Red Riding Hood

Posted on March 12, 2011 at 8:00 am

Oh, Grandmother, what a big, bad movie you have.

So, apparently what happened here is that for whatever reason director Catherine Hardwicke did not get to make the second and third “Twilight” movies, so she decided to make a different hot supernatural teenage romance triangle instead, even keeping one of the same actors in a similar role (Billy Burke as the girl’s father). Twilight may not be great literature but it sure feels like it next to this mess.

Hardwicke’s two great strengths are her background as a production designer and her skill in working with teenagers. Both desert her here. We’re in trouble right from the start, when we see the little village. Instead of evoking fairy tales or rustic, rough-hewn country construction, it looks over-produced and over-designed, like a Christmas ornament rejected by Thomas Kinkade.

The village has maintained an uneasy peace with a savage wolf. Each full moon, they leave out their choicest livestock for him, and the rest of the time he leaves them alone. But the fragile pact is broken when a girl in the village is killed. Valerie (doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried) is the younger sister of the girl who was killed. She is a spirited young woman who has been betrothed by her parents to Henry (Max Irons) but plans to run away with Peter (Shiloh Fernandez). With her sister gone and the town at risk, she is not sure about leaving her parents and grandmother (Julie Christie).

Henry’s father is killed in an expedition to kill the wolf, but the hunters bring back a wolf head and prepare to celebrate. But the local priest (Lukas Haas of “Witness”) has brought in an expert (Gary Oldman), who tells them that the animal they killed was an ordinary wolf. The creature they must kill is a werewolf. That means he or she is human by day. And that means that the killer they are looking for is one of them, someone who lives in the village. Suspicion and betrayal become as critical a threat to the village as the wolf itself.

But neither as as big a threat to the movie as the inability of Hardwicke and screenwriter David Johnson to maintain a consistent tone, with drippy voiceovers (“he always had a way of making me want to break the rules”), anachronistic howlers like “Get me outta here,” and a sort of 18th century rave dance-off. The fake-outs intended to be archetypal and creepy are simply silly, and by the time someone yells, “What happened to the rabbit, Valerie!” any connection to the power of the original story is gone for good.

Those of you who know what the Gothika rule is know what to do!

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“Gothika Rule” Action/Adventure Based on a book Fantasy Romance

The Worst Surprise Endings in Movie History

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 3:59 pm

Huffington Post has got a list of the nine worst surprise endings in movie history (well, in the past few years). I was pleased to see three of my Gothika Rule picks on the list, “Perfect Stranger,” “23,” and “The Forgotten.” (For newcomers — the “Gothika Rule,” named for a movie with one of the worst endings of all time, means that I will give away the surprise to anyone who sends me an email to save them what I had to suffer in watching it.) Be sure to check out the comments from readers with their own suggestions. I’d add “The Pink Jungle,” “Desperate Measures,” and, of course “Gothika.” Any others?

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“Gothika Rule” Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Knowing

Posted on July 7, 2009 at 8:00 am

When MIT astrophysics professor John Koestler (Nicolas Cage in one-note mournful mode) looks distracted and thoughtful as he invites his class to debate randomness vs. determinism, you don’t have to be much of a determinist to figure out that as inevitably as night follows day, John is about to be hit with some Evidence of a Greater Plan. This isn’t determinism, the idea that events that may seem random are a part of some greater pattern. This is just predictable hogwash, and it gets even hogwashier until it arrives at an ending that manages to be inevitable, uninspired, and preposterous.

John’s son Caleb (a sincere Chandler Canterbury) attends a school that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The ceremony involves opening a time capsule filled with drawings from children on its opening day. But the envelope Caleb is given to open does not have a drawing of spaceships. It has an apparently random string of numbers. John notices that one string is 09/11/2001 and the number killed that day. A night-long Google search later, he has assigned many of the numbers to known disasters — and figured out that the final three dates are still in the future.

And then this becomes just another big, dumb, loud, effects-driven movie. Forget determinism; if one character behaved in a rational manner, the movie would be 20 minutes long. Three dates in the future? That of course means that the first one is there to prove the theory. Next, John figures out that the next one will happen in NY. Instead of staying in Cambridge, he heads for the location so that he — and the audience — can be in the middle of a technically impressive but narratively brutal catastrophe. And then we are all headed for the big finish (and I mean FINISH), but first there is a lot of completely pointless racing around in a fruitless attempt to build some tension.

