Review: Alfie the Werewolf (Dolfje Weerwolfje) (2011)

Introduction

A brief editorial note. Somewhere along the way laziness officially took over and I stopped citing both the original title and the English translation in reviews of foreign films. This is now a thing of the past. Enjoy!

Alfie the Werewolf (Dolfje Weerwolfje) (2011)

Alfie the Werewolf  is the tale of a foundling boy (Ole Kroes) who is staring to feel ostracized because he is treated differently than his brother (Maas Bronkhuyzen) at school. When the full moon comes he starts to discover just how different he may be. The title gives away just what tha difference is.

The treatment of the concept is most definitely one geared towards humor and a youthful audience, as opposed to one that lends an excessive amount of gravitas to it. The seriousness, the dramatic undertone, is left to the handling of the character’s wants and needs rather than any preternatural elements within the narrative.

If you’re looking for an analogous American film The Little Vampire comes to mind, even though I think that one plays into the darker side of the vampire lore albeit in an infantile fashion. In this film the werewolf is given the treatment of a kind of species rather than a curse or burden. This may be an expected approach when you consider this film is aimed at children. In certain ways, this also allows the condition to act as a metaphor, much as it always does.

Alfie the Werewolf (2011, Attraction Distribution)

While this is certainly not the film nor the score that Finn possesses Fons Merkies’ music is quite a standout in this film. It’s still fully orchestral but frequently has a melodic, lighter, jazzy feel that allows some of the common tropes of the subgenre to relax a bit.

Yet again this is an adaptation of a Dutch children’s novel. This series of books has been translated into English but their availability in the US in physical editions is scarce. They are easier to find as eBooks. Due to this fact its good that the film has been brought to North America through Attraction Distribution so that kids may be able to discover the story.

Perhaps what’s most refreshing about this film, from a production value and aesthetic standpoint, is the fact despite being a 2011 domestic release in the Netherlands it does not shy away from practical effects work. Yes, CGI is use where it’s truly beneficial like making the lycan child run about, but for more settled scenes he’s in a suit and make up. It is very well-done indeed.

Alfie the Werewolf is an enjoyable film for all members of the family, and perhaps most intriguing for parents is that it is a fairly benign way to reach a compromise with your kids on viewing material. It could satisfy the desire to see a werewolf movie but would not be potentially emotionally scarring in the process.

6/10

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61 Days of Halloween: The Mist

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

When it was released The Mist was one of those films that just fell through the cracks for many. Mixed reviews are likely the reason. It is a film that should be seen if only as a conversation piece because it does have one of “those” endings, you know the kind that will get you talking and will inflame passions. In other words, it takes a risk and that alone makes it worth watching.

However, for the two hours leading up to said ending it earns that “should be watched” distinction. The running time alone is worth noting. Few films in the horror genre have enough substance to add a half-hour to the usual running time to build character but if a film can it should. Knowing who these people are and whether we as an audience love them or hate them makes a huge difference. The personal dramas and threats keep us locked in when there is no threat from the creatures in the mist.

The situation in which these varied characters find themselves in is built up steadily, slowly and sinisterly; such that before any of the characters realize the peril they are in we are already feeling tense. In combining two techniques of the genre we get in this film a very compelling drama with a horrific backdrop: characters trapped in a building with assailants outside (reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead) and a multi-character yet character-driven tale, which is a forte of Stephen King’s, whose novella is the source material for this film. Darabont’s handling of King’s difficult-to-adapt material is again nearly spot-on, Darabont creates and in some ways amplifies King’s effective scenario and makes it one of the most enthralling and captivating no-win horror scenarios ever created. There just seems to be no escaping it.

In a horror film one can forgive flawed acting from a lead, Thomas Jane, but the antagonists and most of the cast, especially in a film such as this need to be solid and they are. Andre Braugher plays his character convincingly enough such that you despise him, forgetting that it’s the part and not the man annoying you. Marcia Gay Harden, as always is brilliant, and downright frightening in this role. Her ability to convince those in the supermarket, though a bit overwrought at times, is fantastically illustrated. Some of the smaller parts are also very well-played like the Woman with Children at Home (Melissa McBride), Nathan Gamble as Billy (most well known from Dolphin Tale) and the Terrified Woman (Kim Wall).

The thing which is the most inconsistent in the film is the CGI. It seems whenever there was a good to great sequence of effects they would extend it too long or cut too close to the action and the illusion would fall apart. Typically, CG looks better on DVD than in the theatre, but not here. Some elements, like the bugs, were very impressive but the CG was not judiciously used and not carefully crafted enough, which is the only major inconsistency in the film. However, there has been worse it’s just upsetting to see such a glaring problem in a film which is of a very high caliber most of the time.

The ending is a conversation piece. It is strong and unlike King’s story it’s not open. King approved of this change. Certain elements are very effective some aren’t. What you make of it is up to you. It does not detract from the whole and the film is definitely worth watching.

This review pertains to the standard edition DVD not the two-disc special edition.

