Film Review: Red Riding Hood (dir. by Catherine Hardwicke)

My problems with Red Riding Hood are more of a personal nature than anything else. I’m from a family that clashed old world values of women being blindly subserviant to the Man of the House vs. women being fiercely independent and only having a male in their lives to complement things. These elements were my luggage already brought to the table on seeing the film, but it shouldn’t damper one’s opinion on the film. If this review does this, it’s on me personally and not a reflection of the entire Shattered Lens.

Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Red Riding Hood takes the classic fairy tale and expands on it. While it does so, it doesn’t do it by much. What it has going for it is a nice visual style. Colors are vibrant and director Catherine Hardwicke really has an eye when it comes to forest landscapes (just as she did with Twilight). Mists cover the trees and capes billow in the wind, when it’s not concentrating on the town itself (which does look like a soundstage at times). In the end, however, it suffers from the same quasi teenage issues that Twilight had. I yawned a number of times. Granted, I understand that the movie may be targeted to a younger audience (and for them it may very well work), but even my audience groaned a little and they were target individuals.

Red Riding Hood is the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who lives in a small village that lives in fear of The Wolf, who has been known to sneak in and attack or kill citizens. To appease the wolf, the townspeople keep animals tied outside. As a child, she forms a bond with a young boy named Peter. Time passes, and we find young Valerie bethrothed to Henry (Max Irons) by way of her mother’s plans (played by Virginia Madsen). Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) still has feelings for Valerie, and this all quickly becomes another Bella / Jacob / Edward triangle. It’s not at the start a story of Valerie choosing her own road, but having to hear from everyone around her that this guy should be the one she marries or that one is the right guy for her. To me, personally, the film in the beginning pushes as much of a pro-“I need a man to survive” stance as Battle:LA does a Pro-Marine one. Is this a terrible thing? Not if that’s where your mindset is, no. Every time I saw them mention anything along the lines of hand and feet worship some guy just because “that’s how it is”, I had to remind myself that it’s just the time period the story takes place in (though I’m sure the audience heard me groan at least once). Again, that’s just me.

In the midst of all this, on being asked to run away with Peter, Valerie is alerted to her sister’s death from the wolf. The townfolk make a point of going after the wolf, and decide to head out the cave where they believe the beast lives. They return with proof of a victory and plan to host a party for the deed. The town priest (Lukas Haas, who somehow seems to less here than he did in Inception) reaches out for help in form of Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon, arriving with armed guards warns the townsfolk of the evil of werewolves and that he will hunt it down. The next few nights will be Blood Moon nights, meaning that if the wolf bites anyone during that time, they’ll become werewolves as well. The townsfolk, not buying into this, decide to have a wild party with sexy dancing. This results in a visit from the Wolf, who confronts Valerie and telepathically asks her to come away with it, or the town will be razed. It all kind of escalates from there.

Oldman, for his credit, was fun here and slightly over to the top.  Oldman delivers his lines with flair, being far less subdued here than he was in The Book of Eli. For who better to hunt a wolf than Sirius Black himself, right?

And that’s part of the problem I found with Red Riding Hood. With the exception of Seyfried, the supporting cast is actually stronger than the main group of actors the story focuses on. Julie Christie plays Valerie’s grandmother, in a great turn, and as always Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Twilight) is supportive as Valerie’s father. He’s really one of the highlights of the film. As for Henry and Peter’s characters,  the most I could think of with them were the Winchester brothers in Supernatural. They’re eye candy for the girls, though I should note that none of the girls in my audience were excited as they were when I saw The Twilight Saga: New Moon. There were lots of screaming for that one.

What does work is that the movie is reminiscient of The Beast Must Die. It is a mystery of who the wolf actually is, and both Valerie and the audience are given clues. That I actually enjoyed, and the third act of the film wasn’t too bad. The action is quick and to the point, but again, it all kind of feels like I could have seen this as a series on the CW. There wasn’t as much of a worry about who would fall at the hands of the wolf or what dangers would face Valerie so much as they actually looked cool when it occurred. Easily a Netflix pick.

Lisa Marie Finds A Place In The Sun (dir. by George Stevens)

As part of my mission to see every film ever nominated for best picture, I watched George Stevens’ A Place In The Sun this weekend.  A Place in the Sun was released in 1951.  It was a front-runner for best picture but in an upset, it lost to An American In Paris.  (Another best picture loser that year: A Streetcar Named Desire.)

