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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-

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

by Steve Habrat

I’m glad I let Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy marinate in my mind for a few hours before I sat down to hammer out a review of it. I emerged from the matinee showing with my head spinning and my brain scrambling to put the pieces of this puzzle together. I was so hastily trying to wrap my head around what I had just seen. I was initially let down by it and to think I was so excited to see this smoky, earth toned espionage thriller that looked like it was ripped out of the 1970s. I thought it would be full of thrills and white-knuckle moments. Folks, I’m here to tell you it’s not what you think it is. Despite passing itself off as a Cold War spy flick, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about the men that were causalities of this war that consisted of suspicion and heightened awareness of the individual at your side. Accusations flew in place of bullets. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is about bombed out egos rather than bombed out cities. If character studies and talky dramas turn you off, either wait until this film is at your local Red Box or skip it entirely. If you are willing to let it into your brain, you will find it slowly creeping down your spine hours after you see it.

Set in 1973, retired British Intelligence agent George Smiley is lured out of retirement by Oliver Lacon (Played by Simon McBurney), the civil servant in charge of intelligence, to investigate a mole who has infiltrated intelligence and has apparently been there for years. Smiley teams up with fleeing agent Ricki Tarr (Played by Tom Hardy) and intelligence officer Peter Guillam (Played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and together they launch an investigation aimed at the new Chief of the Circus Percy Alleline (Played by Toby Jones), his deputy Bill Haydon (Played by Colin Firth), and his allies Roy Bland (Played by Ciarán Hinds) and Toby Esterhause (Played by David Dencik). Smiley begins meeting with individuals who were forced out of positions due to their suspicions and accusations, now left in ruin and haunted by what the know. Along the journey, Smiley tries to repair his shattered past and come to terms with his demons that silently plague him.

While it is certainly a droll film in it’s first forty-five minutes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy finally sets things in motion when more layers begin to peel away. The one aspect I really liked in the beginning was the fact that Smiley barely spoke any dialogue and he lets his world-weary face do all the work. His eyes are cartoonishly enlarged behind his thick-rimmed specs and his mouth slightly opens as if he is about to let a thought out but he quickly remembers to cage it back up. He is a curious one. When he does speak, he has a raspy and weary voice to fit his somnolent eyes, though his words have been dipped in thick globs of confidence. Oldman does a terrific job with Smiley and he will certainly get an Oscar nomination for his aloof portrayal of John le Carré’s heartbroken spy. I found myself replaying the scenes of Smiley strolling through the misty, dingy streets of Cold War London or Smiley sitting alone in his apartment as the television chirps in the background. There is a knock at the door and in response, his head slightly turns, and this is when we get a quick glimpse at his broken and lonely heart.

The rest of the supporting players in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy hold up quite well next to the slow burn of Oldman’s Smiley. This is, afterall, a character piece. Firth’s Bill Haydon is a standout, providing some small bursts of humor in the relentlessly dreary atmosphere. Hardy’s Ricki Tarr seems like he will be the tough guy but Hardy has the good sense to show us that even tough guys have a breaking point. Jones’ Percy Alleline is a supercilious and loose cannon little twerp who you would never dare cross (even if he only stands at 5’5”). What is fascinating about these men, who all appear to be working on the same side, is that if their eyes were daggers, no one would be left standing. They sit around in a smoky boardroom and stare each other down, loose their cools, stomp off, and sulk. And yet Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy holds the moments where we see them fall victim to all the suspicion, accusations, and attempts at ruin. They collapse when the chips are down and it is almost worse than any of the actually carnage that the film shows us.

Behind all the cigarette smoke and glaring actors, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy offers us eye-popping art direction, allowing Cold War London to really come alive. At times, I felt that the sets were actually characters in the movie. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is also shrouded in a film noir atmosphere and the only thing missing is a femme fatale to lure these men to their fate. Director Tomas Alfredson has made a film that slowly grows in the hours after it has been seen, coaxing you back to uncover more. It is watered by your own puzzlement over it and your drive to want to put it all together. The film never resorts to gunfights or fists fights and it only builds excitement through heated exchange. The downfall of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is that the film sometimes seems unsure how to actually build that suspense and the narrative gets caught up in itself. Talky and arty with a nifty old school swag, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy works better as a portrait of wrecked men rather than as a chilly espionage mystery.

Grade: B+