Love the Coopers reminds us that there are few things worse than booze-fuelled family gatherings, but one of them is definitely schmaltzy Hollywood movies about such reunions. Drawing numerous narrative threads towards a climactic yuletide dinner, the film introduces four generations of one family, who must overcome grudges and failings, let slip the odd lingering secret, and possibly realise the true meaning of Christmas.
I remember when I saw the first teaser trailer to Epic almost a year ago. Set to the gorgeous strains of Snow Patrol’s What If This Storm Ends? It looking genuinely stunning. Armies of tiny people dukeing it out in the grand green undergrowth of a regular family garden. It was Avatar meets the Flower Fairies, with a healthy dose of Mayazaki Hayao thrown in for good measure.
The final version of Epic does indeed feature all of those elements (except for the Snow Patrol), but is offset by a Wizard of Oz-like narrative that sees plucky teen MK (Amanda Seyfried) miniaturised in the woods outside her father’s remotely located house. There she encounters a dying princess who entrusts her with a mission upon which hangs the fate of the entire forest.
MK is accompanied by a world weary guardsman, a young anti-authoritarian hero type, a comedic slug/snail duo and off they go to see the Wizard, or save the forest, or do whatever it is they need to do before Christoph Waltz’s sinister rat/bat creature makes everything wilt and die. Why? Coz he’s evil.
Back in the human world, the film flirts with a couple of fairly adult themes. MK has recently lost her mother, is estranged to her father, who is far more preoccupied with tracking down the miniature civilisation he is convinced exists at the bottom of the garden than with consoling his daughter or managing his own grief. Unfortunately, the film is somewhat reluctant to deal with these dark clouds in any specific or potentially informative way.
Epic looks fine. Not great, certainly not epic, but pretty decent, and does its best to make use of the 3D depth of field. Director Chris Wedge has the original Ice Age and the disappointing Robots on his CV, but there’s a good natured tone to Epic that makes it difficult to truly dislike.
That said, the slimy comedians (Chris O’Dowd and Aziz Ansari) feel totally out of place, and a number of the voices – Colin Farrell’s leaf man in particular – don’t come close to matching their onscreen persona. However, we do get Steve “Aerosmith” Tyler as a wizened caterpillar, so it’s not all bad.
Ultimately, Epic feels somewhat perfunctory and after-the-fact, bringing nothing to an increasingly spectacular and envelope-pushing age of animated entertainment. It’s probably too earnest for teenagers, but should keep younger viewers quiet for a couple of hours, although they would benefit far more from exploring the magical worlds of Studio Ghibli.
A serious contender for worst film of the year. Robert De Niro plays the despicable patriarch of an estranged family, who must come together despite their myriad petty feuds to celebrate the wedding of their adopted son Alejandro (Ben Barnes). The parents of his bride-to-be (Amanda Seyfried) are somewhat against the union due to their lingering racist tendancies, while Aljandro’s Columbian birth mother is a devout Catholic and as a result, De Niro and his divorced wife of a good decade, played by Diane Keaton, must pretend they are still together. All this despite the fact father has been living quite happily with new partner Susan Sarandon for some years now.
However, the mind-numbing contrivances of the plot are not the film’s biggest problem, rather the detestable nature of all concerned, and the baffling notion that is incessantly hammered home, that infidelity, polygamy, promiscuity and general sexual deviance is all absolutely fine, so long as you follow your heart and don’t let society tell you how to behave. While I am no prude, the flippancy with which this film handles its code of ethics had me flummoxed. I did laugh once – at an actualy joke in the actual script – for which I feel somewhat ashamed, but beyond that this was a baffling, painful and detestable experience from beginning to end.
It’s clear from watching RED RIDING HOOD that Catherine Hardwicke doesn’t understand what made her previous film, TWILIGHT, so successful. She positions her beautiful young heroine (Amanda Seyfried) in a wintry, woodland outpost where two shirtless hunks from opposing sides of the tracks vie for her affections, all the while suggesting that either one could be a murderous werewolf. But instead of exploring this love triangle, the film opts for a plodding witch-hunt as anonymous villagers, with pitchforks and flaming torches, peer through the shutters, awaiting the next attack from the apparently fearsome beast.
When it appears, however, the werewolf is a joke – a terrible CGI monstrosity likely to frighten more graphic artists than teenage girls. Not only does it fail to convince us it wasn’t drawn in crayon, the wolf just isn’t scary – it also talks. Even when the CGI monsters in TWILIGHT were not rendered flawlessly they scared you because you knew who was inside them, wrestling with their primal urges. By keeping the wolf’s identity secret, RED RIDING HOOD is unable to explore the emotional conflict of getting involved with the “wrong guy”, or protecting your lover from your own violent nature, which is at the core of TWILIGHT’s success.
As if to compensate for this, Oldman’s Father Solomon is cold-hearted and unpredictable as the authoritative voice of the Church, determined to hold someone accountable for the murders. He is infinitely more frightening than the cartoon fuzzball that has the community in disarray, but Oldman never comes close to firing on all cylinders. Julie Christie’s grandmother is developed further than in Grimms’ fairytale, revealing a manipulative streak and great villainous potential, but David Johnson’s script never takes it far enough. Elsewhere, Valerie (our heroine) is little more than a stock damsel in distress, who looks wonderful peering through the snow from under her crimson coat, but a film must be more than just a glamour shoot for its starlet.
Valerie’s suitors, wealthy Henry (Max Irons) and woodsman Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), are all but indistinguishable from each other. Both are young, good-looking and fairly dull and neither seems motivated to fight for her affections beyond occasionally pouting. It’s unlikely teenage girls will be fighting to join “Team Henry” anytime soon, but Hardwicke seems to believe their very existence is reason enough for us to care. And when the identity of the wolf finally is revealed, it only further underscores how little the filmmakers understand the underpinnings of good drama.
While initially, returning the story to its werewolf roots might have seemed promising, RED RIDING HOOD never convinces us it’s anything other than a desperate cash grab at an audience hankering for more TWILIGHT. The glossy aesthetic, emo-rock soundtrack and Santa’s grotto set design only distract the audience further from what little is actually happening on screen. One can only hope the film’s target audience is savvy enough to opt for the trip to grandmother’s house this time and await the BREAKING DAWN.