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Movies OPENINGS

Of Gods and Men ---1/2

Red Riding Hood -1/2

(Guild) Xavier Beauvois’ much-feted drama “Of Gods And Men� is a film of quiet contemplation about men of quiet contemplation, Trappist monks inhabiting a provincial Algerian monastery. Based on a true incident in 1996 involving a clash with Islamic fundamentalists, the film invites a consideration of the social roles of religion and how the unseen and unheard (namely God) provide unlikely justification for radically diverse social action. The story is, on its face, very simple. The encroachment of Islamic radicals on the peaceful countryside presses a thorny question to the monks: With direct conflict inevitable, should they stay true to their commitment to serve the local needy, or abandon the monastery and return to the safety of France? Most of the film is preoccupied with answering this question. Though the outcome is never much in doubt (Beauvois all but announces the film’s ending from the opening frames), classical tragedies concern themselves less with one’s fate and more with how one meets it. These are men of responsibility, service and spiritual devotion, emblematized by the weight of leadership seen in Christian (Lambert Wilson), the medical care tirelessly offered by Luc (Michael Lonsdale), and the monks’ daily practices of prayer and chanting. (Side note: It’s particularly heartening to see the adept Lonsdale escape his niche as a hardbitten toughie to play a gentle, loving soul.) Since Beauvois takes pains to detail the activities and rhythms of monastic life, there’s an element of anthropological interest here (or disinterest, for those who find the slow pace unbearably ponderous). Themes emerge: the character of brotherhood (occasionally strained but ultimately loving), strong ties to the community (the monks’ trusted counsel is sought even on such matters as secular love), and the struggle to maintain faith even in the face of a world gone mad. The monks agree they shouldn’t be seeking martyrdom. But they are, in a sense, prisoners of conscience, a point that Beauvois and co-writer Etienne Comar only obliquely address. True to life, this community of faith is a conspicuously aging one, and it’s the youngest of the group (Olivier Rabourdin) who expresses the greatest reservations about staying in the line of fire: “Dying here, here and now ... does it serve a purpose?� Christian rather unconvincingly offers, “Help will come from the Lord,� but his stronger argument goes to the heart of their sworn vocation to live like Christ: “The Good Shepherd doesn’t abandon his flock to the wolves.� The specter of Islamic fundamentalism — carefully contrasted with the good-hearted men, women and children of the community — points up the damaging potential of faith. For some viewers, the possibility of the monks remaining to face certain harm will prove the same point. But Beauvois wears his heart on his sleeve: If he allows the monks their humanity, he’s yet more interested in their extraordinary nobility of sacrifice. The film loses some power by letting the central debate fizzle out (Beauvois fumbles the dramatization of the men’s arrival at final decisions), but rallies in the end with an eloquent post-climactic testament by Christian, an attempt to respond rationally to the irrational.

(Century 16, Century 20) It seems not even fairy tales are safe from the “Twilight� infection — mashing fantasy/horror elements with soap-opera romance in hopes of startling and stimulating teenage viewers. But “Red Riding Hood� falls beneath even the low cinematic standards set by “Twilight.� The unfortunate combination of a hackneyed script and inexperienced acting makes the film feel like the big-budget version of a bad high-school play. Although wide-eyed ingenue Amanda Seyfried and the always impressive Gary Oldman do their thespian best, the film quickly spirals from silly to absurd to “I can’t believe I just wasted 10 bucks.� In the story, a vicious werewolf has tormented the residents of a medieval village for the better part of two decades. The terrified villagers regularly offer up sacrificial livestock to appease the mysterious beast, but when it kills a human girl the residents are spurred to action. Village holy man Father Auguste (Lukas Haas) enlists the aid of werewolf hunter Brother Solomon (Oldman), who plans to end the wolf’s violent reign. Stuck in the middle is Valerie (Seyfried), the gorgeous daughter of a local lumberjack (Billy Burke as Cesaire) and secretive housewife (Virginia Madsen as Suzette). Valerie is desperately in love with the dark and brooding Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), a lifelong friend, but Suzette is pushing her to marry noble blacksmith Henry (Max Irons). Valerie also has an unusual connection with the werewolf, who Solomon claims could be anyone in the village. Father Auguste, Peter, Cesaire, Henry — even Valerie’s creepy grandmother (Julie Christie) — are all suspects in Solomon’s aggressive wolf hunt. Director Catherine Hardwicke, whose career launched so promisingly with the intelligent, edgy pictures “Thirteen� (2003) and “Lords of Dogtown� (2005), stumbles badly with “Hood.� Almost immediately the viewer is pulled out of the story as Hardwicke favors visual aesthetics over realism. It snows throughout the film, yet most of the characters don clothing that wouldn’t keep one warm on an overcast day in San Francisco. Peter’s purposely tousled hair is obviously gelled, making us wonder if there’s a Paul Mitchell salon hidden somewhere in the archaic village. Fernandez scowls his way through the film like an arrogant jock who just played a prank on some unsuspecting geek. His acting skills obviously need polishing, and as the male lead he forces viewers to look elsewhere for compelling material. The film’s score is actually very good and the set design deserves some credit, but the highlights end there. Intrigue about the wolf’s identity proves somewhat interesting until the lackluster denouement inspires more chuckles than shock and applause. Teenagers may find some enjoyment in this “Twilight�-meets-�The Village� offspring, but average moviegoers can pull down their hoods and take a nap.

           



           

       

     

     

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Rated PG-13 for violence and creature terror, and some sensuality. 1 hour, 49 minutes. — Tyler Hanley

Battle: Los Angeles -1/2

Rated PG-13 for a momentary scene of startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language. Two hours, two minutes.

(Century 16, Century 20) If what you’re looking for is two hours of things-go-boom jingoistic claptrap, “Battle: Los Angeles� is for you. On the other hand, if you’re at all concerned that you may have seen it all before, trust that instinct.

— Peter Canavese

(continued on next page)

COLUMBIA PICTURES PRESENTS IN ASSOCIATION WITH RELATIVITY MEDIA AN ORIGINAL FILM PRODUCTION “BATTLE: LOS ANGELESâ€? AARON ECKHART MICHELLE RODRI GUEZ RAMON RODRIGUEZ BRIDGET MOYNAHAN EXECUTIVE NE-YO AND MICHAEL PEĂ‘A MUSICBY BRIAN TYLER PRODUCERS JEFFREY CHERNOV DAVID GREENBLATT WRITTEN PRODUCED DIRECTED BY CHRIS BERTOLINI BY NEAL H. MORITZ ORI MARMUR BY JONATHAN LIEBESMAN STARTS FRIDAY, MARCH 11

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Palo Alto Weekly 03.11.2011 - section 1  

Section 1 of the March 11, 2011 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly

Palo Alto Weekly 03.11.2011 - section 1  

Section 1 of the March 11, 2011 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly