Saturday, July 10, 2010

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Crazies (2010)

Breck Eisner's well-reviewed remake of the 1973 George Romero film, The Crazies (2010) opens to the familiar strains of "We'll Meet Again," a 1939 hit from singer Vera Lynn that became famous a second time when Stanley Kubrick dubbed the song over images of nuclear apocalypse at the end of his masterpiece, the black comedy Dr. Strangelove (1964).

That song and its lyrics -- forever since linked to the blazing imagery of mushroom clouds -- suggests a kind of insanity driving the pro-military/government mindset of our country. Post-Kubrick, the song intimates mankind's unchanging, self-destructive nature. We're always on the brink of wiping ourselves out with some new, high-tech weapon.

Doomsday, we shall meet you again...don't know where; don't know when.

This is a powerful and welcome note to begin The Crazies on; one that suggests that this impressive-looking production carries an intention to be the spiritual heir to Dr. Strangelove and Romero's incendiary original, both of which showcased the lunacy behind international war, and also behind ever-more insidious weapons of mass destruction.

Since The Crazies involves the occupation of a small American town, Ogden Marsh (population 1,260) by the U.S. Army and the contamination of the innocent populace by a bio-weapon called "Trixie" (designed to "destabilize a population") the tune "We'll Meet Again" and the oblique Strangelove reference are appropriate and even a little subversive.

So it's terribly tragic then, that the movie proceeds to drop the ball entirely on virtually every thematic front imaginable; refusing even to take genuine advantage of today's anti-government Zeitgeist and the pervasive fear (especially on the Right) of Federal Authorities usurping local ones.

For instance, there's a moment when a soldier blandly informs a citizen "It's okay, Ma'am...we just gotta process you" that intimates the terror of Big Government/Big Brother or a Socialist State working against its citizenry in a fearsome (but seemingly routine...) fashion. But the film doesn't push any of this sub-text beyond mere lip service. Almost like it doesn't want to offend anybody.


Instead, the U.S. Army is present in the picture largely as but another obstacle for the protagonists to navigate around and to assure more action-sequences, including a nail-biter involving a chopper and sanctuary inside a car wash. One soldier even sympathizes with the innocent refugees and doesn't rat the heroes out when he has the opportunity. I can imagine that someone in the studio marketing department must have demanded that the military not be depicted too negatively in The Crazies, or the movie would be accused of not supporting our troops during wartime, or some such nonsense.


The idea of a citizenry bullied and controlled by its own armed forces and overreaching government was far more powerfully conveyed in the original film (which by miraculous coincidence, I first watched in the year 2000...on the very weekend that Federal Authorities broke into a private residence in Florida to remove a Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez at gun point.)

By the remake's last act, things have degenerated even further into generic action movie cliches. Everyone who you expected to survive from the first frame...does survive. There are no surprises. And this resolution occurs despite the fact that the two leads repeatedly -- and stupidly -- split up, so they can be independently-menaced by the Infected.

Adding insult to injury, the film's climactic set piece actually involves a heroic couple outrunning a nuclear mushroom in a stolen truck...and making for civilization...alive and well.

Judy -- a doctor, mind you -- even gazes directly at the nuclear blast; an act that in reality would have burned out her eyes and resulted in total, permanent blindness.


Which, of course, doesn't happen here...

This silly climax and such mock, predictable heroics represent an absolute collapse of the promising and challenging aesthetic that opens the film (with "We'll Meet Again") and which so powerfully informed both Strangelove and the 1973 original

I find this turn of events disappointing and also depressing. The original The Crazies was an unrepentant taboo-breaker, one that violated the established decorum of Hollywood movies of it's era in powerful and deliberate fashion.


In the original, the Trixie contamination, for instance, caused one man (Artie) to engage in sexual intercourse with his own biological daughter. In the original, an American priest immolated himself in the town square, and the image alluded to a real incident with a Buddhist monk in Vietnam; thus equating the Army's actions in Evans City with the War in Vietnam...a leftist and incendiary implication, certainly, for "The Silent Majority" that had just re-elected Richard Nixon in a landslide.


