Tag Archive for silly

Movie Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (11/17/12)

Movie Poster: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

Directed by Bill Condon
Screenplay by Melissa Rosenberg

Starring:
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner

How long is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2? 115 minutes.
What is The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 rated? PG-13 for sequences of violence including disturbing images, some sensuality and partial nudity.

CLR Rating: 2/5 stars

Photo by Andrew Cooper – © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

Final sparklevamp flick packs a surprise end, deserves a salute.

I have to start a slow clap for the new (and final, commence exhausted brow-wiping) Twilight movie. It surprised me, partly by not being the worst thing to happen to cinema in ages, but also by completely tearing the book apart. Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t a masterpiece. Meyer’s saga is problematic, poorly written (and addictive, damn her) drivel, and the movies have, on the whole, been really awful. In the interim between Breaking Dawn Part 1 and this new film, I managed to forget Bill Condon was directing. The veteran director, who confused film critics everywhere by taking the helm, infused a dying series with dignity by upending the book’s completely anticlimactic final “battle.”

In the final scene of Breaking Dawn Part 1, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) opens her newly crimson eyes to a future as a vampire. The new movie picks up exactly at that scene, and apparently being a vampire is a little like taking ecstasy. This transformation process, so grueling for most new vampires, is remarkably simple for Bella, and hey, she never even has to kill a human! Because her given superpower (in this series, most vampires have them) is super self-control. Oh right, and she has a baby. A baby named Renesmee (hurk), who is supposed to be the most gorgeous infant ever to grace the earth, but whose CGI features make her terribly creepy to behold (IMDb reveals there were no less than ten girls employed to play Renesmee). To further complicate the instinctive repulsion we feel toward a baby rendered entirely by computers (it’s notable that none of the teenage girls in the theater made a peep when the baby was revealed), teenage shapeshifter Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has imprinted on the kid. In a surprisingly entertaining scene, Bella, always a weakling, tosses super-strong Jacob around like a teddy bear, screaming about how he nicknamed her daughter after the Loch Ness Monster.

Renesmee’s “growth rate is unprecedented,” says Carlisle Cullen, who puzzles over notebooks and furrows his brow in true “perplexed doctor” fashion. Upon hearing the Cullens plan to leave Forks to protect Bella and “Nessie,” Jacob goes to see Bella’s dad Charlie, strips down in front of him (to the delight of every Twihard and Twimom in the theater), and turns into a wolf. Hey Charlie, the world isn’t quite what you thought it was. Also Bella’s a vampire. (I exaggerate.) Then all is suddenly well again (seriously?) until Irina, one of the Cullens’ enemies from Alaska, sees Renesmee catching snowflakes in a meadow. She’s no normal child, of course.

In the past, vampires created vampire children, who were uncontrollable and destroyed vast numbers of humans, villages, and cultures in the midst of terrible-twos tantrums. The Volturi, the vampire governing committee, were forced to intervene. When Irina sets eyes on Renesmee, she sees an Immortal Child. Rather than, you know, asking her friends what they’re doing, she goes straight to Italy to fetch the evilest evil vampires there are. Alice (Ashley Greene), the one who sees the future, discovers that the Volturi are coming…and everyone panics.

The Cullens gather as many “witnesses” as they can. There will be no battle here, the Cullens, the ultimate “vegetarian” vampires, insist. The new additions include Lee Pace, Joe Anderson, and Mia Maestro, and come from the Amazon, Ireland, Egypt, and Transylvania. Unfortunately the Volturi want Alice for themselves (everybody wants to see the future!), so they’ll use anything to get to her. Alice and mate Jasper head for the hills, but not before giving Bella a clue that leads her straight to Wendell Pierce, a.k.a. The Wire’s Bunk Moreland. The plot thickens, and then thickens some more. Montages happen. Bella learns that on top of her super self-control, she can project a shield to those around her, protecting them from ill. Joe Anderson, an American adopting a horrid British accent, doesn’t believe it and generally creeps around the edges, making everyone nervous. Lee Pace is charming and witty, relating war stories from most of the American battles of the last 200 years (oh you vampires). Taylor Lautner is cute and amiable. New vamps arrive with new powers to play with.

