Friday, 27 July 2012

Snow White And The Huntsman

Summer 2012

Fantasy Adventure

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claflin, Rachel Stirling, Sam Spruell, Lily Cole, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Toby Jones and Bob Hoskins.

Certificate: 12A.

Running Time: 127 Mins Approx.

Seen At: Stockport’s Cineworld Cinemas.

On: Thursday, 14th June, 2012.

As early as April, we had the first of two early-summer cinematic Snow White’s. Julia Roberts’ return to the mainstream, relishing in fun menace in Mirror Mirror.  I haven’t seen it yet, but, judging from the trailer, was defiantly the more fun - child-friendly, sugary, frothier and lighthearted, aimed squarely at youngsters compared to this supposedly more ‘epic’ adaptation. I suspect, that the former would have been the one which I personally would have enjoyed far more though.
  The intention presumably was to re-imagine the classic Disney fairytale for the teen-angst-fuelled target audiences of today, their fanatically populist choice being the moody, pale-faced vampires of the Twilight phenomenon (surely it’s not just coincidental that the female lead here is the same as the heroine for so-dubbed ‘Twi-hards’ - but is it as cynical a ploy as just being a shrewd case of shoo-in casting to ensure successful box-office takings?
  Maybe, but by opting for a decidedly darker tone, the result is mixed to say the least. Far too long, far too slow, and taking an absolute age to go anywhere, it takes on too many ideas for its own good.
  Kristen Stewart’s demeanor is as miserable, stilted and inexpressive as ever, and even when she’s supposed to be the flourishing flower, she’s forever dressed in pauper’s rags.
Chris Hemsworth, a great actor, very popular with the mighty success of Thor, is here completely wasted on a vastly underwritten, cardboard-template of a role, and a terrible Scottish accent. Considering the title, you’d have also thought that his Huntsman would be the predominant love interest, but instead, that is Sam Claflin, fairing much better as William, a suitably heroic Prince Charming.
  Thank goodness mainly though for Charlize Theron, completely stealing the show, fantastic and superbly evil in the simplest sense as Ravenna, (so named due to her recurring affinity with a motif of magically swirling ravens under her control – rather similar to Oz’s Wicked Witch of The West and her infamous flying monkeys). She’s the classic queen terrified of aging, who scarily enough, temporarily regains youth by sucking it out of her captured victims.
The sword-and-sorcery action set-pieces and climactic battles are visually impressive, as are some innovatively lavish visual effects and ideas, such as a spooling, liquid-gold mirror, and Ravenna’s bath, a literal metaphor for retaining the ‘milk of youth’ – she literally bathes in the lucid, white liquid in a desperate attempt to cling to her younger self. (We first see her in saucy seductress mode, stabbing her unsuspecting men in the heart – quite literally - in a vengeful rage). Her aging make-up is also terrific, as she transforms from spikily elegant, beautifully costumed queen into haggard harridan.
  Whist cleverly retaining many staple elements (the mirror, with it’s famous ‘On the Wall’ speech, the poisoned apple, the huntsman’s plot thread), it just diverts too far from the filmic source material - Disney’s groundbreaking, first ever full-length animated feature, from 1937. I always welcome new re-envisionings of much revered classics – but only once or twice does it take memorable sequences and apply them to the new approach. This fails to capitalize on some original’s most startlingly effective moments, such as Lucille La Verne, inimitably voicing both the Wicked Queen (as she was known in fairytale) and horrible Witch, by drinking a lethal potion, putting her terrifying panoramically-photographed transformation into a dizzying spin.
  As a consequence, tonally, it’s extremely muddled throughout, switching between languidly slow, overlong and serious, and then suddenly remembering the very young children’s audience, and their partiality towards humour that’s just far too infantile.
  The latter is due mainly to the dwarfs, who, despite the starry cast they’re made up of (including wise leader Bob Hoskins), not only don’t put in an appearance until well after the first hour, but, curiously there’s eight of them.
  One of the best scenes, at last adds some much-needed colour, as they lead our moping heroine into an evergreen glade, complete with toadstools, cute-faced pixies and fluorescent, camouflaged tortoises. It’s a beautifully designed, quiet sequence.
  The most memorable supporting role is that of the Queen’s brother, played with dripping malevolence by Sam Spruell, very much in the similar cannon of The Mask of Zorro’s deceptively-named Captain Love, David Thewlis’s Northern antagonist King Einon in DragonHeart, or even Rocky Horror’s Richard O’Brien’s Pierre Le Pieu, in a fellow fairytale adaptation: Ever After: A Cinderella Story. These are wonderfully slimy supporting characters, irredeemably evil, and every bit as impactful, if not even more so, in the role of sometimes the secondary villain, as Theron is as his dominant, more intellectual sibling.
  The film’s most disappointing element is the screenplay, struggling under the weight of its own flat dialogue and seemingly endless exposition.
In the accompanying trailers, as well as gigantic pop-out billboard posters adorning the multiplexes of shopping centres, presumably because filmmakers were all too aware of the recent competition of Mirror Mirror, I feel the marketing campaign made this out to be the far more epic option of the two, on a more ambitious scale. So I wonder why it feels quite small compared with its contemporary blockbusters such as the Narnia films for instance.
Perhaps it’s the choice not to venture into the utilization of 3D, apparently less popular with audiences, who in the main prefer 2D, but to me, a third dimension always adds to a certain immersive quality to the entire cinematic experience. The decision then to not choose 3D for a project that would seem to suit it ideally, is a missed opportunity, often counting against the film, meaning that a swish of a sword, slow-motion drips of blood, or the breaking of the mirror’s shards of glass, could have been made far more tactile for the audience.
  The result, unfortunately feels considerably less ‘epic’ than was first intended, at least promotionally. This is partly due to the omission from the theatrical trailer, of Theron’s deeply sinister narration, a much more threatening version of the mirror’s simile-laden poem. Instead of the supposed innocence of the animated original’s: ‘Skin white as snow’ etc, Ravenna’s decidedly darker declaration of jealousy at her rival reads: ‘Lips red as blood…hair black as night…bring me your heart…my dear, dear Snow White’… It’s such an effectively unsettling speech, delivered with all the appropriate relish by Theron, I don’t know why they didn’t use it at all in the actual film.
  It’s mildly enjoyable enough, but a wonderful central performance from Theron, don’t change this from being a case of individual scenes being stronger than the muddled whole. Here’s hoping, that if this is a relative success, and distributors Universal Studios do decide to cash-in on an inevitable sequel, as much effort is put into improving this labored screenplay’s pacing, character development and dialogue, as it does into its far more successful take on its cinematic technique; of effects, villainy and visuals.