And then there was the film's final existentialist -- nay, nihilist -- bent. An infected pregnant woman (and the film's heroine), Judy (Lane Carroll) was murdered by the occupying military force, and her fiancee, a fireman named David (W.G. McMillan) learned that he was immune to the contaminant. But rather than aid the bullying military (and his fellow man too), David kept his mouth shut...and let the apocalypse spread. Out of revenge, perhaps. Or perhaps just because he believed that humans, as a species, weren't worth saving.

The original The Crazies also featured Strangelove's sense of the absurd...of life as a cruel comedy. A cure for Trixie was discovered by a scientist, but the military mistook him for an infected man, and the cure was lost. Forever.

So, incest, political commentary, the establishment's murder of innocence (a pregnant woman, for heaven's sake!) and a downbeat, absurd, nihilist ending. These were the things that -- in addition to a frenzied pace created by Romero's brilliant editing -- made The Crazies a singular initiative, a horror movie eminently worthy of the overrused term of genre "classic."

I don't feel that I'm spoiling anything to let you know that there is very little critique of the military or the government in Eisner's The Crazies. Rather the film's anger is directed at the easy target of rednecks with trigger-happy instincts. Furthermore, the pregnant woman survives (and likely carries her baby healthily to term, despite having battled the infected and coming in close proximity to a nuclear blast...).

And one character, a local deputy, proves so innately heroic that he literally wipes out Trixie's powerful influence over his sick mind, and nobly sacrifices himself for the married couple and their unborn child. Quite the opposite of a disease so insidious that it makes a father engage in sex even with his own kin in the original, no?

Long story short: The Crazies is not nearly crazy enough, and certainly not even half-as-crazy as the Romero original of a quarter-century ago.

Contrarily, this re-do is an entirely safe horror movie that carries no meaningful subtext and, ultimately, does the open psyche no real harm...because it isn't about anything other than surviving another zombie-like apocalypse. Romero's original film has been thematically neutered here. This movie is but a Michael Bay-styled roller-coaster ride.

What makes this such a sad lobotomy, unfortunately, is the fact that Eisner is clearly an immensely skilled director, and working with a fine cast (headed by Timothy Olyphant of Deadwood and Radha Mitchell of Silent Hill [2006] and Pitch Black [2000]). Eisner stages many fine horror moments and "jolts" throughout the picture, and I can say without reservation that they are brilliantly, artfully-achieved.

A scene in a coroner's office featuring a bone saw is disgusting and downright harrowing. The now-trademark scene of the Infected Man with the pitch-fork is also wrung for maximum suspense, though the scene's punctuation is disappointing and predictable: a re-affirmation of the film's total and utter lack of descended testicles. There's even a great surprise reveal in a baby nursery that will have you leaping out of your seat.

What this comes down to, I suppose, is what the viewer seeks in a horror film. If you are looking for the equivalent of a roller-coaster ride, an essentially harmless exercise with loops, dips and jolts, the movie is undeniably effective. Still, even on this front, it doesn't achieve anything that 28 Days Later (2002) or the Dawn of the Dead (2004) re-make haven't already achieved with greater success.

But if you are seeking a horror movie that speaks meaningfully about your world, and that conveys something important about the human condition -- as the original The Crazies did -- you are going to be severely disappointed by this by-the-numbers, Cliff-notes version of superior material.

Empty-headed, mainstream remakes of horror gems?

I'm sure we'll meet again...

Friday, July 09, 2010

Greetings, Programs! Tron was 28 Years Ago Today

Director Steve Lisberger's computerized fantasy went into wide theatrical release on July 9, 1982...twenty eight years ago today.

I remember I first saw the Disney film at Cinema 23 in Verona, New Jersey, with one of my best friends, Scott Williams. I was twelve.

