Friday, December 31, 2010

so long, 2010 ...

... don't let the barn door hit you on the ass on the way out.


xoxoxo e

Thursday, December 30, 2010

scenes from a thursday ...


Santa brought bikes for Xmas ...


Rudolph the red-nosed Volkswagen
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

playboy of the western world

Slate's article, "Don't Mind the Gap" tries to excuse the involuntary and instinctual weirdness that most people feel when hearing that Hugh Hefner is engaged yet again to a twenty-something girl. The article lists a handful of celebrity May-December romances as evidence that this proposal is not that strange. Interestingly no older lady/younger dude examples were given. The article may be more sexist than Hef. Good try, but a few examples don't exactly sell the lame point that is trying to be made. Most of the reader comments focused on the ick factor of young gal/old man sex, or that fact that she will have to be his caregiver in just a few years. Not to worry, sweet young thing, not with his bankroll. If the marriage even goes beyond the engagement stage, there will be household help.

What I can't help thinking, scrolling through the list of High's endless nubile blondes of the past few decades (like a new car enthusiast, he tends to trade in fairly regularly), is that Hugh (still) only hangs out with girls. I know he's Hugh Hefner and Playboy was founded on the appreciation and pursuit of tail, but has this guy ever met and liked a woman? Someone who has lived, had experiences (other than the kind to be had at the Playboy mansion), had thoughts?

I'm not trying to say that the bride-to-be or any of her predecessors are stupid. They had to be pretty darn smart to fight their way through the swelling ranks of ready and willing babes in the land of Hef and come out on top, so to speak. They are street-smart, certainly. But I doubt that they have been touched too much by the world of ideas. That's probably all Hugh and many want in a girl anyway. At first. Which is why these relationships all seem to have an expiration date. As these girls grow up into women and start to have ideas of their own on how they want to live their lives they are simultaneously writing their mansion exit visas.
For someone who has lived so long on this planet, has based his life and career on the lives of women, it puzzles me that it is still just one kind of woman—girls. Variety isn't solely based on hair color, Hugh.

Still shallow, but happy, after all these years ...
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

baby sea turtle

Today we went to MacArthur Beach State Park on Singer Island. It was a bit too cold to do the whole nature walk, but we'll definitely be back when it's more typical weather for Florida. The Nature Center was nice and warm and had some nice things to check out, including this female baby sea turtle, who we were informed is living in this tank until she's big enough to release into the wild (when she's two feet across and the water is warmer.)

At MacArthur Beach State Park

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Monday, December 27, 2010

big man on campus

I was already queuing up to buy tickets as soon as I heard "Jack Black ... Gulliver" but I can't say that I was expecting all that much. I went with the anticipation I might have when going to see a friend's band—you like your friend, you want to support them, but you really aren't expecting anything exactly new. Best case scenario—a fun night. But Jack Black proved to be a friend with something extra. He made me and everyone I was with, as well as everyone else in the theater on a Christmas afternoon laugh. It was a great way to put off the holiday dinner prep a little longer.

Gulliver's Travels is silly as hell and trades more than a bit on Black's School of Rock persona. School of Rock was tied to Black's Tenacious D rock and roll identity and his Gulliver will seem just another variation on that theme to many. But that personality is perfectly suited to this interpretation of Lemuel Gulliver as an awkward mail room clerk who seems to have no ambition or prospects, but thoroughly enjoys himself via the mostly solitary pursuits of Rock Band and Star Trek fan geekdom—that is until someone points out to him that a bigger world may be passing him by.

I may have to stop checking in at Rotten Tomatoes, which gave the movie a pretty low rating: 18 (critics) / 56 (audience). The idea of "professional" movie critics in this internet age is becoming less and less valid to me. So many times the professional reviewer, who must be bored at having to see everything that comes out, from the divine to the ridiculous, seems to lash out purely at the repetition of themes and tropes in movies. This critical frustration with cliché is completely missing the point of why folks most often go to the movies—to relax, have an afternoon or night out, to escape from the house, work, the tube, fill-in-the-blank. To spend a little money, to laugh, to eat and drink overpriced popcorn and soda, to have something to talk about at the water cooler on Monday.