Rating: * * 

Thursday, 12 July 2012


Summer 2012

Genre: Sci-Fi/ Horror / Prequel.

Starring: Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Logan Marshall-Green,Micheal Fassbender, Idris Elba, Rafe Spall and Guy Pierce.

Running Time: 124 mins. approx.

Certificate: 15

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Saturday, 9th June, 2012.

In 1979, director Ridley Scott made audiences around the globe scream in the isles, with Alien, a worldwide blockbusting phenomenon, that has now become an absolute staple classic. At the time, it distinguished itself as breaking new cinematic ground, as being the very first film of its kind to mix the genres of science-fiction and horror together – with simple, terrifying results. It made a star of Sigourney Weaver, as the heroic protagonist Ripley, one of the first examples of a strong female in the lead, as opposed to the ‘damsel in distress’ figure.
Scott ‘gave birth to’ this genre, as do, in this movie’s case, his characters too - quite literally - in some of the most shocking, horrific and memorable sequences in modern cinema that have ever been committed to celluloid. Of course, it was John Hurt who appeared in: ‘the scene’ as the doomed Kane. His face-hugging, chest-bursting fate is in the same category as Janet Leigh’s dice with death in a motel shower in Hitchcock’s unbeatable slasher Psycho, The Exorcist’s Linda Blair’s three-hundred-and-sixty degree, head-spinning projectile vomit, Jack Nicholson’s maniacal axe-weilding in Kubrick’s The Shining, Clarice’s introduction to Dr. Lector in The Silence of The Lambs, Jamie Lee-Curtis’s babysitting job from hell in John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978, and of course, Glenn Close’s crazed Alex Forrest putting the bunny in the pot in 1987’s Fatal Attraction, all going down as just some of the most iconic images not only in horror, but also in cinematic history. In celebration of the upcoming release of Prometheus, Channel 4 have been showing three of the original quadology, and while the first three sequels had, shall we say, varying amounts of success, I assure you that as is also the case with Ridley’s return with this film, the original hasn’t lost a single ounce of its impact to absolutely petrify…
 Returning to the genre of sci-fi for the first time in twenty years since Blade Runner in 1982 (which he is soon to remake), the visionary director insists that this is not a straightforward prequel to Alien, being instead very much it’s own ‘beast’, but it’s impossible not to see the parallels. 
  Set before the events of the original, the premise sees a group of explores land on an abandoned planet, in the spaceship of the film’s title, millions of miles from earth. Its stunning opening shot consists of a gigantic waterfall, with a mysterious, sinister figure standing on top.
   This installment attempts to answer the ultimate in existential questions: where do we come from? Our heroine this time round is Elizabeth Shaw (played by the first Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace), a scientist who believes that what remains of an ancient civilization, could hold the key to our very existence. In turn, this opens up all kinds of infinitely ongoing debates such as nature versus nurture, evolution verses godly creation, and science verses religion.
  The archetypal icy blonde with a heart of glass is also on board, in the shape of the enigmatic and skeptical Meredith Vickers, (Charlize Theron on cool, detached form), a woman shrouded in complete mystery, who might just have her own top secret ‘agenda’ for being there…
  As was the case with Ian Holm’s head-twirling, white-foaming Ash and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop before (or rather, after) him, David is the ship’s cyborg, a robot in human form (a polished-speaking but morally ambiguous Micheal Fassbender).There’s a brilliantly eerie, ominous early sequence which sees him silently stalk the otherwise deserted, pristine quarters of the ship to deceptively contrapuntal, lulling classical strings,  while all the other crew are experiencing hyper-sleep inside those infamous pods. It’s a scene which sets the very specific tone throughout: as with all effective horror films, it should unfold slowly, ramping up the tension before an explosive finale.
  Much of those ingredients do indeed translate terrifyingly well here, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematographic, wonderfully snaking, voyeuristic quality of the camera, creeping around the interiors endless corridors from the alien’s perspective. What set the original apart, providing it with an even more palpable level of suspense, is the fact that neither you, nor the characters, ever quite knew where the elusive creature was.
