Tag Archive for remake

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (6/2/12)

Movie Poster: Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

Directed by Rupert Sanders
Screenplay by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini

Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Ian McShane

How long is Snow White and the Huntsman? 127 minutes.
What is Snow White and the Huntsman rated? PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.

CLR Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Movie Still: Snow White and the Huntsman

Charlize Theron as Ravenna in Snow White and the Huntsman.
Photo: Alex Bailey/©Universal Pictures

A warrior princess, an evil queen, an overly saturated fantasy world…and a lot of cliches.

When trailers premiered for the second Snow White adaptation of 2012, I was rapt. A warrior Snow White? The devastatingly sexy Charlize Theron as the evil queen? Dark armies and huge trolls and overly saturated fantasy worlds? Done!

Everyone, everywhere, knows “Whistle While You Work” and the breathy, snub-nosed Disney princess, along with her seven faithful dwarves. But Disney’s first film (and all thereafter, from The Little Mermaid to The Hunchback of Notre Dame) glosses over the original Grimms’ tale so it’s nearly unrecognizable. The world could use a harder, darker version, I thought – aside from the truly awful one with Sigourney Weaver and Sam Neill. And hey, Kristen Stewart has a bad rap. Snow White and the Huntsman features Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth (where did these Hemsworth brothers come from, and why did it happen all at once?), as the titular Huntsman, and Stewart (Twilight’s Bella Swan) plays the princess. Charlize Theron, who is no stranger to uglification (she won an Oscar for gaining 40 pounds to play Aileen Wuornos in Monster), is every bit the chilly, throaty, bitter queen. Unfortunately, attempts at humor fall flat, shots at depth fall short, and ravishing romance? Not a chance.

Snow White and the Huntsman opens as any fairy tale should: with a gorgeous queen sidling through a beautiful, snow-blanketed courtyard. In this version, instead of sewing at the window, the queen admires a brilliant rose blooming despite the frozen earth. When the rose (rather than the spinning wheel) pricks her finger, three crimson drops of blood fall to the ivory snow. How she wishes she had a daughter with lips red as blood, skin white as snow, and hair black as the raven’s wing! Shortly thereafter (no sex in fairy tales!) she gives birth to none other than Snow White, before perishing when Snow White is still a child. The princess is revered throughout the kingdom, the narrator explains, for her beauty as much as her defiant spirit. The King, racked with grief, allows himself to be seduced by a stunningly beautiful woman named Ravenna – whose heart proves to be as hard and cold as her beauty is breathtaking. Apparently feeling a kinship with Snow White, Ravenna (whose parents were killed when she was young) imprisons the princess instead of killing her. Ravenna, cursed/blessed by her mother with youth, vanity, and exquisiteness, asks her enchanted mirror, “Who is the fairest of them all?” It is always her – and she remains the fairest by sucking the youth and beauty from lovely young things. But ten years later, Snow White comes of age and becomes (of course) the fairest of them all.

The events of the movie take place when Snow White escapes from the north tower in a Shawshank-like trip through the sewers (can you imagine Disney’s titular character drenched in excrement?) – and straight into the Dark Forest. This version of the Dark Forest features hallucinations, poison fungus, maggots, masses of dung beetles, and winged demons. Ravenna sends the Huntsman, a grieving widower, into the Forest on the promise that she’ll bring his wife back to him. Of course, he comes to his senses before capturing Snow White. As in any good romance, he tries to leave her, but realizes he cannot; he becomes her greatest protector, despite the fact that the two hardly interact and have very little to like about one another aside from their mutual desperation.

The Disney version of the fairy tale featured musical numbers by adorable dwarves with personality (dwarfality?) quirks to match their names. This one also features dwarves, this time played by A-list actors shrunk via CGI to miniscule proportions. Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, and Eddie Marsan inhabit the little guys – not that they have much to work with. The dwarves are usually played for laughs, and the writers of Snow White and the Huntsman struggle for some humor (how could you not laugh with Nick Frost?!). It just doesn’t pan out.

