The original plot of Red Riding Hood, the centuries-old fairytale and inspiration for the new Warner Bros. movie, which opens this week, is hardly the stuff of which classic film adaptations are made. A girl goes out into the forest to deliver a package to her grandmother, meets a talking wolf on the way, later encounters said wolf in the guise of the her grandmother, is swallowed whole by him, and is eventually freed from his stomach when a friendly hunter traps and kills the wolf. That’s it. Tossing aside the weirdness of the cross-dressing bit, the gross irresponsibility of the girl’s parents, whose daughter clearly suffered from some sort of developmental disability (one that prevented her from distinguishing between human and canine) and should never have been allowed to leave the house, much less cross a forest apparently stocked with predatory talking animals, and the gruesome details of her eventual release from her gastrointestinal prison, the storyline seems a bit thin, even by the less-than-rigorous standards of modern Hollywood blockbusters.
And so the task fell to Catherine Hardwicke, director of the 2008 teen vampire blockbuster Twilight, to transform this simple and vaguely disturbing children’s fable into a scary and sexy and relatable Hollywood film. Hardwicke responded with a supernatural mystery-thriller, one with a shape-shifting werewolf, a steamy love triangle, and a protagonist, played by Amanda Seyfried, who is strong and independent and certainly not the type of dim bulb who would fall for some hairy forest creature’s crude impression of Grandma. In an exclusive interview, Hardwicke talked about adapting the beloved fairytale, the “insane” Ms. Seyfried, and the similarities between her new film and Twilight.
You’ve turned the "big bad wolf" into a shape-shifting werewolf. Is there a basis for that in the original story?
The folk tale, or fairytale, had all of these different origins around the world. Charles Perrault put down his version and the Brothers Grimm put their version down, but there really were versions before that had werewolves. Because the wolf has always been that intriguing creature … there was a werewolf trial in Germany in 1589 of this one character [Peter Stumpp]. People are so freaked out by wolves that they make them into these mythological beings. And that’s been going on for hundred of years. But David Leslie Johnson, our writer, he did expand on it. In all these stories, [the character] doesn’t have a name, and we don’t know the mother or the father or anything. He really built a whole rich world around her, with all the secrets and lies and the intrigue and stuff.
This version is certainly far sexier than any that I can remember.
Well, in a weird way, [the original stories] are kind of sexual. Like in this version [points to an illustration from a Red Riding Hood book] the wolf is in bed, and he’s trying to get her to get into bed with him. The wolf is cross-dressing. The little girl invites the wolf. She’s in touch with her sensuality. She’s out picking flowers and not staying on the path like her mom told her. She meets the wolf and the wolf says, “Where are you going?” And she admits she’s going to her grandmother’s and where the house is. She’s inviting that dark side, the dangerous side, into her life. So the seeds are all there, even in the original tale.
Red Riding Hood has a lot of aspects to it that are inevitably going to draw comparisons to your previous film, Twilight. Was it a conscious effort to explore those similar themes in a different setting?
You know, I sometimes wonder if maybe Stephenie Meyer was inspired by the original Red Riding Hood stories with the werewolf. There are some themes that keep coming up in life. Every romantic comedy has a love triangle. It’s kind of hard to have a romance without some conflict in it. It’s boring when two people are happy at the beginning of a movie and happy at the end! So pretty much you’ve kind of always got something like that going, some kind of obstacle or conflict. It’s kind of the basis of drama.
I think there are things I think you can feel are parallels [with Twilight]. All kinds of movies have things that we relate to. But I loved a lot of things in this that gave me new things to explore. For example, in Twilight I had to convince you that a vampire could live in the real world, show up at your high school and you wouldn’t even notice. In this case, I had the chance to create a whole new world that we haven’t seen and convince you of that reality, suspend your disbelief and escape into a fairytale world.
Was Amanda already attached to the project when you came aboard?
