Film Threat Review: Jez Jerzy (George the Hedgehog)

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL SXFANTASTIC SELECTION!
Unrated
96 minutes

***

There was a time when dirty, experimental cartoons were groundbreaking. “Beavis and Butthead” broke underground music with their video commentary and became a scapegoat to teen pyros across America. “Aeon Flux” made not having a spine sexy, as she sexed her way around her weird, dystopian universe. “The Maxx”…did whatever it is he did. “Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival” fliers popped up in every coffee shop and rock club. Certain kids sneaked downstairs after their parents were asleep to enjoy these titillating cartoon wonders, the likes of which they’d never seen. But once “South Park” stopped shocking people on a weekly basis and “Family Guy” became a prime time hit, edgy cartoons just didn’t seem that edgy anymore. That’s why it’s always refreshing when somebody decides to kick it old school. “Jez Jerzy (George the Hedgehog)” could easily be an outtake from the “Liquid Television” days. There’s nothing like a cartoon about a degenerate hedgehog to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Based on a Polish comic book of the same name, George is an anthropomorphic hedgehog who drinks constantly, skateboards and has sex with human women. He does these things without much moral objection from the world around him. They seem to resent him more for his luck with the ladies and total disregard for social decorum, than his participation in bestiality. Given that the urban hedgehog’s natural enemy seems to be The Skinhead, there may be some civil metaphors at play here too.

George’s carefree life is turned upside-down when an evil scientist clones him, in an attempt to create the ultimate marketing machine. The scientist plans to make George an Internet sensation, allowing him to control corporate commerce, popular culture and possibly even the Polish government. He hires a couple of skinheads to whack the real George so that he can’t expose the clone. It just so happens that these skinheads already have a beef with George. Fortunately for George, these henchmen are bumbling at best and fail in their mission. They do, however, manage to leave their mark, rendering George out of commission long enough for things to get pretty wacky. When he comes to, George finds himself in a case of mistaken identity. With the help of a busty, baritone prostitute, he must race to clear his name and save Poland. All the while, George farts, drinks, humps, fondles, wisecracks and makes feeble attempts to win back an old flame, now married. It’s a ridiculous plot; one that echoes Louis C.K.’s “Pootie Tang” and recalls Spuds MacKenzie (and Slurms MacKenzie!). For the record, I mean that as a compliment.

There are probably Poland-specific jokes that will be lost on an American audience (I couldn’t identify them, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there). What is evident, however, is how much American culture has affected Poland. It almost feels like an alternate American universe. Don’t worry, though. This film won’t make you think too hard. The social commentary mostly stays out of the way of the raunchy jokes and cartoon boobs. Dirty cartoons had their renaissance, but it’s nice to see a small revival in the form of “Jez Jerzy.” It’s crudely animated in the best possible way, depraved, graphic, funny and just the thing for late-night viewing.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Film Threat Review: 96 Minutes

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE COMPETITION SELECTION!
Unrated
93 minutes

**

At SXSW, Aimee Lagos introduced “96 Minutes” by saying that it was about the people who “don’t normally have their stories told.” In actuality, these people she refers to have their stories told frequently, but it’s usually from a morally superior and monochromatic Caucasian point of view. Audiences and critics will inevitably (and rightfully) compare this film to Paul Haggis’ “Crash.” Depending on whom you ask, this is either a compliment or an insult. As far as I’m concerned, “Crash” is the most racist, condescending movie ever to win an Academy Award. Knowing that, you can probably surmise my position on “96 Minutes.”

Worlds collide when co-eds, Carley and Lena, are carjacked by two troubled boys named Kevin and Dre who hail from the wrong side of the tracks (LITERALLY). The story is told in the ever-popular non-linear style, cutting between the present drama and the events in their respective lives that brought them to this point. Kevin is a poor white boy who fancies himself a gangsta-in-training. Dre is Kevin’s African American cousin who just wants to trade in his A-to-the-mothafuckin-K for a cap and gown. Dre only had one more day till retirement…I mean, GRADUATION…when Kevin got him involved in these shenanigans. The boys are in a bit of a pickle because Lena is bleeding from a bullet hole in her face, a semi-accidental love letter that Kevin sent her when she wouldn’t cooperate. Dre really wants to do the right thing, but for some reason, he isn’t sure what that is.

