Film Friday: ‘The Wolfman’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’

by W. Andrew Powell

A scene from The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins

A scene from The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins

Opening this week in theatres: Benicio Del Toro stars in the horror-action film, The Wolfman; director Garry Marshall brings together a massive cast for the romantic comedy, Valentine’s Day; and Logan Lerman stars in the adaptation of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

The Wolfman
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Director: Joe Johnston

Universal Pictures’ original 1941 film, The Wolf Man, is a classic piece of movie magic that earned itself a rightful spot on the list of influential and entertaining horror films for the ages. Between that film and the earlier Werewolf of London, Universal essentially created our modern image of the werewolf that has endured to this day.

For that reason, it was only a matter of time before someone realized a remake was long overdue, and apparently that someone was director Joe Johnston.

Benicio Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a man estranged from him family after the death of his mother when he was just a child. Now, many years later, Lawrence is drawn back home to help find his missing brother, where he once again connects with his father before an awful destiny takes hold of Lawrence’s life.

Set in the 1880s, the film follows much of the original plot from the 1941 film, but with a much more modern and visceral approach.

Thanks to the terribly corny looking trailers, and a certain resemblance to the flop that was Universal’s Van Helsing, it’s hard to get excited about The Wolfman. Even with Benicio Del Toro in the lead, I’m a firm believer in the idea of a film’s pedigree, and The Wolfman is a mutt at best.

As a director, Johnston is not exactly bad, but his biggest films have been Jurassic Park III, Jumanji, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In fact, add in producers and writers with a number of equally mixed films, and The Wolfman starts to look a little mangy.

Which brings me to the reviews. Critics have been hailing the relatively impressive special effects, but have called the script and the overall mood entirely underwhelming.

James Berardinelli of ReelViews wrote, “The root problem with The Wolfman is that it’s a hybrid. It tries to fuse the gothic storytelling of the original with the violence and gore associated with modern horror.”

Many critics agreed with Berardinelli, but Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times was a bit more positive. “The Wolfman makes a satisfactory date movie for Valentine’s Day,” he wrote, “which is more than can be said for Valentine’s Day.”

Valentine’s Day
Starring: Julia Roberts, Emma Roberts, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Bradley Cooper, Ashton Kutcher, Patrick Dempsey, Jamie Foxx
Director: Garry Marshall

As Ebert’s comment suggests, if reviews for The Wolfman have been underwhelming, then the critical response to Garry Marshall’s Valentine’s Day has been disastrous at best.

Bringing together a massive all-star cast, which includes more actors than really seems necessary, Valentine’s Day seems to take the theme of a film like Love, Actually and run it into the ground.

Written by Katherine Fugate, whose biggest film credit seems to be the little known The Prince & Me, the film tells the intertwining story of a number of very pretty people living in Los Angeles.

Peering in on their lives as they enjoy romance, or heartache, the film’s plot is entirely wrapped up in how a progression of stories that continually leads in circles. That essentially makes it impossible to hint at what the overall story is about, except that it is love in every shape, size, and texture, be it heart-warming or heart-breaking.

Marshall is a wonderful director who has made some great romantic comedies in his time, but Valentine’s Day looks like a major dud by all accounts.

Andrew O’Hehir of wrote, “A Garry Marshall movie has to be funny in order to be anything at all, and this one is so deeply involved with its pseudo-meaningful roundelay of beautiful but inexplicably lovelorn people as to be teeth-grindingly, mind-warpingly boring.”

Leslie Gornstein of E! Online was one of the few major critics who had good things to say about the film. “With few exceptions,” Gornstein wrote, “Marshall presents each star at the maximum of his or her talents; in the few precious moments when Roberts owns the screen, she also owns the whole movie.”

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Starring: Logan Lerman, Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean
Director: Chris Columbus

Lastly, from director Chris Columbus comes the adaptation of Rick Riordan’s popular teen adventure novels about a teenager named Percy Jackson, who happens to be related to the Olympian god, Poseidon.

With the gods feuding once again, and a war brewing on Olympus, Percy must train to use his newfound powers so he can protect the planet from the wrath of the gods. Teaming up with another demigod, as well as a satyr, Percy must enter portals to visit both Mount Olympus, and the Underworld, if he intends to save the day.

Coming in with the best reviews this week, Percy Jackson & the Olympians is a good bet for anyone hoping to amuse the kids, although it’s obviously not going to earn you any points for Valentine’s Day.

“Action movies of this scale often start off strong and wind down to forgettable finales,” Peter Debruge wrote for Variety, “but Percy Jackson is the opposite, overcoming a clunky setup to deliver nearly all its thrills in the last half-hour.”

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post was less impressed, saying in his review: “The film toggles between high camp and deadly earnestness, all the while threatening to drown in an ocean of not-so-special effects.”

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