Not all movies could or should be Oscar winners. A movie like Gulliver's Travels is not geared towards a hyper-critical audience, or a movie critic who considers his- or herself sophisticated and dreams of writing for Cahiers du Cinéma. But Gulliver's Travels is for kids and adults who want a laugh. The movie is very much a live-action cartoon, not surprising since its director, Rob Letterman, previously did Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens.

As much as Black's Gulliver uses a little Prince and Kiss and other held-dear-to-his-character's pop culture references to bond with the Lilliputians, the movie isn't just a Jack Black showcase. Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly and Chris O'Dowd all add a little something to the proceedings. O'Dowd is especially good as a General you love to hate, stealing pretty much every scene he appears in. Everyone in the cast goes all out, which is always a good thing in a comedy.

There were some subtle little visual details that helped to make the movie more than just a string of jokes. Showing Jack Black's (short) height in an early scene helped to make his transformation to the "giant beast" of Lilliput all the more ironic and fun. The visual cues worked far more effectively than some dialogue foreshadowing in the set-up scenes with Gulliver's newly-apponted boss, “You’re never going to get any bigger than this.” So, the plot is not exactly a Swiftian satire, but details from the original 18th-century text were worked in, and thankfully not overworked—such as Gulliver's taming of the enemy naval fleet, and his visit to Brobdingnag.

It is interesting to me that most of the lukewarm reviews (as well as the negative ones) fault Gulliver's Travels for not being, well, Gulliver's Travels (the novel by Jonathan Swift). As classic as Swift's story may be, the fact is that it is being used very loosely to create a modernized vehicle for Jack Black & Co. What sort of movie do these critics think would come out of a more faithful interpretation, and more importantly, would anyone actually want to see such a movie? According to Wikipedia,
Possibly one of the reasons for the book's classic status is that it can be seen as many things to many different people. Broadly, the book has three themes:

* a satirical view of the state of European government, and of petty differences between religions.
* an inquiry into whether men are inherently corrupt or whether they become corrupted.
* a restatement of the older "ancients versus moderns" controversy previously addressed by Swift in The Battle of the Books.
Our current generation doesn't seem very adept at satire. Attempts to make films about themes like the state of government or religious differences are usually done in a Serious with a capital "S" kind of way, annoyingly Oscar-baiting, and politically correct. A few satirical films come through from time to time, but usually are also the focus of heavy criticism as well, such as Borat or Wag the Dog. It's not that we're all too dumb now for satire. Stephen Colbert manages to pull it off brilliantly in The Colbert Report and people love The Onion. But film seems to be a bit more difficult. There hasn't been a second South Park movie ...

I tried to read Gulliver's Travels a few times, but never made it beyond Lilliput or Brobdingnag, so I don't think it's a coincidence that most of the film or television adaptations haven't either. My brother really enjoyed the faithful miniseries adaptation in the 1990s that starred Ted Danson (I haven't seen it), so maybe some of these critics should check that out. I've always thought of Gulliver as a bit of a fairy tale, as I grew up seeing both the old animated feature-length cartoon Gulliver's Travels and the Ray Harryhausen classic live-action version, The Three Worlds of Gulliver on television. It's still a big story with enough room for new interpretations.
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Sunday, December 26, 2010

cat yoga for boxing day


Saturday, December 25, 2010

merry xmas!

Created with flickr slideshow from softsea.
Waiting for Santa, Xmas loot, Parfaits are the best damn thing on the planet, New toys, Yorkshire pudding and potatoes, onions and radishes, cookies, roast beast, gingerbread house, camel, trees, putti, two front teeth, lights, family, ocean, cats in a Xmas tree, donkey, angel wings ... merry Xmas!

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Friday, December 24, 2010

three generations ...

... of Xmas wonder.

In Rockefeller Center
In New York City, Rockefeller Center
Xmas Loot
Gathering loot in Spring Lake, New Jersey

Enjoying the tree in Paris, France

Happy Xmas Eve!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

xmas cookies ...

... and BRAINS!

