Wolf

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Wolf

Release Date: June 17, 1994

Genre: Drama, Horror, Romance

Director: Mike Nichols

Writers: Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, Christopher Plummer

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

It’s sad that we haven’t seen Jack Nicholson on the big screen in almost a decade. Although he is in his eighties and living out the remaining days of his life, it would be nice to see him in one final performance. After all, he is one of the most iconic actors in history. He has left his mark in film with his numerous memorable performances. From Jack Torrance to The Joker, Jake Gittes to Nathan Jessup, you can’t think about those characters without thinking about the actor that brought them to life. I can’t think of a bad performance from Jack. He gives everything he has in a role. One of his most underrated, or perhaps the most underrated performance of Nicholson’s career was in the 1994 Horror/Romance film ‘Wolf’.

Nicholson portrays Will Randall, who is an editor-in-chief of a publishing house who is about to be demoted due to the purchase of the publishing house by billionaire Raymond Alden (played by Christopher Plummer). On top of that bad news, Will finds out his successor is his protégé Stewart Swinton (Played by James Spader) who is not only taking his job but has taken his wife in an extramarital affair. One night driving home in the snow, Will is attacked by a wolf which leaves him with a bite on his arms. Shortly after his attack, Will discovers that he has heightened senses of sight, smell and hearing. After meeting Alden’s outcast daughter Laura (played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Will confides to her about what he is experiencing and they strike up a relationship. As the story continues, Will’s transformation gets deeper and deeper. He must find a way to repress changing into a wolf during the full moon.

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Nichols, ‘Wolf’ is not your traditional werewolf movie. Don’t expect a lot of action or gory kill scenes. The concept of the wolf is a metaphor for corporate takeovers and executive rivalries, hence the old saying, “Being thrown to the wolves”.  He fights to keep his job and engages in a rivalry with his protégé Ala teacher vs. student with the student looking to defeat the one that taught him how to succeed. The wolf is also a metaphor for sexual repression as you will see in certain moments of the film not only with Will and his wife, but Will and his quick attraction to Laura. As I watched the film, it felt like I was watching an adult version of “Beauty and the Beast”.

Jack Nicholson continues to show why he is one of the greatest actors in history. Yes, he has that repetitive slick and cunning tone when he speaks, but this was one of the more physical performances I haven’t seen him do since the likes of “The Shining” or “Batman”.  He takes the concept of Method acting to a new level and really gets into the wolf character with his constant sniffing; his constant shifting of the eyes as he is quickly senses his surroundings and his stamina and agility throughout the movie. There’s even a clever funny scene of Nicholson “marking his territory” like any animal would. I have to imagine he was physically and emotionally drained after making this movie, but if he got through “Batman”, he found a way to get through this! Huge props to the makeup and effects department for Nicholson’s transformation. The effects reminded me of “An American Werewolf in London” or even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video. Nicholson was definitely Wolverine before Hugh Jackman took on that role!

The supporting cast is small as it focuses on the relationships between Will, Stewart, Laura and Aldren. Pfeiffer portrays Laura Alden as an isolationist and someone who detests her father and drives up an attraction to Will to spite him. As she gets to know him, she feels concerned and caring for what is happening to him and she even goes to bat for him when he is confronted with a tragic situation. You can feel her emotion through every gasp and every tremble. Spader plays his character as a smooth and calculating weasel who goes behind Will’s back to not only take his job but take his wife. He thinks he is in control of the situation, but the worm turns for him when Will keeps up the fight for his job which sets up the many confrontations they will have throughout the film. And what can you say about Christopher Plummer? Only that he is Christopher Plummer and he is one of the most legendary actors of our time. He doesn’t skip a beat portraying billionaire Raymond Alden. When he purchases the publishing house, he thinks he’s beaten Will and be able to run the publishing house the way he wants, but what he doesn’t realize is that he is engaging in a Chess match with Will to see who will submit first. It’s a duel of egos between these two characters.

The only negative I could think of in the film is the pacing. It turns into a straight up horror film in the third act and feels rushed. Some of the scenes in the third act seem unnecessary, but they were put there to build up the suspense and drama. It gives you an insight on what the climax of the film is going to be.

It’s been twenty-four years since ‘Wolf’ came out in theaters. It is still original and innovative. It doesn’t have to borrow too much from the ‘werewolf’ films of the past to make a statement on corporate diplomacy and the seduction that romances can bring. It’s a shame we didn’t get a sequel to this film. Watch below. This would’ve been a great concept. Don’t you think?

 

 

TRIVIA  (Sourced from IMDB)

  • Jack Nicholson had been trying to get this film made with his friend, writer Jim Harrison, for twelve years.
  • The movie’s release was delayed for six to eight months to re-shoot the entire third act
  • Mia Farrow was slated to play Charlotte Randall. Mike Nichols had to fight to let Farrow have the part, due to the film company’s hesitancy over her being too controversial at the time (the then current Mia Farrow and Woody Allen trial). She had to take a salary cut but in the long run she had to bow out anyway, due to schedule conflicts.
  • Jack Nicholson had final say about who the choice of the director would be, and in fact one of his choices was Mike Nichols.
  • Stanley Kubrick was considered to direct, but he wasn’t interested.
  • Sharon Stone turned down the female lead.
  • When Michelle Pfeiffer expressed interest in playing the part of Laura, Mike Nichols and the film’s screenwriters wanted to make the part stronger and more important to the story, as it was basically a “woman in danger” trope in the original script. Some of the ideas considered were making her into an animal rights activist or a doctor, both of which would have given her a connection to Jack Nicholson’s character and expanded on her conflict with her rich father. Ultimately, Pfeiffer accepted the role without it being hugely upgraded because she wanted to work with Nicholson and Nichols.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

