Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Two for Valentine's Day Weekend

Okay, so I got it backwards. I saw The Wolfman on the 14th and Valentine’s Day on the 15th, but my wife didn’t mind me abandoning her on Valentine’s Day because her birthday is on the 13th. That’s her day, and the 14th gets short shrift. We exchange cards. I get some chocolates to eat at the movies.

The Wolfman, a satisfying entertainment full of growls, slashing claws, and hairy CGI werewolves, makes the clever choice of setting its story in the Blackmoor and in London, England, in 1891 – as a classic monster tale should be. There’s something about the dank moor, the dinghy pubs, the shadowy mansions, and the coal-smoke shrouded London skyline that’s just the right setting for a tale about werewolves.

The Wolfman also chooses a cast of performers well suited to the Gothic genre and the Victorian time period. Benicio Del Toro is perfect as Lawrence Talbot, the hapless victim of a werewolf attack; he already looks dark and wolf-like before CGI sets in. Anthony Hopkins is wonderfully hairy in beard and long hair as Lawrence’s lycanthropic pop. Emily Blunt, fetching in those tight bodices, does a solid job of playing the beauty that thinks she can tame the beast, and Hugo Weaving taps his inner Agent Smith to play a no-nonsense Scotland Yard inspector investigating the slaughter of villagers by madman or beast.

The local villagers certainly need Scotland Yard's help. I got a special kick out of one scene in which the angry villagers think that a docile-looking CGI bear belonging to a band of gypsies is the beast responsible for recent eviscerations and decapitations. The villagers are set straight when the full moon sends the local werewolf on a killing spree.

Sudden starts pumped up by excessive sound bursts are employed unnecessarily here. (In fact, they should be banned from all horror films.) The art direction successfully sets a tense, spooky, Gothic atmosphere, and the film is expeditiously paced, gripping, and includes a steam-powered London omnibus that gets toppled and attacked King Kong-style. It also includes the classic research-lycanthropy-in-dusty-leather-volumes scene that is trite but fun.

I saw Valentine's Day with my daughter, who is a walking encyclopedia of pop culture, and I thought it would be fun spotting the stars. The two young women sitting behind me obviously knew their share of pop culture because they sighed whenever a handsome male star made his appearance. I bet they watched a lot of television. I do not exaggerate when I say that they incessantly uttered a pair of synchronized “Ahhhs” at every corny, sentimental moment in the film – and there were quite a few of those. At first I found them irritating, but when a number of other groups of young women began uttering similar “Ahhhs,” and when a teenage girl yelled out something like “Yeah, baby,” when Taylor Lautner appeared on screen, I settled back and accepted this as an audience participation sort of experience. So when Jessica Biel, who plays a sports agent who hosts a lonely hearts dinner every February 14th for her dateless friends because she’s always alone on Valentine’s Day, I blurted out, “Why?”

Valentine’s Day is like Pulp Fiction. It takes place in L.A. It follows the concurrent stories of numerous disconnected characters. A lot of the disconnected characters end up connected at the end. There the similarities end.

Valentine’s Day is exceedingly silly, but I have to admit it is genuinely funny without being crass, and I laughed out loud a number of times, especially at Jessica Biel, quite hilarious as the awkward workaholic who never has time for relationships.

The rest of the stars do their part effectively. Taylor Swift plays an irritating teenage ditz. She’s probably had a lot of experience with that. Anyway, ditzy teenage girls are supposed to be irritating. Taylor Lautner threatens to take his shirt off. The audience got tense. Bradley Cooper and Julia Roberts play passengers sitting together on a plane. I don't understand why Julia Roberts is such a big star. Anne Hathaway plays a struggling poetry major who makes money doing phone sex. A cat’s rough tongue takes on new meaning. Her shocked boyfriend is played by Topher Grace, who gets some laughs out of his conservative guy from Muncie, Indiana, routine. Shirley MacLaine is old.

Ashton Kutcher, as the owner of a booming florist business, provides the central thread that links many of the subplots, and he’s best friends with the best kind of best friend: Jennifer Garner, I mean, Julia, played by Jennifer Garner, a woman who learns the shocking truth about her lover on Valentine’s Day but who also learns that the best love just might be your best friend. Ahhh! Kutcher also engages in some very funny jokes on airport security lines as he races against time to try to stop Julia from getting hurt. As far as movies about Valentine’s Day go, this was a good one.


Daniel said...

Haha, I never thought I would see Valentine's Day compared to Pulp Fiction...

Well I haven't seen either of these so I can't weigh in on much, but I agree that "sudden starts pumped up by excessive sound bursts" just about ruin half the scenes in which they're used. Heck, I got sick of them in the trailer - I can't imagine what the movie was like.

Richard Bellamy said...

Daniel - Glad you liked my Pulp Fiction gag - and, indeed, the loud sudden starts have got to go.

Actually, I never thought I'd see Valentine's Day - but there I was sitting amidst the "Ahhhs."