Xmas cookies

Xmas cookies

Note: No zombie was harmed in the making of these cookies.
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

through the looking glass

Seeing Jean Cocteau's classic film Orphée on an HD televsion is the next best thing to the big screen. I was lucky enough to see this film in a revival house movie theater many years ago while I was in art school. But I don't think the print was in any near as good condition as what I just saw on HD. The blacks are so crisp. the subtitles are sharp and easy to read, the grays are a gorgeous silver—it is beautiful to get immersed in, as is the French language.
Je vous livre le secret des secrets. Les miroirs sont les portes par lesquelles la mort vient et va. Du reste, regardez-vous toute votre vie dans un miroir, et vous verrez la mort travailler, comme des abeilles dans une ruche de verre.
[I am letting you into the secret of all secrets, mirrors are gates through which death comes and goes. Moreover if you see your whole life in a mirror, you will see death at work, as you see bees behind the glass in a hive.]
Heurtebise, Death's chauffeur, speaks those words to Orpheus. He knows what he's talking about, as he is no longer alive—a suicide who knows what he has lost. The movie is interesting in that it retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, but doesn't focus exclusively on them. Heurtebise is probably the most poignant character in the film, but each character is given a depth, a gravity, that many modern films lack. At different times the viewer will connect with Heurtebise, Orpheus, Euridice, the young poet Cégeste, who was Orpheus's rival, and even Death herself.

The look and style of the film is amazing. All the CGI in the world can't compare to the lyrical beauty of the passage to the Underworld scenes. Death's minions are motorcycle toughs in black leather. Death, played by María Casares, is a gorgeous dark-haired femme fatale clad in trés chic attire, and chauffeured in a shining black Rolls. All the boys have James Dean haircuts, open shirts and cashmere sweaters. Everyone smokes. It's the ultimate post-war cool. The film opens with a gang of young dudes fighting over poems—art and poetry. It's fabulous Greek tragedy come to life. Vive l'art, vive le France.

As much as I fell immediately in love with the tragic character of Heurtebise, it is clear that the movie is a love poem from Cocteau to the beautifully handsome Jean Marais. They were partners in life. Marais was Cocteau's muse and appeared in his best films, Beauty and the Beast, Orpheus, and Testament of Orpheus. Marais is wonderful here, convincing as the obsessive artist, the confused lover, the tragic poet.

Jean Marais as Orphee at the gate to the underworld, From SkyArtsHD

Cocteau uses repetitive radio broadcasts and reverse print film to depict the Underworld. Mirrors, windows, walls are the doorways and barriers to both worlds. Seemingly simple effects, and set design using classical sculptures are perfect at referencing the original myth, while still depicting contemporary France. The second World War, the results of which were still keenly felt in Europe in 1950, also echoes throughout the film:
Cocteau adds many elements from the culture of his time. For example, the messengers of the Princess of Death are grim, leather-clad motorcyclists. The underworld is represented by buildings in France which remained in ruins after World War II, and Orpheus's trial in the underworld is presented in the manner of an inquest held by officials of the German occupation attempting to discover members of the French resistance. At the very end of the film, the Princess and Heurtebise are prisoners, brought forward to face the tribunal, ominously elevated on a pedestal above them.—Wikipedia
It's interesting to ponder that love gets even more complicated after you die ... Heurtebise, as he watches Orpheus stupidly lose Euridice the first time observes wryly,
I am delighted that I am no longer alive.
Cocteau must have been feeling generous, as he is much more into depicting love conquering all in his telling of the myth.
I wanted to touch lightly on the most serious problems, without idle theorizing. So the film is a thriller which draws on myth from one side and the supernatural from the other. ... I have always liked the no man’s land of twilight where mysteries thrive. I have thought, too, that cinematography is superbly adapted to it, provided it takes the least possible advantage of what people call the supernatural. The closer you get to a mystery, the more important it is to be realistic. Radios in cars, coded messages, shortwave signals and power cuts are all familiar to everybody and allow me to keep my feet on the ground. ...

The three basic themes of Orphée are:
1. The successive deaths through which a poet must pass before he becomes, in that admirable line from Mallarmé, tel qu’en lui-même enfin l’éternité le change—changed into himself at last by eternity.
2. The theme of immortality: the person who represents Orphée’s Death sacrifices herself and abolishes herself to make the poet immortal.
3. Mirrors: we watch ourselves grow old in mirrors. They bring us closer to death.—Cocteau on Orphée, from The Criterion Collection
Jean Cocteau. L'Ange Heurtebise, Poème. Paris,Librairie Stock. 2°, 26 leaves,
one heliogravure showing a rayogramme by Man Ray, 1925.