Here’s where the movie diverges from the book. In Meyer’s version, there is no battle. There are “warring” factions of vampires standing in a snowy field giving each other the side-eye, and then it’s over. What kind of end to your “saga” is that? Condon and writer Melissa Rosenberg devised a brilliant scheme; a gruesome vampire/wolf melee has most of the series’ important characters dying horrible deaths. Without truly spoiling anything, it really does deserve that slow clap.

Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock probably caught that Stewart and Robert Pattinson, our very own Bella and Edward, started dating during the filming of the first movie. It was your typical Hollywood love story, first thinly veiled in a publicity ploy, then reveled in by Summit. It seems that when Stewart saw the end of the films in sight, she jumped into (non-penetrative?) bed with her Snow White and the Huntsman director Rupert Sanders. She then issued an embarrassing plea begging Pattinson to forgive her (but not, it’s notable, mentioning Sanders’s wife and child). Pattinson, who was busy making Cosmopolis with David Cronenberg, has recently started appearing with her again. Woe is me, young love, etcetera, etcetera. I was curious how the media, who immediately dubbed Stewart a “trampire,” and the Team Edward Twihards, who cruelly took her to task on Twitter, would affect the reception of the final film. Well, on Friday evening, the theater wasn’t full of screaming girls or Team Jacob t-shirts. Aside from a little extra security, a few mild squeals at Lautner’s washboard abs, and a packed parking lot, it was a relatively staid affair. The crowd at Pitch Perfect was rowdier.

The Harry Potter kids, brought up in the relative calm of the British acting world by Dame Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, and Michael Gambon, exited the series gracefully and continued their careers graciously. Not so for Twilight’s leading lady. Stewart has appeared at two of the film’s premieres in transparent lace getups and heels. “Here I am, this is it, and you can damn well deal with it,” she seems to be telling us. “Also, thank God this thing is over with.” For someone who obviously wants to seem like she couldn’t care less, Stewart certainly gives off a “look at me” vibe these days. And to be fair, I wish her the best. She was brilliant as Joan Jett in The Runaways, and passable opposite Melissa Leo in Welcome to the Rileys. The girl has talent, and it’s been sorely underused. (Pattinson and Lautner, I’m not so sure about.)

The series is over now. For now, we are done with sparkly vampires and weak, whining leading ladies. The trailers that played before the movie betray its audience: World War Z, Carrie, Beautiful Creatures, and Stephenie Meyer’s next project The Host (starring Saoirse Ronan, who is fantastic). The Twilight series filled the void left behind by Harry Potter. One has to wonder, once The Hunger Games is over, whatever will we do with ourselves?

This is Julia Rhodes, your official California Literary Review Twilight critic, signing off. I bid thee adieu. Fare thee well, Twilight stars. Best of luck. I’m with Stewart: Hallelujah! Let’s go get a beer and celebrate.

Movie Review: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (10/27/12)

Movie Poster: Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Directed by Michael J. Bassett
Screenplay by Michael J. Bassett

Starring:
Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington, Deborah Kara Unger, Martin Donovan, Malcolm McDowell, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Bean

How long is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D? 94 minutes.
What is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D rated? R for violence and disturbing images, some language and brief nudity.

CLR Rating: 0.5/5 stars

Movie still: Silent Hill Revelation 3D

Malcolm McDowell and Adelaide Clemens in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
© 2012 – Open Road Films

A sequel lacking in style, grace, and even the most rudimentary analysis of its own mythology (and that of the first film). The most baffling thing about this sequel is that it was made at all.

For the last three decades, filmmakers have been busily exploring the connections between video games and film; the myriad styles in which the passive viewer and the active player can intertwine; the ways in which a precise “defeat the boss, level-up” format can elevate (or destroy) a film. The gaming world facepalmed in unison when in 2006, director Christophe Gans released Silent Hill, a vague, startling movie based on the eponymous video game. Full disclosure: I’ve never been a gamer, and Konami’s Silent Hill made me bonkers. I tried playing the first one, and not only was I incapable of using the counter-intuitive control system, but the buzzing controller, ominous scenery, and seriously creepy score left me reasonably frustrated and thoroughly spooked. So of course, when the movie came out, I rushed to the theater – maybe I could enjoy it in a way that’s more natural to me!