   Newcomer on the block, Logan Marshall-Green, gives one of the film’s best performances playing Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Charlie Holloway, who you think will be the male lead, but is actually, mid-way through, the catalyst of two of the movie’s biggest scares. First, David sneakily takes a sapling of the species’ malleable, kinesthetic, viscous alien gloop from one of the hundreds of vases which carry their eggs, and drops it into Charlie’s drink. The next morning, he finds his eye bloodshot, almost as if a poisonous contact lens has been planted. He soon becomes a lot worse, with his face a mass of throbbing veins as the alien persona slowly takes over him. I was surprised his grizly fate happened quite so early on, but it’s one of the best sequences. It’s the gradual, worsening deterioration that’s so scary.
  As if that weren’t shocking enough, Elizabeth herself is suffering from severe stomach cramps, only to next find herself waking up in the medical bay, being told quite calmly by David that she’s been impregnated, similarly to John Hurt in the original. When told that is categorically impossible, he chillingly replies: ‘Well Doctor Shaw, I’m afraid it’s not exactly a traditional fetus...’. What follows is the film at it’s most squeamish, shocking and harrowing as Elizabeth must endure a gruesome, alarm-ringing, surgical ‘procedure’ (without giving too much away), as the miniature monster rears it’s ugly ‘head’ – in an homage to that inimitable scene…
  It’s one of several jumpy, highly clever echoes to the original, another being when Rafe Spall’s character falls foolish victim to the movie’s first extra-terrestrial encounter with a small, long-necked ‘being’ that sticks itself to his arm, and wraps around it, before eating its way into his high-visibility hood…
   In terms of the alien effects themselves, they’re achieved predominantly through anamatronic puppetry, seamlessly combined with astonishing computer-generated flourishes. Scott obtains the perfect balance of never showing too much of the creatures so that the audience are no longer shocked, but always showing us just enough of a suggestion of them to keep us tantalized. Keep you’re eyes peeled behind those ever-so-stylish 3D glasses though, as towards the end, when it’s the showdown between Elizabeth with an axe and the snarling, tentacled monstrosity, we finally see exactly where the legendarily slimy Alien from the original actually came from. It shows just how far visual effects have come in the thirty-three years since the first film. Stay through the credits to see just how many people are listed under: ‘Digital Artists’. It should surely win the Best Visual Effects Oscar next year, and more hopefully.
  Speaking of 3D, those fantastic effects are even further enhanced by superb utilization of the tool. The sheer scale of the rocky, baron landscapes is visually stunning. There’s an exhilarating sandstorm sequence, whereby as paraclastic storm-clouds are approaching, the body count is also rising, with helpless crew members being sucked out the back of the ship, as just another  innumerable piece of debris…
    In the sequence whereby the characters first discover the cavernous remains of a deserted civilation, with these enormous stone idols carved in the shape of the heads of the gods (which feature in a lot of the poster art),  the choice of digital gradient which colours these scenes, are an immersive jade-green sheen, with this gloss acting as a slowly emerging manifestation, a visual metaphor for the texture of the alien itself.
  In moments of true peril, Marc Streitenfeld’s understated, synthesized, droning score, puts you directly in the heart of the tension.
    In the absolutely huge anticipation surrounding this film, the trailers have been so clever in not revealing all that much, with an editing style that's all flashes and bursts. What’s most memorable from it, is the desperate wail of the ship’s alarm that accompanies it…
  What lets the film down the most is its screenplay. The dialogue is often too on-the-nose, and the supporting characters aren’t well enough drawn.
  In terms of the cast, the best performance is from Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers – clearly reveling in a perfect opportunity to be so spiky and authouratative. It’s the first of her two blockbusting ‘evil queen’ figures this summer, as in fact released in multiplexes on the very same day as this, she’s also the famous villainess in the latest re-envisioning of the classic fairytale of Snow White – Snow White and the Huntsman.
  Luther star Idris Elba is suitably patriotic and gung-ho as Janek, the ship’s captain, and Guy Pearce is unrecognizable, under the layers of prosthetics as the aged Peter Weyland, the franchise’s founder of Weyland Corporations, the organization who fund the crew’s fateful expeditions…
  Tense,terrific and absolutely terrifying, whether you think it reaches the heights of the original is an open question, but for me it is certainly just as heart-pumpingly entertaining, and it is left open for, hopefully, a sequel.  The more horribly extreme it is, the more you can’t help but delight in watching through your fingers!