Some have argued that these characters aren’t stereotypes because people like them actually exist. I’m not denying that gangs and gang violence are real issues. People get carjacked. Young middle-class women feel neglected by their business-obsessed fathers. Young hooligans listen to violent music, play first-person shooter games and fantasize about popping a cap in the ass of the man who beats their mom. It’s just that when you bring all of these people together, it starts to feel like a very special episode of “Beverly Hills 90210.” I’m still not sure what Lagos is getting at with this film. Is it that kids who grow up in the ghetto will inevitably join a gang? Is it that all a troubled kid needs is to listen to the middle-class, educated, white woman when she tells him, “You don’t have to do this”? Or maybe Lagos just wants to know why we can’t all just get along, man. At times, it definitely feels as if she is comparing the problems of these college students with the troubles of the ghetto, as though they could really learn something from each other and maybe aren’t that different. As though an inattentive father or unfaithful boyfriend is on par with being abused by your mother’s boyfriend or having no dad at all.

It’s not just the stereotypes that are the problem. The ham-fisted dialog is straight from an after school special. The big, menacing ganstas who coerce Kevin into jacking a car as an initiation warn him, “This ain’t playtime. This shit here’s fo real.” At one point, Dre argues, “I got a gun in my hand cos I don’t see any other way out.” It’s a real seat-squirmer but not because shit gets too real. It’s because of lines like that and the borderline cartoon racism on screen. When Dre is walking home from school, two cops jump him. One is black and one is white. They both beat him down, claiming that he looked suspicious, but the black cop is much more violent with Dre. You might say that the black police officer was showing off for the white one. I guess Lagos has heard that N.W.A. song too. Meanwhile, an old woman watches from her window and when Dre looks to her for help, she closes the curtain. Later, some other cops question a kindly BBQ restaurant owner named Duane (David Oyelowo), and they appear to accuse him of the crime he is reporting to them. He rolls his eyes and I can’t help but think there was a little bit of actor commentary in his performance.

The acting is the only thing I can’t complain about. Everyone does their best with what they’re given. The mean old thugs try to instill more than just black-hat villainy into their characters. Evan Ross won an award at SXSW for his role as Dre. I wish it had been for something a bit more worthy of his talents. For my money, David Oyelowo is the best of the bunch, owning every scene he’s in and somehow selling a particularly sappy phone call to his nephew.

Lagos does her best to distract from her shoddy storytelling with a couple of popular indie filmmaking tricks. She uses color-coding, contrasting the washed out, gritty ghetto with the colorful, sunny college campus and the white bread town in which it sits. The scenes in the car are a dim yellow, lit only by streetlamps and stoplights, keeping the audience as well as the characters in the dark. The non-linear narrative does hold your attention, at least until the time line catches up. You can’t deny the tension of a girl bleeding out in the backseat of a moving car. But Lagos is a conjurer of cheap tricks. Whenever the story jumps to the events pre-jacking, we’re painfully reminded what kind of movie this is. It’s the unfortunate outcome of misplaced white guilt. When the ride is finally over, that’s when the preaching kicks into high gear. I too suffer from white guilt. It’s over the fact that films like this get made. I’m SO sorry.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

Film Threat Review: The Other F Word

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL SPOTLIGHT PREMIERES SELECTION!
Unrated
98 minutes

****

Full disclosure: I AM the target audience for “The Other F Word.” I grew up on punk music and I have a one-year-old daughter at home. That said I’m a tough sell on sentimental documentaries. The movies that have brought tears to my eyes are few and far between. This one had me using my hoodie for a tissue every time one of those tatted-up daddies talked about their crappy childhoods or how much they love their kids. Director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins has made a raw, honest, hilarious and extremely heartrending film. Besides, how can you be expected to keep a dry face when these punk rock icons don’t?