Cocteau visited the Orpheus theme a quarter-century earlier, in his poem L'Ange Heurtebise.
L'Ange Heurtebise

Angel Heurtebise on the steps
Beats me with his wings
Of watered silk, refreshes my memory,
The rascal, motionless
And alone with me on the agate
Which breaks, ass, your supernatural


Angel Heurtebise with incredible
Brutality jumps on me. Please
Don't jump so hard,
Beastly fellow, flower of tall
You've laid me up. That's
Bad manners. I hold the ace, see?
What do you have?


Angel Heurtebise pushes me;
And you, Lord Jesus, mercy,
Lift me, raise me to the corner
Of your pointed knees;
Undiluted pleasure. Thumb, untie
The rope! I die.

Maria Casares as Death with Orphee, from Abbracci e pop corn

Angel Heurtebise and angel
Cegeste killed in the war—what a wondrous
The role of scarecrows
Whose gesture no frightens
The cherries on the heavenly cherry trees
Under the church's folding door
Accustomed to the gesture yes.


My guardian angel, Heurtebise,
I guard you, I hit you,
I break you, I change
Your guard every hour.
On guard, summer! I challenge
You, if you're a man. Admit
Your beauty, angel of white lead,
Caught in a photograph by an
Explosion of magnesium.
Cocteau seems to be wrestling with a far less gentle Heurtebise in his poem than the character who tries to guide both Eurydice and Orpheus between both worlds in the film.

This movie has so many wonderful, magical transitions I will surely have to revisit it sometime soon. But I'm not sure I will ever look into a mirror in quite the same way again.

Quotes imdb

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

oh deer ...

Here's an interesting photo.

I think it was taken around the holidays, as that is when my mom would go to visit her Uncle and Aunt in Wisconsin. She is in the red coat, looking more than a little uncomfortable standing next to the ex-deer. Is she smiling or gritting her teeth?

Her half-sister Tania doesn't look uncomfortable at all ...

Happy first day of winter!

Mariette, Grace, Tania, MEW & Gydie

L-R: Mariette (my grandmother), Aunt Grace, Tania, Mary Elizabeth (mom) & Uncle Gydie.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

sympathy for the devil

When I was just a kid the United States went through its biggest political scandal, Watergate. As Sam Rockwell's James Reston, Jr. reminds the audience at the end of the film Frost/Nixon, the -gate suffix has been added to every scandal since.

My dad, who at the time was the political reporter/Trenton correspondent for the south Jersey newspaper The Daily Observer, was glued to the television throughout the Watergate Hearings, taking copious notes. It was summertime, when my brother and I and even my mom would spend most of our waking hours running around outside, but I remember each of us coming in periodically to check on him, to see if anything had "happened" on T.V. His obsession, the country's obsession, became the whole family's.


As I watched Frost/Nixon the other night I was amazed by Frank Langella's performance. The play and the players are so great that it is hard to judge it critically as a film. I'm usually not a huge fan of Ron Howard's work, but I was riveted. Rockwell seemed at first a bit too cardboard in his one-note outrage. A lot of his early dialogue was expository. But someone had to be the one to provide context, to express the anger and despair at the time of the tarnishing of the Oval Office. We take politics and dirty tricks to be such par for the course these days that it's hard to imagine what it must have felt like at the time to be shocked that a presidential campaign would resort to payoffs and crooked measures to secure an election.

But in the 1970s everyone was shocked. Or, if not completely surprised, at least extremely upset at the illegal lengths an incumbent president might go to win the Presidency. While my dad took notes from the television, my mom, an artist, sketched the trial participants. Her doodles became political cartoons. My dad, although absorbed in the hearings, was not completely oblivious to what was happening around him. When he saw my mother's cartoons he showed them to his boss at the Observer, which led to her doing a few cartoons for the paper, and also doing a caricature portrait of my dad, which would run from that point on with his column.

