Movie Review ~ Wolf (2021)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A man who believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body is sent to a clinic by his family where he is forced to undergo increasingly extreme forms of “curative” therapies at the hands of The Zookeeper.

Stars: George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Fionn O’Shea, Eileen Walsh

Director: Nathalie Biancheri

Rated: R

Running Length: 98 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Learning new language about the world and the experiences people go through is one of the many benefits that come with seeing as many films as I do.  I may not understand it, agree with it, or believe it but exposure to these varying viewpoints is important and vital in becoming well rounded.

All that being said, I’m not entirely sure the universe wanted me to see Wolf and after making it through the thorny flick I think I should have paid more attention to the signs.  So many cosmic roadblocks popped up to stand in my way, not the least of which was a review copy that I was trying to watch through an internet link that kept freezing up, resulting in my having to watch and then re-watch large stretches of writer/director Nathalie Biancheri’s sullen and faux-ny look inside the very real experience of species dysphoria.  More on that later though…

Despite my misgivings and troubles getting going with Wolf, I soldiered on like a good critic, though I truly should have heeded the call to turn around and find a way out of the woods.  The woods is where we start and end, though, so let’s kick things off by saying the first images we see are of a very naked human (George MacKay, 1917) prowling through the fauna in a feral state.  Like much of Wolf, the passage is seemingly random and left unexplained…the audience is obviously supposed to piece together as the film progresses that this is Jacob in the wild and he’s eventually been brought to clinic that specializes in the treatment of others that share his condition.

Species dysphoria is an experience “associated with the feeling that one’s body is of the wrong species”.  So, Jacob believing himself to be a Wolf would be a prime candidate for the program the clinic offers, with graduates leaving having exorcised their thoughts of being an animal.  Jacob arrives and is integrated with other patients that believe themselves to be, among others, a German Shepherd, a parrot, a squirrel, and a duck.  Often, these species will react toward each other like they would in the wild, keeping the clinic staff busy.  At first, Jacob doesn’t know what to make of the situation and holds back…much like a wolf would in new surroundings.

When Jacob is befriended by a girl who works at the clinic and is also a patient that thinks she’s a wildcat (Lily-Rose Depp, Silent Night), they form a bond that goes beyond the personal and into the primal. Watching others in their program fail and succeed, Jacob and Wildcat realize they’ll never conform to the clinic’s methods and hatch a plan to break out from under the tyranny of the head of the department, known as The Zookeeper (Paddy Considine, Macbeth).  However, with Jacob’s will being tested by those in authority, do they both have the strength to flee and live life on their own, as they really are?

It’s clear there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface of the screenplay Biancheri has written but it’s sorely lacking from clarity onscreen.  Instead, we have weird sequences of “therapy” that come off more like tortuous abuse scenes between doctor and patient.  You can’t ever tell if Biancheri is playing some scenes for comedic effect to show how ridiculous those in power are to those that are different or if the goal is to expose prejudice in the medical profession toward people who have this condition.  I don’t doubt this exists and that the treatment is specialized, but what’s on display here comes off like a badly told joke.

It’s a shame that MacKay has taken so much time with the physicality the role demands because it’s sort of wasted in the entirety of Biancheri’s awkward and artsy-fartsy film.  Once we started getting patients dressing up like their, forgive the co-opted term, “spirit” animal, the movie began to tank for me because it’s too silly watching someone whine and pant like a dog.  MacKay’s physical transformation in Wolf is incredible but it can’t carry the picture, even if his acting is the highlight of the piece.  Rose-Depp is less successful in a role that is less interesting all around – even when she’s perched and hissing at others it comes off as the overly dramatic girl at a party wanting to get attention.  That’s what many of the patients in Wolf come off as, actually.  Desperate for attention instead of dependent on treatment.

Movie Review ~ Macbeth

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Macbeth, a Thane of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Jack Reynor, Sean Harris, Elizabeth Debicki

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: R

Running Length: 113 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Everyone has their favorite Shakespeare play (or they should) and while I’ve always gravitated toward the comedies more than the tragedies, if I had to pick one of his darker works I’d go with Macbeth without much hesitation. There’s something so sinister about the plot, something so overtly wicked about it that it has kept me interested in whatever iteration is released.  I’ve seen it on film, and onstage as a play and an opera and it’s malicious deeds always give me the chills.