Tron wasn't particularly well-regarded by the mainstream critical establishment back in the summer of 1982, though Roger Ebert lauded the film and awarded it four stars. Audiences were also cold to the story of a "computer world."

The years have been kind to Tron, however. It's become something of a classic of Generation X, and a long-awaited sequel, Tron Legacy, bows December 17, 2010. I for one, can't wait...

Here's a snippet of my review of Tron:

...Impressively, Tron even seems to position itself as a critique of the "new" Walt Disney Company...post-Walt Disney. It thus bites the hand that made it, so-to-speak. For Disney is a company, the film indicates, where the computers and the bean-counters have seized control.

Contrarily, one might also cogently argue an opposite point with some validity; that Tron is actually a jingoistic Cold War statement against Communism; one depicting a battle for personal freedom against a "Red"-hued assimilating enemy, the Master Computer Program.

Beyond these intriguing and debatable sub-texts, Tron continues to fascinate new generations of viewers on the basis of the intricate, visually-complex fantasy computer world it creates with such aplomb. This is a dazzling alternate universe where all the main characters of the human world -- in the spirit of The Wizard of Oz -- boast an identity "double," -- a computer program doppelganger. Given the contemporary popularity of World of Warcraft and Second Life, Tron's notion of electronic counterparts or computer avatars acting as our alternate identities in a man-made photoelectric landscape is very timely a quarter-century after the film's release.

Greetings, Programs!

Tron depicts the story of a rogue computer programmer named Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who was fired from his job at the mighty corporation ENCOM when a fellow programmer and now executive-senior-vice president, Dillinger (David Warner) stole his design for several blockbuster video games, including the popular Space Paranoids.

Dillinger has also all-but-ousted the company's original president, the gentle and elderly Walt (Barnard Hughes) -- who created ENCOM in his garage.

Dillinger has turned Walt's creation into a devouring machine bent on the acquisition of smaller corporations and companies so as to seize a bigger market share. Assisting him in this dedicated raiding effort to control all commerce (international and domestic) is the monstrous MCP -- Master Control Program.

Flynn is zapped by a matter-transformer controlled by the MCP and "digitized." He thus enters the world of the MCP and other computer programs. There, he attempts to re-claim his cstolen reations and destroy Dillinger's machine servant. Flynn is assisted in this matter by a regulatory program, Tron, created by another information-seeking ENCOM programmer, Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner). The MCP attempts to destroy Flynn -- a man the other programs revere as a god-being called a "User" -- using his right-hand man, the villainous Sark (also David Warner), to do it.

I Programmed You to Want Too Much: Big-Business Unfettered in Tron.


An excavation of the context underlining Tron is important to any understanding of this unique fantasy film.

The first significant trend to discuss here is technological advance: the evolution of arcade video games into home based game systems (like the Atari 2600) in the late 1970s; and then the lightning-fast, subsequent replacement of those game systems with home computing devices like the Commodore VIC-20 in the early 1980s.

Forget a chicken in every pot, by the mid-1980s there was a PC in every American house. Accordingly, terms such as BASIC, DOS, RAM, "user friendly" "disk drive," "program" and "memory" (not to mention "crash...") entered our lexicon as we accommodated a new and useful device into our daily lives.

Tron expresses, in fascinating terms, the sense of uneasiness many Americans felt with the rapid growth of this new technology. On one hand, humans were still at the top of the food chain in Tron: "Users" sending "programs" to do their bidding in an invisible (to our eyes...) electronic universe.

However, on the other hand, the electronic world of our helpful programs had been (secretly) co-opted by a hungry, assimilating devourer that put the food-pellet-gobbling Pac Man to shame: the MCP. This fear of insidious technology in our homes finds voice in much of Tron's dialogue. "The computers will start thinking and people will stop," warns Walt Dumont (Hughes) in one critical scene.

