Friday, April 1, 2011

Red Snoring Hood

Late post this week. I was in Manhattan managing an event. Of course, a trip to the Big Apple is always so welcome. There's such a great energy in the air.

I did manage to set aside time to see Green Day's "American Idiot" at the St. James Theater on Wednesday night. I'd really been looking forward to it, as I'm a major fan of the band. I wasn't disappointed. The book was kind of cliched, but it was really a rock opera with minimal spoken lines, emphasizing the great music.

There were some cast changes—John Gallagher Jr. (Spring Awakening) left the cast, but his replacement, Van Hughes, is good as Johnny. Rebecca Naomi Jones, who I also saw in Passing Strange, is Whatsername, and she's great. Sadly, I missed Billie Joe taking over the role of St. Jimmy by five stinkin' days! It's closing on the 24th, so I'm glad I was able to catch it anyway.

And now for our feature presentation...

I went to a screening of the much-derided Red Riding Hood tonight, and I have to say it richly deserves its paltry 11% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the helmer of the first Toilet—er, I mean Twilight—movie, it's designed to appeal to the same audience that flocked to those sparkly vampire flicks. Unfortunately, it fails on all counts. It's not scary enough, nor does it have enough of that lip-biting teen angst that the Twihards seem to respond to.

This is Amanda Seyfried's second horror film after the dreadful Megan Fox starrer Jennifer's Body (well, it's actually her third horror film if you count Mamma Mia!). You'd think with her big blue bulging eyes she'd be able to communicate a variety of emotions, but she runs the gamut from A to B, as Dorothy Parker famously said.

Seyfried is Valerie, a young woman who lives in a generic European village on the edge of a dark forest inhabited by a werewolf. The villagers have been terrorized by the werewolf and its forebears for generations, which raises the question: "Why the hell don't they just leave?" It's like the old Sam Kinison line about the starving people in Ethiopia—"Why don't you move to where the food is???"

Valerie loves her childhood sweetheart Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her mother (Virginia Madsen) has arranged for her marriage to Henry (Max Irons), because he's better off financially and can give her a good life. Now why Henry is richer than Peter is a mystery, because everyone in the village seems to be eking out the same miserable existence involving woodcutting, hunting and hanging out in the village tavern. But when Valerie's sister is killed by the werewolf, she discovers a bunch of family secrets that would be interesting in a better movie, but come off here as simultaneously ridiculous and boring.

Madsen, a television and direct-to-video stalwart from the '80s and '90s, restarted her A-list career with the alleged comedy Sideways (2004). I don't dislike her, but in this film she's wearing a mass of blond curls that make her already-large face even bigger. The younger actors are graduates of the "Gossip Girl" school of performing arts, delivering the dull dialogue with a kind of smug irony. And despite the foreign locale, everyone speaks with a flat midwestern American accent.

Gary Oldman gets a Big Entrance as Father Solomon, a Horace Hill-type traveling werewolf hunter. For some reason, he has a giant cast-iron elephant in tow that serves as a portable prison, as well as two black guards who should've been far more fascinating to the all-white villagers than a boring old werewolf. He brings out unnecessarily complicated contraptions like a clockwork planetarium as he delivers his spiel about blood moons and wolves and stuff, and the townsfolk (not the brightest bunch) gawk in wonder.

The marvelous Julie Christie plays Seyfried's grandmother ("What big teeth you have!") and I'm completely perplexed by her decision to take the role. Mostly she's involved in the alleged "pop-up" scares—you know, when the music does a sudden crescendo and there's a false scene of terror? There's a pop-up when she's carrying a huge fur coverlet to a bed, and then there's another pop-up when she herself pops up out of bed and says "Good morning!" to Valerie. It's ridiculous.

After the male townsfolk kill a regular gray wolf and carry its hilariously snarling decapitated head around on a pike, they have a celebration that looks a helluva lot more like Burning Man than an isolated village's party. The music is avant garde, they wear bizarre animal masks, and they all act like they want to have sex right away. This sequence is made even more incongruous when, in the next scene, Valerie is accused of being a witch. What the hell does that mean? You were all dancing around like horny pagans a minute ago, and now you're getting all Christian and damning ol' Bulgy Eyes?

Oh, yeah—Lukas Haas, looking like he was plucked off of skid row to play his part, is a bible-thumping type who had summoned Father Solomon to the village in the first place. And there's a village idiot (of course) whom Solomon falsely accuses of being the wolf's accomplice. But all these diversions are just so much balloon really don't care.

The art direction is hilarious. Hammer Films did so much better with Curse of the Werewolf and, well, any of their other period pieces. And Neil Jordan's 1984 Company of Wolves did so much more with a fraction of this film's budget. Here, the running theme seems to be pricks. The trees are like rose stems with huge thorns sticking out of them, and the houses also have sharp thornlike appendages. There's also a scene set in a grove of what seem to be bales of hay or the business ends of brooms with violet flowers growing out of them. What the hell are they supposed to be?

Father Solomon sentences Valerie to sit in the village square wearing the "mask of shame": it looks like a World War II gas mask with funny ears, and all you can see of Seyfried is her goggly eyes. The effect is hilarious. A Gossip Girl shows up to berate her and say that she's getting what she deserves because she was always the pretty one, the most popular. It makes absolutely no sense. And the werewolf! Oh, boy. It changes color from scene to scene, and when it finally confronts Valerie, it's a big, black, dorky-looking dog-like creature that speaks to her telepathically. They really had to push for a PG-13 rating, too, because the killings are quick and bloodless, and aside from the bizarre festival, there's really no adult content to speak of.

Spoilers, here...if you care...

It turns out that Valerie's father is the beast, and Peter is bitten in the fracas (where is his fracas, you may wonder), so now he is cursed. He and Valerie rush off into the snowy wilderness, stopping to have brief, nonexplicit sex in the freezing snow. He tells her to return to the village; he'll come back for her when it's time. He finally returns as the doofy werewolf. She leers and him salaciously and they take off together. Huh?

If The Situation and Snooki do "Romeo and Juliet" I will move to another country, I swear to God.

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