I didn't understand everything that was going on at the time. I didn't even realize at first that Watergate was a place. But the message was clear. The President of the United States was involved in a crime. With burglars. It was like some distortion of the villains found in the cartoons my brother and I would watch on Saturday mornings. Also clear was that Nixon probably wouldn't be the President much longer. That was really hard for a kid to understand, to accept. Although I expect the grown-ups were having trouble with it, too. Neither my mom nor my dad were Republicans, but they had voted for Nixon in 1972. Maybe the fact that they had crossed party lines made the betrayal a bit more intense for them.

In Frost/Nixon Frank Langella was beyond convincing as Nixon. If I looked away from the screen or closed my eyes, I heard the former president's voice. It was uncanny, and brought me right back to our living room—with a big box-shaped television, gold pile wall-to-wall carpet, and all the windows and doors open on a hot August day while a single oscillating fan tried and failed to cool the room. Langella also lived through that time, which may have aided his effortlessly capturing Nixon and the era. The timbre of his voice was even a bit like my dad's. Did men enunciate more clearly in the seventies and have gravely, baritone voices? Maybe it was all the cigarettes. Most of all, Langella made me feel sympathetic for a man that was a distant figurehead, an unreal wax figure, and made him real. I can't condone what Nixon did, but I can pity Langella's portrayal of Nixon's desperation that led him to make his fatal choices. I don't feel that way for people like Rumsfeld or Cheney. Somehow the crimes of the "father" seem much less today than those of his disciples.

What happened in the Watergate on June 17, 1972 changed the country. Would such a crime have even been noticed today, with all of the other competing worldwide scandals? Would the public have cared as much? Everywhere you look on the internet you see coverage of Wikileaks, which is sort of today's anti-Watergate. But is anyone really reading all the stories? Or about the scandals attached to Julian Assange? The world has changed so much since 1972.

One of my all-time favorite movies is All the President's Men. It's impossible not to get caught up in its dramatic force and its mystery, sometimes forgetting that what you are watching unfold is based on real events. It is a great film—a history, a thriller, an in-depth depiction of the hard work that went into tracking down a newspaper story. In this case, the biggest scoop of all time. Possibly the last one. Watching Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as Woodward and Bernstein is nostalgic and a little bit tragic. The two reporters are relentless and rigorous in their pursuit of the facts. They understand the impossibility of what they are up against, a powerful administration that is willing to go far—but they aren't sure how far—to preserve its power base. There may still be journalists who put the facts above everything else, who risk their lives to get a story, but the state of journalism and print is ... well there really is not much of a state. Print is practically dead, and fact-checking, hell, spell-checking seems to be a thing of the past. My father would be appalled at what passes for political journalism today. I would never want to go backwards, but it is a simple fact that if there was another Watergate tomorrow, there is simply not another Woodward and Bernstein around to track it down, much less a Redford and Hoffman to play them in the movie.

All the President's Men has the outrage, the moral indignation of Rockwell's introductory rant in Frost/Nixon. The president is just a shadow figure in the 70s conspiracy drama. We are only shown him briefly, in television news bits. Howard's film and the years have mellowed how I think about Richard Nixon. It's hard to picture him as Tricky Dick, after seeing him envy David Frost for his ease of talking to people at parties. Langella shows us Nixon's fragile side. He makes me have sympathy for the devil.
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

we did have fun making it ...

It may not be as impressive as some of these, but we enjoyed putting together our gingerbread house last night.


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Saturday, December 18, 2010

xmas memories


My mom, on Christmas, c.1936.

Friday, December 17, 2010

wolf man slack

The Wolfman was so universally panned when it came out that I never got around to seeing it. So when I came across it the other night I figured I'd give it a try, with my expectations low. I can't say that the movie confounded those expectations. All in all it was pretty bad. Funny in all the wrong places, serious—ditto, and obsessed with phony flesh-tearing gory special effects that were just—gross. But it made me think—not about the plot, but about all the hard work going on behind-the-scenes—while I was watching it. I was able to separate myself from all of the failed aspects of the film, while wondering about some of stellar ones, and there were a few.

How disappointed an artisan must be. Spending months on location or in the studio, utilizing their particular skill to get something—the costumes, the light on an actress or the furniture, the exterior landscaping of a building—just right. Do they know while they are watching it that the actors or director are not doing it justice? Do they hope it can all be fixed in the editing room? Or are they just jurneyman, there do the best job possible?