At other points, however, Tron expresses the desire for a "free system" in which Man and Program ally in beneficial unison. And the film's brilliant climax is not entirely unlike that depicted in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) a sort of religious communion/fusion between Man and machine. As in that cinematic case, man here is the deity, shepherding his sense of traditional human values to the "cold," "intellectual" machine. In Tron, Flynn dives into the MCP (in a Godly beam of blinding light...) and briefly joins with it. His decency -- his humanity -- transforms the outward shade of evil (a crimson, coruscating red) into the film's shade of rebellion and liberty; blue...

You can read the rest of my review, right here.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The Cult-TV Faces of: William Shatner

This week, She Blogged by Night is hosting a "Shatnerthon." My friend and excellent blogger J.D. at Radiator Heaven just yesterday offered a review and retrospective of Free Enterprise (1998), a kind of Woody Allen film for Shatner/Star Trek fans. He very aptly notes that the movie is sort of "the best Kevin Smith movie not made by Kevin Smith," a great and insightful observation. Anyway, in honor of the Shatnerthon, I present today the Cult TV Faces of The Shat. If you can, name the series, and the episode the photo originates from.





Wednesday, July 07, 2010

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Road (2009)

John Hillcoat's The Road, a cinematic adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's 2006 best-seller, opens with idyllic views of Mother Nature. We see crimson and yellow flowers and abundant green leaves. The wind blows gently....but only briefly.

Still, these stolen glimpses of Earth's natural beauty immediately set the appropriate tone; reminding audiences of the paradise we have now...and largely take for granted.

The remainder of this haunting, deeply-affecting film is set on a scorched, post-apocalyptic Earth, a washed-out, gray world in which a beloved piano is but more kindling for the fire. In this time and place, shampoo and toothpaste are not merely luxuries...but archaeological discoveries: relics of a lost world, a lost time.

And yet this is not at all a film about "things" or material possessions.

Instead, The Road very explicitly -- and very emotionally -- concerns the bonds of family, and in particular the relationship between a loving father (Viggo Mortenson) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as the duo attempts to navigate a planetary graveyard; one populated by hungry vultures, in the form of scavenging human cannibals. The boy's mother (Charlize Theron) has taken her own life rather than exist in such a world, and in his quiet moments, the boy fantasizes about joining her. The child doesn't really understand death, and wonders, when his father dies, if he will see him again; or if he can take him with him.

In a word, the movie is heartbreaking.

The father, who is battling a terminal illness, realizes it is his most important task now to toughen up his innocent and imaginative son -- God's hand on Earth, in his words -- so the boy can survive this perpetual winter of Mother Earth and the human soul.

So the father demonstrates for the boy how to commit suicide by firearm (a pistol), should capture by the cannibals become inevitable. He lets the boy look long and hard at rotting corpses, at death itself in hopes that it will somehow become commonplace, and therefore not frightening. Weighted down by his sense of responsibility, the father also sees betrayers and monsters in every encounter with other human beings. He trusts no one.

By contrast, the boy is so loving and pure it will make your soul ache. The child virtually craves something hopeful in his life, something good. In specific terms, the father wants the boy to survive in a frightening, menacing world, and the boy just wants to hold the hand of a lonely old stranger (Robert Duvall), who lost his own son in a tragedy so horrible he can't speak of it. The boy wants to know that he and his dad are still "the good guys."

I'm the father of a young son, myself, and I was unexpectedly but deeply moved by The Road, which -- without ever seeming cheesy or maudlin, or even relying on rampaging cannibals for drama -- raises questions about what it means to be a "good" parent in a grim situation like this. The boy is portrayed brilliantly by McPhee as, well, an absolute innocent...one who carries a stuffed animal elephant in his arms at all times, and who collects little trinkets that catch his youthful fancy: bottle caps, pennies, and the like. The boy's tenderness and vulnerability are absolutely palpable, and so you feel intimately the Father's existential dilemma.

On one hand, you want to preserve that innocence at all costs. And on the other hand, you know that it must be utterly stamped out so that the boy will survive this chaotic terrain when he is left all alone.

