The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Posted on April 21, 2016 at 5:11 pm

Copyright 2016 Universal
Copyright 2016 Universal
With a storyline as awkward and unfocused as its unwieldy title, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is like a mashup of “Frozen,” “Lord of the Rings,” and the Narnia movies, without any of the heart or imagination of any of them.

It’s both a prequel and a sequel to a movie no one was all that eager to see, with only 48 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes and one of those counted as positive didn’t muster much enthusiasm: “This Snow White may not be the fairest of them all, but sometimes, especially during the heat of summer, fair-to-middling does just fine.” This one is more middling than fair.

In the first film, the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) bewitched a king, killed him on their wedding night, and locked his daughter in a tower. Then, when she grew up to be Kristen Stewart and threatened to challenge Ravenna’s status as the fairest of them all, Ravenna ordered the Huntsman with no name to kill Snow White and bring back her heart so Ravenna could eat it and achieve permanent fairness.

In this film, we see Ravenna murder her husband, the king, over a game of chess, and we meet her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is in love and pregnant. Her sister is the one with the magical powers. Freya has none — or so she thinks. But when she is faced with the ultimate loss and betrayal, all of a sudden she discovers her power, or, should I say, she lets it go. Yes, she is the queen of cold and ice. So, she leaves and takes over her own queendom, where her primary occupation is stealing children, telling them that love is illegal, and turning them into fighting machines, with freezing things a close second. Two children grow up to be world-class fighters and to be Chris Hemsworth (this time he gets a name: Eric) and Jessica Chastain as Sara. They break the big rule, and Freya punishes them terribly. Eventually, Eric ends up trying to find the magic mirror, complicated because it was stolen by goblins and because it exerts an evil “Fellowship of the Ring”-style power over anyone who looks into it. He is accompanied by two dwarves, played by Nick Frost and “The Trip’s” Rob Brydon, when, as I pointed out before, little people characters should be played by little people actors. They come across two female dwarves. One is played by Sheridan Smith, who, with Colleen Atwood’s gorgeous costumes, provides the movie’s few bright moments.

The storyline makes even less sense than the first one, with (SPOILER ALERT) repeated reliance on that weakest of plot twists, the character you are supposed to think is dead who turns out to be still alive. Blunt and Theron are game but given little to do but strut and declaim. Chris Hemsworth manages to bring his character to life and there are some striking visuals, but that can’t make up for a dreary mess.

Parents should know that this film features extended fantasy peril and violence, characters injured and killed including an infant, monster, some disturbing images, sexual references and situation, some strong language and crude comments.

Family discussion: What happened when Eric looked in the mirror? Why were so many of the huntsmen loyal to Freya?

If you like this, try: “Stardust” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Romance

The World’s End

Posted on August 25, 2013 at 2:14 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: The theme of the film is a pub crawl intended to make the characters very drunk, drinking and drunkenness, drugs, drug dealer
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence with some graphic images
Diversity Issues: Homophobic insult
Date Released to Theaters: August 23, 2013
Date Released to DVD: November 18, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00BPEJX12

world's endSimon Pegg, Nick Frost, and co-writer/director Edgar Wright have re-united for the third in the genre-bending “Cornetto” series, which I refuse to call a “trilogy” because I want them to keep going.  In case you’re listening, guys: Please.

“Shaun of the Dead” was a romantic comedy with zombies and strawberry Cornetto ice cream.  “Hot Fuzz” was a sort of deranged meta-buddy cop film with blue Cornetto ice cream.  And now we have “The World’s End,” a comedy about a group of high school friends who get together to re-create a legendary pub crawl in their suburban home town.  Twenty years after their high school graduation, they go back home to have a pint in each of the twelve pubs that constitute the “golden mile,” concluding at one called The World’s End.  And yes, that is foreshadowing.

Things go badly.  Things are not as they remembered.  When the group arrive at the first pub on the list, it is depressingly generic.  In the decades since they left, everything has been homogenized into sterile, interchangeably dull corporate decor.  The second one is indistinguishable  from the first.  Gary has always cherished the notion that they were legends in the town.  But no one seems to remember them, not even the high school bully.

Then the robot aliens show up and things get worse.

Co-write Pegg plays Gary King, who is now only dimly realizing that the qualities that lead to popularity in high school do not equip one for success thereafter.  This is particularly the case when those qualities are essentially limited to creating the kind of experiences that result in watching the sun come up with bloody knuckles, a hangover, and vomit on your shoes.  You can still do that after high school, as Gary’s current status as an inpatient in a substance abuse clinic attest.  It’s just that it no longer makes him a hero to his friends.  Now all respectable men with jobs and, for most of them, families, they have moved on and have no interest in going back.