Critics ripped apart the first Silent Hill, calling it bewildering, confused, and visually jarring. In 2006, I was deeply into feminist film study in college, and I was (and still am) intrigued by the fact that Roger Avary wrote a screenplay that featured nary a male character. Instead, Silent Hill’s speaking roles were occupied entirely by women and girls. As in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, the first iteration of Silent Hill featured women as villain, victim, and protagonist. They were flawed and maternal, insensitive and loving, and would do anything to save themselves and those they loved. Unfortunately, TriStar was deeply concerned by the lack of males and required Avary to add a guy to the mix. Enter Sean Bean’s Christopher, a grieving father chasing his wife and daughter into another dimension. Kim Coates played a small-town cop trying to protect a dark secret. You know that Facebook friend who inserts an extra question mark and exclamation point into every post because it’s just so very? That’s how the male roles in Silent Hill feel: unnecessary, pointless, and frustrating. Nonetheless, the movie was filled with severely spooky imagery, painstakingly rendered creatures, and a fascinating, essential rape-revenge theme. (Further, the first film was based loosely on the captivating ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, beneath which coal fires have been burning for five decades.)

Since I’m a Silent Hill apologist, when news of the sequel began to circulate early this year, I jumped at the opportunity to review it. The 3D format is immensely frustrating when filmmakers utilize it as a moneymaker – but when it’s done right, 3D can elevate a movie from “stupid” to “stupid-but-awfully-pretty.” The first film was made before modern “three dimensions” were a viable option, but its sweeping zooms into glowing chasms, madly whipping razor wire, and massive villains wielding immense weapons lend to a feeling that Gans and cinematographer Dan Laustsen would have made great use of the technology epitomized by Avatar.

After years in development hell, a new director and writer, Michael J. Bassett, took the reins on Silent Hill: Revelation. It secured a Halloween weekend release date, a hot new TV star (Kit Harington, a.k.a. Game of Thrones’s Jon Snow), veteran actors Malcolm McDowell and Carrie-Anne Moss, and a beautiful young ingénue (Adelaide Clemens, an Australian who looks so like a young Michelle Williams that you will find yourself stunned she isn’t spouting Kevin Williamson’s precocious dialogue). It was, however, unable to secure a coherent plot, decent writing, or the necessary creativity in story and timing to make a good horror movie. While the original Silent Hill is intriguingly bizarre, simplistic but theatrically philosophical, and frustratingly plotted, the sequel is baffling and exasperating in that it ever got made at all.

The final scene of the original depicts Bean’s Christopher sensing, miserably, that his wife and adopted child are near; meanwhile Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) are trapped in another dimension, a purgatory of sorts (one guesses). The three inhabit the same physical space, but not the same metaphysical space. The sequel, in a stupid twist, posits that Rose found some kind of “seal” in the other dimension that allowed her to send Sharon back to ours. So, in the interim between the original and this weekend’s sequel, Christopher and Sharon have run wildly across the country, changing their names and leaving bodies behind. They have repeatedly, by a hair’s breadth, escaped members of the Order of Valtriel, a crew of religious weirdos who want to draw Sharon back to the damned town of Silent Hill, West Virginia, because she’s somehow part of a demon named Alessa. (In the original, Sharon was the product of rape – Alessa’s victimization at the hands of Silent Hill’s inhabitants propels the movie – but the sequel explains that Alessa didn’t give birth to Sharon, but somehow placed part of her soul in the orphan child. Way to ruin what was one of the most intriguing plot points of the first film, you idiots.)

The girl’s savior, another new kid in school named Vincent (Harington) is, to no one’s surprise but Sharon/Heather’s, has actually been dispatched from Silent Hill to bring her back. When the Order somehow kidnap Christopher, Heather/Sharon refuses to heed his note and follows him to purgatory with Vincent in tow. Vincent, of course, has decided that she’s not really evil after all! So he ends up in the hot seat with the Order, including his mother Claudia (Moss) and grandfather Leonard (McDowell) – both of whom are actually demons. Are you confused yet?

