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Movie Review: Red Riding Hood (2011) April 1, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Reviews.
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No, this is no April Fools Day joke.  Of course I was warned, but I had a free ticket and I had to use it before expiry, so I went and watched one of the only films currently screening that I hadn’t yet seen — Red Riding Hood.

Directed by Twilight‘s Catherine Hardwicke, Red Riding Hood is a very very loose adaptation of the fairytale everyone knows about.  And in the tradition of that vampire film, Red Riding Hood is full of wistful glances, sexual tension and horrible dialogue between attractive young people — in this case Amanda Seyfried, Shiloh Fernandez (who reminds me of Chuck Bass) and Max Irons.  Other common factors include werewolves and Billy Burke as the protagonist’s dad.

Anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was complete trash, but Red Riding Hood just wasn’t very good.  It’s always interesting to see a ‘revisioning’ of an old tale, especially such a pretty one visually (nice little town and mixture of colours), but this one was uninspiring and lacked intelligence and creativity. 

In essence, this was a teen fantasy horror flick that was not very scary.  A werewolf is terrorising a small town and everyone is a suspect.  The mystery is what keeps the film afloat, but because all the characters (apart from Gary Oldman’s werewolf-slaying priest) are so bland and the love triangle so uninteresting, I found myself switching off.

Ultimately, Red Riding Hood was all style and little substance.  It looked pretty, with pretty people, pretty sets and pretty shots, resulting in a visually impressive film, but there wasn’t much else going for it.  I have a feeling they might have made a mistake by trying to make this a Twilight clone rather than utilise the fairytale premise for something more clever, something with more imagination, and something that didn’t take itself so seriously.

2 stars out of 5

End of Year DVD Blitz: Part III December 29, 2010

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Part II of my end of year DVD Blitz was downright awful.  Part III is still a bit of a mixed bag, but there are a few decent ones.  Here’s five more, and there will definitely be a Part IV coming soon.

Legion (2010)

I think this film screened at the cinemas but was gone as quickly as it came.

Starring Mr Jennifer Connelly (Paul Bettany), Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson and Kate Walsh, Legion is a film of two halves.  The first half was actually sensational — intriguing, exciting, bizarre and downright frightening at times, leading me to start thinking this was going to be one of the best biblical apocalopse movies in recent memory.  Weird mutating demonic people, a bunch of characters stuck in the cafe of a service station in the middle of nowhere, and an enigmatic, sinister looking dude who appears to be an angel — Legion really started off with a bang.

And then, about halfway through…everything just fell apart.  One minute I was on the edge of my seat, and the next, I was struggling to stay awake.  Unfortunately, the rest of film stayed that way until the end, failing to provide a final spark that would have redeemed the film.  Oh well.

It probably doesn’t deserve this high of a rating, but on purely on the strength of the first half of the film I’m going to give it:

3 stars out of 5

Chloe (2009)

This film had gotten plenty of publicity, and not just because it was based on the French film Nathalie, directed by Atom Egoyan, and features an all-star cast.  It was because Amanda Seyfried apparent gets her gear off.

While she does, of course, as does Julianne Moore, Chloe is really quite tame as an erotic psychological thriller (most of it is verbal).  But it’s still a pretty interesting, strangely compelling film about a woman (Julianne Moore), her husband (Niam Leeson), their son (Max Thieriot), and a prostitute (Amanda Seyfried).

Moore gives a knockout performance as always, and while the film was rather slow paced, it was atmospheric and well-made.  A great study into relationships and marriages.  A dud of an ending did put a damper on things though.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed it enough to give it:

3.5 stars out of 5

Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

I had been meaning to watch this one and read the book on which it was based for quite a while, but somehow had done neither.  I finally got the chance to see this inspirational biographical film about Li Cuxin, a guy from a poor rural family in China who was selected to learn ballet and eventually became an international superstar, though it came at the cost of ‘betraying’ the country he was from.

Very amazed that this was an Australian production (even though it features predominantly international stars) because it was quite well made, if not a little heavy handed at times.  The thing that impressed me the most was that they managed to find two Asian actors who not only resembled Li Cuxin, but could also perform ballet, speaking English and Mandarin, and most of all, act.

This was probably one of those feel-good melodramas that I liked more than I should have because I love the true story so much.  And this is coming from a guy who absolutely does not ‘get’ ballet.

Li Cuxin’s youthful naievete, his courage and his resolve were really brought out in this film, which was at times infuriating but ultimately triumphant and inspiring.  This is one film I would recommend to people who want/need a kick to start pursuing their dreams — only, of course, if you are a hardcore Communist, because this film felt like a propaganda (or should I say anti-propoganda) film far too often.