Almost everyone who turns to punk does so because they need it. It’s not just music to them. It’s a home to them when their real homes are unwelcoming or their peers have ostracized them. In the punk scene, kids could find the unconditional love they couldn’t get elsewhere. But the scene is a bit like Neverland. Eventually, the punks grow up. They get adult jobs, mortgages and IRAs. They file away their punk rock pasts in their iPods’ shuffle. The musicians are the Peter Pans of the punk scene, but they couldn’t stay young either. They also can’t leave Neverland. Not if they wanted to keep playing music. When they found themselves with kids and mortgages, punk was no longer just an attitude to them. It had become a job. Brett Gurewitz, (Bad Religion, Epitaph Records) quips, “Punk rock was never meant to grow up. But it did. So too bad.”

There are some ideals of the punk world you never shake: Freethinking, questioning authority, pressing boundaries. Eventually, if you expect to have a happy family, you have to make some compromises. The film’s through line follows Jim Lindberg, front man for the legendary band, Pennywise. He’s preparing to go back on the road, where he spends over 200 days a year. He packs hair dye and studded belts. He’s trying to keep the dream alive but it’s clear that his heart just isn’t in it anymore. Unfortunately, the other, childfree band members want to keep touring forever, and partying like it’s 1989. The fans are still rabid for the music. Besides, his kids need food, clothing and electricity and those things cost money. He’s become a traveling salesman, schlepping anarchy door-to-door.

The film features numerous punk notables including Ron “Chavo” Reyes (Black Flag), Joe Escalante (The Vandals) and Mark Mothersbaugh (DEVO). All of them are dads. Some of them seem a little surprised by it. None of them expected to be around this long. They didn’t have death wishes or anything. It’s just that Fat Mike (NOFX) couldn’t have imagined that he’d become an indentured servant to a little girl, carrying her from room to room and making her breakfast. Mark Hoppus (Blink 182) never would have guessed that he’d be buying the edited versions of his albums to play in the car for his kids. Lars Fredrickson (Rancid) didn’t think about what the other moms at the park would think when he got that tattoo on his forehead. A young Jim Lindberg probably wouldn’t have believed you if you told him he’d one day be haggling with his daughters about how many of their Barbies he would bring on the road with him. These guys aren’t unhappy with the unexpected turns their lives have taken. On the contrary, they seem blissfully happy whenever they spend time with their offspring (in a hilarious twist, they are mostly daughters). They just don’t want to fuck it up.

Almost everyone interviewed has an asshole dad story. They tell harrowing tales of men breaking their sons’ hearts. In some ways, it was generational. Being a good father meant putting food on the table and that was basically all that was required of them. Many couldn’t even handle that and abandoned their families. Others stayed but used a belt or a fist on those that loved them most, an attempt to exorcise their resentment. “When I had my daughter,” Fat Mike confesses, “that’s when I really started to get angry at my dad.”

Art Alexakis of Everclear tells perhaps the saddest tale of paternal failure. Anyone who’s heard “Father of Mine,” knows that Alexakis has daddy issues. He discusses the horrifying details in between clips of a heartfelt acoustic performance of his song. Alexakis also wins the award for most priceless face by a scared-shitless new father.

“The Other F Word” isn’t all punk rock therapy. There are also many comical moments in a day in the life of a punk rock parent. One of more amusing elements is the way their children regard them. In the punk world, their fans revere and emulate them. But when they’re at home, they’re just lame old dads. Still, better to be a lame dad than a negligent one.

Fat Mike admits that he and his wife assumed that their child would just join their lives, already in progress. It’s easy to forget that they will be their own people and come with a completely unique set of opinions and desires. This generation of dads is desperate to improve upon the last. And it’s not just punk dads but any dad who just wants his children to be happy. You have to give up a lot to be a good parent. You don’t have to lose yourself entirely, but you have to make a lot of compromises that you never expected or possibly even vowed against. Jim summarizes the theme of “The Other F Word” nicely. “[Punk rock] is about doing everything your parents didn’t want you to do… How did we go from saying ‘Fuck your parents’ to being parents ourselves?”