Pyramid Head, played in both movies by Roberto Campanella, is apparently no longer a bad guy – he’s Heather/Sharon’s guardian and executioner; further, cinematographer Maxime Alexandre evidently has no idea how to shoot him, resulting in a series of unnecessary close-ups and a failure to communicate his true strength and horror. The Dark Nurses, a horde of faceless, eyeless “naughty nurses” that ring all the interesting woman-as-nurturer/woman-as-villain bells, return, but Bassett has no idea what to do with them, either. Instead of terrifying the characters, the nurses cause the protagonists to enter into a slightly more high-stakes game of Red Light, Green Light.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some new features. There is some kind of mannequin creature, because mannequins are creepy, right? There is also a dark carnival, because clowns and carnivals? Also creepy. Finally, there’s an abandoned asylum, because of course. Inasmuch as the Resident Evil movies utilize the game format of “beat boss, level up,” the Silent Hill movies don’t feature much triumph at all – there’s just a lot of pointless running. At least in the first film, the various creatures and characters were new and well done. There was a shrewd, unsubtle (some might even say shrill) commentary on dogmatic thinking, rape, and female villains. The second film features nothing new, lacks even the most rudimentary analysis of its own mythology, and is laid out like an increasingly stupid haunted house.

As a defender of the first movie, I am in the minority. However, under no circumstances can I defend spending fifteen of your hard-earned dollars on watching this schlock in 3D – and if the trailers are any evidence, two dimensions won’t do it any favors either. I’ve already expended unnecessary energy trying to figure out its nuances, detail its plot, and explain why you shouldn’t go. TL;DR? Go see Sinister instead. Hell, Netflix The Apparition, which is also terrible. Save yourself the money, confusion, and irritation.

Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (6/23/12)

Movie Poster: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith

Starring:
Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas

How long is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? 105 minutes.
What is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter rated? R for violence throughout and brief sexuality.

CLR Rating: 2/5 stars

Movie Still: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Benjamin Walker, as Abraham Lincoln, in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Photo: Alan Markfield/TM and ©Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

Completely silly, thoroughly entertaining revisionist history swept under the rug by Pixar’s latest.

It’s sweltering throughout the southern US right now, and in hot weather people flock to theaters – it’s dark, cool, and often foolishly entertaining in there this time of year. On June 22nd, theaters around the country were packed with people anxiously awaiting Pixar’s latest (and from all the preliminary reviews, greatest). So when I waltzed into the theater showing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, prepared to scout out seats for myself and a few friends, I was stunned to see the trailer for Django Unchained playing to five hundred empty seats.

The great thing about an empty theater is that you can act out your own (not as awesome) version of MST3K, project your aggression onto the characters onscreen, and generally act like a fool. In other words, it’s the best environment in which to take in a movie like Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Fantastical revisionist histories are not a new thing (see: CSA: Confederate States of America, Red Dawn), but inserting supernatural beings into great literature (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) and into the lives of America’s most beloved presidents is a fairly recent trend. In Timur Bekmambetov’s latest offering (penned by and based on the titular book by Seth Grahame-Smith), Honest Abe, that lanky gentleman with the top hat whose pleasant face graces our least valuable coin, is…well, what else? He’s a vampire hunter. Grahame-Smith weaves Lincoln’s passion for Abolition together with his other, secret obsession: ridding this great nation of vampires.

During the 16th President’s childhood in Indiana, Grahame-Smith writes, Abe got on the wrong side of a slaveowner as boy-Abe struggled to protect his black best friend, Will Johnson. Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), wearing darkly tinted sunglasses and a perpetual sneer brimming with ragged yellow teeth, is not just a simple Southern man; he attacks Abe’s mother in the dead of night, sucking the blood from her body as Abe watches.

Years later, a teenaged Abraham (Benjamin Walker, a perfect casting choice if ever there was one) seeks out Barts to wreak vengeance for his mother’s murder. So begins our nation’s forefather’s journey into the depths of hell – and one of the most ridiculous movies I’ve seen in awhile. Every vampire hunter needs a mentor (Buffy Summers has Giles, Blade had Whistler), and in Abe’s case the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) provides. Sturgess warns him, “No friends, no wife; you can have no one.” Well, as we all know, that isn’t how it worked out. Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who was at the time engaged to senator Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk), finds herself infatuated with Abe’s passion and sense of adventure, and before long the two are married. (As a side note, using “Firefly”’s favorite pilot and Scott Pilgrim’s favorite lady in one movie ups the nerd factor in a good way.) Lincoln’s life progresses the way the history books tell it – he becomes a successful lawyer, attains the Presidency, and has a son with Mary, all while struggling to keep the nation safe from the undead.