8/10

Rewind Review- Midnight Meat Train


Midnight Meat Train is a very interesting film. While it was a limited release film last year, it certainly got the attention of horror film buffs. It was widely speculated and hyped, in part by Barker himself, as the most faithful adaptation of a Clive Barker work in years. Ryûhei Kitamura seemed certain to handle this difficult task with aplomb.

The story is ripped from the pages of Barker’s seminal short story trilogy The Books of Blood, and this is one of the most evocative pieces in said collection. So there was a lot to live up to, and for the most part it does. This film owes much of its success to its faithfulness, both in narrative and tonality, to the short story – which is a rare feat. Seldom, if ever, has Barker’s knack for mixing the mundane and the preternatural creations of his nearly unparalleled imagination been so deftly captured on celluloid. Fluorescent, washed-out lighting and long dialogue-free sequences also add greatly to the film’s impact.

The creative use of flashbacks in sync with the sound of the shutter closing as Leon (Bradley Cooper) has his breakdown in front of his girlfriend (Maya- Leslie Robb) is the cinematic apex of the film. A close runner-up is the first kill which is shocking, literally jaw-dropping and thus, great. Mahogany played stoically by Vinnie Jones is one of the better horror villains to hit the screen in quite some time and proves a silent villain is always most effective.

The ending is as shocking in its reveal and nearly as well-executed as it was in the text, and for that it deserves kudos and watching. The only real issue I had was that the mood and overall impact of the film, not just the kills, were dampened by the repeated use of CG blood, which made those scenes more like comic books and less like film. I just wish a few shots were framed or blocked differently so that they didn’t feel CG was necessary or better yet had they gotten creative and taken a risk with practical effects. Typically, CGI does play better on DVD but blood it seems will never work.

Ultimately, it is a very effective piece which is why any undercutting of the effectiveness and sheer brutality of it is hard to forgive. Its grade would be much higher without the two or three instances of digital blood.

7/10

Rewind Review- Iron Man 2 (2010)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Iron Man 2 is the kind of sequel that has a lot to live up to. It comes on the heels of the wildly successful, aesthetically and financially, film from last year. When seeing this film two things make you wonder: first, did it come too fast, and second, is Shakespeare wrong and is there really something in a name as merely calling the film ‘2’ seems uninspired. What you get in this film is not a bad product but an indifferent one, a film most deserving of the moniker of ‘meh.’

What this film does afford its leading players is a chance to strut their stuff, in spite of the built-in limitations of their characters. For example, Tony Stark, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., didn’t get much deeper or more fully realized in this film but what the material did allow was for Downey to flaunt his considerable talents, both dramatic and comedic. Similarly, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer is hysterical and has his high point when be-bopping onto the stage at Stark Expo. He is quite good but he also is only ever established in this film as someone out to get Stark for business reasons. You get the impression there is more behind it but it’s never explored. Last but not least there’s Mickey Rourke who plays Ivan Vanko, again who does huge amounts with such limiting material. There is so much more to Ivan Vanko than the film lets on. However, all the film seeks is to establish what the motive is and not have us fully understand and feel said motive.

Much the same can be said of the all-star supporting cast which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johanssen and Samuel L. Jackson. Each does what they can with minimally arcing storylines, none of which ever gets pronounced or explored enough to truly add significant depth to this film. The love interests are buried until the end, the running of Stark remains a buried but seemingly necessarily evil subplot. Even the political interventions and the possible proliferation of the Iron Man suit never seems like the stakes are high enough and doesn’t add to the tension like it should partially due to timing in the tale and partially due to execution.

Again not to say the film is uninteresting, poorly executed or not entertaining. It is well-done and interesting but not nearly as engaging and entertaining as it could be partially because the stakes seem lowered in this one and almost all subplots seem subjugated and nearly unnecessary encumbrances rather than necessary depth.

In the end, you walk out of this film just feeling like you watched another tale where a few key pieces were moved into place for the next film but you didn’t feel you learned too much about any of these people whom seemed much more alive the last time around.

Similarly, in a film where the stakes of all the ulterior storylines is lowered then it should come as no surprise that the climactic battle is somewhat anticlimactic. It is well-shot, edited and conceived but it’s just not terribly compelling and it could’ve been ratcheted up. The extra suits could’ve been disposed of quicker and it could’ve benefited from a villain monologue in that situation.

The CG in the film doesn’t particularly stand out in one way of another which is almost as high a compliment as you can pay a film in this day and age. So it definitely does not detract from the experience.

With all that said it does bear repeating that this is a good film. Based on its disparate elements it was, of course, not nearly as good as it could have been or as its predecessor. That being said it was well worth the watch and good escapist entertainment.

6/10

Review- John Carter

Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins in John Carter (Disney)

I was likely one of very few people who was actually very eager to see this film, however, this is not the place to discuss the marketing missteps of this film that will likely land it the dubious distinction of being one of the biggest flops of all time. However, it does bear mentioning that flops are usually measured in financial terms alone but this film I found to be very good and it deserved a better marketing campaign and more of an audience than it did end up getting in its opening weeks.