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The Perfect Host

 

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The Perfect Host

Release Date: January 10, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Director: Nick Tom nay

Writers: Nick Tomnay, Krishna Jones

Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Cloyne Crawford, Nathaniel Parker, Megahn Perry

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Do you ever flip around the movie titles on Netflix and find a movie that you’ve never heard of? Does the title and the cover give you a curious interest as to what the movie is about? While Netflix has devoted the majority of its programming to original series, they do turn out a bunch of independent movies that were only screened at film festivals and other small venues. One movie I recently came across looked appealing and therefore I was enticed to watch. The movie was titled, “The Perfect Host”.

Released at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010, the movie is about a man named John Taylor who is on the run after pulling off a bank heist and collecting over $300,000. His car breaks down in a plush Los Angeles neighborhood. After a failed attempt to convince a neighbor to let him use the phone, he is able to use some cunning skills to convince a man named Warwick Wilson to let him in. Warwick is in the middle of cooking dinner as he is throwing a dinner party and has invited several of his friends to join. Warwick offers John some red wine and helps him trying to get into contact with his cousin so they could meet up (which is a ruse). A news bulletin goes off on the radio describing John and the heist. John grabs Warwick’s butcher knife and holds him hostage. His plan is to lay low until the next morning and leave. However, John begins to feel dizzy and collapses on the floor. Unbeknownst to John, Warwick drugged the wine. The tables turn as John is tied up in a chair and is sitting at the head of the dinner table. He is now the guest of honor in what is to be a very bizarre party.

Written and Directed by Nick Tom nay, which is his first feature film according to records, “The Perfect Host” is reminiscent of an Albert Hitchcock film. It’s filled with tension, suspense, surprises and shocks. The reversal of roles between predator and prey slither slow and steady transition. It’s almost like watching a Chess game where each player is strategically plan their moves. Ironically, the two main characters engage in a game of Chess where each has their own stake in the winnings.

The film is shot on digital video. I’m not a huge fan of digital video for numerous reasons, but it works within the context of the film. There’s a lot of bright lighting throughout the film. I also enjoy the constant back and forth first person views of the two main characters as you see what they’re interpreting in their own mind of the scenario that is playing around them.

This is the first starring role for David Hyde Pierce. If you’re not familiar with his work, he is best known as his portrayal of Niles Crane in the sitcom “Frasier”. His portrayal of Warwick is not much different from his portrayal of Niles. He’s articulate, eccentric, excited and knowledgeable. Warwick comes off as a gracious generous host. He plays the victim role early in the film. When he is in control of the situation, his deep desires and fantasies come out while having fun and entertaining his “guest”.  He slowly morphs into a character that is a combination of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and Patrick Bateman. From there comes the final phase of his character where he is grounded and determined (I’ll get to that later in the review). Pierce provides plenty of laughs while at the same time provides creepy and unsettled moments that make you anxious as to what is he planning with John.

Speaking of John Taylor, he is portrayed by Cloyne Crawford. I’m not familiar with any of his other film roles, so this was an introductory role for me. John is determined to get out of Los Angeles with the money he steals. He is cunning and manipulative at first and then becomes aggressive and violent especially when he tells Warwick to “shut up” when a radio bulletin comes on the air regarding his robbery. He holds Warwick hostage in his own home while he lays low. His control over the situation is short lived as he collapses from drinking red wine that was drugged by Warwick. He becomes the hostage and is powerless to regain control. He is at the mercy of Warwick and does his best to resist compliance from Warwick. Throughout the film there are flashbacks involving John and an unidentified woman. These pieces would reveal who the woman is and what is her relation to John.

While the film focuses primarily on John and Warwick, there are a few minor characters. As I’ve stated there is a woman who is involved with John and then there are two police detectives who are looking into the heist and John’s background and there is a concerned neighbor when she sees John floating in a pool and yell.  While these characters add to the layer of the story, they are used minimally. You don’t see the woman or the police detectives until the climax of the film.

The only thing I didn’t like about this film was the climax. It felt rushed and didn’t flow with the rest of the film.  You find out what Warwick does for a living and this triggers another personality trait in him. It’s strange since the film doesn’t give clues about who he really is. It does have a somewhat comical ending to it as it would set up another event that I’m sure we’ll never see unless they decide to make a sequel.

While “The Perfect Host” cant’ be described as a perfect film, but it’s a clever spin on a classic genre of films. As I mentioned early in the review, it’s got the look and feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s about as close of a Hitchcockian film you’re going to see in recent years. It makes you appreciate independent films and what they’re trying to make. If I found this film on Netflix, there’s no telling where other sleeper indie hits may be out there. I’ll just have to find them.

 

TRIVIA

  • First starring film role for David Hyde Pierce.
  • Shot in seventeen days with a budget just under $500,000
  • The tattoo on John’s hand contains 3 Hebrew letters, which are the initials for “Uri Riva Yariv” – a kabbalah term that means absolute certainty and is supposed to enhance confidence and belief.

 

AUDIO CLIPS