No, but she was really the first person I thought of for this project. I knew Amanda; she had been to my house a few times with Emile Hirsch. She used to go out with Emile for a while. And I loved her when I saw her at this benefit for autism. She was up there speaking and there were 10 speakers and with everybody else you were kind of dozing off. And she gets up there and reads a simple little passage and she’s very compelling and emotional, and she just kind of drew me in. So I kind of clocked her and just started watching all the cool, different things she does: Mean Girls – funny; Chloe – sexy; Mamma Mia! – charming. I’m like, man, this kid can do anything. She’s like insane. She kind of had to be it for me. She’s really a positive force.
And then you have Gary Oldman, who’s another force entirely.
Yeah, that was a really big honor for me, to work with Gary, because Sid and Nancy, The Professional, there’s so many things he’s done that have just blown my mind. He had read this part and gone after it and said, “I wanna do that.” I think he liked the ride that that character was going to be on. For me, at first I was a little bit intimidated – it’s Gary F*cking Oldman!!! It’s like, how badass is he? Even his first scene in Harry Potter, you go wow, he’s just got that presence. Whatever the part is, you can’t take your eyes off him. So the ability to work with him on this character, who felt like he’d been deceived, who had a personal connection to this werewolf thing, and who wanted to do the right thing but his obsession just grows and grows, how fun would that be?
And he eventually almost displaces the werewolf as the villain.
Exactly. I loved working with Gary – he’s very funny. You’ve gotta be on your toes with Gary. That was quite a challenge. He loves to work in just jeans and a t-shirt. He did not like wearing the armor or handling swords.
Really? Because he looks to me like he probably wakes up wearing a suit of armor.
Yeah. But he really likes to be comfortable. If he could do every movie in jeans in a t-shirt, I think he’d be pretty happy.
Throughout your career, you've demonstrated a considerable knack for working with young actors - Emile, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, etc. Where do you think that comes from?
Well it started, of course, with Thirteen, and that was just like an organic thing. I’d written several other screenplays and had been trying to get them made. But none of them were getting made, and then suddenly my friend, Nikki [Reed], she had a lot of problems. She was thirteen at the time and she had a lot of issues … and that turned into a film, trying to find a sort of creative therapy to help her do something positive.
That’s a really dramatic time of life. The first time you get to drive a car, or drink, or kiss a boy, or whatever. A lot of fun sh*t happens to you! And your body changes. And the most dramatic stuff, the most suicides, the most car accidents, the most unwanted pregnancies, murders, everything happens when you’re like a teenager. It’s not boring. So I think that’s one reason why a lot of dramatic writers are drawn to that time. A lot of people make their first film based on their own teenage years and stuff. For me, I wrote that script [for Thirteen] with a thirteen-year-old. I didn’t try to write a script about a thirteen-year-old; I wrote it with her. I guess from the beginning I’ve just always listened to that voice, or those people, instead of just trying to say, “This is it.” I think that it’s more participatory, to make people a part of the process. Having Kristen [Stewart] part of the process of casting the guy, having Amanda part of the process guys in this movie, to make sure they have that chemistry, instead of me trying to dictate to people.
Red Riding Hood opens everywhere March 11, 2011.
