Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Red Riding Hood - Theatrical Review



Release Date: March 11, 2011

Proudly labeling ones film as being "From The Director of Twilight" is not necessarily the best idea if you actually WANT somebody to see it. I know that series has its fans but those are mostly made up of sex starved middle-aged mothers and their insecure teenage daughters that love the books that series is based on and oogling bare chested guys. For that fan base I can assure them that they will definitely not like Red Riding Hood at all but for everyone else...you might be OK with it surprisingly.



Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 10:00 pm March 13, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D

Biases:
Loves: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, werewolf movies
Likes: New spins on old fairy tales
Neutral: PG-13 horror films
Hates: Twilight and everything associated with it
Fact: "Twilight" is now legally a verb in the English language



Maybe it was the director, Catherine Hardwicke, that pitched the idea of a classic fairy tale aimed towards the Twilight crowd. Perhaps some studio head thought they had the next great idea. It could even be blamed on multiple parties all unknowingly conspiring to "twilight" (yes, that is a verb now) their film projects to eek out some extra revenue. But in the end it doesn't matter who was responsible for it because it has happened and now we have to deal with it. The real question at hand is whether or not the damage this film causes is irreversible. What does it damage exactly? Beyond just the acting careers of its cast members, the damage I speak of is to the art of the filmmaking process itself and if we are bound for other twilighted versions of classic tales. You see, Twilight is not here to stay, once that final film comes around it is gone...forever. But as soon as that series's stench rubs off on other properties that I care about then I might just have to hit someone. But is Red Riding Hood really that bad? Bad enough to cause such damage? Thankfully not but I fear it is a symptom of things to come.

We first meet Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) as a small child as her village out in the middle of an unnamed forest make preparations for a night that local legend predicts there will be an attack by the mythical werewolf. After that quick and completely unnecessary opening we catch up with Valerie ten years later to find her all grown up. She is roaming the rather picturesque forest until she comes across her child hood friend and current love interest Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). As they flirt with one another there is a horn that signals a recent attack by the werewolf. She races to the location of the attack to find out the person lying dead on the ground is none other than her older sister. Other than the strangeness of why her sister was out by herself so far away from the village it is even more peculiar because this is the first attack by the werewolf in many years.

Amanda Seyfried somehow manages to come out of this disaster unscathed.

Spurred on by their anger along with the words of vengeance from the local blacksmith and man Valerie has been promised to, Henry (Max Irons), the villagers lead a charge into the woods to slay the beast once and for all. Things go badly for the hunting party but they were able to bring back the head of what appears to be the wolf that has plagued their village for generations. However, while they prepare for their celebration the village receives a new visitor. Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) and his team of werewolf slayers have been summoned by one of the villagers. Solomon has dealt with a werewolf before which was responsible for his wife's death and he spells out to the villagers that their wolf is most certainly not dead. That if it were it would have returned to human form. He informs them that their werewolf is most certainly still alive, living among them and he will stop at nothing to kill it.

The first thing that might be running through your head after reading all that is, "What on Earth does any of this have to do with the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood?". Nothing, absolutely nothing. The famous fairy tale is used more as window dressing for what essentially boils down to a monster movie with a tired love triangle thrown in for good measure. Valerie is our little red riding hood and she receives the signature cape from her grandmother (Julie Christie), whom also is a staple figure in the story. She has many trips to her grandmother's house, spouts out the classic line "My what big eyes you have" at some point and does in fact encounter the big bad (were)wolf which actually does talk to her. Like I said though all those trappings only serve the purpose of reminding us every now and then that this is in fact based on Little Red Riding Hood. If you go into this expecting a faithful translation though then you are surely going to be upset.

Notice how it looks like somebody got filter happy in post production?

And as corny as those pieces from the story are implemented into the actual film they were mildly effective, especially when it turned into a full fledged monster movie. First off this is a PG-13 movie so any expectations of gore should be left at the ticket booth. That being said though the wolf attacks are well staged and despite having to cut away at every kill, entertaining. I hate it when a director chooses pure 100% CGI over practical effects but somehow I didn't mind it too much here. Perhaps I just wasn't involved enough in the story to give a dam but I thought it all looked pretty impressive. They don't try to hide anything either, we get some good closeups of the wolf and it is an intimidating presence whenever it is on screen. The idea of it talking never occurred to me prior to sitting down with my popcorn in hand and it might even sound silly now but I thought it was pulled off perfectly, at least I never had the inclination to giggle which is a good sign.

So, the fairy tale elements are used sparingly but work alright, the wolf is a pretty decent creature all things considered and was handled well but what then is making everyone run for the hills when it comes to actually liking the film as a whole? That my friends is compliments of the twilighting of the dam script I am afraid. I mentioned very briefly the love triangle along with the one man that Valerie loves, Peter, and the one man she has been promised to, Henry. As I feared from my initial look at the trailer, they have tried to make melodrama in the middle of a what clearly is a monster movie. I could give a dam if Valerie ends up with Henry or Peter, as a matter of fact I would have been content just seeing them eaten by the dam wolf along with every other well groomed, perfectly chiseled body in that village.

