July 2010

The Wolfman  •  Stones in Exile  •  Shutter Island  •  She’s Out of My League  • 

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


DVD Reviews
by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger

The Wolfman

The Wolfman dvd coverThis update of the 1941 horror classic went through re-writes, re-edits, director changes — even a change in composers — before finally hitting the big screen in early 2010. It’s astonishing that the film was completed at all, so the fact that it’s also entertaining is practically a miracle.

That doesn’t mean it’s great or even especially good.  It is witty and atmospheric, however, and those qualities carry The Wolfman farther than it has any right to go.

Benicio Del Toro takes over for Lon Chaney, Jr. as Lawrence Talbot, the reluctant British heir who returns to his family’s estate, only to discover bigger problems than whether he can please his eccentric father (Anthony Hopkins, gnawing on every inch of scenery). A mysterious assailant has mauled Lawrence’s brother to death, and Lawrence is attacked at a gypsy camp. Pretty soon, the full moon is bringing out the worst in him, while he also deals with his attraction to his brother’s fiancée (Emily Blunt) and the presence of a suspicious Scotland Yard investigator (Hugo Weaving).

The Wolfman has the inconsistent tone of a movie spoiled by too many cooks, but credited director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) is at least smart enough not to take it too seriously.  Humor abounds (you’ve never heard so many canine-related puns), and there are several tongue-in-cheek references to the original. Del Toro and Blunt play their roles a bit too straight, but Hopkins is having a blast and Weaving delivers every line with elegant sarcasm.

The film looks great, too, with nice, old-school special effects by Rick Baker and spectacular cinematography and set design. It’s too bad the same creative team can’t be brought back to give this another try. As it stands, The Wolfman is a fun movie whose potential for greatness got ripped apart by the monsters of Hollywood.

Extras: An unrated version with about 15 minutes of added footage, mostly early set-up scenes; more deleted and extended scenes; the Blu-Ray has U-Control interactive features, the ability to stream the original Wolf Man online, a digital copy, and docs on the production, special effects and stunt work. (R/Unrated) Rating: 3 —LL


Stones in Exile

Stones in Exile dvd coverOne of the great things about being a fan of the Rolling Stones is that they are unlikely to disappoint their fans with bad behavior. That’s because their misdeeds are part of their image and just about every act of intoxication and debauchery is public knowledge. Thankfully, they’ve also managed to summon enough discipline to make some terrific recordings over the years.

Stones in Exile
recalls how the band put together one of their most captivating and powerful recordings, Exile on Main St. It didn’t sound as slick as some of their previous albums and this doc explains why. Thanks to an acrimonious split with their former manager Allen Klein and a British tax rate that was 93 percent, the Stones fled England for the more financially agreeable France. They weren’t exactly suffering, but homesickness and their innumerable vices made living along the Mediterranean seem lonely despite the fact that Keith Richards’ house was filled 24/7 with visitors.

Much of the album was taped in his lavish basement. Without decent studios in France, Richards and producer Jimmy Miller retooled the stifling environment into a makeshift recording facility. Despite fires, humidity that caused instruments to go out of tune and the fact that the band members could almost never meet at the same time, great songs like “Happy,” “Rocks Off” and “Tumblin’ Dice” emerged.
Remaining members of the band Charlie Watts, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are credited as executive producers, so there’s reason to suspect the content has probably been sanitized. Nonetheless, Kijak manages to coax some amusingly hair-raising stories from the surviving Stones and their entourage. Despite the wild living, the band and their cohorts actually tried to raise children. Jake Webber, who was eight at the time, recalls how his job was to roll joints for the adults.

At the same time, Richards and crew would toil so diligently that they’d spend two days recording without emerging from the basement. Perhaps that’s why Richards can recall the incidents with such clarity despite his public struggle with addiction. He may have shot up more than his share of smack, but music may be his ultimate addiction.

Director Stephen Kijak is responsible for the hilariously frightening Cinemania, so he finds the right blend of humor and horror. It would have been interesting to hear more about the development of individual songs, but diehard Stones fans can get one of the few legal chances to glimpse some stomach churning footage from the rare documentary Cocksucker Blues.

Extras:
Longer interviews that are well worth hearing. Former Stones Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor offer rare perspectives on the recordings. There’s also extensive testimony from Exile fans like Martin Scorsese and will.i.am. Not surprisingly, the most passionate and eloquent testimony comes from Liz Phair, whose Exile in Guyville, is both a tribute and commentary on the Stones’ album. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL


Shutter Island

shutter island dvd coverMartin Scorsese’s latest is an exercise in pure film geekery, taking Dennis Lehane’s 1950s-set mystery novel and turning it into a mash-up tribute to the movies of that period.  Part late film noir grotesquerie, part Hammer Studios gothic, part psychological “issue” drama, Shutter Island is a truly unique creation.

The director’s current muse, Leonardo DiCaprio, plays federal marshal Teddy Daniels, who travels with his partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to the title location. The island houses a mental institution, run by the seemingly benevolent Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who treats the violently, criminally insane. One of the patients has vanished, and Teddy becomes obsessed with finding her, especially when he thinks he’s being stonewalled by Cawley and his staff.  Plagued with PTSD from his World War II service and the death of his wife, Teddy is already on the edge and his time in this bizarre place starts to push him over.

The final-act plot twist is both fascinating and ridiculous, which seems to be a Lehane specialty (check out Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone for more examples). Instead of ignoring the author’s absurdity, as previous directors have, Scorsese revels in it. Shutter Island is almost campy, with its heated melodrama and blaring musical cues, but it remains rooted in gritty detail. Scorsese shot some scenes in a real abandoned asylum, and his commitment to pulling the audience into this environment makes up for any off-putting excesses. It takes a while to get used to Shutter Island, but it’s worth the effort.

Extras: None on the standard DVD; the Blu-Ray has two making-of features, totaling about 45 minutes. (R) Rating: 3.5 —LL


She’s Out of My League

she's out of my league dvd coverScreenwriters Sean Anders and John Morris and director Jim Field Smith manage to take a stale idea (ordinary man successfully woos an angelically beautiful woman) and blend it into a vulgar but surprisingly agreeable comedy. Kirk (Jay Baruchel, How to Train Your Dragon) is a lowly TSA employee, but it’s easy to root for him because he seems to be the only worker at his station who is considerate to his passengers and is genuinely concerned with their safety.

A successful event planner named Molly (Alice Eve) notices his attitude and takes a liking to him. Because the skinny Kirk isn’t likely to appear on the cover of GQ, his pals and his hilariously boorish family can’t understand why a 10 like Molly would take a liking to the 5-ish Kirk.

As the film explains, Kirk, despite his self-esteem issues, gets more mileage by being honest and considerate than many fellows get from washboard abs. It also helps that Smith makes the film believable despite Kirk’s amusingly grotesque setbacks. Unlike a lot of romantic comedies, viewers get a sense that Kirk and Molly might actually have a sustainable union.

The leads are appealing, and the supporting cast is surprisingly deep. From his alpha male family, it’s obvious why the scrawny Kirk would develop issues, and his friends at least have their hearts in the right location even if their brains or other organs have been misplaced. Lindsay Sloane is also a riot as Kirk’s vindictive ex, who fits in more easily with Kirk’s clan than he does. Yes, the film more than earns its R-rating, but its simple yet sincere conceit ultimately wins out.

Extras: A commentary track from Smith, outtakes and “Devon’s Dating Show,” where Kirk’s coworkers Devon (Nate Torrence) and Dylan (Kyle Bornheimer) attempt in vain to provide useful advice. (R) Rating: 3.5 —DL


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.