The Company of Wolves (1984) – a Review

Note: This is an old post from a couple of years ago I did for my friend. As I’m quite satisfied with it, I decided to post it here as well.

Thanks to the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” movie franchises, there’s been a resurgence of the fantasy genre in film over the past decade or so. Among them emerged a distinct subgenre telling darker, edgier versions of well-known fairy tales. Just this year we had “Oz the Great and Powerful”, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Jack the Giant Killer”. Last time these darker fantasy films were this popular was in mid-1980s and recently I saw one of them: Neil Jordan’s “The Company of Wolves”. Jordan has, throughout his career, made quite a few films dealing with strange and supernatural: beside this one, he also made “Interview With a Vampire”, “Ondine”, “High Spirits” and recently released “Byzantium”.

“The Company of Wolves” turned out to be smarter and more challenging then I’ve expected which was refreshing as similar movies today are mostly formulaic cash-ins that substitute cynicism and action for maturity. Based upon a story by Angela Carter, this modern re-imagining of Red Riding Hood fairy-tale has interestingly convoluted structure: it is a series of stories told by characters existing within a nightmare of a present day teenage girl (Sarah Patterson, who also plays Red Riding Hood). Now, telling stories set in dreams does allow for more fantastic elements to come into play without a need to explain them but it also tempts the storyteller into using the crusty old cliché of “it was all just a dream” as a way of ending the plot. Thankfully, “The Company of Wolves” actually resolves the story before the dream ends.

Within her dream, teenage girl – called Rosaleen – lives in a village surrounded by forest. Exact time and place of the story are uncertain. The forest is dark, fecund and obviously built on a sound stage but this increases our suspension of disbelief instead of lowering it: we’re seeing a kind of forest that a child might imagine. Dreamlike imagery abounds: there are white rabbits, giant mushrooms and snakes crawling everywhere. Through this surreal landscape, Rosaleen’s sister is pursued and killed by wolves who prey upon the villagers and their livestock. Afterwards, Granny (played by Angela Lansbury from “Manchurian Candidate” and what an inspired choice she is!) warns her remaining granddaughter to never stray from the path in the forest, never eat a windfall fruit and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.

You see, there are two kinds of wolves: those with the hair on the outside and those with the hair on the inside. This other kind is more dangerous: they lurk within forest and hide their beastly self from girls such as Rosaleen while they lure them away from the path. Granny tells a story about an unfortunate woman whose new husband, “a travelling man” turned out to be one such beast. This and her other tales show us that, for a kindly old lady, Granny sure has a morbid hate towards men and women who indulge them. This might explain why she lives alone in the middle of the forest. Also, this film is not really about wolves, is it?

“The Company of Wolves” is made out of stories that characters use to teach and explain their world to each other. Even a hunter staking a wolf has time to tell a short story. It’s a wonderful and appropriate way to portray characters in a fairy tale. Once Rosaleen starts telling her own tales about wolves and men and wolf men, we see she’s developing a different outlook then her Granny, one built not on fear but on sense of her own growing power, one that allows women to match the beast in men.

I hesitate to say I liked “The Company of Wolves”: it deals with uncomfortably personal issues in a dark and eerie way. But I believe it to be a good film, a kind of film that a person sees and then rushes to the Internet to find interpretations of its individual scenes or of its ambivalent ending. Such is the curse of the Internet: with all this free information at our fingertips it’s much easier to google the answers then to try and reach them by ourselves. Which would be a shame here. “The Company of Wolves” set out to tell a allegorical tale using lingering imagery about certain deep fears within us. In this, it succeeded wonderfully.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – a Review

Warning: this post offers a really, really geeky perspective on the latest “Hobbit” film as well as the entire “Hobbit” film trilogy.

In our last RPG campaign we embarked on a quest to steal the dragon’s hoard. In December of 2012. everyone rolled up a dwarven character except for me – I played a halfling rogue. Over the following two years our party traveled through wilderness and fought goblins, orcs, wolves and giant spiders.

Unfortunately our Game Master was obsessed with this epic RPG campaign he played in more than a decade ago. We didn’t mind when he introduced wizards and warriors from his former party as non-player characters. We didn’t object when it turned out they had their own epic storyline that had almost nothing to do with our story. The thing we did hate was the way GM constantly stressed how awesome all of these characters were – especially GM’s former character, an elven ranger who was obviously powerful enough to defeat the dragon by himself. The only reason we didn’t point that out to GM was that then our party would have been left with nothing to do.

