The Films of Catherine Hardwicke
Thirteen is receiving a lot of praise for its realistic depiction of teenage life. And while that is true to a certain extent, key portions of the film just aren't believable due to some wholly over-the-top plot twists. Evan Rachel Wood stars as Tracy, a responsible and studious high school student whose entire outlook is radically changed when she meets Evie (Nikki Reed). Evie is a rebellious sort who introduces Tracy to drugs, fashionable clothes and older guys - much to the consternation of Tracy's post-hippie mother, Melanie (Holly Hunter). The primary problem with Thirteen is the lack of explanation regarding Tracy's almost obsessive need to fit in. When we first meet her, she seems to have no interest in running with the cool crowd - but when she spots Evie one day, she's almost instantly transformed into a love-struck bubblehead. Director Catherine Hardwicke inserts a recurring image in the form of a billboard that says "beauty is truth" and presumably expects that to define Tracy's newfound lust for popularity. But if you're willing to overlook that glaring flaw in Hardwicke and Reed's script, Thirteen does contain a number of fantastic performances. Wood makes the transformation from stuffed-animal loving girl to midriff-baring woman with remarkable ease, while Hunter resists the temptation to play Melanie as a stereotypically angry mother that attempts to clamp down on Tracy immediately. Melanie tries to understand Tracy's drastically changed behavior, but eventually has to put her foot down. The middle is clearly the most effective portion of the film, as the resolution comes together far too easily; this is the sort of material that would have been better served by an ambiguous conclusion. Still, Hardwicke (a former production designer making her directorial debut) clearly has talent and an eye for realism - though her reliance on the old shaky-cam gets a little tiresome after a while. But the highlight of Thirteen has to be the fake movie poster advertising a wacky romp with Jack Black and an animated pig called The Misadventures of Ezekiel Balls. Now that's a flick I'd like to see.
Lords of Dogtown (September 23/05)
While Lords of Dogtown is competently made and generally well acted (Heath Ledger, in particular, does an amazing job of disappearing into his character), the film suffers from an astonishingly uninteresting vibe that only gets worse as it progresses. Right from the get go, there's a feeling that the movie's been tailor-made to appeal solely to skateboarding fans - with little effort made to appeal to anyone else. Set in the 1970s, Lords of Dogtown revolves around a group of skateboarders that somehow start a revolution within the sport - taking it from the fringes smack-dab into the mainstream. There's not much of a plot here; screenwriter Stacy Peralta (who was actually a pivotal figure in the whole thing) follows the example of films like Boogie Nights and Goodfellas, taking the characters through a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs as they attempt to cope with their sudden fame. But Peralta never gives us a reason to care about any of these people - most of whom come off as obnoxious punks - and it's impossible not to wonder if the screenwriter actually expects the viewer to root for these guys. That virtually every single authority figure is portrayed as a broad stereotype certainly doesn't help, and proves that a more experienced writer should've been brought in to polish Peralta's script. Director Catherine Hardwicke attempts to imbue the movie with the feel of a documentary by employing relentlessly jittery camerawork, a tactic which rarely works even in good films (so you can imagine how annoying it is here). And while there are a few effective moments sprinkled here and there - particularly the boys' initial trip to a competition - Lords of Dogtown is, on the whole, a thoroughly dull piece of work.
The Nativity Story
Click here for review.
Red Riding Hood (March 21/11)
Loosely inspired by the infamous fairy tale, Red Riding Hood follows Amanda Seyfried's Valerie as she attempts to choose between her secret lover (Shiloh Fernandez's Peter) and her betrothed (Max Irons' Henry) - with complications ensuing as her medieval village is repeatedly attacked by a vicious werewolf. It's clear right from the outset that Red Riding Hood suffers from a vibe of pervasive incompetence that's reflected in everything from its chintzy sets to the stagy dialogue to the charmless performances, with the film's less-than-gripping atmosphere ensuring that there's simply never a point at which one is able to work up any interest in the various characters' exploits. Director Catherine Hardwicke proves utterly unable to infuse the proceedings with even an iota of momentum, as the filmmaker, working from David Johnson's screenplay, places a consistent emphasis on sequences of a tedious and absolutely interminable nature (ie the villagers celebrate after supposedly defeating the beast). Even the romantic subplot between Valerie and her would-be suitors, which should have been a highlight, falls completely flat, with the total lack of character development preventing the viewer from wholeheartedly (or even partially) embracing the fates of the film's one-dimensional figures. By the time the narrative segues into its seemingly endless witch-hunt phase, Red Riding Hood has certainly established itself as a turkey of almost impressive proportions - which is rather surprising, really, given that the cast includes several noted scene-stealers (including Gary Oldman!)