Rating: * * * *

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Thursday, 5 July 2012

Men In Black 3

Summer 2012

Science Fiction Comedy/Action-Adventure.

Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee-Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve, Nicole Scherzinger and Emma Thompson.

Certificate: PG.

Running Time: 106 mins. approx.

Seen At: The Heritage Centre’s Cinema, Macclesfield.

On: Friday, 8th June, 2012.

It’s Danny Elfman’s score that immediately grips you into Barry Sonnenfeld’s third outing for the stylishly-shaded, sharp-suited defenders of the universe. As soon as you hear the classically inimitable throng of four ominous notes on a violin, followed this time by the larger-scale thud of a base drum, it’s a solid basis for be swept along on a special-effects laden action-adventure.
In the film’s inventive opening scene, a glamorous vixen (played by none other than The Pussycat Dolls’s Nicole Scherzinger) delivers what appears to be a pink-iced, wobbly, strawberry-topped cake into an intergalactic lunar prison, for the aptly named Boris The Animal. Needless to say, looks are as deceptive as ever, and a sequence ensues which employs one of this franchises defining qualities: the balanced antithesis in tone, between crowd-pleasing laughs, frequently juxstaposed with appropriately squirm-inducing (but always of the family-friendly variety), creature-based shocks.
  It’s been a full fifteen years since the innovative 1997 original, and a decade since the even more enjoyable sequel in 2002. Will Smith certainly doesn’t look any older,(despite J saying to K after another mission: ‘I am getting too old for this – I can only imagine how you feel!’). He can defiantly still deliver a plethora of quick-fire wisecracks that characterized, and made us root for, Agent J right from the first movie.
  Will Smith is always such a charismatic, relatable presence on screen, and here brings his trademark wit, charm and facial expressions that makes him both such a reliable and popular Hollywood A-Lister in terms of box-office power, but much more importantly, a supremely gifted actor across any genre, with a superb sense of comic timing.
  When we first meet him here for instance, he puts on his trademark glasses, flashes the memory-erasing de-nuralizer in front of an unsuspecting audience, wiping away their recollections of a giant, lime-coloured satellite in the middle of the street, with a warning that this was the result of signal interference from using mobile phones on airplanes. Another example sees him in combat with a slimy sea-creature, warning the dumbfounded onlookers about the perils of disposing of unwanted goldfish.
  Emma Thompson makes a brilliant addition to the cast as Agent O, the head of the Men In Black division, providing a feel of measured wisdom. The infamous giant screens in the headquarters, which monitor aliens disguised as humans, now feature Lady Gaga among them if you look closely!
  The predominant plot device involves Tommy Lee-Jones’s Agent K being killed in the present day. So it’s up to J, to literally ‘jump’ back in time to 1969 in order to stop the event from ever occurring. As such, the fact that the wonderful Lee-Jones is only on-screen for the first fifteen minutes, consequently means that the connection between the two leads with which the series has now become synonymous - is lost. The screenplay simply isn’t as funny as the other two films, mainly because there are very few scenes with the two of them.
  Once back in the sixties, the production design is suitably indulged in lots of retro touches.
  Josh Brolin, as the younger version of Lee-Jones, gives the best performance in the movie, capturing the Southern-American drawl, look and mannerisms of him to an absolute tee.
It’s once they run into psychic Griffin that the film feels rather flat. Griffin is quite an inconsequential character, it would have been better if the script had generated some funnier dialogue instead, as opposed to creating a flimsy supporting character.
Also, the villain this time round (Jermaine Clement’s Boris The Animal) wears goggles throughout which detracts him from having any expression, which means he’s never as effective as the previous adversaries, lacking the downright nastiness of the original’s Edgar the cockroach, or the fun of Lara Flynn-Boyle’s Serleena from the second film.
  Stylistically, the nightscapes are impressive, particularly when utilizing the clever editing technique of speed-ramping (that is, rapidly zooming in on a shot of J, before slowing it down).
The score is full of the tiniest, clever little musical cues, such as when J is chasing one nemesis through a fairground, pointing his gun left and right, accompanied by the impact of a high-pitched flute at the same time.
  The vehicle designs are especially extravagant, my favourite being the ironically futuristic, loop-the-loop cycles – used during a fast-paced chase.
  Unfortunately, I didn’t see this film in 3D – (I would always choose to, it’s a brilliant tool that can only ever add to the cinematic experience in my opinion), but I was able to estimate where the 3D flourishes would have been punctuated from (namely that very chase, or the moment when the older K zaps an alien with his blue-beamed laser gun).
  The most disappointing element though, is that there’s no Frank the pug dog – (apart from his face appearing on a billboard very briefly). He had such a prominent role in the previous one, a big reason why Men In Black II appealed to me, and is my favourite of the three).
Also, towards the end, this film makes the slight mistake of choosing emotion over comedy, a bold choice, but something a family-targeted fantasy adventure shouldn’t do.
  However, it’s always great to have the Men in Black back. It’s fun, Smith, Lee-Jones, Brolin and Thompson are all on top comic form, and it’s a summer blockbuster that’s not only a real hit at the box-office, but also fizzing to the top with visual innovation.

Rating: * * *

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