When there’s a vampire around, odds are a werewolf isn’t far away. In the last couple decades movies concerned with the bloodsucking creatures of the night — Twilight, Van Helsing, even What We Do in the Shadows — seem inevitably concerned also with slightly hairier, howlier creatures. They’re never equally concerned with werewolves, though, casting them consistently in cameos for pure shock value, and so the conceit of the third Underworld film Rise of the Lycans is a smart one: give the werewolves their due.
The result is by no means a good movie, unless you’re somehow enraptured by the Underworld series. If you’re not, then you might refer to Rise of the Lycans as The One Without Kate Beckinsale, which is a large part of the film’s undoing in the same way the new Independence Day could essentially be subtitled The One Without Will Smith. The bitch of it all is that Michael Sheen, starring as head were-dude Lucian, is a far better actor than Beckinsale will likely ever be. He’s a Shakespearian tragedian, she’s an action hero. Underworld, of course, actually needs the latter, and sadly Michael Sheen just isn’t an action hero. His head’s too big. He’s got the biceps, sure, but everyone has the biceps these days. Have you guys seen Jonathan Lipnicki lately? Sheen is somehow more naturally proportional in his werewolf form than as a regular human. Maybe they should have CGI’d his forehead down.
The upcoming Star Wars movie won’t mark the first time Harrison Ford and J.J. Abrams have crossed paths. As the 1980s became the 1990s and Harrison Ford traded in Han Solo, Deckard and Indy for a string of lawyers, doctors, politicians and playboys, the young writer Jeffrey Abrams was just getting his start. His first singlehanded script was Regarding Henry, a story about a heart-of-ice lawyer who is irrevocably changed by a horrific accident, and he scored big time with Ford and director Mike Nichols coming on board to bring his script to the screen.
Thankfully, even though Ford’s ’80s history is repeating itself with returns to Star Wars, Blade Runner and possibly Indiana Jones, Abrams has matured out of his Regarding Henry self and doesn’t appear to be looking back. A solid cast and crew does not a solid movie make, and Henry is far more by-the-numbers than you might expect from the Ford/Nichols/Abrams triumvirate. There must have been something in the water in Hollywood in the ’90s, as Henry takes a prominent station in the decade’s prized Overly-Emotional Tearjerker Oscar-Bait category.
A defense of Legends of the Fall? Really? Is this really what the world needs? Shouldn’t this space be used for something more worthwhile, like an examination of Renée Zellweger’s face? Is a treatise on Battlefield Earth up next? Lest there be any doubt: Legends of the Fall is a deeply, deeply flawed movie full of stiff writing, stiff acting, and a healthy dose of that cringeworthy unexplainable badness reserved for a particular class of film (though, no, not as bad as Battlefield Earth). It’s unbearably soapy, it’s long, and we’re expected to take ridiculously sappy scenes like this with utter seriousness:
Ah, man hugs. Can we ignore stuff like this? Should we? Maybe not. But still, somehow, inexplicably, in spite of stiff writing, stiff acting, unbearable soapiness, absurd sequences like the one above – in spite of all that, Legends of the Fall is one of the most epic standalone sagas ever filmed.
He’s a wolf – and not just in the bedroom! Jack Nicholson’s turn as publisher Will Randall in the Mike Nichols werewolf flick Wolf is, well, a Jack Nicholson performance. He’s sleazy, hairy, and manic as ever here, and so your enjoyment of Wolf might depend entirely upon your enjoyment of Jack Nicholson. There are other things floating around in the movie to distract you, but Jack’s at the heart and soul of everything for better or worse.
Nicholson’s Will encounters a black wolf one night and suffers a bite to his hand. He soon encounters the slinky Laura Alden, played slinkily by Michelle Pfeiffer, and the two begin a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, as Will’s animalistic tendencies simmer to a boil within him, James Spader’s office yuppie Stewart Swinton schemes viciously for Will’s job at the publishing firm. These three characters swirl around each other as the full moon rises, and eventually Joker and Catwoman and Ultron all meet for a fateful reunion.
So is Wolf actually good, or is it B-movie horror trash? Interestingly, really strong arguments can be made for both cases. The first hour of Wolf is pretty razor-sharp: Nichols delights in the blacks and yellows of a bedroom lit by the harvest moon, and the cinematography is damn-near beautiful; writer Jim Harrison (who penned Legends of the Fall) focuses as much on the back-and-forth of workplace politicking as on the back-and-forth between man and wolf, and the parallels he draws are amazing; to boot, a sparkling Ennio Morricone score doesn’t hurt. These guys make Wolf extremely palatable, and Nicholson knocks what they give him out of the park. The metaphorical rise of the wolf is handled with a subtle sophistication by the leading man, apparent only when you consider how hammy and over-the-top the entire thing could have been.