The weak link in this family dynamic is the Mother, who selfishly selects suicide because "all the other families are doing it," the most-bizarre form of Keeping up with the Jones you've ever encountered. She walks off into a dark winter night alone, leaving her husband and son behind...and is never seen again. If the Mother had chosen to live -- to fight --p erhaps she could have tempered the Father's harshness, and helped the boy understand his life and those in it, better. But it wasn't to be.

You know all along what's coming in The Road, and you start to dread this emotional, gut-wrenching crescendo, the impending separation. You can feel it coming, and it's literally almost sickening. The father grows progressively weaker, until finally, there's the moment when he must say his final goodbye to his son, to his beloved boy.

By this point the Father has done everything he could for the child, and as he prepares to leave this world, the Dad must simply...let go. He must trust that his son will be okay; that he has learned the lessons he tried to impart to him.


It's terrifying, however, this thought of never seeing your child again; of knowing that there are dangers looming out there that you can never help him bypass.

But again, that's what parenting is all about, and The Road understands this reality all too well.

My wife, Kathryn, often reminds me that Joel doesn't belong to us; that he's his own person, with his own path and his own destination in life. So it's our most critical job as parents simply to set his course, to prepare him well for the challenges he will face. "Healthy and happy," she often whispers in my ear, when I threaten to over-protect or smother him with parental coddling. Because we can't fight all Joel's battles for him; because when we're gone, he needs to fight those battles successfully. He needs to have experienced successes doing so too, so he doesn't feel hopeless, or alone, or less-than-confident in his abilities to navigate life.


That's hard, though, isn't it?

And that's the pain that Mortensen's character carries like an albatross around his neck. Has he done enough? Has he made the right calls? Has he erred by being too hard, or was he too soft? The film's powerful last scene provides an answer of sorts to these questions. The movie comes right up to its last moment before shedding, even partially, a sense of ambiguity about the boy's fate.

The Road
also asks some pretty meaningful questions about the kind of world we are leaving to our young sons and daughters. The nature of the apocalypse in the film is deliberately left unspecified. It could be a nuclear winter after a terrible war; or it could be post-asteroid impact for all we know. But still, there's a powerful notion at work here, about the things we hand off to our children. Our morals. Our hopes. Our planet itself. Do we leave it for them better than we found it, or worse than we found it? Is this not the most important question we, as parents, should ask ourselves? Isn't everything else -- the bills, the bedtimes, the Christmas presents -- pretty damn unimportant by comparison?

Just the other day, I was complaining here about about The Wolfman, and how the filmmakers involved in that horror film didn't seem to have faith in their own story, so they embellished a worthwhile narrative with unnecessary action sequences and special effects. Well, The Road is the antidote to such films. It focuses like a laser on its emotional narrative and memorable characters without resorting to unnecessary flourishes, or what I call "bells and whistles." It's one of the most involving, tense and heartbreaking films I've seen in a long while. It casts an unforgettable spell.

There are plenty of end-of-the-world movies out there. Ones that focus on destructive spectacle (like 2012 [2009]), or the survival of the species after "the end" of our way of life (I am Legend [2004]). But The Road is surely the most intimate of such cinematic stories.

It understands that the end of the entire world is -- perhaps paradoxically -- a very...personal thing.

Monday, July 05, 2010

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: The Wolfman (2010)

In director David Cronenberg's landmark remake of The Fly (1986), Dr. Seth Brundle -- the intrepid scientist played by Jeff Goldblum -- realizes something important about his invention, a teleportation device.

A computer cannot understand flesh
.

It must be taught to understand flesh.


Well, apparently the computers still haven't learned their lesson.

Exhibit A is The Wolfman (2010), a horror film featuring some truly fine performances, a decent screenplay, a solid thematic subtext, and an appropriate degree of reverence for its celebrated source material: the 1941, Lon Chaney Jr./Curt Siodmak The Wolfman.


