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April 12, 2011

Wolf charade

Michael J. Fox’s slam-dunking, van-surfing starring vehicle is still guilty-pleasure gold


Also this week: White Material, Arthur 1 & 2, A Summer in Genoa


John Cusack notwithstanding, Michael J. Fox was the quintessential ’80s teen. Somewhere between Class of 1984 and those goofy Back to the Future sequels, he became the decade’s iconic underage underdog, and 1985 was his breakthrough year. At the height of Family Ties’ small-screen success, Fox made his big-screen splash as Marty McFly in Robert Zemeckis’ summer blockbuster Back to the Future. The following month he starred in Rod Daniel’s infinitely less inspired, yet nonetheless lovable, Teen Wolf (Fox, MGM)    

Like all adolescent boys, Scott Howard’s (Fox) body is going through changes. His voice is huskier and he’s finding hair in awkward places. Somewhat more alarming is how Scott’s pupils tend to glow red, his fingernails mutate into claws and the tips of his ears protrude. Puberty’s a bitch. Then again, as the film’s title indicates, this isn’t merely teenaged testosterone he’s dealing with.  

Scott’s troubles are somewhat lifted when his father reveals his own wolf form (more akin to a domesticated Wookie, if anything), and soon enough Scott’s struggling high school basketball team has a new, furry all-star. 

While this campy genre amalgam (sports, werewolves, romance, coming-of-age hi-jinx) wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining without its magnetic lead, Teen Wolf boasts a memorable supporting cast, best of which are Scott’s preposterous buddy Stiles and his amusingly uninvolved coach.

Other highlights include frequent van (sorry, Wolfmobile) surfing, a raunchy house party, endless b-ball montages and an alleged full frontal in the film’s closing shot. 

Many of these ’80s staples would never fly today (people casually calling each other “fag” is particularly unsettling), but if you want to see how lame a modern Teen Wolf would be, check out the promo for MTV’s televised take, which looks more like a shameless Twilight cash-in than a reboot. Sadly, this and the film’s original trailer are the only extras on an otherwise decent Blu-ray. 

Also Available 
Like several of Claire Denis’ previous films, namely her 1988 debut Chocolate (NOT the Johnny Depp movie), White Material (Criterion) transports us to a crumbling African country, where we observe an unwelcome French family who run a plantation farm. In similar Denis fashion, the 2009 film stars an enigmatic and haunting female (Isabelle Huppert — one of France’s finest) and offers no answers in its bleak, poetic depiction of post-colonial hopelessness. The hand-held visuals are as tense and stunning as anything the director has shown us before, and Criterion does a tremendous job at preserving them on DVD and Blu-ray. Extras are equally splendid: we get a lovely doc of Denis’ unsuccessful attempt to premiere her film in Cameroon, an alternate ending and interviews with the director, Huppert and co-star Isaac de Bankolé.

Coinciding with the theatrical release of the dreadful-looking remake, Arthur + Arthur 2: On the Rocks (Warner) are being released as a high-def double bill. Don’t let a Russell Brand hangover pull you away from the 1981 original that stars Dudley Moore as a spoiled drunk who falls for a waitress (Liza Minnelli). This classic also earned Oscars for best song by Burt Bacharach and a supporting role from John Gielgud as Arthur’s sassy butler. While the 1988 sequel isn’t as disgraceful as some would argue, it remains a redundant rehash. Extras: lost somewhere between the moon and New York City.   

Michael Winterbottom’s resumé is as diverse as it is prolific. Each year sees a new feature by the British director, and no two films have been completely alike. In 2008, Genova had its world premiere at TIFF and then never played here again. Years later, it lands on DVD sporting a new title. A Summer in Genoa (eOne) begins somewhat like Nicolas Roeg’s extraordinary Don’t Look Now, but peaks as a tepid family drama. Then again, Colin Firth is superb as a widower who uproots his daughters to Italy. Just as good is Catherine Keener as his former college friend with an unresolved crush. Extras: nice collection of cast and crew interviews, brief making-of.