Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman is grimmest of them all.  Newcomer Director Rupert Sanders strips down the cotton candy versions of ‘Snow White’ from the Disney classic to this year’s earlier Mirror Mirror, and turns his goth fantasy into a twisted spiraling opus of somber melancholy.  I was intrigued by the idea and swayed by the trailers, but Sanders’ final product has me entirely convinced—he has added some serious flavor to a lacking blockbuster season.

The story keeps things simple: the fair young princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is trapped in a castle tower by her evil stepmother Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the supernatural woman that seduced her royal father into marriage and murdered him just before the union could be consummated.  Ravenna has been cursed with immortality so long as she literally sucks the youth out of young girls.  Her infamous ‘mirror on the wall’ informs her that her stepdaughter prisoner has reached an age in which she out-beautifies her and that literally consuming the heart of the princess will win her everlasting immortality.  As quickly as Ravenna can send in her freakish mule of a brother to fetch Snow White from her cell, the princess makes a bold escape from the castle and treks out through the Dark Forest.

Ravenna, completely in a rage, barters with a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to track and retrieve Snow White in exchange for the revival of his dead wife.  So the booze-smitten tracker heads off to find the princess and of course does so, but he is ultimately swayed by her purity and quest to take down the evil Queen.

At this point, if you think you know the story, you probably do.  Many of the familiar plot lines converge at one point or another, until Snow White dons armor and a sword to do literal battle against Ravenna.  Until then we get the seven dwarfs as you’ve never seen them before.  We get the poisoned apple, love’s true kiss, and so on and so forth.  But Mr. Sanders creates such a devilishly lavish spectacle that I became completely lost in the fantasy world, so gorgeous and lushly shot.  I began thinking he might be a young protege of Guillermo del Toro who would most certainly be grinning throughout Sanders’ directorial debut.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few speed bumps, such as a saggy midsection that drags and a lead performance by Kristen Stewart that shouts of too much Twilight and not enough of a departure for her.  Perhaps she is completely outshined by the supporting cast—Hemsworth, the dwarfs, and especially Theron literally chew up the screen, gargle, and spit it back out.  So I question whether or not any leading actress could have competed in an arena such as this where the supporting characters are so much more interesting.  Stewart isn’t all bad, but she doesn’t have much to do other than squirm, stand aghast, and look somber.  I half expected Edward to jump out of the bushes at any moment.

Part of Stewart’s problem may be that the film suffers mostly from the lack of a real romance between Snow White and the huntsman, because other than a dismal smooch, they don’t seem to have any romantic interest in each other.  That lacking arc more than likely keeps the film from greatness because there’s no rooting passion between the two that would make their battles and sacrifices all the more impacting.  I digress.  I’m kicking pebbles around when Sanders’ film clearly sits atop a firm cliff of imagination and excitement.  It’s because the film just barely misses greatness that I can’t seem to wonder why he went 80 percent of the way and stopped there.

As a film of tremendous atmosphere, lush visuals, startling creatures, impressive art direction, and a bloodthirsty performance from Theron—Snow White and the Huntsman is among the fairest summer tentpoles and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

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Rating: 3.6/5 (5 votes cast)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Yo-ho-ho.  A cash cow for Disney.  Arguably the most lucrative and popular financially viable franchise sets sail… again four years following the last outing.  Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides marks the third sequel, and there may be more yet to come.  Why would actors Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, and Johnny Depp want back in?  Probably for the same reason series regulars Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom jumped ship.  The series has ran its course and claimed plenty of booty, but there are still air pockets of gold left to mine.  What life could be left in the franchise?  Only the scarcest of signs actually.

Depp is back in full form playing the iconic swashbuckler we all adore.  Capt. Jack Sparrow is again a wanted man when he is ordered by the King of England to reunite with Barbossa (Rush) on an expedition to discover and secure the Fountain of Youth.  Rumors have been spreading that Jack is assembling a crew in secret to embark on his own journey.  Sparrow becomes puzzled by the talk and comes to realize an ex-lover has been impersonating him.  Her name is Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and she’s found herself first-mate and daughter to Blackbeard (Ian McShane), a sorcerer of a pirate aboard a ship with supernatural power.  Sparrow is duped into joining Angelica and Blackbeard, while Barbossa and his Englishmen as well as enemy Spaniards trail close behind.  Along the way, Jack must play for multiple sides—remaining under the watchful eye of Blackbeard while secretly keeping the English under little speculation.

In all honesty, franchise writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio bring little to the table as far as the scale of the journey goes.  The film delivers most of its goods within the first 30 minutes as our scurvy hero dodges English capture through a series of elaborate escapes and classic Jack Sparrow antics.  Once he meets up with Angelica and hits the seas with Blackbeard, On Stranger Tides loses its stride and becomes an increasingly long lull of weak plot threads.  The actual quest for the Fountain of Youth is such a disappointment.  I felt as though none of the characters had a genuine interest or drive in finding it.  There’s some talk of Blackbeard wanting to find it to potentially save his soul, however, it’s never a pressing matter.  Barbossa cares none for it.  He wants revenge on a particular foe.  Angelica seems to be after it for her father’s sake, but since he doesn’t care so much, why should we?  I really don’t think the writers thought this one out.

Making matters worse is the fact that nothing particularly memorable or exciting happens throughout the film.  The different groups of treasure hunters encounter a horde of deadly mermaids, but that’s about all the film has to offer audiences that could be considered new or remotely memorable.

This sequel has been directed by Rob Marshall (Nine, Chicago).  I will commend him on tightening up the story and presenting a much more simple and logical narrative than Gore Verbinski’s last venture At World’s End.  However, as disappointing as many audiences found the two-part sequels from 2006 and 2007, I can’t imagine them finding a more refurbished product with On Stranger Tides.  ‘Stranger’ this film is not, and if the last two predecessors had anything going for them—it was that they were at least simultaneously odd and interesting, while also boasting several impressive and memorable effects-filled action sequences.  The previous chapters were way ahead of On Stranger Tides in terms of creativity, and when they failed, they did so grandly.  This chapter storms in and teeters out with little more than a sigh.

Despite the film’s many shortcomings, I can’t fault Depp.  He delivers as always, and the Sparrow character still entertains in high fashion.  Unfortunately his movies aren’t keeping up with him, and while On Stranger Tides will undoubtedly make less than any of the previous Pirates, there will still be plenty of coin to lap up—warranting audiences another sequel.  My suggestion?  Ditch Marshall.  Bring back the strangeness, the surprise, and the suspense.  Savvy?

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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)