For all of these many and much-appreciated virtues (including an intriguing leitmotif regarding the Biblical tale of the Prodigal Son), this Joe Johnston film ultimately flounders due to the largely-unnecessary bells and whistles of the troubled production: namely inadequate special effect presentation.

I don't often write at length about special effects in my reviews, you may have noticed. Effects rarely make or break a picture as far as I'm concerned.
The Wolfman is a rare exception. Here, the effects succeed only in taking the audience completely out of the human dimension of the narrative, and are never responsible for generating a single scare.

This is a big problem. Good horror is all about the flesh. The blood is the life, and computerized splatter and digitized flesh just don't get the job done. They both appear, well, lifeless when rendered in CGI.

Now, I'm not trying to be cranky or overly nostalgic for "the good old days" here.

On the contrary, my trusty eyes inform me straight -- especially when I watch a film like The Wolfman -- that something is definitely wrong; that something is not true or authentic. The practical effects are fine in the film...quite good actually. But then, the digitized Wolfman starts leaping from London rooftop to rooftop like Halle Berry in Pitof's Catwoman (2004) and there is a fatal disconnect for me. I'm watching bad effects, not a character. Suddenly, I lose my investment in the story, in the outcome of the tale.

This Wolfman's hair doesn't ruffle right. He doesn't displace atmosphere believably. He has no feeling of weight, of Earthly gravity. He is not...photo-real. And yet even monsters must obey the dictates of gravity, right? They can't run faster than The Flash or jump higher than Superman. Some of the battle effects here between dueling wolves are bafflingly rendered in fast-motion as well, which make the monsters appear even less impressive; even more cut-rate. Fast-motion traditionally denotes comedy; it creates the opposite impression as the one desired here. The audience doesn't think "power." It thinks..."lame...they had to speed up the footage because the effects are so terrible."

Perhaps most importantly, the Wolf Men in this film move in a show-offy sort of over-the-top manner that not only defies physics, but exposes the important character flaw of the programmers who create such cinematic creatures. Just because they can make their computerized monsters do a thing -- like leap tall buildings in a single bound -- does not mean that they should do such a thing. These computer jockeys get carried away, and reality is sacrificed for ostensible thrills.

But again, the horror genre concerns those things about our human existence that make us uncomfortable about ourselves, that make our blood run cold. Our skin is our layer of protection from the world, and also our connection to it. The blood running in our veins throbs and pulses...and nourishes us. Good horror often concerns the way our bodies are subverted or damaged or changed by outside forces. So horror is -- for lack of a better word -- organic. The Wolfman is perhaps the most organic of horrors as it concerns a man whose body is subverted from the inside; from a contaminated bite. Throw in computer-generated effects -- with all their problems in gravity and movement and realism -- and some essential characteristic of the genre is sacrificed, or at the very least, mitigated.


The Wolfman, which down to the lavish costumes makes a sincere effort to remain in the classic mold of its progenitor, shoots itself in the foot time and time again by reaching for the bells and whistles, the big digital shots, when they simply aren't necessary, especially given the quality of Rick Baker's practical effects. The film lingers on several shots of a full moon, and even a shot of a prowling camera approaching a full moon through gnarled trees. All these shots are largely CGI too. Even the suffusing fog of the moors seems, largely, digital. Again, this may seem like nitpicking, but computers shouldn't be used as substitute for legitimate "atmosphere." Atmosphere isn't something you can fix in post. I wish it were.

The result of these fakey computer shots, which stick out like a sore thumb, is that every time the film goes to effects sequences, the audience feels a jarring effect. It's like you're watching two movies.

No, scratch that. One movie and one cartoon.

The transformation effects featured in the film -- for the most part -- are terrible CGI. The result is that they do not appear as authentic as the work vetted in An American Werewolf in London back in 1981. That climactic transformation, created without benefit of computer generated imagery, both captured and transmitted the agonizing, bone crushing and skin-twisting nature of the human-to-werewolf change. Digital morphing -- literally the smooth shaping of one face into another -- simply can't express, again, the pure physicality of such a transformation.