Following a brief history lesson and one of the most asinine opening sequences in recent movie history it becomes apparent that four friends--Caleb (Steven Strait) Pogue (Taylor Kitsch) Reid (Toby Hemingway) and Tyler (Chace Crawford)--possess superhuman powers. In fact the four share an unbreakable bond: Direct descendants of the original settlers of Ipswich Colony during the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s they all inherited their ancestors’ supernatural powers. When they turn 18 they “ascend ” gaining even more potent--but addictive--powers. With Caleb’s 18th just days away his mother (Wendy Crewson) worries about him because each time a magical power is put to use the user ages prematurely and the powers are addictive. But with his girlfriend (Laura Ramsey) in grave danger and an outsider (Sebastian Stan) threatening to infringe on the group’s sacred name and ancestry will Caleb be able to resist? Well it’s official: If you want to break into acting looks are everything. If you look fresh out of the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog you can act--even if you can’t act! The guys in The Covenant might not be quite that bad but the acting’s just not pretty especially compared to these dudes (it’s a backhanded compliment!). Strait (Undiscovered) Covenant’s resident movie veteran with five films under his belt absolutely has enough Abercrombie in him to warrant infinite chances to get it right but he makes Keanu Reeves look like Robin Williams--or a snail like a cheetah. The rest of the actors tend to overact where Strait underacts. Kitsch a bottle beefcake with one hell of an ironic last name and Hemingway (an equally ironic last name) both seem to think they’re in some throwaway teen horror flick instead of a throwaway supernatural thriller. And the other relative newcomer Stan comes close to decency but undoes his good towards the end. Uwe Boll gets a lot of flak for his films but how ‘bout throwing some hate Renny Harlin’s way?! Harlin has the ability to be a good director--as evidenced on Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger--but that ability has been M.I.A. for over a decade. Fresh off 2004’s clunkeriffic duo of Exorcist: The Beginning and Mindhunters (the latter not being released until last year) Harlin has unfortunately added to his canon o’ crap with The Covenant. Though not nearly as much his fault as it is the actors’ the film remains a directorial mess no thanks to the muddled script from The Forsaken writer J.S. Cardone. Despite the characters trying to spell the story out for us it’s still somewhat hazy and its brief moments of clarity provide little to enjoy. Nice cinematography allows for scarce fun but such scenes turn the movie into an underwhelming Matrix/Underworld hybrid in place of an actual mystery. All in all some teenagers might appreciate the thrills and the loud music but fans of the occult surely won’t.
What starts out as a case of mistaken identity turns into a war between two of New York’s most rival crime bosses: The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and The Boss (Morgan Freeman). They both believe laid-back Slevin (Josh Hartnett) staying at his absent friend’s apartment is the guy who owes them money--and they both set about to make sure he pays them back one way or another. The happy-go-lucky girl next door (Lucy Liu) tries to help Slevin unravel the mystery but the whole mistaken identity thing gets him into even more hot water when a relentless detective (Stanley Tucci) hounds him--and an infamous assassin Goodkat (Bruce Willis) tracks him. Looks like Slevin is going to have to come up with his own ingenious plot to get himself out of this fine mess he’s in. And I do mean ingenious. With character names such as “The Rabbi ” “The Boss ” “Goodkat ” and “The Girl Next Door” you know you’re in for some style over substance which is probably why the script attracted such a top-notch cast. Josh Hartnett (who starred in Slevin director Paul McGuigan’s weirdly romantic Wicker Park) tries something different as the affable Slevin a guy who seems pretty smooth on the surface but who has some seriously twisted ulterior motives. Liu also veers from her usual icy villainess to play Slevin’s kooky love interest bouncing all over the screen like a pinball. Willis revisits his Jackal character but adds a certain panache to the hit man role. And then there’s Kingsley and Freeman. As the Rabbi Kingsley deliciously chews things up while Freeman deftly plays his usual understated self as the Boss. When these two have their one and only confrontation the Oscar winners show us exactly what acting is all about. Lucky Number Slevin is a bit of an enigma. It starts off shaky. You feel like you’re watching something you’ve seen done a million times before: Mistaken identity quirky crime lords who want him dead the bumblin’ cop the hardened assassin. But in the capable hands of Scottish director Paul McGuigan(Gangster No. 1) things aren’t what they appear to be and soon you are thoroughly involved forgiving its formulaic beginning. Much like the recent Inside Man this is yet another excellent example of taking something prescribed and turning it on its ear. Of course much of the intelligence comes from the smartly written script by Jason Smilovic who supplies the actors with plenty of juicy mouthfuls. But Slevin makes you think. It makes you want to find the clues so you can figure out the puzzle. Or if you didn’t catch the clue have it shown to you in an inventive way. Thank god independent film these days offers such new and resourceful ways to watch staid themes.
Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?