Tag Archives: Michael Wadleigh

Wolfen (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wolves on the attack.

Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is assigned to investigate a particularly savage attack that occurred in Battery Park in New York City where a real estate magnate and his wife and bodyguard where gruesomely killed by some mysterious being that the police initially peg as a terrorist act. As Wilson investigates further and in talking with some experts he comes to the opinion that it may be wolves that killed them, but not the everyday wolf instead they are ghostly spirits intent on protecting their sacred ground. As the body count continues Wilson tries unorthodox methods to understand and stop these strange animals that remain invisible and elusive to the human eye.

For a horror film, which is based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, it has a refreshingly different approach to the material making it seem more like a modern-day drama and character study. Director Michael Wadleigh nicely captures the ambience and attitude of the city. The authentic feel and multi-dimensional lead character helps make the story more compelling. The use of showing things from the wolves’ point-of-view that gets captured through a unique colored lens is initially captivating and creepy.

Unfortunately the film does the P.O.V. thing too often, which eventually becomes redundant and boring. The genteel tone does not create enough tension and the film is barely ever suspenseful. There is one good decapitation scene, but otherwise the gore and special effects are minimal. The runtime is too long and the pacing could have been better. A good horror film or even a thriller needs a good scary image of the threat at hand to hold onto and create the fear for the viewer, but we are never shown the wolves at all until the very end. I did like the one part where the Diane Venora character goes roaming around an abandoned church and almost gets attacked by one of the wolves whose red eyes we see, but I wanted to see more of this since it was the only time I got even slightly frightened.

Finney is an odd choice for the lead. Simply because he has a reputation as being a great actor does not mean he is perfect for every role and having a grizzled New York cop speak with a British accent is off-putting. He is also too old and his relationship with a female cop that is clearly 20 years younger looks weird. I did like Edward James Olmos who takes off his clothes at one point and effectively acts like a real wolf and the scene where he has a menacing conversation with Finney while high on top of a bridge is memorable.

Spoiler Alert!!

My biggest beef comes with the ending in which Finney finds himself surrounded by the wolves and in an attempt to appease them smashes the model of the construction site that was going to be built on their sacred ground, which satisfies them enough to leave him alone and go away, but it came off as corny, farfetched and anti-climactic to me. It also makes the wolves who the viewer has feared throughout the film suddenly look like the ‘good guy’  and thus stripping all the ‘horror’ from this supposed thriller and makes sitting through it a pointless waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Wadleigh

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Woodstock (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Love, peace and music.

During August 15 – 18, 1969 Max Yasgur loaned out his 600 acre farm, which was near the town of Bethal, New York to some concert promoters for an epic 32-act rock extravaganza that has become the cornerstone for the counterculture movement and a major moment in Rock’N’Roll history. Although originally expected to attract only 50, 000 it ended up being more than 400,000 and this movie captures the mood, festivities, and music right up close.

Unlike most documentaries this film doesn’t just turn on the camera and then proceed to let things happen at a sometimes slow and boring pace. Instead it relies on a great use of editing done at the time by an unknown Martin Scorsese, which helps give the film a very polished and dramatic narrative. The dual screen setting allows the viewer to see two things at once and you are given a full view of the occasion as you watch not only the beginning as they construct the stage, but also the massive clean-up of all the debris left afterwards.

The music acts are captured perfectly as director Michael Wadleigh’s use of the camera nicely compliments the energy on stage with a variety of angles and quick cuts. In some ways you feel more connected with the music by watching it here than having been there in person as you are made to feel like you are right next to the performer as they are playing. One of the best moments is Richie Haven’s opening act where you see the broken strings on his guitar, the sweet glistening off his nose and saturating his back as well as a close-up of his mouth where he appears to have no teeth on his upper jaw. Janis Joplin who was known to have an incredible onstage energy is also memorable and is part of the added 45-minutes of the director’s cut. Country Joe Mcdonald is also memorable with his now famous ‘fuck cheer’ and ‘I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag’, which comes complete with lyrics on the screen and a little bouncing ball.

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The film also features different elements than what you would find in most other concert movies including one segment that looks at the cleaning of the many port-o-potties as well as a long drawn out rain storm in which many of the concert goers’ end up sliding through the mud. There is another segment looking at the skinny dippers as well as all the naked children in attendance.

There are some good interviews spliced in although I wished there had been a few more. Some of the more interesting ones include those with the townspeople who despite reports to the contrary where actually excited about the event and supported ‘the kids’at least the ones seen here. I also liked hearing from the attendees as they lined up to take turns at calling their parents on pay phones. The only interview that I didn’t care for was of a young man who used the phrase ‘you know’ so numerously that it really got on my nerves.

The movie is quite long with the director’s cut being almost 4 hours in length and not all of the music acts shown including some of the better ones. However, the film is still quite electrifying and doesn’t end up seeming as long as it is. It is also so amazingly vivid that it gives you the feeling like you were there and something that only happened yesterday instead of forty-five years ago.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 26, 1970

Runtime: 3Hours 45Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Studio: Warner Brothers

Director: Michael Wadleigh

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video