But Gary, who thinks he lost his way when they failed to make it to all twelve pubs in “the golden mile,” manages to persuade the other four to come with him and try it again.  For no other reason except for pity, survivor guilt, and perhaps some wish to revisit a carefree past, they decide to come along.  It is possible, though, that they envy Gary’s freedom as they are constantly checking with their watches, their phones, and their wives.  There’s car dealer Peter Page  (Eddie Marsan — all of the characters have royal court-related names),  realtor with a permanently embedded bluetooth earpiece Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman of “The Hobbit”), recently divorced Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Gary’s former best friend Andy Knightly (Nick Frost), whose hostility indicates that a revelation about some horrible misdeed lies ahead.  Also in town is Sam Chamberlain (Rosamund Pike), Oliver’s sister, who was there for an important part of the legendary pub crawl in 1990.

Gary is darker than the previous roles Pegg wrote for himself, which mostly had him as an amiable, if immature and socially inept doofus (although in “Hot Fuzz” he was a very buff and straight arrow variation).  He clearly relishes playing a completely dissolute character who cannot seem to figure out why a system of doing or saying whatever will get him what he wants at that moment without any regard to the consequences for himself or others is not working for him anymore.  It is also good to see Frost playing something different as well.  His Andy is responsible, dignified, and quietly competent and confident.  He also turns out to be very good at fighting the robot aliens.

It’s a delicious mix of understated British humor and over-the-top craziness, with witty lines, some knowing digs at Hollywood, and razor-sharp satire.  It also has the only credible explanation for hideous public sculpture I’ve ever seen.  I hope they end up with at least as many in the series as there are flavors of Cornetto ice cream treats.

Parents should know that this film has constant bad language, including crude sexual references and a homophobic insult, a lot of drinking and drunkenness, drugs, and mostly comic peril and violence with some disturbing images.

Family discussion:  Why did Gary’s friends agree to come back?  Why was the pub crawl important to Gary?

If you like this, try: “Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz,” “Paul,” and the television series “Spaced”

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Action/Adventure Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Science-Fiction Series/Sequel

Interview: “The World’s End” Composer Steven Price

Posted on August 21, 2013 at 5:12 pm

The fifth and best end of the world movie of the summer is called “The World’s End,” and it is the last in what is now being called the Cornetto Trilogy from Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and co-writer and director Edgar Wright.  “Shaun of the Dead” was a zom-rom-com (zombie romantic comedy) that featured red Cornetto ice cream.  “Hot Fuzz,” a send-up of over-the-top action films, featured blue.  Stay through the credits of this one to find out what flavor, or, I guess I should say, flavour since it is British, appears in this one.world's end poster

I spoke to Steven Price, who composed the score.

You were writing for the wonderful Pegg/Frost/Wright trio and the movie has robot aliens!  Was this the most fun movie project ever?

It’s certainly up there!  It was an amazing gift for someone who does music to play with because you’ve got the big action sequences and the sci-fi mystery stuff and relationship scenes.  So it’s everything you might want to do as a composer and the team involved were pretty good as well.

How did you get involved?

I met Edgar quite a while ago now.  The first film I worked on was “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.”  It is wonderful to work with him because everything is so well-planned so choreographed, but he is very, very open to different ways of doing things, so as a collaborator he is great fun. Edgar exec produced “Attack the Block,” which was my first feature film, so when this one came up, and he explained what he had in mind, it was an exciting time, really.  The characters were all friends and getting out of school.  Now they’ve all moved on with their lives, with wives and kids, except for Gary King, who was one of the most popular ones in school and never got over that night.  Everything seems to have gone wrong for him so he persuades them to do this pub crawl but none of them really want to.  You can’t go back, really.  That’s the main theme.

This is a comedy action sci-fi film.  How do you set the mood for that musically?

One of the first things that Edgar and I talked about was that everything musically we would do would be serious because for the characters none of it is a joke for them.  Whenever we did err on the side of doing anything at all funny you realize very soon that it doesn’t help at all.  We took it incredibly seriously and the action music was meant to drive along what was happening.  The performances in the fight sequences are so amazing and convincing and the actors genuinely did it themselves.  It’s not like there are a lot of cutaway for stunt people. It’s all very choreographed and well put together that it was great of fun to do.  It’s not like when you have to cover up a lot of cuts.  You could play along with the action and progress the whole tension of the scene as it went.  It was fun to do those fight scenes and get the energy right up there.  There was so much on scene you find yourself just playing along and enjoying it, really.

At what stage did you get involved?