Some of the sacrifices they make are lamentable, like having to hang out with the awful parents of their kid’s friends. Some are improvements, like cutting back on their partying and curbing their potty mouths. Jim suggests that the most important thing a punk can do might not be writing an anthem. “Maybe the way we change the world,” he says, “is by being better parents.”

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

Film Threat Review: American Animal

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL NARRATIVE COMPETITION SELECTION!
Unrated
95 minutes

****

If you’ve read any plays by Tom Stoppard or Samuel Becket, than “American Animal” will be familiar territory. Apart from quick-paced banter between characters, nothing much happens. But when the thing is over, you’re left with much to muse. This sort of thing can be challenging. Especially since writer/director/star Matt D’Elia has created a personality who is obtrusive to say the least. Furthermore, when someone has that much creative control over a film, it’s usually a big, flashing warning sign that says “Vanity Project.” As it happens, it’s not vanity if they’re actually talented.

“American Animal” is practically a paradox. D’Elia plays Jimmy, an eccentric unemployed man with an unexplained terminal illness who spends his days lounging around his shared flat in unconventional underpants espousing philosophical monologues and doing impressions. A character like this should be aggravating, not compelling. It helps that Jimmy makes some pretty good points in his monologues and his impressions aren’t too shabby. Jimmy’s flatmate is James (Brendan Fletcher), an uptight bookish man (in contrast) who also enjoys a life of leisure. Remember those exhilarating nights in college when you blew off your homework and instead used what you learned in class to have inebriated, heated debates with your friends about the state of humanity? That’s every day for these trust-fund-squandering lay-a-bouts. Recently, however, James has begun to feel guilty about his extravagant lifestyle and decides that he needs to move forward with that whole “adulthood” thing by taking a job. Conversely, Jimmy has just decided that he hasn’t been extravagant enough. He proceeds to guilt-trip James and their two lady friends (a cheery blonde and a jaded brunette, both named Angela) into indulging him in his hedonistic antics. Jimmy is upset that James has decided to break up the party and does everything in his power to convince James to reconsider. James wants to affect the world around him and give his life a purpose. Jimmy has concluded that because he doesn’t have any responsibilities, he has mastered the system.

The eloquent, thought-provoking dialog flows at a theatrical pace, but it doesn’t feel unnatural. These are college-educated people who aren’t shy about name-dropping Charles Darwin. A typical exchange has everyone saying “what?” with near-maddening frequency, forcing each other to repeat themselves. It’s embellished, but it’s also an understandable reaction to the tension built up in close quarters. Though Jimmy makes grand, self-assured statements and spouts his radical, provocative ideas, he has several substantiated arguments in his repertoire. He makes childish demands and is completely inconsiderate to his friends. He jumps from character to character, often with a costume change. He makes up his own words and insists that it can be Christmas if he wants it to be. Jimmy blames his madness on whatever ailment requires him to take a meal’s worth of prescription drugs every morning. But what has really driven him mad is his privileged life. When he’s actually faced with a problem, he handles it by going balls out (sometimes literally). He’s the closest thing we have to a successful modernization of Hamlet. James is Jimmy’s Rosencrantz/Guildenstern. Though he has good intentions and thinks he’s doing the right thing, James is also, in some ways, writing Jimmy’s death warrant. James isn’t as exuberant as Jimmy, but actor Fletcher aids in cultivating a compelling character that may not be as reasonable as he thinks he is. The big adult job that James is starting in the morning is a paid internship at Harper Collins. His “contribution to society” is a job that he probably got through nepotism.