The dwarves do, however, live in Sanctuary, the land of the fairies. The Disney princess was so cute that even bunnies and fawns gather and birds flit and chirp upon her shoulders. It’s cheesy and ridiculous – but Snow White and the Huntsman does it one better. The whole world seems to come alive as the princess walks by, and though that includes the flora and fauna stretching to meet her grasp, it doesn’t feel silly. To the movie’s credit, it feels right. The princess, the dwarves teach the Huntsman, is indeed “life itself,” and they decide they’ll fight for her until they die.

All of this is interspersed with shots of Ravenna screaming at her subjects (Theron actually tore a stomach muscle during filming), staring evilly into her enchanted mirror, and surrounding herself with grimly circling ravens. Ravenna’s brother does her bidding, following Snow White and her Huntsman…at least until the Huntsman murders him. Ravenna is then forced to take the guise of Snow White’s childhood friend William to entice her to eat that poisoned apple with which we’re all so familiar. (There’s a lot of apple imagery in Stewart’s film career, it seems.)

After a kiss reawakens Snow White (though it may not be the kiss you’re expecting, which is slightly obnoxious), she rallies her men with a speech – and I do like Stewart, but this scene was horrible – and rides off to war with them. While previous Snow Whites have been pretty little princesses, this one wears leather pants beneath her skirts and looks “fetching in maille.” It’s one of the movie’s redeeming factors. And who should be the one to defeat the dark queen, but the princess herself? For Stewart, who’s been stuck playing weak, pathetic, husk Bella for years now, the role must’ve seemed a brilliant departure.

Snow White and the Huntsman falls into the category of fairy tale romance, certainly. It’s darker and uglier than some, and definitely worse than many. Its attitude toward men is pretty unforgiving, and its characters have about as much depth as a backyard pool. Theron appears to have a lot of fun with her role, though Hemsworth and Stewart have zilch chemistry. Nonetheless, it features some enjoyable moments, lovely effects, and pretty cinematography. Finally, Charlize Theron is a delight to watch under any circumstances. It can go down in history with movies like First Knight – not great, definitely stretching the lines of “adaptation,” but fun nonetheless. Come on, it’s summer. What do you expect?

Movie Review: Nightmare on Elm Street (5/1/10)

Movie Poster: Nightmare on Elm Street
A Nightmare on Elm Street

Directed by Samuel Bayer
Screenplay by Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer

Jackie Earle Haley – Freddy Krueger
Kyle Gallner – Quentin Smith
Rooney Mara – Nancy Holbrook
Katie Cassidy – Kris Fowles
Thomas Dekker – Jesse Braun
Kellan Lutz – Dean Russell
Clancy Brown – Alan Smith

CLR Rating: 1/5 stars

Movie Still: Nightmare on Elm Street

Katie Cassidy as Kris, Thomas Dekker as Jesse and Rooney Mara as Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street
[Photo by Peter Sorel]

Unnecessary Remake
Leeches All the Fun from the Original

The man with knives for fingers is back for his ninth jaunt on the silver screen in twenty-five years, and this one is the least satisfying. With a select few exceptions (Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead, 2010’s The Crazies) horror remakes are mostly pointless cash cows, but with Jackie Earle Haley donning the grotesque mask of Freddy Krueger, audiences had high hopes for this one. The original films, featuring characters created by horror maestro Wes Craven, were chock full of fantastic gore, creepy imagery, and some silliness to lighten it all up. Unfortunately, the new Nightmare on Elm Street will leave even those uninitiated to the original films wanting.

In idyllic suburban paradise Springwood, Ohio, bleary-eyed teenagers band together to fight the man who’s haunting their dreams, a horribly burned creature with blades on his fingers and a striped sweater. As he picks them off one by one in their sleep, Nancy (Rooney Mara) and Quentin (Kyle Gallner) decide to get to the bottom of Fred Krueger. Without revealing too much, Krueger’s past relationships with the kids is one of the movie’s biggest flaws. True evil doesn’t need an intricate back-story, but writers Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer chopped together bits and pieces from the original and made Freddy’s vendetta even more personal. Instead of clarifying things, this serves to narrow Krueger’s killings to a small, specific group of kids who were his “favorites” in life. The filmmakers tried to emphasize Krueger’s child molester background, and though this adds a new ick factor, we don’t need it pounded into us that, yes, Krueger was a creep in real life and continues to be in the afterlife.