The film does take its time to build and thus pushes its running time over the two hour mark but it’s all time well spent. The beginning shows where Carter is and how he is a man who given the chance would turn his back not just on the norms of the world at present but the world in general. There are some beautiful cuts to illustrate his defiance and it is not the only element of his character and the plot that is being established and layered at the start.

The film does have a lot of extra-terrestrial political intrigue and to an extent transcendental politics that are involved and the balancing act that these elements have to engage in with the visceral, relatable parameters of the story are not handled perfectly but with any aspect that is introduced in this film that makes the balance more precarious is also making the story a bit more intriguing and involved, which is a good thing because without them I admit it would’ve been a bit milquetoast but there’s enough going on that it stays interesting and somewhat unique. Is there an element of pulp fiction to this tale? Absolutely but pulp fiction can be some of the most enjoyable stories you’re likely to find.

Aside from the political intrigue there’s also a certain duality introduced that separates this film. To say more would be to divulge too much but it is very effective and adds an additional element to the story that really lends it some much needed gravitas at the moment where it truly needs it.

Why it’s a necessity is because the story at that point had reached a point where John and Dejah’s conflict had passed its boiling point and, in fact, was running out of steam so that added to it. Regardless of the minimal script issues Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins do very well. They are equally impressive and in my frame of reference had different tasks whereas Lynn Collins I was not very familiar with at all I knew Kitcsch from Friday Night Lights and here had to watch him play an older, jaded character and it was convincing. Daryl Sabara’s participation in this film while small in screen-time is significant in his interpretation as a young man who’ll readily listen to his uncle’s tales.

The trifecta in separating this story from other space operas is it conclusion. It was a built to and alluded to finale but it did catch me slightly off guard but it was also clear enough such that it clicked right away. It made sense and is a great little twist that made the whole experience that much more enjoyable.

The effects work was very good, it rarely was in your face and included very deft creation of vistas and creatures. I cannot comment on the 3D work since I did not watch it as such simply because of showtime options.

I personally left the film wanting the sequel that the box office receipts seem to indicate will never come which is a shame but it does not alter my opinion of this film. It’s a very good one that deserves a shot.

8/10

Review- Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis as Caesar and James Fanco in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox)

So here we are again it’s time for another prequel, however, unlike most that have come along since it became a popular trend this one is quite good and valid at the same time. However, this is not one where I’d suggest you watch the prequel first. Therefore, if you, like many of those I watched this film with apparently, have not seen the original Planet of the Apes please do so before venturing to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes. As good as it is and it is pretty good it will ruin the experience of the first film for you because it is a classic that is spoiled entirely by the conception of this film.

Having said that if one has the knowledge of what occurs in the first series of films it is fascinating to watch this film and see how the blanks get filled in and they’re not done so in a thoughtless haphazard way but rather intelligently and interestingly as well.

What is also good to see is that the scope of the film is not too large. It is a rather focused story that seeks to tell only the very beginning, the rise as it were. Therefore, it’s not too sweeping and that focusing of the narrative allows for a greater identification with the plight of the characters involved and for us to watch in close quarters the world-changing events that will take place.

This is the kind of plot that is intriguing and detailed enough such that it doesn’t really hinge on the performances of its cast. Film is a strange medium in as much as a well-crafted, well told story need not have the most powerful acting to succeed whereas in a play that’s next to impossible. A prime example would be James Franco’s character, he’s not given much in the way of a character and doesn’t add a tremendous amount to it either. Where he brings me into the story is in the moral/ethical dilemmas of the testing in the lab and the moments with his father, played by John Lithgow. His interaction in scenes opposite motion-capture creations are less compelling. Freida Pinto similarly just seems to be there as a plot device and of significance to the protagonist but not truly present in the tale. Tom Felton’s first post-Harry Potter performance is a bit inconsistent and uncomfortable sadly, though it is a perfectly despicable villain hearkening back to the beginning of Malfoy’s arc where he was more vile and less ambivalent.

Then, of course, there’s the performance all are talking about which is that of Andy Serkis as Caesar. Having seen Serkis recently in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll I was most impressed with his performance there. Here I was impressed by the combination of factors: how he in turn aided the CG artists to render a humanoid ape. I appreciate and admire the contribution he makes to this film and consider a success but any Oscar talk pre-Fall is always premature and for the time being any and all motion capture discussions of that nature are far-fetched.

As intimated prior the effects work is rather impressive throughout, however, as is the case in most films that use them so regularly some sequences are far stronger than others and the rendition is by no means perfect.

The climax of the film is truly great stuff and is the kind of sequence you head out to the movies for but don’t find nearly often enough. It’s a pretty huge and well-choreographed battle that the whole movie has been working towards.

While Rise of the Planet of the Apes does have a few failings it is a very solid piece of entertainment. Those who were, or still are, skeptical can rest easy: it’s a well done and worthy installment in the series.

8/10