These undead, led by Adam (perpetually spooky Rufus Sewell), saw slavery in the US for its lucrative properties…but also as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Seeing as how people were effectively chattel, they made very easy targets for the bloodsuckers. These undead led the Confederate Army into battle – and how could the Yankees fight the immortal?

But that would be revealing too much. What you need to know about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is this: you’ll almost certainly enjoy yourself. You will laugh. The characters do unbelievable things with ordinary tools; they toss each other like rag dolls; they bounce back after mortal blows. You know that scene in every second action film where a hero and villain battle atop moving traffic, leaping improbable lengths while hurling objects at each other at the expense of public safety? Well, no one had mass-produced automobiles yet in the beginning of Abe Lincoln’s life, so instead there are mustangs (it’s brilliant). The final scene takes place atop a moving steam locomotive (Wanted‘s Bekmambetov enjoys trains).

I’m wary of 3D, as anyone who’s read my writing before knows. I blame James Cameron for this blight on cinema. It’s a scam. So few filmmakers know how to use it correctly, so few theaters truly understand how to accommodate the technology, that it often makes for a more frustrating moviegoing experience than plain old 2D.

That’s not true of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. 3D is a perfect venue for a movie like this one. Bekmambetov’s vampires have shimmering eyes whose effect is truly chilling with the extra “dimension;” their eyes glint like a cat’s in the dark. The filmmakers’ meticulous attention to detail graces the viewer with glowing cinders and floating dust motes that stir pleasantly to and fro in the depth of the frame. Further, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel evidently worked closely with visual effects crew to ensure that the movie is filmed brightly, starkly, so that the darkening effect of 3D glasses doesn’t detract from what you see onscreen.

The writing, while snappy and catchy, is trite and worthy of good-natured mocking. “True power lies not in hatred, but in truth!” Sturgess screams to Abe, as the not-yet-Pres sends a whole tree flying with one blow of his axe. “Men have enslaved each other since they invented gods to forgive them for doing it,” says Adam, threatening Abraham. As with Bekmambetov’s other films, the emphasis here isn’t on reality, but fantasy. The director’s signature speedy, frenetic zooms punctuate a film that’s smoothly paced and winkingly earnest. The characters perform impossible deeds in stylized slow motion so that we’re too enamored of how cool it looks to care that it’s impossible.

I won’t go so far as to recommend intoxicants to go along with Abe Lincoln. However, I can suggest that it might be even more entertaining, if that’s your thing. The empty theater on opening tells a tragic story of audience apathy, but you’ll come away satisfied. It’s not good; not by a long shot. I predict a small cult following, but only after the Brave hype dies down. Anyone who’s enamored of Bekmambetov will enjoy herself, and anyone who takes pleasure in revisionist history will love the intertwining of reality and fantasy (or is it fantasy?). It’s a fun movie for a hot summer evening – and after you’ve seen Brave (Because who are we kidding here? That’s obviously your priority), you’d probably do well to check it out. Or, you know, you can wait until DVD.

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

Starring:
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: The Thing (10/15/11)

Movie Poster: The Thing

The Thing

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.
Screenplay by Eric Heisserer

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate Lloyd
Joel Edgerton as Braxton Carter
Ulrich Thomsen as Dr. Sander Halvorson
Eric Christian Olsen as Adam Goodman
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Jameson
Paul Braunstein as Griggs

How long is The Thing? 103 minutes.
What is The Thing rated? R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images, and language.

CLR Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Movie Still: The Thing

Photo by Kerry Hayes/Universal Pictures

Dear Hollywood: if it’s not broken, quit trying to fix it.