Theatrics aside, “American Animal” is a colorful, audiovisual experience. D’Elia utilizes jump cut montages and musical cues reminiscent of a Wes Anderson film to acquaint the audience with life in the Urban Outfitters catalog in which these two men have holed up for so long. D’Elia lets the irreverent décor of the house serve as shorthand for who these men are. Thankfully, no one in the film ever says the titular line. It was only after the credits rolled that I realized the title was a punch line.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

Film Threat Review: Kill List

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL SXFANTASTIC SELECTION
Unrated
90 minutes

*****

Ben Wheatley’s first film, “Down Terrace,” was fantastic. But one great film does not an extraordinary director make. With the submission of “Kill List” as his sophomore effort, I think it’s safe to say that this guy is something special. As a critic and a genre fan, I wade through a lot of mediocre films searching for the ones that remind me why I fell in love with horror in the first place. I rarely feel so elated walking out of a theatre as I did leaving “Kill List.” Now that, my friends, is a fucking movie.

“Kill List” begins much the same way as “Down Terrace,” in familial territory. Except something violent and sinister is behind these otherwise archetypal squabbles. Jay (Neil Maskell) and Shel (MyAnna Buring) are married with a young son. They’ve been experiencing cash flow problems and anger management issues ever since Jay was injured “on the job” in Kiev. When longtime confidant and partner, Gal (Michael Smiley, “Down Terrace” and “Spaced”) brings his new girlfriend over for dinner one night, they witness some (at times amusing) spousal nitpicking that leads to Jay abruptly clearing the table. After the dust settles and the wine continues to flow, Gal takes the opportunity to entice Jay back to work. The job is contract killing and the money is good.

We soon learn that this isn’t the first time at the hitman dance for either of these men. This information does little to blight them. After all, the guys their clandestine employers have tasked them to snuff have done bad things. “Just for the record,” justifies Jay, “I’ve hardly done any terrible shit.” Be that as it may, something happened in Kiev that has kept Jay out of work. It has also led to a wee dependence on painkillers and a deep-seeded resentment of Christianity.

As they make their way through the titular list, Jay and Gal start to realize this job has some pretty enormous strings attached. It’s so much fun finding out what those strings entail at relatively the same pace as our protagonists, that I really hope people manage to avoid spoilers. That’s not so easy to do these days.

The performances in “Kill List” are terrific all around. Neil Maskell moves effortlessly between bitter and despondent-yet-devoted family man to merciless assassin with a mounting vigilante streak. When he’s in the heat of the moment, Jay is not unlike Garth Ennis’ Punisher. He’s merciless and derives more than a little satisfaction from killing people he deems “the bad guys.” He’s not content to just put a nice tidy bullet in the victim’s head either, opting instead to bash skulls and faces into a gruesome pulp. Michael Smiley is beautifully adept at playing the thoughtful gangster with a glint of mischief behind his eyes. MyAnna Buring (“The Descent”) brings a rare humanizing complexity to the standard role of the nagging wife. By the time the blood starts flowing, the characters have shown such warmth, passion and familiarity toward one another that you root for them even as their body count rises.

It’s difficult to tell how much of the film was scripted because the performances are so natural. Nonetheless, co-writers Wheatley and Amy Jump certainly deserve praise for creating some very real, intensely compelling characters. Cinematographer, Laurie Rose, uses the realism of the hand-held camera to suck us right into their lives, whilst managing to maintain a lovely cinematic look. The presence of a serendipitous rainbow doesn’t hurt. This look is something that Steven Soderbergh has been trying to achieve for years.

I hesitate to divulge anything more because it’s best to experience “Kill List” as a fly on the wall. There are clues planted along the way but there is little chance you’ll guess the exact ending unless you’ve been spoiled. You’ll likely wish to revisit the film to spot everything you may have missed. Still, I don’t think it’s fair to call the ending a twist. Wheatley isn’t M. Night Shyamalan. He’s not trying to trick you. He’s just following the all-important, yet frequently broken narrative rule: Show, don’t tell. By the time you’ve figured out what’s going on, it’s not so much a surprise as a revelation. That’s a much more rewarding experience than being duped.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct). 

