Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Red Riding Hood (2011)

     I avoided seeing this in the theater, and I am still glad I did.  It is overlong and the story underdeveloped.  The winking reference to the elements of the well-known folk tale don't come off well.  Most bothersome, the costume designer seems to not know that a riding hood would have to allow for one to ride a horse; the film's heroine, Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) is often pictured with an immensely flowing cloak – like the train of a wedding dress – of the brightest red.
     Still, despite all of its flaws – and the film has many – I found myself liking the style of it.  Director Catherine Hardwicke – of Twilight (2008) fame – has an eye for set design (which she should), but here it borders on the fantastical.  The trees have been trimmed in a menacing fashion, created a Pricklespur Forest like environment.  The village has the feel of a (North American) western outpost or fort crossed with a late medieval Scandinavian village, yet it gets to have a very Balkan bacchanalian festival to celebrate a momentous event.  Grandmother's house is a truly ridiculous affair, an immense cottage in the middle of the woods that gives hints that she may be a witch.  The snow may as well be sand, and it is clear that almost all of the shots are on a soundstage; and it still captures a sense of imagined reality.
     Somehow, all of those absurdities work.  Likewise, the over-rich tones of the colors should be a distraction.  Instead, they serve to give the entire movie a mildly trippy storybook appearance.  The costuming is also ridiculous; characters strut about in absolutely modern fashion with just enough of an old world touch to let them fit into the story without ruining it.  The entire look of the film is what I liked, and it was done so in a way that allowed the CGI wolf  looked right at home.  The wolf, for its part comes off like an updated version of the Gmork.  It is a fun kind of menacing beast.
     Continuing on with how the movie looked, I found myself liking the model good looks of most the entire village.  Hardwicke does juxtapose  the traditional representations of the typical rich boy and working class love interest, both visually and in the tone of their characters.  Shiloh Fernandez (woodcutter Peter) sports a full Twilight love interest look, brooding with arched eyebrows and moused hair.  Max Irons (as wealthy lad Henry) gets to have the tousled hair and quiet manner.  Seyfried gets to dress in a way where she can alternate between pure, innocent, and wide-eyed and seductive, cagey, and determined – all to good effect.  The almost always sexy Virginia Madsen – excepting Candyman (1992) – isn't given much to do, but she does get to look good not doing it.
     Truly ineffective in this movie was Gary Oldman as Soloman, and his holy soldiers.  The audience knows that Soloman is a badass because he comes into this somewhere in Europe medieval village with black dudes in tow; he also has a mix of other ethnicities, so we know his renown and powers must be great.  He gets to strut around and ineffectively deliver lines.  He locks a boy in a metal elephant.  He threatens the villagers and fights the wolf.  It is all very ho-hum.  Oldman often doesn't match the tone of the rest of the film in his less than serious roles, and this instance is no different.  He ends up as being a lead weight in an otherwise decently moving story.
     I can't say I recommend watching this for the story, or even for the acting.  All I can say is that I enjoyed almost all of the look and feel of the movie.  It felt like a wry, but not-quite-adult vision of the illustrations found in children's books.  Yes, there is too much voice over material where there doesn't need to be any.  And the better actors of the cast – excepting Oldman – are pushed to the side to let the children play.  But it looks good in a fantastical way.  Largely because of that, I'd give Red Riding Hood a C+ (solid B look, B- acting, C- script, and C- pacing once Oldman is involved).
     I will also admit I spent a fair amount of the movie wishing that this was the level of set design, budget, and tone taken with Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004).  It is clear that Red Riding Hood had a finished script when shooting started – something Ginger Snaps Back did not – and a more bankable cast.  But the similarities are not few, and maybe that contributed to my positive feelings towards the project.

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