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)


I have never seen a film quite like Hugo.  It’s a children’s fable made for adults— and it scares me that most children will probably sit in boredom if their erratic attention spans aren’t captivated by the incredible 3D visuals.  Martin Scorsese, of all directors, has facilitated a memorable moviegoing experience for film enthusiasts.  Hugo is a movie about movies, about making movies, about honoring movies, and about remembering pioneers of movies.  This is all under the guise of a family-film adventure in 3D.  If you’re looking for chipwrecking, steer elsewhere.

Scorsese takes viewers to 1930s Paris, where young boy Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) hides in the tall clock up above the interior of a train station.  Hugo lives secluded from the station inspector (Sascha Baron Cohen) sniffing out abandoned children, fully prepared to ship them off to an orphanage.

After the death of both his father (Jude Law) and alcoholic uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo busies himself keeping the clocks running properly so as to avoid the discovery of his deceased uncle who normally mans the clocks at the station.  In his spare time, Hugo scurries about pilfering scrap parts from a toymaker, George (Ben Kingsley), until he is caught one day.  George demands Hugo empty his pockets of stolen parts, and in the process steals Hugo’s personal notebook which has diagrams and calculations for building an automaton.

You see, Hugo’s father was an inventor who planned to rebuild a dead automaton he picked up from a museum—this bot having belonged to the legendary filmmaker and magician George Méliès.  Hugo eventually teams up with the toymaker’s godchild, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to retrieve his sacred notebook which opens up both children to worlds unknown to each other.  Isabelle is fascinated with literature and books.  Hugo loves gears and machinery.  Both end up enraptured by Hugo’s quest to reform the automaton that may hold a message from Hugo’s father as well as secrets about toymaker George.

In many ways, Hugo is visually one of the most striking films I’ve ever seen.  Most of the film takes place inside the Parisian train station where our young hero leaps and bounds through vents and shafts. Scorsese chose to shoot this movie in 3D.  A wise move he made.  The added dimension is used to grand effect here and compliments the stunning cinematography.  I honestly can’t overstate it.  Take for example the opening sequence which features a breathtaking single shot that drives viewers down the entire interior of the train station before ending on Hugo’s face behind a giant clock.  Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson had me at hello.

Hugo’s mission is clear, even if it isn’t to him.  He wants to finish what he started with his father, and in the process, find closure in that relationship.  The film deals a lot with human purpose.  Hugo comes to the realization that people are like machines, and need fixing once in a while.  When a machine isn’t serving its purpose, it isn’t working, just like human beings.  He intends to fix the automaton, just as he intends to fix George who sits in his corner booth as a lost and withering old man needing to reclaim his former glory.

To be frank, Hugo is not a movie for everyone.  The film delves into the history of filmmaking and eventually becomes a movie for movie enthusiasts.  As a family film, many parents may end up scratching their heads while their kids become restless.  That really is not a criticism.  It’s simply a fair warning.  Scorsese has sought to make a personal, passionate, honoring film about the magic of escapism.  Some parents and kids, however, may thoroughly enjoy this.  There’s no squeaking critters to be found here.  No obnoxious zoo animals.  Nothing hip in sight.  What we do get is a charming, visually stunning, and thoroughly pleasant little movie from a grand storyteller who clearly is giving us a love letter for movies—and it’s in eye-popping 3D.



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Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)

Edge of Darkness

Mel Gibson, long absent from headlining films as an actor, returns with the gritty, generically-titled revenge-thriller “Edge of Darkness.”  The movie pits him as a Boston Police Detective, Tom Craven, investigating the murder of his daughter.  Shortly after picking up his 22-year-old from the airport to stay with him, she is gunned down on the front porch and dies in his arms.  With her death appearing to be a botched attempt on his own life, Craven begins an investigation that will lead him into his daughter’s secret life of political conspiracy, you know… the kind where everything is classified and no one can be trusted, including a shadowy operative ‘fixer’ (Ray Winstone) who follows Tom around and never fully discloses whether he is there to help, or lead Tom into a deadly trap.

Skillfully directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Mask of Zorro) from a script adapted by William Monohan (Oscar-winner for The Departed), “Edge of Darkness” is a goofy plot full of holes and question marks with a conspiracy behind it that isn’t as well constructed as it think it is.  Oddly enough, that doesn’t much matter.  Gibson, even after an eight-year absence, is still a presence to be reckoned with, despite having a little less hair and a few more lines in his face.  His credibility remains (forget the personal life garbage), and the man is back.  His restraint in the film makes his mission more intense, and even when everything is resolved and other character motivations and plot advances seem shaky, Gibson remains that solid force that holds this thing together.  The direction of Campbell and the darkness of the script from Monohan also helps immensely.  Let me make this clear… “Edge of Darkness” is not “Taken.” There’s nothing Jason Bourne or cartoonish about the action here.  Campbell’s film is slow-moving, procedural, and much more mystery than shoot-em-up.  That actually helps establish a real-world context, and makes some intense moments all the more surprising and effective.  For those wanting bang-bang and impressive stunt-work, look elsewhere.  That’s not on the agenda, although there is action and big-budget action moments, the movie is all about atmosphere, and not for those with a short attention span.

After all is said and done, “Edge of Darkness” crams a lot of hooey plot devices and questionable conclusions in the way of a gritty thriller, from its lack of the father-daughter relationship being well-established, to its head-scratching conspiracy.  That’s okay.  Gibson, Monohan, and Campbell deliver an exciting film, and I expected no less.  Audiences should be pleased with Gibson’s return–the man is in fine form, and who better to deliver the vengeful goods than our very own mid-50s Martin Riggs?  I’ve never seen a Gibson film I didn’t enjoy, and no I haven’t seen them all, but I’ve seen probably about 2/3 of his line-up.  “Edge of Darkness” adds to the list.  It’s a tough, violent R-rated thriller that plays very well while you watch it.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (4 votes cast)