There have been several screen adaptation of Macbeth over the years (as well as some clever twists on it, see Scotland, PA for a fun one) and they’ve all made their own mark.  Justin Kurzel’s 2015 Macbeth is the shortest adaptation so far, truncating Shakespeare’s prose down to its barest core and taking some liberties with the action that may have purists sharpening their knives.

While watching the film, I was decadently disengaged.  I went in thinking I would instantly love it, especially considering the leads were cast with two of my favorite actors working today.  Yet throughout the two hours I wasn’t able to immerse myself in the proceedings like I expected to.  It usually takes me a few minutes to acclimate to Shakespeare’s dialogue but I struggled mightily, even knowing the play fairly well.  Artfully made and shrewdly performed, it didn’t grab me.

Then I had some time to think about the film and slowly but surely I realized just how effective the piece was.  It’s not your typical Macbeth adaptation and more’s the better for it.  Sure, it’s been slashed to smithereens but what Kurzel cuts he makes up for with imagery and imagination that fill in the gaps for us.

I’d always considered Macbeth more of a pawn to his wife’s ambition but Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) plays the Thane of Scotland as conflicted yet not contrite.  He may have needed the initial push from his significant other but once he gets going he finds that he can’t stop his mission to rise to power.  In typical Fassbender form, it’s an all-in approach that gives the character fearsome depth and calculated strength.

Equal to (and possible besting) her co-star, Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night) takes on the famous role of Lady Macbeth and chooses to add anxiety into her ambitious ways.  Her urging her husband to commit heinous acts comes from a survival instinct…but she realizes too late the machine she’s helped start will bring about their downfall instead of their ascension.  Cotillard has a thrilling monologue late in the film that’s simply shot but complex in its delivery.

The rest of the cast has to take whatever remnants screenwriters Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso have left of their roles, with Sean Harris (Prometheus, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) getting the most out of his turn as Macduff.  Good cracks from Paddy Considine (The World’s End), Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction), and a most minor appearance from Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) round out the supporting players.

Not everyone will love this Macbeth…I sure didn’t when it was happening in front of me.  However, taking the time to ponder it in the hours/days after I found that my appreciation for the work only grew.  It wasn’t what I expected and that wound up working in its favor.

The Silver Bullet ~ Miss You Already

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Synopsis: The friendship between two life-long girlfriends is put to the test when one starts a family and the other falls ill.

Release Date: TBD 2015

Thoughts: I love the movie Beaches.  There, it’s out there for all to read.  Yep, it’s one of those “chick flicks” that require a box of Kleenex and a god hug from someone you love when it’s over…but it does the trick time and time again.  I mention this because having seen the trailer for Miss You Already several times now I keep thinking how much this feels like a Beaches for a new generation.  Toni Collette (Tammy) is the friend that seems to be dying with dignity while Drew Barrymore (Blended) takes on the supportive chum that dries her tears.  Hopefully director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) can throw a few curveballs our way because while this looks like it could be fitfully entertaining, it also gives off a whiff of an also-ran affair.  Maybe it’s just that Barrymore seems so out of place here (no shocker since she got the role after both Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Weisz bowed out) but it’s Collette that will get my butt in the seat.

The Silver Bullet ~ Child 44

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Synopsis: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Release Date:  April 17, 2015

Thoughts: Originally published in 2008, the novel this Cold War thriller is based off of is the first in a trilogy involving Soviet agent Leo Demidov, played here by Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road).  With Hollywood’s love of a good franchise starter, how well Child 44 performs may be the key to future adaptations…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s stay in the here and now because I love a good murder mystery.  Bolstered by Hardy’s rising star presence in addition to Noomi Rapace (Dead Man Down and Hardy’s co-star in The Drop), Gary Oldman (Lawless), Charles Dance (The Imitation Game), Jason Clarke (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), and Joel Kinnaman (2014’s RoboCop), Child 44 may represent a nice throwback to the classier end of the serial killer chiller that’s all but dissolved from the filmmaking landscape.

The Silver Bullet ~ Pride

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Synopsis: UK gay and lesbian activists work to help miners during their lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984

Release Date: September 19, 2014

Thoughts: Ever since The Full Monty, working class comedies from the UK have been making their way over to our shores to varying degrees of success. All are pleasing, no doubt but some are lighter than air and ultimately pretty inconsequential. I’m thinking Pride will fall squarely in the middle of the road and am hoping that it hasn’t revealed all of its laughs in the arguably entertaining trailer. With an ace cast like Bill Nighy (About Time) and Imedla Staunton (Maleficent) leading a colorful looking ensemble, if Pride plays its cards right it could join the long list of UK indie sleeper hits.

