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Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

by Steve Habrat

Did you ever think you would see a gritty interpretation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White? Well now you can in all its mediocre glory! Snow White and the Huntsman sheds any whimsicality that is associated this legendary tale and offers audiences a bone snapping, grime-under-the-fingernails medieval vision that hopes to lure a male crowd as well as the shrieking Twilight fans who will see anything that Kristen Stewart even thinks about starring in. Director Rupert Sanders has plenty of talent at his disposal but he is cursed with an uneven script and is forced to cover up the rougher moments with dazzling images to distract us from the dips in the story. If Snow White and the Huntsman were converted into a picture book meant for your coffee table, I guarantee it would be a huge hit when you have company over. While the film wins visually (it is stunning in digital projection), there are moments here when the film comes to a screeching halt, pondering what it will do with itself next. Good thing that Thor’s Chris Hemsworth and the seven dwarfs show up to aid you in your battle to keep your eyelids open because I’m sure Snow White and the Huntsman is the cure for insomnia.

Snow White and the Huntsmanbegins with a superbly filmed flashback that shows us Snow White’s royal upbringing. After her mother, Queen Eleanor (Played by Liberty Ross) passes away, her father, King Magnus (Played by Noah Huntley), finds himself in love with the mysterious Ravenna (Played by Charlize Theron), who is supposedly being held captive by the equally mysterious Dark Army. King Magnus marries Ravenna but on their wedding night, Ravenna brutally murders Magnus and then proceeds to overthrow his kingdom with her homely brother, Finn (Played by Sam Spruell) and the Dark Army, who is under her command. Snow White and her buddy William attempt to flee the castle but Snow White is captured by Finn and locked away in one of the castle towers. Fifteen years pass and Snow White (Played by Kristen Stewart) is still locked up in that tower, battling to stay warm from the frigid weather. Queen Ravenna still rules over the once lush but now barren land, giggling over the poverty and suffering that grips the local townspeople. Soon, Queen Ravenna, who has the power to remain young by draining the youth from young girls that are brought to her, is informed by Mirror that Snow White’s beauty is destined to surpass her own beauty. Enraged, she demands that Snow White be brought to her but Snow White escapes, forcing Queen Ravenna to hire the grieving Hunstman (Played by Chris Hemsworth) to track Snow White down in the Dark Forest and return her before she is consumed by old age. Also searching for Snow White is her old friend William (Played by Sam Claflin), who hasn’t forgiven himself for loosing Snow White to Ravenna.

Snow White and the Huntsman is eager to explain away some of the supernatural elements of its story. A scene in which Queen Ravenna speaks with her Mirror while Finn spies on her reveals that the talking Mirror may all just be in her head and not really there at all. Scenes in the Dark Forest, where Snow White begins seeing strange creatures darting around the twisted and charred trees is actually the result of her inhaling a defensive gas emitted from black pods that dot the ground. While it is obviously doing this to lure in a male audience, Snow White and the Huntsman does keep a few fantasy elements in place. We see trolls, fairies that look like rejects from Pan’s Labyrinth, animals that have become one with their settings, soldiers that shatter into black glass, and more. Yet all of these creatures are believable because they look like they have evolved from trees, grass, rocks, and everything else you can find in the woods. Seeing these wondrous critters was one of the most entertaining parts of Snow White and the Huntsman, giving the film a bit of personality, something it is in dire need of.

We should also be thankful for the presence of Chris Hemsworth, who does most of the heavy lifting in Snow White and the Huntsman, making the film bearable for its two-hour runtime. I truly think that Hemsworth is a talented guy and I give him credit for refusing to allow his baritone hero be a tough guy cliché with no depth. He gives this film a wounded soul and you will feel for his character when his eyes well up. The film really picks up when he makes his entrance and every time he steps away, things start to fall apart. Luckily, he has a bit of back up with a group of scene stealing dwarfs that are appropriately grotesque and a whole lot of awesome. Did you ever think you’d see the seven dwarfs kicking ass and killing people? I sure as hell didn’t and was pleasantly surprised when they did. The dwarfs, Beith (Played by Ian McShane), Muir (Played by Bob Hoskins), Gort (Played by Ray Winstone), Nion (Played by Nick Frost), Duir (Played by Eddie Marsan), Coll (Played by Toby Jones), Quert (Played by Johnny Harris), and Gus (Played by Brian Gleeson), could have been an excuse for a couple of laughs to keep the kids busy but miraculously, the film never has them parading around like pint size jesters. Along with Hemsworth’s Hunstman, they make up the emotional core that keeps things sizzling.

The biggest problem outside the stop-go plotline is Theron’s Queen Ravenna and Stewart’s Snow White. Stewart is a one-note actress who is incapable of holding the screen and injecting any presence into her scenes. Her character wanders around the entire time looking for purpose that she barely finds. She may have the looks but I truly think that they could have found someone who didn’t wander around with a dumbfounded look on her face. I was never rooting for her and wasn’t moved an inch when she gives her big rallying speech at the end. Hemsworth is the one who keeps her character from crashing and burning from lack of emotion. When Stewart isn’t busy ruining the movie, Theron is busy overacting her brains out. She is so evil, it becomes overkill and just downright ludicrous. I was pulling for her to be another bright spot in this mostly drab tale but she launches into her role at two hundred miles per hour, annoyingly ready to bear her fangs. The best villains are the ones who have some sort of complexity to their actions and an aura of unpredictability but Theron just makes Ravenna evil with a capital “E” for silly reasons. I hated that you could read every face twitch and every tap of her finger.