If the bells are difficult to stomach here, the whistles are just as bad. The soundtrack by Danny Elfman (which had some problems, I understand...) is woefully inappropriate to the action. It is overdone to the point of lunacy; as if hoping desperately, somehow, to wring some sense of emotion, investment or involvement out of the fleshless, heartless effects sequences. I like Danny Elfman and consider him highly talented, but the music in The Wolfman feels as out-of-place as the CG effects. It feels desperate.

Benecio Del Toro is quite good in the film as Lawrence Talbot, the man who becomes the werewolf, and Emily Blunt, who plays Gwen, becomes more lovely and winsome, literally, by the moment. By the end of the movie she is absolutely gorgeous...and totally involving to watch. These actors seem to understand the name of the game so far as The Wolfman's underlying meaning: that men either repress or release their wolves; and women, often, are the only ones that can save them from that inner beast unloosed. Del Toro and Blunt play their scenes with restraint and dignity and deserve heaps of praise for their sober, human performances. They are grown-ups playing grown-up parts (which isn't entirely common in the era of Twilight), but the movie doesn't trust them to carry the film's message. So The Wolfman throws CGI action scenes at us instead.

The cinematography here is strong at moments, certainly. There's a terrific and enticing shot of Gwen's neck and chest...her heaving bosom, as it were, in close-up. You can almost feel her blood pumping right beneath the unblemished skin...and that's the point of this drama, and this review. She's real. She's flesh. She's tangible. Lawrence wants her...and the animal inside him wants her. This shot is more honest and more effective in transmitting the subtext of the film (men = wolves) than CGI playtime on the roof with Wolfie.

I don't blame Joe Johnston, a man whose work on The Rocketeer (1991) and even Jurassic Park III (2001) I admired. The problems that diminish The Wolfman are the problems, by and large, that plague Hollywood today. In particular, studios seem afraid to let big "event" movies actually be about...well, anything...let alone human beings and their problems. They don't "trust" the story of The Wolfman, the story of a man cursed and tormented by the animal inside, and so action scenes, special effects and a driving score get slathered on to lard up a sense of audience involvement with the material.

It's all just bloody unnecessary. The original version of The Wolfman remains beloved today -- seventy years after its release -- because people connected with the man played by Lon Chaney Jr., and also with the monster he became. They connected with the movie because it was genuinely atmospheric, not to mention literate. In many ways, this was the same formula that worked for Let The Right One In in 2008, so it can still be done today. You just have to believe in your material. This movie has a good director, great actors (including Anthony Hopkins) and absolutely zero trust in any of them.

Horror movies had a great year in 2009, so I'm not just dissing the new out of some misplaced sense that what is old is better, a priori. I don't even believe that. But I also don't believe that Hollywood has yet learned the lesson of Godzilla (1998). That -- if you're making a serious monster movie -- the filmmakers must decide how they feel about their monster; so that we, as audience members, also know how to feel. Was it just bad luck that Lawrence became a werewolf? Was it fate? Or was it something else? What does Lawrence think about this? Is he cursed or just unlucky?

Computers still can't understand the flesh, so if CGI is indeed the mode of the future, we better teach 'em and teach 'em fast, or we'll get more films of tremendous promise and botched execution, like The Wolfman.

I think we need a flesh comprehension program called No Computer Left Behind. Or something.

Note: My wife watched The Wolfman with me, and liked it considerably more than I did. The CGI effects simply did not impede her enjoyment of the film, and she liked the underlying psychological ramifications of the plot (about the nature of men and women; and the nature of wolves). We both compared the film to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), if that helps you decide whether you want to see it or not. We also both agreed that it wasn't scary (though it is gory.) Interestingly, she watched the film almost as though it were a fantasy/superhero effort (right down to the Gargoyle Shot), whereas I was looking at it primarily as horror. Were I rating the film officially, I would probably rate two or two-and-a-half stars out of four, if that helps you get a feel for it.