Montgomery Clift plays George Eastman, a poor man with a religious fanatic mother and a wealthy uncle.  Looking to make his fortune (i.e., to find his “place in the sun), George gets a job working in his uncle’s factory and quickly starts a romance with one of his co-workers, the shy and insecure Alice (Shelley Winters).  However, even as he and Alice settle down to a life of dreary romantic bliss, George discovers that the Eastman name also allows him to mingle with (if never truly belong to) high society.  He meets the rich (and shallow) Angela Vickers (played by Elizabeth Taylor) and soon, he’s also romancing her.  Neither Angela or Alice is aware of the other’s existence and for a while, George has the best of both the  world he desires and the world in which he actually belongs.  Eventually, George decides that he wants to marry Angela and become a part of her world.  However, there’s a problem.  Alice is pregnant and demanding that George marry her or else.  The increasingly desperate George quickly decides that there’s only one way to get Alice out of his life…

A Place in the Sun was based very loosely on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 novel, An American Tragedy.  While the movie remains (more or less) faithful to the novel’s plot, director Stevens jettisons most of Dreiser’s heavy-handed Marxism and instead concentrates on the more melodramatic elements of the story.  The end result is a glorious soap opera that is occasionally a bit tacky and heavy-handed but always watchable and entertaining.

Stevens is helped by the three lead performances.  As Angela, a stunningly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor manages to be both calculating and clueless,   seductive and innocent.  As her counterpart, Shelley Winters gives a really brave performance as Alice.  The film is structured that its impossible not to feel sorry for Alice.  The genius of Winters performance is that she (and director Stevens) allowed Alice to become a real, flawed human being as opposed to just a symbol of victimization.  However, the film is truly dominated by Montgomery Clift.  Clift is in just about every scene and his own rather fragile persona translates wonderfully in the role of George.  Was Montgomery Clift ever as handsome as he was in A Place In The Sun?  He gives a perfect performance as the type of guy that every girl has known, the guy that we fell in love with not because of who he was but who we thought he could be.  These are the guys who always end up breaking our hearts, they’re the ones who we still can’t help but think about years later, always wondering “why?”

Unlike a lot of older films, A Place in the Sun remains remarkably watchable and relevent today.  Perhaps its most famous scene involves a capsized rowboat and oh my God, that scene freaked me out so much.  Admittedly, a lot of that had to do with the fact that I have this morbid fear of drowning (and, like one of the characters in this film, I can’t swim) but director Stevens also does a great job building up the scene’s suspense.  He makes brilliant use of sound especially, in much the same way that Francis Ford Coppola would later use that roaring train in The Godfather.  Seriously, I watched that scene with my hands literally over my eyes, just taking an occasional peek until it was all over. 

One last note — there’s an actor in this film who plays a detective.  You’ll see him if you play the trailer at the top of the post.  His big line is “You’re under arrest.”  I have no idea who this actor was but he had one of the most authentic and memorable faces that I’ve ever seen in a movie, regardless of when the movie was made.  He had the type of presence that reminded me why I love character actors.

Song of the Day: Klendathu Drop from Starship Troopers (by Basil Poledouris)

The latest “song of the day” is chosen as I continue working on a particular film review about an alien invasion and war. I’ve chosen a particular favorite piece of film music from 14 years ago to be the latest song of the day.

“Klendathu Drop” is from the film soundtrack for the scifi/war/propaganda film Starship Troopers. This film wasn’t well-received when it first came out and it’s film score by Basil Poleduris was similarly dismissed. In the intervening years since the film’s release more and more people have begun to appreciate both film and soundtrack. Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack for this film has become a fan favorite of not just his soundtrack work, but of just fans of film soundtracks and scores.

Just listening to this particular track is quite invigorating and really does a good job into making one think about doing very heroic things. Poledouris’ really makes great use of both the brass and percussion section of his orchestra. The percussion giving the whole song a militaristic, martial tempo while the brass (once again an inordinate amount of French horns as Poledouris is fond of using) helps give it a swelling, patriotic melody. Halfway through the song we get the addition of strings to signify a calm to the storm that’s about to be unleashed (the song is used in the first planetside landing where the Mobile Infantry get its ass kicked every way til Sunday).

Even if you’re not a fan of the film this song at the very least makes for great listening.