During college we would have finished this adventure in couple of months. But with our jobs and families, the game stretched out for two years. Eventually we reached the dragon’s lair and devised a complex and ingenious plan to kill the great beast. But our dice rolls failed us. GM had to choose between letting the dragon kill our group or fudging the rules for us to win. First option was anticlimactic and the second one unthinkable because our GM is a stickler for game rules. So he sent out the dragon to attack nearby town. Our group was thus saved while our dragon was killed off-screen by some archer guy we met once and barely remembered.

To say that we were disappointed is an understatement.

Next game session GM tried to create some kind of satisfying conclusion to our campaign. He came up with this huge battle of five armies for the dragon’s treasure. Although my halfling thief did had some fun during the game, we spent most of the time talking about movies and stuff while our GM furiously rolled dice and consulted mass-combat rules for his imaginary battle. When King of Dwarves appeared riding a pig and King of Elves rode in on a moose, we decided to step in and end this foolishness once and for all. To our dismay we found ourselves fighting on these really complicated combat terrains – Falling tower! Floating ice! – with so many rules in play that the combat. Took. Forever. By the end of the evening I was ready to destroy my character myself. I didn’t even care that the orc horde might win and flood the international market with mountains of dragon’s gold thus destroying the economies of fantasy kingdoms. But we won and the campaign mercifully ended.

I’m aware that in our GM’s mind, this RPG campaign looked like epic Hollywood blockbuster. Hell, if it were a movie I’d pay good money to see it on the big screen even though the whole story would probably take about nine hours to tell, maybe less if they decided to edit out all those characters and stories that had nothing to do with our group of dwarven thieves. But as RPG campaign, this whole experience was a mixture of frustration, boredom and occasional bouts of fun. We’re planning to start a new campaign this year, but we’re looking for someone else to be our GM.

Interstellar – A Review

Nobody can say that “Interstellar” lacks ambition. Christopher Nolan’s latest film tackles on our future, exploration of space, wormholes, human mortality and the nature of love. Even with a running time of almost three hours, themes of “Interstellar” are almost too big for it. And it shows.

Behind the film’s epic vision are story and characterizations that I can best describe as, well, clunky. Characters don’t really talk to each other: they mostly exchange thoughts about Big Questions. The plot begins through a set of unbelievable coincidences that are eventually explained but nevertheless remain a clumsy way to establish a story. And it’s hard to ignore the way terrifying problems appear and are almost immediately solved or safely ignored. Earth is dying… But look at our spaceship! Space exploration is our last hope… but we only have one spaceship. Also, due to time dilation there’s a chance you might spend decades alone in a tiny space capsule. We could ponder such soul-crushing experience but let us instead explore this alien planet!

By themselves, these are all minor problems. But in a film filled with them, they start to chip away from both the film’s epic story and our suspension of disbelief. And that’s a shame because “Interstellar” is a big, serious science fiction film rarely seen in cinemas nowadays. It takes the audience into outer space and other worlds showing them majestic vistas that almost feel like an abstract painting come to life. Accompanied by organ-heavy musical score by Hans Zimmer, these visuals convey something the film’s story fails to do: that universe is so vast and inimical to human life that its exploration is a remarkable feat.

And then we get a scene of astronauts punching each other on another planet. I guess that a story about man’s place in universe just wasn’t dramatic enough.

The real question “Interstellar” asks isn’t about true nature of love or about mankind’s destiny but this: faced with a hugely ambitious yet deeply flawed film, how much of its imperfections are we willing to accept because we would like to see more such films? This is important because alternative to “Interstellar” isn’t another ambitious and original SF film but competently made and utterly bland blockbuster made as a part of an existing franchise.

Answer that question and you’ll know if “Interstellar” is a film for you.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Dear ladies and gents,

the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron dropped this week. Well. It was leaked online and then Marvel just posted it anyway.

Sure there is plenty to parse here – Hulk and Iron Man and Captain’s broken shield and whathaveyou… But it’s really about Ultron for me. It’s great to see James Spader being up in our faces once again. Now if I could just stop falling asleep while watching Blacklist (facepalm)