Film Threat Review: Surrogate Valentine

2011 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL EMERGING VISIONS SELECTION
Unrated
74 minutes

**

“Surrogate Valentine” is exactly the sort of movie you hope to avoid at film festivals. It’s a vanity project wrapped in a distracting, meaningless black and white package. It’s clear director Dave Boyle intended to jump on the Mumblecore bandwagon but it lacks the realism and effortless wit usually found in the genre. The dialog dips into rom-com cringe-worthiness and the sentimentality feels forced. Why do film festivals insist on programming these self-important wankfests? When will this madness end? Won’t someone please think of the children?

The story follows a musician named Goh Nakamura (played by Goh Nakamura), who is basically a portly Asian Lloyd Dobbler without the eloquence and good taste in music. The character is based tightly on an Asian singer/songwriter named Goh Nakamura. There’s also a Goh Nakamura in the writing credits. I’m guessing they’re related. Anyway, this struggling John Mayer-type agrees to let a quasi-famous Hollywood actor, Danny, shadow him for the purposes of role research. Danny accompanies Goh as he passively peddles his acoustic wares up and down the West Coast. Meanwhile, Goh reconnects with an old flame and passively attempts to win her back.

In the context of the film, as well as the film-within-a-film, Goh Nakamura is meant to be a sensitive genius and an object of desire. In fact, his awful music and lame jokes win women over so frequently that he can afford to ignore their advances. But the truth is that Goh Nakamura is a contender for the least appealing hipster of all time. He sports the hoodie and tie look without a hint of irony. He moves through the world quietly, attempting to appear deep, but coming off as boring at best.

The movie-within-a-movie is supposed to be bad. Danny plays it like a mincing emo Buddy Holly. Goh’s lame ballads provide the soundtrack for both films, implying that his songs are too beautiful for a Hollywood movie. It’s actually the other way around. A sample lyric: “Your suitcase is by the door/Your carry-on will carry on/Like a baby”. There’s a titular song too. Really.

It gets worse. Goh is the less annoying half of this buddy flick. Danny follows Goh around with a smug, actory demeanor, wildly gesticulating as he imparts platitudes onto his romantically challenged tutor. Like many actors, he has a mediocre Christopher Walken impression and he utilizes it as often as possible, claiming it helps him learn his lines.

The film is shot on HD, but the arbitrary black and white filter gives the picture a flat, dull look. Seattle and San Francisco are lush, beautiful places, but Boyle manages to make them look utterly unremarkable. Even iconic locations like Gas Works Park, Golden Gate Park and The Space Needle stood out only because of they’re hackneyed shorthand properties.

If there’s any redeeming quality to “Surrogate Valentine,” it’s that I see what they tried to do there. This is the sort of movie that gives Mumblecore a bad reputation. Dave Boyle doesn’t seem to realize that you don’t actually have to make your characters mumble.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

Film Threat Review: Red Riding Hood

2011 SXSW SPECIAL EVENT SCREENING!
PG-13
120 minutes

**

Before the “Red Riding Hood” screening my plus one remarked that she was expecting one third of the movie to be establishing shots of trees. So when the movie indeed opened with five minutes of aerial forest shots, we had a good giggle. Sadly, the forest isn’t the only thing Catherine Hardwicke rehashed. These days, she specializes in supernatural fairy tales involving young girls who want nothing but to traipse around in the woods with their forbidden boyfriends. Only this time the girl is blonde (and the wolves look a little different). You can expect plenty of intense close-ups of the leads; close enough to see their big damn eyes. In short, the people who love “Twilight” will love “Red Riding Hood.” The people who think “Twilight” is stupid will think the same about this movie. The people who think that “Twilight” is responsible for breeding a generation of girls with low self-esteem and terrible taste in men will think that “Red Riding Hood” is perpetuating the problem. I swear, sometimes it feels like “The Feminine Mystique” never happened.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. In a gloomy village deep in the forest, there lives a beautiful young girl named Valerie (Amanda Seyfried). She doesn’t think much about her looks but still manages to be the premiere object of desire. All she wants to do is distract her boyfriend, Peter, from his wood-chopping job and talk about running away together. With an arranged marriage and a werewolf stalking her village, there are plenty of reasons to bail. But when the werewolf murders her sister, she puts that plan on hold to help unmask the monster. She soon learns that the werewolf is after her and is living among them. Could it be her boyfriend, her betrothed, the town Jesus freak or even dear old grandma? Probably!

