Red Riding Hood (2011)
★ / ★★★★
By making appropriate sacrifices, a small village located deep in the woods was able to co-exist with a werewolf. But just when Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) accepted Peter’s (Shiloh Fernandez) proposal to run away together, her sister was found dead. The villagers claimed she had been killed by a werewolf. Written by David Johnson and directed by Catherine Hardwicke, “Red Riding Hood” was a poor, hormone-driven re-imagining of the classic tale. The main character was an embarrassingly typical damsel-in-distress. Given that the film was targeted toward young girls, I was disturbed and irked by the fact that Valerie defined her happiness in being with a man. Her main problem, despite her friends and neighbors dropping like flies, was choosing between Peter, her childhood friend, and Henry (Max Irons), the man she was arranged to marry. When she found out her sister had passed away, I was aghast when she seemed to be more worried in the idea that her sister kept secrets from her. She lacked common sense and I wanted to shake her. Seyfried, a wonderful actress, was not given anything to work with other than to look cute, sad, and scared. The same applied to Gary Oldman as the priest, Father Solomon, who was hired to kill the werewolf. The picture often relied on telling rather than showing. Father Solomon was discussed to have had first-hand experience in dealing with a werewolf and the confrontation, which led to the death of his wife, made him vengeful. Why not give us the images instead of simply listening to his words? He had extreme, almost totalitarian-like, ways of extracting information just so he could get his hands on the creature. Where did he learn what he knew about werewolves? Was he successful in catching other werewolves from other lands? We didn’t know much about him other than he was a very angry man. Because he was angry, he was bad. Despite being framed as the villain, he was the most interesting character because he had what other characters didn’t have: edge. We were given a list of suspects: Valerie’s lovers, grandmother (Julie Christie), parents (Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke), and the boy with a so-called twisted speech (Cole Heppell). We were given one clue: the werewolf had dark brown eyes. The problem: every person Valerie suspected had dark brown eyes. How were we supposed to narrow down the suspects if we weren’t given more information? The picture didn’t even work from a simple detective angle. After the reveal, I felt incredibly underwhelmed and angry because I felt like I was cheated off my time. “Red Riding Hood” was plagued with destitute writing and monotonous direction. It lost the essence of “Little Red Riding Hood.” That is, the dangers in conversing with strangers. Instead, its core was really about having a boyfriend.
★★★ / ★★★★
Sidney Bruhl (Michael Caine) had a dark ideation. Once a successful playwright but now struggling to keep up with his reputation due to his recent flops, he came across a manuscript written by one of his former students named Clifford Anderson (Christopher Reeve). Sidney invited unsuspecting Clifford to visit his home in order to offer some advice to make the play better, murder him, and pass Clifford’s work as his own. Sidney’s wife (Dyan Cannon) had heart problems in the past but she reluctantly went along with her husband’s devious plan. It took a bit of time for me to get into this film. At first I thought the plot didn’t quite know how to move forward. I also had some problems with its tone. Did it want to be funny or thrilling or both? I wondered, could it have its cake and eat it, too? I also found the acting a bit amateurish, especially Cannon. I was aware that the picture was based on a play written by Ira Levin but her acting felt stuck in that medium. I thought she was annoying, whiny and needy–a damsel-in-distress who stuck by her husband for no good reason. However, after about forty minutes, it gained its footing and the material showed me it had intelligence. Very unexpected twists upon twists were abound but what I liked best about it was it felt like a play but it gained enough power to work in a cinematic medium. The tension became so high to the point where the exaggerations almost felt necessary. Caine impressed me because I’m used to watching him play quieter characters that are almost grandfather-like and humble. It was a breath of fresh air to see him so bitter, so angry, so flawed. His character caught my attention because it was the kind of character that valued his reputation more than anything else. He talked of sociopaths which made me wonder if he was projecting his own characteristics onto someone else. Sidney Lumet, the director, astutely used mood as a weapon to surprise the audiences. At times watching the film was like reading a novel. Just when I thought the picture was over because the mood was reaching a serene plateau, it suddenly came to life and delivered shocking punches. In less experienced hands, it might have felt too contrived or forced. Lumet’s direction certainly helped the sudden shifts in mood to feel as natural as possible. “Deathtrap” did not start off with flying colors but it is difficult to deny that it was a sublime murder mystery once it found a connection with its core. Fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s slow but compelling thrillers should eat this one up like candy.
★★ / ★★★★
I never read the series written by Stephenie Meyer so I won’t compare the film to the novel. However, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that I liked this film, in parts, because of all the negative reviews from both fans and non-fans of the book. Kristen Stewart stars as Bella Swan, a girl that recently moves in Fork, Washington and eventually befriends a vampire played by Robert Pattinson. It’s only a matter of time until they fall for each other and problems regarding the collision of their different worlds start to arise. I mentioned that I liked this movie in parts. I really enjoyed “Twilight” up until Stewart finally realized that Pattinson was a vampire. The way that Catherine Hardwicke, the director, framed the awkwardness and stupidity of high school students was really good. (I really do mean that as a compliment.) I wasn’t that surprised because she directed admirable pictures like “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown.” What didn’t work for me was when the romantic aspect was being explored. I felt like Bella’s IQ dropped twenty points when she finally figured out Pattinson’s nature. She knows he’s dangerous but she doesn’t put in any effort to stay away; she also becomes a typical damsel-in-distress which was a completely different main character during the movie’s first few minutes. I thought Bella was going to be consistently tough, edgy, not to mention having a mind of her own. I felt like she needed a man in order to feel safe and that’s not a good message to girls and women. While I didn’t mind the whole teenager-dating-a-hundred-year-old-guy aspect of it because I was a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (the Buffy-Angel relationship, not the Buffy-Spike ridiculousness), I felt like the movie would’ve been more interesting if it consistently explored why these vampires are dangerous, their histories, and more importantly, their varying abilities. It was nice that the vampires in this movie could walk around in daylight, have reflections and have certain abilities that others do not have. I thought “Twilight” recovered its focus during the baseball scene: James (Cam Gigandet) was a convincing threat to Bella so I was engaged. But then the movie dropped the ball again during the last few scenes. I expected that not all my questions will be answered because this was only the first of the series. I particularly wanted to know more about Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) and how he’s different than Edward Cullen. I felt like this movie had an equal amount of positives and negatives so I’m going to give this a mediocre rating. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be (granted, my expectations were really quite low) and hopefully, it gets better as the series progresses.