Riot Club, The (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Two first-year students at Oxford University, Miles (Max Irons) and Alistair (Sam Claflin), different in personality and temperament but both from a privileged background, are invited to join a highly exclusive group called The Riot Club, known throughout the years for recruiting only the boldest, best, and brightest yet with a proclivity toward decadence. After Miles and Alistair’s initiation, the club, composed of ten members, hold an annual dinner at a country pub where limits of both patrons and hosts are tested.
Based on Laura Wade’s play “Posh” and directed by Lone Scherfig, “The Riot Club” is a challenging picture to sit through because it is unafraid to embrace the darkness necessary to show the ugliness of privilege and immature minds. And yet it just misses the mark from becoming a required viewing because the The Riot Club members blend into one another most of the time. It is easy to tell the actors apart physically, which is credit to the casting directors, but the differences in the characters’ perspectives on life and values are not detailed enough, only painted in broad strokes. Although uncomfortable to sit through at times, I would have preferred to learn about each one of them further even if it meant sitting through a three-hour film.
The working class characters standout, from Miles’ girlfriend, Lauren (Holliday Grainger) to the owner of the Bull’s Head pub (Gordon Brown) at Kidsbury. Grainger is particularly effective, especially in the scene where Lauren is humiliated during the dinner for not being as posh and for being a woman. She balances hurt, anger, and feeling ashamed with such perspicuity, I felt rage build up inside me as the scene unfolded. The key is that she does not play victim—which elevates the scene.
There is a lot of disgusting behavior here—so much that, about halfway through, I wondered what the point of it was. It is necessary that we feel inundated by snobbery, aggression, destruction, and hedonism in order to truly understand what it means to be a member of the club. However, when there are exchanges involving one character telling another that he or she must be jealous for not being in the group, there is a lack of power in the insult because the screenplay does not show very many perks—substantial ones—in belonging. There is talk about ensuring a great future ahead, likely in a position of power, but it is important that we see or recognize the immediate benefits, too.
Moving at a confident slow burning pace, “The Riot Club” is a movie that is meant to divide, I think. It can be argued that these boys have certain sociopathic tendencies that it becomes very difficult to even try to relate to them on any level. At one point, one of them proudly exclaims that he is sick to death of poor people. I was amused by these types of drunken proclamations because hatred are spewed out so easily but there is no compelling thought behind them. Sadly, there are people like these boys so it makes one consider the core values their parents instill into their children before they develop the ability to think critically.
Host, The (2013)
★ / ★★★★
A perfect world now exists because of extraterrestrial beings who have taken over the planet via controlling people’s bodies. Meanwhile, humans who managed to escape the main invasion are continually on the run. When Melanie (Saoirse Ronan) plunges to her death, her body is taken to the infirmary. An alien called Wanderer, just about the size of one’s palm, is put inside her. But Melanie is an anomaly. Instead of her mind and body being completely taken over by the parasite, she remains to have some control. Wanderer cannot help but be fascinated by the human experience despite the fact that it is assigned to go through her host’s memory in order to discover the rebels’ hideout.
“The Host,” based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer, falls into the trappings of syrupy romance despite the fact that its universe offers a whole lot more than dealing with trivial problems like being torn between two boys. Since its approach is small when the bigger picture demands to be explored, the majority of the picture ends up being a bore, mostly taking place in a cave where there is in-fighting. It does not warrant two hours of our time.
The protagonist lacks depth. The screenplay has not found a way to circumvent the fact that since Melanie’s body is split into having two minds, every thought she has is expressed–whether it be the original Melanie or the alien’s. As a result, the lack of subtlety makes the character one-dimensional when she really should be the most complex. Ronan tries to make the most out of the role, but she really cannot do much other than look sad or robotic depending on the situation.
There is a lack of a detestable villain. The Seeker (Diane Kruger) is potentially interesting in the beginning. Kruger plays her to be very calculating and cold. However, once the hunt for Melanie’s body begins, we see her mostly driving a helicopter, a car, or shooting at people. Later in the film, she changes a little bit (prior to going under the knife) but I had a difficult time believing the charade due to the absence of a believable, smooth character arc. Many changes within the characters seem to occur on a whim which is at times confusing–or just very poorly written.
The flashbacks are corny and elementary. One of the things that bother me in the movies is when I sense that characters are being introduced as if we were watching a parade. The flashbacks employ this approach and so when events are supposed to be sweet or emotional, I caught myself snickering at the mawkishness of the scene.
Based on the screenplay and directed by Andrew Niccol, “The Host” offers some neat images like a field of wheat grown inside a massive cave, but pretty images do not save the material from a deficiency of ambition or even a sense of very energetic fun. For the most part, one will find himself waiting for something to happen. When it finally does, the rewards are few and unfulfilling.
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.