 

There’s a whole cadre of snowbound horror films that includes The Shining and 30 Days of Night. These flicks utilize their settings to compound their extraordinary aspects, pitting vampires and ghosts against the intrinsic crazy that emerges when humans are trapped together – anyone who’s ever been confined in a snowstorm knows the truth of cabin fever. One of the most impressive of sub-zero-set movies is John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi/horror shocker The Thing. Ostensibly a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks enterprise The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s The Thing is alternately reviled (famously by Roger Ebert) and beloved. It’s a visceral, frigid exercise in paranoia and claustrophobia, compounded by its Antarctic setting. This weekend we’re seeing yet another The Thing. But if it’s not broken, why fix it, you ask? Well, this weekend’s release, also titled The Thing (are we confused yet by all these ambiguous things?), is a prequel.

In Carpenter’s The Thing, a team of scientists on an American base in Antarctica find themselves stranded by a hellacious storm, trapped with an extraterrestrial life form that devours and becomes a replica of its victims…but perhaps more importantly, they are trapped with their own paranoia. In Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s new movie, a team of Norwegian scientists (the very same from the opening of the original) are the first to find the creature that haunts the dreams of many a horror fan. When the Norwegians literally stumble upon some kind of a structure buried for 100,000 years beneath the ice, they bring in apparently renowned Dr. Sander Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) and American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The investigation begins mundanely enough, but when the team realizes the creature they’ve unearthed is still alive, things go straight to frozen-over hell. This version delves deeply into the origins of the Thing – which is problematic.

Detractors of Rob Zombie’s Halloween know that the cardinal rule of a classic monster is this: don’t reveal too much. In the same way Michael Myers was a far spookier fiend when he hid behind the impassive mask, tilting his head in fascination at his kills, the alien in The Thing was wholly horrifying when it was an unknown life form. When Zombie strove to tell us the story of how Michael Myers became a monster, we quit listening. Unfortunately, van Heijningen falls into the same trap with his prequel. Those of us who love the original don’t want to see the creature in its original form. We don’t want a closer glimpse at its vehicle than we got in the opening shot of the first movie. Here, we get those things.

Carpenter’s movie featured a large cast of men, including Kurt Russell in the role of MacReady, the levelheaded helicopter pilot. These men are confined to the bowels of a base nestled within the harshest climates in the world. A whistling wind pervades the entire film, and subconsciously we feel the chill. It’s forty below zero and there’s no civilization within hundreds of miles. Under those circumstances people get a little nutty. The addition of women to the new cast (Winstead as Kate and Kim Bubbs as French scientist Juliette) adds another complicating layer. It’s clear from the beginning that we should regard Kate as a sex object despite her apparent disinterest in men. Halvorson treats her like an insect, while a few other men leer or cringe. Kate of course takes on the role of Final Girl while also slipping quietly into the role that Russell built for her. It’s a superficially interesting gender switch, but not particularly effective since no character in the film really stands out.

The genius of the original was in the fact that these snowbound men were, mostly, friends. When the alien could have been any one of them, it was duly terrible because they had to stare into the eyes of people they’d known for months or years and decide whether these friends were still human. The Norwegians and Americans in the prequel are at best suspicious of each other, and at worst downright xenophobic. The unfamiliarity, cultural differences, and language barrier in the prequel take away the horrid, creeping dread of the first film.

Although he only received a “Special Thanks To” credit, Stan Winston was largely responsible for the mind-blowing, stomach-churning effects in the original; the creatures, including a severed head on arachnid legs and a tentacled husky-alien, were arguably the most visually memorable part of the film. In the new movie, the effects are (of course) largely digital. Image Engine, the company responsible, does a totally passable job. Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. (doesn’t that sound sort of ominous?) is accountable for the physical effects, and they too managed to create a version of the creature that pays homage to the first while taking it to the next level. Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Black Xmas) enormous brown eyes are perfect for horror – but it sure would’ve been nice if Kate Lloyd had a real personality. Finally, composer Marco Beltrami is no Ennio Morricone.

The new film features the same credit font and the same heartbeat guitar rhythm as the original, and a scene during the credits takes us up to the very minute the older film picks up. Unfortunately, it doesn’t bring anything new to the table and instead feeds us a lot of schlock we didn’t really need. There have been some truly brilliant horror remakes in the last decade (though they’re admittedly rare). This just isn’t one of them. If you’re in it for the gore – and many of us are this time of year – then by all means, this movie is a fun, disgusting, jumpy B-movie. True fans will be in theater seats this weekend, but you might do yourself a favor and give the original another chance.