The movie sinks from dumb to offensive first when it devotes so much loving detail to the graphic, even clinical depiction of pointless calamity and second when it ultimately and cynically appropriates signifiers of religious import in an attempt to justify itself. Professor Koestler, in a world of rational determinism, this movie would never have gotten the green light. Case closed.

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“Gothika Rule” Spoiler Alert Thriller

Eagle Eye

Posted on December 23, 2008 at 8:02 am

A promising premise, some intense action, and a lively appearance by Billy Bob Thornton might have been enough to squeak this one by as a summer movie but when the days grow shorter and the wind blows chill we ask for a little more in our movies and this one does not make it.

The always-appealing Shia LaBeouf plays Jerry Shaw, whose job as a “copy associate” requires him to greet customers, “Welcome to Copy Cabana; how can I help you?” He is behind on his rent and gets an “insufficient funds” notice when he visits the ATM. After his brother’s funeral, he suddenly has three-quarters of a million dollars and an apartment full of weapons. And then he gets a cell phone call telling him that the FBI will arrive in 30 seconds to arrest him and he needs to run. He stays put, the FBI arrives, and he finds himself being interrogated by Agent Tom Morgan (Thornton). He gets another call with instructions to escape and this time, there is no alternative. Meanwhile, Rachel, a young single mother (Michele Monaghan) who has just put her little boy on a train trip to Washington with his school band, gets a call with instructions, too, threatening to kill her son unless she goes along. They meet (“Who are you and why are people shooting at us?”).

Pretty soon, they’re on the road together, doing that bickering/personal revelation/impressing each other/building trust dance amidst chases, explosions, and shoot-outs, with Agent Morgan and an investigator from the Air Force (Rosario Dawson) on the trail.

I’m always up for a good paranoid thriller, and these days the incursions on privacy from both increased technological capability and Patriot Act-era transparency provide some plausible and nicely creepy possibilities to explore. What if someone could track all of our conversations, even when our phones were off and process all of the data stored about us, our families, and our friends, at work, at the bank, at the insurance company, in the IRS files. It turns the enemy into something between Hannibal Lecter, the Borg, and the Terminator, with resistance futile in the face of such an implacable and all-knowing foe.

So far, so good. There are some inventively staged moments, especially one that looks like a live-action variation of the climax from “Monsters Inc” with a chase scene in an airport cargo conveyor system. Thornton brings some twisty humor (and, given the variation in quality, his skill as a writer to his own dialogue) to the story. But the thinness of the premise and the even greater thinness of the characterizations kick in and it all begins to fall apart. I can’t really explain how dumb the resolution is without spoilers, so I am invoking the legendary “Gothika Rule” and will give away the surprise ending to anyone who sends me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com. Let me just say that it doesn’t take an eagle eye to figure it all out.

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“Gothika Rule” Action/Adventure

Quotes of the Week — ‘Seven Pounds’

Posted on December 21, 2008 at 11:16 am

Will Smith’s latest got only a few positive reviews, 29% according to Rotten Tomatoes. One was from USA Today, where Claudia Puig said, “Concerned with how people overcome trauma and tragedy, the film focuses on universal themes of loss, forgiveness and redemption. While it doesn’t break any new ground or provide any revelations, Seven Pounds is unabashedly emotional and cautiously hopeful. It’s the feel-good movie for these feel-bad times.”
But it most critics placed it somewhere between “feel bad” and “feel furious” and the frustration of writing about what they did not like without giving away the ending had some of them just about foaming at the mouth. SPOILER ALERT — DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING It is clear from the very beginning of the film that Smith’s character will at least attempt to commit suicide and that he is preparing to make a great sacrifice to benefit seven people he considers deserving, including a character with a congenital heart defect played by Rosario Dawson. It turns out that he carelessly caused a traffic accident (don’t text and drive, my friends) that killed seven people, including his wife. At the end of the film, after giving up a lung, a part of his liver, his bone marrow (with no anesthetic), and his beach house, Smith’s character kills himself so that he can give up his heart and corneas. This is Puig’s idea of a feel-good movie?
I would not go as far as the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, who called it “among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made.” But I see his point. Scott Foundas of The Village Voice called it “a morbid morality play that rivals The Reader for the bottom spot in this season’s celluloid martyrdom derby” and “dispiritingly obvious and phony from top to bottom.” It is not the obviousness and phoniness and manipulation that bothers me as much as the clueless and even condescending immorality of it. No one thinks that suicide, even to benefit others, is a legitimately redemptive act and it is contemptible and irresponsible of the movie to suggest otherwise.

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“Gothika Rule” Quote of the Week
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