Snow White and the Huntsman

By إبن البيطار (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsTime to take Little Miss to the cinema and this retelling of a Disney-fied classic seemed ideal.

Snow White and the Huntsman

“Lips red as blood. Hair black as night. Bring me your heart my dear, dear Snow White.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Evil stepmother takes over a kingdom while the king’s true offspring tries to win it back

See it if you like: dark fantasy flicks which focus as much on story as spectacle

Gillian had been wanting to see this since she eyed the poster in the cinema. Little Miss had, I think, seen a trailer on the telly. I was pretty much just along for the ride. Funnily enough it was the second film in two days we’d seen with Charlize Theron in it (after yesterday’s Prometheus) – and it very almost has Michael Fassbender as he was considered for the role of the Huntsman.

Now this is a story that all of you will have heard before, and which virtually everyone will have enjoyed in its cartoon form. There are certainly parallels to this version (Snow White’s costume early in the film and her relationship with wildlife, for instance), but the tale twists and turns in different ways. The scriptwriters had a very different vision and some excellent ideas for bringing the tale to life. A shining example is the evil stepmother’s magic mirror which melts and appears in humanoid form that only she can see.

The effects, in fact, steal the show. They’re imaginative and seamless. From the creatures in the magical forest sequence to the dwarves (of which there are actually eight…). Rather than taking the easy route of hiring eight people of diminutive stature, the director has opted for some very well known names and some fantastic jiggery-pokery to make them appear very realistically miniaturised. I was sat there for a good few minutes trying to convince myself that it was actually Bob Hoskins up there. And Nick Frost. And Ray Winstone. And Ian McShane.

Visually, then, it’s great. The story is well enough known in one for to be easy to follow, and all the better for the fact that it’s a new (to me at least) version. If there’s one thing that lets it down it’s the pacing. I found things to be a little drawn out at times. While the action sequences, and there are a lot of them, were bursting with excitement, the dramatic scenes were a little slow and made the film really feel like all of its 127 minutes. Having said that, Little Miss enjoyed the whole thing and it must have been good for an 11 year old to sit right through without complaint.

Certainly the cast give it their all with Kristen Stewart being perfect as the titular character and Chris Hemsworth convincing as the man sent, at first, to hunt her down. Feminists will appreciate that Snow White is no shrinking violet saved by a handsome prince in this version, instead being more of a Joan of Arc character gaining strength as the tale progresses.

I tend to find myself agreeing with the current average score on IMDB – around 7/10. With a little better pacing, it could have jumped up to an 8, but it’s still pretty good and shouldn’t disappoint. The 12A rating is spot on, too. The violence isn’t grisly, it’s very much a fantasy piece, and there’s no real nudity (a bare back is about as much as you see).

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Rango

Another cinema trip with the kids, so a rare munchkin-friendly outing with Industrial Light & Magic‘s new showcase piece.

Rango

“Stay in school, eat your veggies, and burn all the books that ain’t Shakespeare.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A domesticated lizard finds himself lost in the desert and sheriff of a small frontier town.

ILM haven’t made a full length animated feature before. They’re better known for being one of the world’s premier special effects companies with more films to their credit than I’ve ever likely seen. They’ve gone all out with the technology and casting to make this impressive start (possibly) to a new wing of their business.

With Johnny Depp in the title rôle, it’s off to a good start. Add in the likes of Bill Nighy as an outlaw rattlesnake, Alfred Molina as an armadillo with a death-defying desire to cross the road, Ray Winstone as a cigar-chomping… something and Isla Fisher as the love interest and there’s been no skimping on the vocal talent. Hell, they’ve got Gore Verbinski (all the Pirates of the Caribbean films) to direct.

Depp rarely sounds like himself in this (does he ever?) but you can picture him playing the part in some scenes that seem written for his usual slightly off-kilter self. Rango himself is a strange character. Flung from a car in the opening minutes, he acts his way through the movie taking each event as a challenge and bluffing his way through. More by luck than judgement he ends up being a bit of a hero.

