March 20th, 2010

"The Wolfman"

A bit belated review; between rehearsals for “Sherlock Holmes” (on which more later) and work, I haven’t had time or energy to write much.

Nevertheless, we looked forward to Benicio Del Toro’s retelling of the classic Universal pictures monster movie. I was pleased to see that Curt Siodmak, author of the original 1941 “The Wolf Man” screenplay, as well as those of “I Walked With A Zombie,” “Beast With Five Fingers,” “Donovan’s Brain,” and other iconic SF/horror films, was given prominent screen credit.

The story is relocated and redated from Wales between the wars to England, 1891, and the transplantation works well, allowing Del Toro to work in some additional “horrors” such as the state of medical science generally, and the state of mental treatment in particular.
Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, estranged son of Baronet Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) , who returns to the family home in order to investigate the death of his brother whose mauled body was found in a ditch between the house and a nearby gypsy camp. Unlike the 1941 film, where Talbot is attacked, bitten, and kills his attacker (Bela the gypsy, played by Bela Lugosi) in the first reel, the identity of the first werewolf remains a mystery, at least for a while, and Talbot has to deal with his own lycanthropy while also trying to put an end to the other’s depredations.

In aid of this story, Del Toro is supported by an excellent cast, lead by Hopkins, who can do chillingly crazy better than anyone. Emily Blunt, last seen as “Young Victoria” is very good and plays a reasonably hard-headed and practical heroine. (It must be admitted that her eventual plan to assist Talbot lacks a focus, but that’s a script flaw rather than an acting flaw.) Hugo Weaving does a nice job as Inspector Abberline, the Scotland Yard detective supposedly (in)famous for having failed to catch Jack the Ripper. At least, Abberline’s experience chasing one monster makes him capable of a flexible response when it becomes clear what he’s really dealing with. The principal roles are rounded out by Art Malik as Sir John’s loyal servant, Singh, and Geraldine Chaplin as “Maleva,” the gypsy woman role created by Maria Ouspenskaya. And I can’t quit without mentioning Michael Cronin, who makes his doctor character as creepy as any “mad scientist” you would care to name.

The movie looks very good, and the Victorian settings work well. Del Toro’s melancholy good looks echo those of the late Lon Chaney, Jr. The cinematography includes scenes such as Gwen (Blunt) galloping across a fog-shrouded landscape on a white horse that just define “Gothic”, as does the crumbling Talbot manor with its eldritch crypt, and the prison-like Lambeth “hospital.” The werewolf makeup and transformation effects were masterminded by veteran Rick Baker who cut his teeth (so to speak) on “American Werewolf in London.” The makeups have progressed since that time, and it is impressive how well the distinct facial features of the actors and their expressions are retained. (Baker also has a cameo as the first Gypsy killed when the werewolf raids the camp--).

It can’t be denied that the film is gory, (and, indeed, I can’t recall having seen so many “guts” on screen before--) but it is still relatively tasteful. The dark red stage blood used instead of the brilliant crimson favored by so many filmmakers tones down the effect somehow. The movie also gets the award for most effective use of blood spurts since the 2003 “Zatoichi”.

Recommended for fans of horror. Too bloody for young children.

"Sherlock Holmes" after action report

“Sherlock Holmes” continued March 12 and 13. The production tightened up a bit over the run, and I think my best performance was the closing night, Saturday the 13th. Although this role wasn’t the most fun I’ve had on stage (playing Holmes himself in “Hound of the Baskervilles” probably gets that award) I found it very satisfying and rewarding, and it was probably one of my best performances. I can’t remember when I’ve gotten so many compliments in a production: the Village Playhouse were very appreciative of my level of professionalism, my patience when off stage, and my costume collection (another show where I provided all my own outfits). It’s lovely to have friends appreciate my performance, but I had a surprising number of strangers actually seek me out to say they enjoyed the character, some to say Moriarty was their favorite. Most startling of all, Paul and Lily Sullivan let me know that their children, James and Brianna, were willing to spend their VERY OWN MONEY in order to see “Uncle Greg” perform. How cool is that? To think that they were willing to put up ten whole dollars out of the allowances that I’m sure they have lots of places to spend to see my show is a rather intoxicating thought. And here I just thought they thought of me fondly as the man who delivers the birthday cakes “Aunt Georgie” makes--.

The Village Playhouse newsletter indicates they were very happy with the production, so it seems to have been a success all around.