Gary Oldman is the man and steals every scene he is in.

So much screen time is devoted to watching Valerie try to find a way out of the arranged marriage that her mother (Virginia Madsen) and father (Billy Burke) have constructed for her. In between wolf attacks or torture scenes we get to see Valerie roll around in the hay (literally) with her gentlemen suitor. Watching both Peter and Henry give each other the stare of death as they try to determine which one of them is more manly was maddening at points. I have to be honest here though, the real issue at hand is the casting of those two actors. The whole production just seems to be too neat and clean for a town in the middle of winter (nobody wears more than two layers of clothing in the dead of winter in the middle of the forest) but those two actors were like a thorn in my side each time they appeared on screen. Peter with that ridiculous V-neck and Henry with his doughy eyes...I just wanted it to end.

The actor playing Peter was the biggest offender in my eyes mainly because of those looks he gives to the camera constantly. The word douchebag comes to mind, he would probably be more fitting in the role of the asshole boyfriend in a teenage comedy than as a lumberjack in the middle of the woods. The actor playing Henry gets off just because he doesn't look quite as douchey (yes, I am just making up words now...deal with it) and doesn't act like god's gift to the world. Pitting these two overly perfect Twilight casting runner-ups was second to the worst decision the filmmakers could have made. The first being the whole idea of a love triangle in a monster movie. Thankfully to counter that bad casting we get two aces up the sleeve that helps make it more tolerable.

Get used to long lingering stares cause there are a ton of them.

Say what you will about some of her choices as an actress (I personally adore the hell out of her) but Amanda Seyfried fits the part of Valerie, aka Red Ridng Hood, perfectly. That golden hair combined with that overly saturated red cape and hood were mesmerizing. I love it when a filmmaker understands their actors best physical assests as well, this time being those large emotive and beautiful eyes of hers. There are many many moments throughout the film where we are given extreme closeups of peoples eyes as though we are peering into their soul and each time Amanda Seyfried is up and center I just got lost in her gaze. Call me smitten but she has some of the best eyes (as well as other things...ahem) in the business today. She was the only one in the entire film to show any true emotion as well. While everyone else was busy pretending like this was an audition for Twilight she was actually making the mostly ridiculous script work. That is the sign of a gifted actor when they can rise above the material like that.

Speaking of gifted actors, how can anyone ever be disappointed by Gary Oldman. He has consistently risen above any subpar material ever given to him and has given us so many memorable performances in the process. I knew after seeing his name attached to this that at least he would deliver and deliver he did. His Father Solomon is a man with a singular purpose, to destroy the werewolf. He at first seems like the savior the village has been waiting for riding in with his small band of holy soldiers but in classic Oldman style he quickly goes from being their savior to being a whole new monster they have to deal with. He was the only character in the film that reminded me constantly that this was in fact a movie about a werewolf. 

She must be heading to grandmother's house.

There were a series of other issues that I had with the film though such as the aforementioned lack of proper winter clothing for a community that lives in the forest. Most of the characters, especially the teenagers, are just dim wits that act like whiny children. The adults don't fair better either with the way they all acted as though there was a hiearchy in their little village. I mean come on now, Valerie is promised to Henry because his family is wealthy...he is a dam blacksmith! I thought before they introduced him that he was some kind of royalty but as soon as I saw him pounding that iron I lost it. I had no idea the pay scale was so divergent between that of a lumberjack and a blacksmith. The sets and scenery was odd too, the way that the forest and village look is almost comically pristine. I know some films pull that magical other worldly look off (Ridley Scott's Legend comes to mind) but with that soft glowy effect applied to the image it just makes it all feel fake.

As much as I would like to I just can't say that this film is horrible. You get two solid performances from the two main stars, a few genuinely intense werewolf attacks that straddled the line of its PG-13 rating and if you are into fairy tales there are definitely enough nods to the classic tale to make most fans happy. The entire love triangle storyline, most of the casting (look out for a good number of Battlestar Galatica alumni) and the general production for the look of the film are the main detractors here. If they had either opted to go for a full on translation of the fable, been a complete horror film or a mixture of those two there would have been something worthwhile here. In the end though it was trying to appease too many fans, most of which didn't care about the translated material in the first place, and ended up appeasing none of them. It isn't unwatchable as many have said but it also isn't very necessary to watch either. If this is the evil that Twilight hath brought upon us then I shudder to think what awaits us down the line. Hopefully the collateral damage will be limited to this poor film and that we can all go on with our lives with it as a distant memory. Hey, at least the werewolf didn't glitter in the moonlight.


RENT IT

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