Now, I enjoyed the film although I thought it a teeny bit slow in places. Gill also enjoyed it. The two kids, however, weren’t so keen. It’s dark – not the bright, colourful explosion that appeals to most youngsters. The humour was quick and clever, but way over the heads with very little slapstick. The dialogue, also, was hard to follow in places. Very well acted, but the accents made it tricky for me in places. Younger audience members would surely struggle.

Visually, it’s superb. Absolutely on a plane of its own. The detail and movement make Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within look like a flip-book drawn in crayon. OK, that’s unfair on FF, but the whole look of the film really is incredible. You can tell a bunch of people with incredible mathematical brains have designed this film to show off their fluid dynamics and ray-tracing skills. Every bit of glass reflects and bends light, every grain of sand flows and drifts as realistically as it would in real life. Best of all, none of this takes away from the overall look of the film.

Definitely recommended for those who like their cartoon humour a little more subtle, and who appreciate when a lot of effort has been put into a production. Just hold out for the likes of Rio and that turtle film if  you’re going to be taking nippers with you.

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Unstoppable London Boulevard

Two more films to make up for last week’s drought, courtesy of some kids’ film taking up all the new screens.

Unstoppable

“In training they just give you an F. Out here you get killed.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Runaway train!

“Based on real events” apparently, but who cares. Unstoppable is ninety minutes of being sat on the edge of your seat despite knowing perfectly well how it’s going to end. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine play two train drivers (yes, I know there are technical terms – I don’t care) who get caught up in a potential disaster. A huge train laden with dangerous chemicals is belting along the tracks towards a township, and *dramatic drum roll* only they can stop it.

The film has all the stereotypes. There’s a guy with marital problems. Another pushing retirement. A tough female who’s belittled by the powers that be. A **** of a company director.

Tony Scott‘s done a great job with what’s a very simple story. We don’t spend too much time messing around with character development when all we’re really interested in is the BIG SODDING TRAIN. There’s actually very little destruction in the film (it’s Scott, not Michael Bay after all), so it’s more in the thriller camp than an action film.

If you’ve had a tough week at work, then this is an ideal movie to go and see. Switch your brain into neutral and shovel the popcorn into your gob while Unstoppable washes over you.

London Boulevard

“Fahk awf. Cahnt.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Don’t make me angry. You’d not like me when I’m angry. I turn into a gangster.

A hell of a cast, this one, led by Colin Farrell as a released convict who’s expected by his peers to get back “on the game”. However, he really doesn’t want to. The local kingpin, however, has other ideas and it rather insistent.

Farrell manages to almost drop his Irish accent for this one, whereas Keira Knightley hams up her posh one playing a strung-out ex-actress. Who really needs to eat more. And wear a padded bra. Just saying, sorry. Ray Winstone is cast as the big, bad gangland lord which means he gets to swear a lot and be violent. So no typecasting so far.

My choice for best performance of the film goes to David Thewlis, who plays a wonderfully scatty friend to Knightley’s recluse. His character ranges from stoner to thug without ever seeming as if he’s acting unnaturally. Genuinely wonderful to watch.

London Boulevard flips from violence to humour to emotional and touching from scene to scene, often meaning that it seems a little jumpy. However, the story is good enough that it really doesn’t matter.

At risk of giving a spoiler (do stop reading if it worries you, just in case), the film’s similarity to Layer Cake is emphasised by the ending which is just too samey.

I enjoyed it, though. A very good story (even if it’s unoriginal), great performances and some genuine laugh out loud moments.

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Film Feast

"Invictus" sneak preview in Hsinchu,...
Invictus (honestly!)

Four Film Friday this time – Invictus, Youth in Revolt, Astro Boy and Edge of Darkness. I’ll try to get through them quickly…

Invictus

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) becomes President of South Africa and decides to use the upcoming Rugby World Cup as a means of unifying the country.

I don’t like rugby, on the whole. This worked in my favour going into this film as it’s based on real events and I didn’t know what the outcome would be as I had no idea who won the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Clint Eastwood directs, Freeman is – as ever – simply superb and Matt Damon captains the Springboks.