The “Twilight” comparisons were inevitable, but Hardwicke didn’t have to make it so easy. She changed the costumes and sets, but otherwise, it looks like it’s in the same universe. This is the cleanest medieval town ever and the gene pool is impeccable. Everyone’s a looker, even the village idiot (retarded Rupert Grint). The worst looking guy is Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), and he’s not even from there. He arrives, accompanied by two Nubian supermodel soldiers, to help sort out their wolf problems. We never do meet the town alchemist, as he’s probably far too busy making hair product to pay any mind to werewolf business. Everyone speaks with an American accent except for Father Solomon and one guy who sounds suspiciously Canadian (Michael Hogan, “Battlestar Galactica”). Valerie has frequent smolder-offs with Peter from across the square. Valerie and Peter engage in some revenge dancing while an unseen electronic goth band plays. Her two suitors have verbal and physical fights over her and she doesn’t do much to discourage it. People say melodramatic things like “I know you’re burning inside” and “I DO CARE! … I do care.” During a passionate make-out session, Peter growls, “I’ll eat you up!” Incidentally, they handle all of the references to the source material in this same ham-handed way.

When Hardwicke isn’t busy plagiarizing herself, she’s employing Sy-Fy movie-of-the-week techniques. Any time Valerie goes anywhere, the wolf shaky-cam stalks her. Often, it turns out not to be the wolf, but some other jerk who apparently has trouble holding his/her head still. Once we learn the wolf is a villager, the camera makes its rounds, lingering accusingly on the suspicious face of each suspect. The only thing missing is, “dun dun duuuun.”

I hate to say it, but this may be all Joss Whedon’s fault. He invented the “monster with a heart of gold” vampire. Of course his was a metaphor for teenage angst. Myer and Hardwicke misinterpreted it as a literal endorsement for a bad relationship. Girls in love with monsters are the new Princesses.

Now, I realize that this movie isn’t for me. It’s for the squeeing hordes of Hot Topic clad adolescents who are probably on Team Jacob. But I was one of them once. Sort of. In my day, we didn’t have teams because we were all on the same one. I’m not sure what you’d call it but it involved trying to be Winona Ryder. Our “Twilight” was “Bram Stokers Dracula”. It’s not a great film, but the only thing it hurt was our cred at the video store. The girl in “Dracula” wants to die for her Count but she ends up with Keanu Reeves. She was probably just under vampire thrall the whole time, anyway. She wants the bad boyfriend but everyone (including her) knows he’s bad and must be destroyed. Evil is sexy, but it’s still evil.

What makes me saddest about this whole debacle is that Catherine Hardwicke really isn’t doing any favors for the ladies of the Director’s Guild. When they brought her this script, she could have said “You know what? I’ve done troubled girl in a supernatural love triangle. I’d really like to move on so I don’t get pigeonholed.” But she didn’t. She could have said, “I’ll do it, but I’m going to tweak the story so that it’s not so similar to my past work. Plus, this script really blows”. She didn’t do that either. There are certainly male directors who are guilty of the same thing. But since gender equality hasn’t quite made its way into the world behind the camera a female director has to be better than that. A studio picks up a script for a “Wonder Woman’ movie or an “X-Men” and they’ll bring up Singer, Snyder or Favreau. If someone mentions a female director, unless it’s Kathryn Bigelow, they would probably be laughed out of the room or fired. And, in the end, they still wouldn’t give it to Bigelow. Until women stop making movies about girls who are independent only as far as what man they choose to be with, they’re never going to be considered for anything meatier. Hardwicke might sleep fine making gothic soap operas broody teenage girls, but she really should know better.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).