The film opens with exhausted Dean (Kellan Lutz) chugging cup after cup of coffee at the Springwood Diner, fighting to stay awake. The blinking neon signs flash red, green, red, green; colors are overly saturated and shadows are deep and long; the “this-is-a-spooky-place” factor is through the roof. The horror tropes are enough to clue us all in to the fact that Dean’s dreaming. The movie continues to dumb down the dream sequences for new audiences, giving them neon flashing arrows that forewarn “hey, this kid’s going to run into Freddy soon.” It doesn’t improve on the first film, whose seamless transitions between dreams and reality made it truly creepy.

The new Springwood is a land of green lawns, money, and white-trimmed colonial houses where teenagers with flight attendant mothers drive brand new VW convertible bugs, wear UGGs, and are generally gorgeous. The original cast included Heather Langenkamp, whose quirky girl-next-door looks were perfect for the role of chaste sweetheart Nancy, and a young Johnny Depp in his first movie role as Nancy’s sweet, obedient boyfriend Glen. The new cast, though not downright bad, is terribly boring. Statuesque, slender blond Katie Cassidy’s role relies solely on her ability to look pretty while crying. Mara, Gallner, Lutz, and the rest of the cast are good-looking, thin, and tedious. Connie Britton, who’s brilliant in TV’s “Friday Night Lights,” and Clancy Brown, a great character actor, play the vengeful parents who doomed their kids to Freddy’s wrath. They’re suitably shady, but John Saxon and Ronee Blakley as Nancy’s original parents were sympathetic and flawed, giving the original movie an adult aspect the new one misses. Finally, Craven’s movies always follow the rules of horror (watch Scream if you want a rundown), one of which is that anyone who has sex dies. Not to complain about lack of sex in a horror film, but part of the fun of the seventies’ and eighties slashers was knowing the promiscuous would get their due punishment. Fans will recognize many of the iconic scenes from the original, with slight, effects-laden alterations that are completely unnecessary.

Finally, let’s talk about Freddy. Jackie Earle Haley is a slight man with a high voice, but when given the right role (such as Watchmen’s Rorschach or Little Children’s Ronnie McGorvey), he can transform into a disturbing weirdo. Unfortunately, the original Freddy, Robert Englund, left a legacy that just can’t be enhanced, and Haley is unmemorable as scarred, baritone-voiced Krueger. Without giving away too much about the way Freddy looks, let’s say the new mask doesn’t improve on the old. The new is perhaps more realistic, but Freddy haunts nightmares because he’s a figment, an ancient evil with a visage to shock even arrogant teenagers—and the realism was never the point.

Strick and Heisserer leeched every bit of humor from the original and quashed it. Part of the fun of the first Nightmare (1984) was Freddy’s over-the-top jokiness combined with his insane brutality. Subtract that predatory gleefulness and you have an unsatisfying flick with a villain as unmemorable as the kind that capers through eighty-minute low-budget slashers that end up going straight-to-DVD. Michael Bay produced the new Nightmare on Elm Street, which is the sixth slasher remake in the last decade with his name in the credits, and as with the others, Nightmare is completely unoriginal and unnecessary. Loud noises, a few good gory scenes, and a pretty, dull cast of characters fuel the new movie, and it’s a real shame. Take it from one who adores horror film: watch the original. It’s far more entertaining.

Movie Review: The Crazies (2/27/10)

Movie Poster: The Crazies

The Crazies

Directed by Breck Eisner
Screenplay by Scott Kosar, Ray Wright

Sheriff David Dutton – Timothy Olyphant
Dr. Judy Dutton – Radha Mitchell
Russell Clank – Joe Anderson
Becca Darling – Danielle Panabaker

CLR Rating: 3/5 stars

Movie Still: The Crazies

Radha Mitchell stars in The Crazies
© 2010 Overture Films, LLC and Participant Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Remake Is No Masterpiece,
but Succeeds with Good Pacing and Shocks Galore

Horror film is enduring a period of what some would call “rejuvenation” and others would dub “total lack of imagination.” Good new horror is hard to find and recent remakes have been totally hit-or-miss. This weekend’s The Crazies is based on a 1973 George Romero film of the same name. This version, directed by Breck Eisner, shares basic plot points and characters, but it outdoes the mediocre-to-awful original by far. The premise is simple: small town America turned upside down by a force that pits neighbor against neighbor in a gruesome battle for their lives. The Crazies isn’t a masterpiece, but its pacing and effects ensure a good time for those in search of an old-school, seventies-style scare flick.