How close is it to what really happened? Who knows. I’m sure there are certain key scenes and events which mirror history but there’s always room for dramatisation (Wikipedia has a small list). Thankfully it’s not overly-sentimental or symbolic, though it does push this from time to time.

Both Freeman and Damon pull off decent accents although some of the other actors appear somewhat stilted, especially towards the beginning of the movie.

This is a good film. Not overstated, not grandstanding, and a very good story. The obvious link between a battered country finding its feet and being led by someone who’s overcoming the odds is very much mirrored by their rugby team’s efforts. If I have a complaint, it’s the huge over-use of slow-motion to enhance “dramatic effect” near the end.

Youth in Revolt

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Boy meets girl, boy has to become bad boy to get girl, boy goes a little too far…

Michael Cera plays two parts in this film – Nick and the alter-ego Francois that he creates to get the girl, Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). The only other film I’ve seen Cera in was Superbad and that lived up to its title. Youth in Revolt is marginally better but still lacks greatness.

If there’s one thing that stands out, it’s the amusing animated segments interspersed throughout the live action. They don’t really add to the story, but they’re amusing and the one at the start got one of the loudest laughs in the theatre. It’s worth watching the one over the end credits as well.

Amusing in places, messy in others. Next!

Astro Boy

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Scientist creates uber-bad killer robot, and also a robotic replica of his dead son. Cue obvious battle.

I’m not a Manga geek so I don’t know how this hold up to the original, however it’s kind of “OK” as a CGI Hollywood version. There’s no denying the quality of the voice cast: Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Nighy, Charlize Theron… However, the script needs more work. Or more jokes.

Visually it’s nice, but CGI films are all starting to look a little samey now. There’s no real imagination in Astro Boy. If you want a mechanical visual feast, check out Robots from a few years back.

The kids will like its simplicity, but adults will miss the added depths, double meanings and references present in films such as Toy Story or Planet 51.

Edge of Darkness

Plot-in-a-nutshell – a cop’s daughter is gunned down in front of him on his doorstep, so he sets out to find out who did it

This film is based on a BBC drama from some years ago which I vaguely recall watching. Obviously, it’s been shifted to the US but well re-written to make it fit both geographically and in a modern timeline.

However, while the drama had several hour-long episodes to fit everything in, the film version has only 117 minutes. As a result, Mel Gibson‘s efforts to locate his daughter’s killer and work his way through the conspiracy tree is often a little messy.

Ray Winstone’s role is rather hard to pin down. We know he’s there but who the hell actually is he? Other than an English guy who swears a lot (i.e. he’s playing himself again).

The film begins well enough, but the thrills and spills promised by the trailer really don’t occur. There’s a lot of soul-searching and threats by Gibson’s character mixed with very occasional bursts of fast driving. It is a drama, not an action thriller – but the trailer is misleading.

It’s a good story, too. But as I said it’s compressed into too short a time. Some questions are left unanswered while other bits of evidence are thrown in and the viewer is left wondering where they came from.

Well-acted, good story but just not suited for film form without better scripting.

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44 Inch Chest

It’s not very often I leave the cinema thinking “I could have been doing anything else, but watching that”. 44 Inch Chest made me feel that way.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Man (Ray Winstone) finds out wife is being unfaithful, kidnaps the guy who she was with, threatens him a bit along with his mates and then goes mad. Or something. I’m not sure.

I had some time to kill on the way home today (by flipping bus, but that’s another story) and this was the only film on at a convenient time. Given that it’s by the same writers as Sexy Beast I was looking forward to it. However, the only things it has in common with that masterpiece are Ray Winstone and a ton of swearing.

The premise is very simple. The settings are simple. The acting is fantastic (John Hurt is wonderful, and Ian McShane as the dodgy poof is perfect). Overall, though, it’s ultimately empty. Around halfway through it just goes a little over the edge and the ending is simply awful. I sat for about two minutes of the credits convinced it was a “false” ending and that there had to be more coming up.

Wrong.

I left the cinema feeling bewildered and somewhat cheated. There is nothing in this chest worth seeing.

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