Snow White and the Huntsman does have a few action sequences that break up the monotony of the script, mostly the tar-caked final battle that features some nasty smack downs that will get the adrenaline pumping pretty good. Sadly, the finale does end up cramming a bunch of unnecessary CGI into it that really serves no point (We have a Dark Shadows problem on our hands!). It also feels like too much too late in the game. Every once and a while, we do catch a glimpse of what Snow White and the Huntsman could have been, but it just opts to be a predictably moody medieval road movie instead of setting itself apart from the pack. The overall slacking from Stewart, who should have won our hearts early on, and the irritatingly evil Theron end up being the poison apple that sends Snow White and the Huntsman into a comatose state it never wakes up from. It’s a shame because in a summer that has so far only seen one truly great blockbuster (The Avengers), this had potential to be one of the fairest blockbusters of the summer.

Grade: C-

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

by Steve Habrat

Is it me or are the Pirates of the Caribbean films starting to become almost an obligation to go see? The first two films in the series were fun high-seas adventure flicks that came equipped with a whole lot of action and reckless swashbuckling. But then came the bloated and incomprehensible third entry in the franchise and it became as clear as those Caribbean waters that this film franchise wasn’t entirely sure what to actually do with itself. For almost three hours, it ran in a circle and concealed the fact it had no major plotline by setting up countless side storylines. The promise of a better fourth entry that trimmed out the fat and stayed on one major course sounded like a real treat! Plus, it guaranteed Johnny Deep’s boozy punk rock pirate Jack Sparrow would get more screen time and not have to share it with the perpetually-doing-a-period-piece-movie Orlando Bloom. Unfortunately, the phrase “you can have too much of a good thing” applies to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, as once again the franchise has no real idea where to go or how to deliver a satisfying payoff. The film is all build up and then fizzles due to clutter. This is not to say it’s an awful movie but it sure appears like this was just a quick paycheck for everyone involved with it.

The glaring problem with On Stranger Tides is the script that it has to work with. Sure, the story has been trimmed down, but it drops the ball when it comes to the effortless humor and whimsy that the other entries executed with outstanding ease. Perhaps it’s the fault of new director Rob Marshall, who is inexperienced with Hollywood blockbusters, as he is the man who was behind the glittery musicals Nine and Chicago. He poorly paces the film to the point where he seems blatantly eager to rocket into one action sequence after another. While the action sequences are fine, the Pirates of the Caribbean films could always pride themselves on their clever and hilarious banter.

The storyline this time around is pretty straightforward: Jack Sparrow is suckered into finding the Fountain of Youth for the dread Blackbeard (Played by Ian McShane). He is fooled at the hands of Blackbeard’s feisty daughter, Angelica (Played by the sexy Penelope Cruz), while he is traipsing through Britain. The British Royal Army also wants the Fountain of Youth and dispatches the dreaded Captain Barbossa, a role reprised by the stellar Geoffrey Rush, to find it before Sparrow. On top of that, a mysterious group of Spanish Conquistadors also wants possession of eternal youth.

Sounds simple enough, right? It is for the most part. The film still takes outlandish detours and introduces new side characters that are there to fill out a two hour run time. The film looks nice and the 3D will wow the kiddies. Yet the film has an abnormally flat personality. It does not have hints of the spark that made the original film so damn fun. It shows brief glimpses of intrigue mostly when the film runs aground and the characters take to dry land. It also contains a bone chilling sequence that features a hair-raising encounter with mermaids. I will commend the film on it’s top notch directing and the infusion of new supernatural elements into the film. We get zombies this time around that is a brilliant tribute to I Walked With a Zombie and White Zombie.

Even if the film appears to be phoned in, the performances from Depp, McShane, and Rush are all in top form. They seem to be having a great deal of fun playing these grubby, rum-guzzling pirates. Rush steals the show as the grotesque and vengeful Barbossa. McShane is the embodiment of evil as the glaring and mystifying Blackbeard. McShane is the best villain of the series since Barbossa intimidated his way through the first film. Unfortunately, director Marshall didn’t seem to really know what to do with Cruz’s Angelica. She seems there only to provide a pretty face juxtaposed with the breathtaking backgrounds. It’s a shame, really, due to her talent that she so gracefully posses.

Then we have Mr. Depp as the infamous Jack Sparrow. He embodies the role like no one else could and it’s a thrill to see him back doing it. It’s funny because we get to see Johnny Depp playing Johnny Depp. He’s still the king of getting himself into sticky situations, deadpanning his way out of them, only to find himself in a worse predicament than before. Sadly, he lacks the effortless charm he once exuded. He’s a victim of poor writing and the film banks on the audience’s laughs just at his presence alone. He does muster up a few classic one-liners and reactions, but it makes me wish that he wasn’t front and center in the spot light. He needs another character to anchor his lofty persona.

The film also suffers from an unsatisfying payoff that seems like mere set up rather than unambiguous conclusion. The film raises more questions than it answers and you’ll see what I mean when you take yourself to see it. Characters seem present only to create unnecessary conflict. The ending is especially guilty of this crime, as at least one group battling for the Fountain seems to have no purpose there at all. To trim them out would have been a wise choice by Marshall. The film leaves us with the sinking feeling the Disney is certainly going to churn out more of these. I hope they don’t bog it down in needless muddle and meaningless characters.

No matter what I say, everyone will flock to see it and many will dash to the store come the holidays to pick up the Blu-ray and DVD. After all, it is your obligation! If there are to be more of these, I ask that Disney pay closer attention to the script and keep things light. It’s what gave them a winner in the first place. Hell, bring back those seriously awesome mermaids! They have solid characters to work with and a fresh slate to draw on. But On Stranger Tides feels oddly pedestrian when it could have benefitted from much more of the promised strangeness.

Grade: C

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.