praise as well.
Gil Bellows plays Will who becomes an object of Lilli's affection and I have to admit that I can see why because I do love the tall, dark and handsome ones myself! Coming back from drooling over him to talk about his acting, Gil Bellows is part intimidating, part compassionate and his character is an interesting addition to the film to show that Snow White is not always so young and naive and they build up tension and romance through the story (if you didn't catch that Will is kind of the prince of the tale but he isn't the only one to show up in a not so blatant way.) The other actors who play the miners get little screen time and the only other character to get any face time is David Conrad who plays Doctor Peter Gutenberg, who is suppose to marry Lilli but as I stated above...he doesn't get the girl in the end.
Though it wasn't really a blog meant to compare Snow White: A Tale Of Terror with Snow White And The Huntsman, I already stated that this film is darker and I will also say that if you were disappointed by what you saw on onscreen June 1st this film will more than make up for it. I enjoy both of these films but if I had to pick one then this terrifying tale of Snow White will always be the fairest for a horror fan like me and also for the fantasy freak in me as well. Truly evil queens, assertive heroines and a romantic interest who does more than just rescue a damsel in distress but helps her grow as a person make Snow White: A Tale Of Terror a film worth watching. Don't think I'm hating on Snow White And The Huntsman because I did enjoy it and its interpretation of the story but I guess the gorehound and even the romantic in me just wanted a little more.
So in conclusion, if Snow White is a favorite story of you ladies out there or even if you are a gentleman who loves horror then this film is for you. If you love the twisted versions of fairy tales for a darker palette, then Snow White: A Tale Of Terror is a delicious apple you just have to try. Are you tempted enough to find out for yourself just how good this movie really is? Trust me, I would never try to steer you toward bad movies intentionally...I just like closing out on an awesome line every now and then.
Next Blog: Tales From The Darkside: The Movie
Friday, June 1, 2012
You know in 1995, Alicia Silverstone became a pop culture queen starring in Clueless as Cher Horowitz and spawned girls wearing plaid skirts and furry backpacks everywhere. Before that she was video eye candy in a trilogy of Aerosmith videos but in her very first film, The Crush, she became my generation's version of Glenn Close as a deadly teenage Lolita to rival Drew Barrymore's role in Poison Ivy. I saw this film right before I started the seventh grade when it was on Fox as yet another World Premiere Movie and became hooked. Funny that I saw this movie with my mom and dad in the living room and that I actually got away with watching it! Nostalgia aside, let's dig into this film shall we?
What's The Plot?
Handsome writer Nick Eliot has secured a job at Pique Magazine and he needs a new place to stay. He finds lodgings in the guest house of Cliff and Liv Forrester and their 14 year old daughter Adrian. Adrian is a gifted girl who plays piano, takes equestrian lessons and has a love of Emily Bronte and entomology making her a little more sophisticated than other girls her age. She has only one friend Cheyenne because the girls' mothers went to college together so Adrian fixates an attraction on Nick who is fourteen years her senior. To try and win Nick's affections she rewrites one of his articles and then Adrian has Nick escort her to the local make-out spot, unknown to Nick, where she kisses him.
Nick realizes the mistake of leading Adrian on and tries to ignore her advances by beginning a relationship with co-worker Amy Maddik but this seems to only make Adrian's crush become more obsessive. Soon, Nick's belongings start to disappear like a picture of himself as a young boy and then his recently restored classic car becomes defaced. These little incidents don't seem like anything much until Nick's big story for the magazine is erased from his computer and all of his backup files disappear and then things begin to go even worse. When Cheyenne tries to talk to him about Adrian she is injured in a horse riding accident and soon after Amy is attacked by wasps at her private home darkroom.
Nick knows Adrian is behind everything but with no proof against her all he can do is try to find a new place of residence. Too bad Nick doesn't realize that whatever Adrian wants, she gets and she is only just beginning to make his life miserable. Can Nick convince everyone that Adrian is crazy before her crush ends up killing him?
Another great instance of when I could divulge the entire plot of The Crush to you but as you should know by now...I won't. This film is such a great one that I think it should of course be viewed by you to develop your own opinion of whether or not it is as good as I say it is.
What Else Can I Tell You?
Again as stated, The Crush was Alicia Silverstone's theatrical film debut and she came out swinging in this role! She was 15 when she did the film and she became emancipated from her parents to work the hours that she couldn't have otherwise. She won an MTV Movie Award for Best Villain and one for Breakthrough Performance with her role as Adrian Forrester. (Interesting fact: Forrester sounds a lot like Forrest which is the last name of Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction who shares many similarities with Silverstone's character in The Crush!)
Cary Elwes is one of my favorite actors and I love him as Nick Eliot! He tries to hide that English accent but he can't and his portrayal as the dogged object of obsession makes him even more endearing. Fangirl love aside, Elwes is a great actor and he does have a small amount of chemistry with Silverstone but not in a squicky kind of way - a man of morals and a gentleman who ends up having to be a dick to get his point across but is still innocent in the scheme of things. Kurtwood Smith who plays Cliff Forrester is known to many as Red from That 70's Show and again he plays a father figure here but the kind of dad you don't want to be messing with his little girl! Red threatens to kick your ass but Cliff Forrester will kill you or castrate you if you lay a hand on his daughter and Kurtwood Smith as an actor is not somebody you want to mess with!
Jennifer Rubin as Amy is okay with her dark model looks and her snarky personality but I think she is just thrown in as a love interest for Nick to step up Adrian's psychotic little games. What better way to make a woman crazier than to have another woman stealing the object of her affections but this is much different than Fatal Attraction where Michael Douglas' character is married or even Swimfan where Jesse Bradford's character has been dating his girlfriend for a much longer period of time. No offense to Jennifer Rubin or writer/director Alan Shapiro but the character of Amy has a lot of unneeded screen time. The only other actor of note is Amber Benson as Cheyenne. This was also her first film role and even though she has little screen time the actress who would one day be Tara on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and future comic book writer does a good job being the only friend to a troubled and sick girl and the only one besides Nick to see that she is not as sweet as she acts.
Before we go did I forget to mention that writer/director Alan Shapiro wrote The Crush supposedly based on true events that happened to him? Yeah, he even named the character after a real girl named Darien Forrester and when she found out she sued him! Thanks to that they had to go back and re-dub all instances of the name Darien with Adrien by different actors. His only other theatrical film he directed was the movie of Flipper - you know the one with Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan and a dolphin! Sometimes it's best I guess to not write what you know...or at least change names before the film is complete!
On a more serious note to end this blog post, if you have not seen The Crush you should give this movie a viewing if you get the chance to find it. Cary Elwes and Alicia Silverstone fans will definitely like this movie and if films like Fatal Attraction and Single White Female are ones you enjoy, The Crush is a must have for your own DVD collection.
Next Blog: Since I am going to go see Snow White & The Huntsman this weekend my next blog is going to be about another very dark version of the fairy tale - Snow White: A Tale Of Terror