The look of the thing. Whether the crew of The Wolfman knew where the production was headed or not, they definitely delivered a gorgeous film. When many folks watch the Oscars, categories like set design and the like are usually only appreciated by film nerds while the rest of the audience is itching for the producers to get on with it. I can be in either camp, depending on my mood, or interest in the nominees. But while watching The Wolfman I got seriously caught up in the fabulous set design. So much work and detail went into the interiors of Anthony Hopkins's manse and Emily Blunt's curio shop.

The locations were gorgeous and gorgeously-filmed. The costumes were impeccable. Not flashy, but era-appropriate. They looked like real clothes, not too new or not too grubby—many costume pictures send a false note when they get this important detail wrong. When it wasn't over-busy with entrails and decapitations, The Wolfman was lovely to look at.

The supporting cast. Geraldine Chaplin was minimally used as head gypsy, but she was still great and it's always fun to see her. Hugo Weaving obviously had a blast. The man simply does not get enough work. Or I need to look out for his movies more diligently. I was honestly more interested in his character after five seconds onscreen than anyone else in the film.

One plot/structure change could have made the entire film so much better. More updated, more meaningful. If the movie had been told from Emily Blunt's character's point of view it could have been turned into a gothic paranoia classic, a la The Others. There were germs of this, especially in her late-in-the-movie horseback ride-to-the-rescue at the end of the film. Truly a missed opportunity. It could have been Emily Blunt, Werewolf Hunter. If I ruled the world ...

Two more observations. Anthony Hopkins has been over-chewing the scenery for so long, that it is hard to know how to take him in any role anymore. Funny on purpose? There for a paycheck? He is so ham. But his presence was also strangely comforting. Benicio Del Toro was so completely miscast it was painful. I love me some Benicio. At first I thought maybe the problem was that he hated what he got himself into, but he was also a producer and apparently a big Wolfman fan
... a fan of the original and collector of Wolf Man memorabilia in the lead role. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker was attached to the screenplay, developing the original film's story to include additional characters as well as plot points that would take advantage of modern visual effects. Del Toro also looked towards Werewolf of London and The Curse of the Werewolf for inspiration.—Wikipedia
No matter his Wolfman fandom, his method/interior work style of acting was not a good fit for this monster flick. As I was watching him suffer, maybe it was the Danny Elfman music, but I suddenly thought, "Too bad that he and Johnny Depp couldn't have changed places." Depp would have been well-suited, I think, to this role. He would have been better able to emotionally connect with Blunt and the audience as man and beast. And Del Toro would make a fabulous Barnabas Collins. He might even temper the wackadoodle collaborative thing Tim Burton's got with Depp. I have real fears for the upcoming Dark Shadows.
[According to] Rick Baker [who] created the make-up for The Wolfman ... Going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolf Man isn't a really extreme difference. Like when I did An American Werewolf in London, we went from this naked man to a four-legged hound from hell, and we had a lot of room to go from the transformation and do a lot of really extreme things. Here we have Benicio del Toro, who's practically the Wolf Man already, to Benicio del Toro with more hair and bigger teeth.—Wikipedia
I'm not sure that's anything to brag about. Isn't the underlying werewolf myth all about transformation, from a man into an animal, into our basest desires? Categorizing Benicio as uber-hairy is overstating it. He's dark-haired and swarthy, maybe.

One more observation. What the hell was going on with all the gore? Did the filmmakers think that was going to make the movie scarier? It was just silly. Why were these werewolves so angry and flesh-hungry? A little lore might not have hurt the proceedings. The wolfmen tore through twenty people a night. Talk about hunting and wasting the resources.

There is just something intrinsically goofy about a guy, still in his clothes, running around in the woods as The Wolf Man. If you don't find the right note, the suspension of disbelief just kills the whole thing. What happens to the Wolfman's torn and bloody clothes post-transformation is always an issue, or at least confusing to me. An American Werewolf in London handled the dilemma humorously by having David Naughton creatively cope with his naked post-werewolf state. Now that's a werewolf movie to check out. Or even Teen Wolf.

Movie production stills from Universal.
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