Movie Review ~ The World’s End

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Director: Edgar Wright

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: This summer has seen a lot of super heroes pass by the silver screens of your local cinema.  May started the season strong with Iron Man 3 only to see a very small part of my future hopes get dashed with a disappointing Man of Steel in June.  I liked July’s The Wolverine more than most but was wondering what would be the highlight of August.  Turns out that the true blue superheroes of the summer arrived in the second to last weekend…and they weren’t even wearing fancy costumes.

Simon Pegg (Star Trek, Star Trek: Into Darkness) and Nick Frost (Snow White and the Huntsman) lead the cast of The World’s End, the final installment of the The Cornetto Trilogy (each film is connected to a flavor of Cornetto ice cream) after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.  Though in all three films Pegg and Frost play different characters, there are running gags in each that the dedicated viewer will pick up on easily…The World’s End being no exception.  Once again working with director Edgar Wright, the trio has wrapped up their trilogy on the highest of high notes.  It’s a fast, funny, incredibly entertaining film that plays to the strengths of everyone involved.

As the boozy mid-life loser who can’t get his life together, Pegg decides that returning to his hometown and completing a failed pub crawl from 20 years prior with his four best mates will somehow jump start the next chapter in his life.  Trouble is that he hasn’t been home in years and his chums want nothing to do with him.  Rounding them up isn’t easy but it is funny as Pegg frantically lies and cheats to get the men together.  Arriving in their small English hamlet, it appears that the tiny town hasn’t changed a bit.  We as viewers can see that the idyllic (and idyllically named) Newton Haven isn’t quite right, but the men waste no time in kicking off their journey from pub to pub on their way to the final destination…The World’s End.

The film is economic as it unspools, with nary a frame wasted or line thrown away.  In fact, the jokes come so fast and furious that a second or third viewing is nearly required to make sure you catch all that Wright and Pegg have weaved into their tight script.  Even the clever pub names like The Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Two-Headed Dog, and The Beehive get some laugh mileage due to the simplicity in which they are delivered.

The film is more similar to Hot Fuzz than Shaun of the Dead, though all three films involve Pegg and Frost stumbling into (sometimes literally) the heart of a sinister plot.  Like Hot Fuzz, the first half of the film is a strong set-up to a sharp left turn at the halfway mark that Pegg and Wright already have you buckled up for.

While the previews have given away/hinted at what’s really going on in Newton Haven, I won’t spoil more details because that’s for you to uncover for yourselves.  Even though this plot twist midway through figures heavily into the remaining minutes of the film, it carefully remains a secondary storyline to the main narrative of Pegg’s journey from aimless drunkard to heroic figure.  Starting off nearly unredeemable in his service to self, it says something that the script makes the character not only likeable but relatable by the end credits.

Aside from Pegg and Frost, there’s a whole troop of fantastic actors that fill in the rest of the sharply written roles.  As the three other members of the group, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), Paddy Considine (In America), and Eddie Marsan (Jack the Giant Slayer) each offer a distinctive flavor to the parts they are undertaking.  Even better is that Pegg and Wright have given all five men enough backstory to help us tune in to these men without much exposition.  As the only notable female, Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day, Jack Reacher) mixes well but just happens to be the least interesting character in the group…there’s always one.

As the film with the biggest budget of the trilogy, The World’s End has an excellent production design by Marcus Rowland that’s filmed well by Bill Pope (Men in Black III).  Add to that impressive special effects that don’t get in the way of the action or comedy and Wright’s trademark stylish directing choices and you have a film that feels like the full package of move entertainment.  Easily (and strongly) recommended…especially if you’ve enjoyed the previous films.

The Silver Bullet ~ The World’s End

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Synopsis: Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

Release Date:  August 23, 2013

Thoughts:  While I wasn’t as over the moon about Shaun of the Dead as some were, I did enjoy the two leads (Simon Pegg, Star Trek / Star Trek: Into Darkness and Nick Frost) because you could tell the two really played off of eachother well.  Their second collaboration, Hot Fuzz, wasn’t as big of a hit but I quite enjoyed the hammy over-the-top comedy for what it was.  After the slightly disappointing Paul, I’m happy to report that their newest film The World’s End looks like a return to fine comedic form for the duo.  Reuniting with their Shaun and Fuzz director Edgar Wright (who also showed fine visual flair with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), I expect Pegg and Frost to guide The World’s End to a modest late summer last hurrah hit.