It is spring in idyllic Ogden Marsh, Iowa: baseball season is opening, the fields are ripe for planting, and the sound of tractors fills the air. Young love blossoms amidst the gently rustling grass, and the townsfolk go about their daily lives. The inherent strangeness of rural America is common in horror cinema, partly because it’s familiar to so many Americans and partly because there’s something eerie about such tranquility. Sheriff David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant) suddenly finds himself in a tough situation when the people of Ogden Marsh begin to go completely out of their minds. The film follows a pretty standard formula: Dutten, his wife Judy (Radha Mitchell), and Deputy Russell Clank (Joe Anderson) manage to survive the initial outbreak and have to fight their way through the hordes of crazies to save themselves. While it bears a lot of resemblance to older horror (obviously), its production values are fantastic and the pacing is ideal. Between atrocious kills there are minor chuckles. Psychologically it works wonders—the moment everyone in the theater breathes a sigh of relief, another shocker hits them.

As it turns out, the government accidentally released a biological weapon into the water supply of Ogden Marsh, causing sentient humans to go totally insane. The movie bears a resemblance to zombie films because the agent causes deterioration and spooky physical changes, but these are not zombies—they’re far scarier than the walking (or running) dead. The crazies just want to kill, kill, kill, but because the infected retain knowledge of weaponry and everyday functions, they’re a scarier threat than zombies, whose only concern is to consume. Hunting is a hefty pastime in Ogden Marsh, and when the virus infiltrates the brains of those with the shotguns, they train their sights on more familiar fodder—a terrifying but obvious twist. The Crazies plays with the idea that a person’s very universe can be turned upside down in a matter of moments, which is, on a base level, what makes horror so fascinating and entertaining.

Good horror film and literature can transform everyday objects, situations, and people into something completely off-the-wall and appalling. To a farmer, tillers, tractors, and pitchforks are simply equipment used to ensure a good crop. To an outsider, these things shriek “instrument of torture.” The Crazies features farm tools used in the latter way, which is effective considering its setting (though not new). The movie also strums on the nerves of claustrophobics and those of us who, as kids, loved the old car washes in which huge rubber tentacles slap against the windows. There are a number of really creative, smart kills that aren’t implausible, but neither are they routine. In particular, a thresher featured early in the movie doesn’t live up to its myriad possibilities, but it’s better for filmmakers to refrain from taking the easy out. It’s difficult for a movie to make a horror fan think, “Whoa!” but The Crazies succeeds at that.

The movie could easily have taken an enthusiastic anti-war or anti-government stance, but chooses to sympathize with the soldiers who appear to exterminate the infected (and anyone who gets in their way). The few military men that survivors encounter make it perfectly clear that they were only trying to help, that they were only following orders. (Though it is worth noting that throughout human history, “I was only following orders” has popped up when the worst atrocities are committed.) There is no real enemy here, and that’s terrifying. Throughout the film, satellite imagery appears, backing away in spurts from the action on the ground. Red letters pop up on the screen: Begin Quarantine Sequence. The audience is privy to the terrifying minutiae of a small town’s destruction, but someone else is watching from above, plotting the best way to save the rest of the world from contamination. It’s a creepy and thoroughly neat way to remind the audience that they’re not the only voyeurs.

The Crazies suffers from a merely adequate script, and a few sentimental scenes that have no place and feel utterly dumb. Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell are good in their respective roles, and Joe Anderson’s (Across the Universe) cheekbones and baby blues go a long way. Danielle Panabaker (Sky High) does well in a rather disposable role, adding pretty youthfulness to a cast of largely older actors. The movie’s merit lies in its smart editing, great makeup effects, and classic feel. Character development isn’t at the forefront, but that’s just as well. For a film like this, it’s important just to be effectively creepy and shocking, and at that it succeeds admirably.