3.75 stars out of 5


Let Me In (2010)

The Swedish original, Let the Right One In, is right up there as one of the best films I saw last year, and one of the best horror films I had seen in a long time (my review here).

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached the obligatory American remake, directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield guy) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (Kick Ass).

It’s kind of hard to review a remake when you have seen the original, but I did my best to approach Let Me In as a standalone film and judge it on its own merits.  I’m not sure if I succeeded or not, but nevertheless, I still found it to be a superior horror film — perhaps not as good as the original, but good enough to potentially blow away people who haven’t seen the Swedish version.

Set in New Mexico, the plot closely mirrors the original (of course, though Reeves said this was a remake based on the book, not the Swedish film), though it’s not a shot-for-shot remake as some have claimed that it is close to.  Smit-McPhee is Owen, the bullied boy who finds a friend in the strange and mysterious Abby (Moretz), who is not what she seems.  The two strike up an unlikely friendship/romance that will chance both their lives forever.

The two leads do have good chemisty, and as expected, the Hollywood version is slightly quicker in pace and more explicitly viceral in terms of scares.  It’s a fine horror film in its own right (though not a classic like the original), but I was sorely disappointed that they took out the scariest scene in the Swedish film (the ‘cat’ scene).

4 stars out of 5

30 Days of Night: Dark Days (2010)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first 30 Days of Night, the one with Josh Hartnett and Melissa George, about a bunch of people stuck in an Alaskan town for 30 days without sunshine while vampires roamed the streets.

This straight-to-DVD sequel is a much smaller and less ambitious production, using lesser known actors (Kiele Sanchez, Stephen Huszar) to replace the stars in the same roles.  It continues about a year after the first film ended and follows Stella as she tries to overcome the grief from her husband’s death and somehow ends up in LA, where she finds herself fighting off a whole new network of vampires.

There’s a good reason why this one went straight to DVD — it’s your run of the mill, bloody, gory, uninspiring vampire romp with B-grade actors and lots of guns — but not a whole lot of genuine tension or thrills.  It’s adequate for what it is, but best to keep your expectations in check if you were a fan of the first film.

2 stars out of 5

There’s still more movies — Part IV to come shortly!

Movie Review: Jennifer’s Body (2009) December 21, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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Talk about a letdown.

You have Diablo Cody, the creator of cult favourite Juno, which just won her the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay (and also the award-winning TV show The United States of Tara).  You have Amanda Seyfried, the up-and-coming star of Mean Girls and Mamma Mia!.  You have director Karyn Kusama, who was at the helm for Æon Flux (I know), but also the critically acclaimed Girl Fight.  And of course, there’s Megan Fox, who is widely regarded as the most desirable woman on the freaking planet.

On paper, Jennifer’s Body looks like a sure winner.  But somehow, the film received a lukewarm reception and totally bombed out.  It will go straight to DVD in Australia early next year.

After seeing it, I can kinda understand why.

As per usual, I’m not revealing the any more of the plot than necessary.  Just know it is set in a high school and is a horror comedy about two teenage girls.  One good thing is that the previews are somewhat misleading and don’t give away too much.

In a way, I can see where the movie was coming from.  At its heart, Jennifer’s Body is a very dark black comedy which pays tribute to the old school horror movies (and has a certain 80s feel to it).  There are parts that are genuinely funny if you appreciate dark humour (I certainly do), and there are a couple of scenes which may give you a fright, or at least make you cringe in disgust.

However, watching it, I got the distinct feeling that Cody deliberately set out to make a ‘cult’ movie – and that just doesn’t work.  Movies are given the distinguished ‘cult’ status by the fans.  When you try too hard to make a film quirky and wacky, it just gets weird – but without the accompanying unintended laughs.  There were so many WTF moments in Jennifer’s Body, but they weren’t necessarily good WTF moments.  Don’t get me wrong, Cody is a skilled screenwriter who writes witty, crisp dialogue and creates great characters, but it feels all too polished and packaged.

It’s a difficult film to rate because it has some great elements to it.  It’s sexy, hip and stylish and knows how to manipulate the audience, especially teenage boys (whom they probably thought would flock to see Fox and Seyfried get it on).  The performances are solid, especially Seyfried, who manages to pull off an ‘average’ teenage girl convincingly.  And Megan Fox surprised me with her acting ability.  Yes, she was playing a skanky, bitchy slut of a girl so it might not have been a stretch for her (think Eminem in 8 Mile), but she was actually very good.

On the other hand, Jennifer’s Body just wasn’t that enjoyable.  There are solid moments but it’s not particularly scary nor particularly funny.  It was a little all over the place (though this was probably intentional).  It’s unfortunate because I think they had something going here with the premise and the concept, but the pieces just didn’t fit together for some reason.

2.5 stars out of 5!

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