Edgar’s great because he involves you early on.  I saw the script a while before they shot and we talked about what he was doing.  There’s a lot of great pop tracks in the film, really evocative songs from the years when these characters were growing up that Simon and Edgar put into the script.  We talked a lot about that and Edgar wanted to make sure that it was not like, here’s a song and here’s the score but the whole thing weaved around it so that the music should feel connected to that.  That was something we were very keen to do, incorporate some of those sounds into the score itself so you feel like the whole thing’s a body of work, this rhythm going through and connected to the characters.  Simon plays a character named Gary King.  Quite often you’ll hear a kind of slide guitar thing for his character.  The connotation is the Western and getting the gang back together and all of that kind of thing.  That came out of me listening to “Loaded” , which is a huge song in the film.  In my mind, he lives that era, and the slide guitar became a kind of character thing for Gary.  So all along I was playing it, and I always intended to replace it with some great player because my slide guitar playing is a little bit shaky.  But toward the end I realized it was was absolutely the thing to do to leave it as it was.  This version is in Gary’s mind.  There are a lot of things wrong in Gary’s life and it’s not a bad thing to have the guitar a little shaky.

And what about the female lead, played by Rosamund Pike?

We’ve all looked back on things in our youth, so that was a great one to do.  We played it very pure.  We didn’t steer away from being emotive.  We didn’t try to make it arch or a bit knowing.  Steven, played by Paddy Considine, always genuinely wondered how it would have worked out.  So we played it very purely.  That is, until it is interrupted by aliens!

The characters were in high school in the 90’s? Was that your era?

Yes, we hark back to the early 90’s, like ’91.

I’m a little younger than them but music-wise that was when I was first old enough to have my own money to buy records and some of the tracks we used were real blasts for me like Suede’s “So Young.” Scary that it was 20 years ago!  It evokes that whole  time so well and it was nice to reflect that in the score.  There’s music of the era like the Stone Roses.  I remember vividly getting Stone Roses records, comparing the vinyl and it was almost like a currency at the time, which records you had.  The Blur track — I remember being obsessed with that in the day and trying to learn the guitar part.

It’s not a traditional Hollywood film score.  It’s embedded in the British sounds from what we would watch in science fiction programs and the  Radiophonic Workshop stuff.  They we a BBC unit who did the 80’s-era “Dr. Who” — a lot of those early synth sounds came in very useful.  They evoked a peculiarly British thing.  We also have an orchestra.  The film does get very big.  But it’s combined with a lot of the electronic stuff and interesting noises and experiments, things that felt very rooted in this small town where it takes place.

 

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Composers Interview Music

Ice Age: Continental Drift

Posted on July 12, 2012 at 6:00 pm

The “Ice Age” folks have the formula down very well, and this fourth entry is one of their strongest, with enough of the familiar to be satisfying and enough that is new to keep things interesting.  The real expertise is the mixture of heart, humor, and adventure, in what is now one of the most reliably entertaining series for families.

It begins, as “Ice Age” must, with Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel who is the Sisyphus of the pre-historic era.  Scrat (voiced, or, I should say, squeaked and squealed, by  director Chris Wedge) wants an acorn, but it is his destiny to have it always just beyond his reach or to create chaos when he tries to bury it.  Both happen right off the bat as inserting the tip of the acorn into the ice has results that are literally earth-shattering.  Yes, it turns out that the reason the continents separated and moved to opposite sides of the oceans was because of a squirrel.

Meanwhile, our old friends Diego the cranky saber-toothed tiger (Denis Leary), Manny the anxious Mammoth (Ray Romano), and Sid the silly sloth (John Leguizamo) are on the wrong side of the dividing tectonic plates and become separated from Manny’s mate Ellie (Queen Latifah) and his tween daughter Peaches (Keke Palmer).  Just as Manny and Peaches are in conflict because she wants to hang out with her friends and he thinks she is too young, the ground buckles and cracks underneath them.  Diego, Manny, and Sid are adrift on an ice floe along with Sid’s dotty grandmother (Wanda Sykes).  Like Daniel Day-Lewis in “Last of the Mohicans,” Manny promises, “I will find you.”  But they have no cell phones or GPS or even maps.

And then things get worse, as they run into a pirate crew on a ship made from ice led by the piratical Captain Gutt (a sensational Peter Dinklage of “Game of Thrones”).  His first make is a female saber-toothed tiger named Shira (Jennifer Lopez).  Our heroes must battle Gutt’s gang and find their way back home.  Gutt and Sid’s granny are welcome additions to the cast, adding vitality and flavor to a cast whose conflicts have subsided in the previous chapters.  The animation is exceptionally well executed, especially the roiling water and a very funny reaction to a paralyzing plant.  The action scenes continue to be crisply executed and the happy ending includes lessons on loyalty for friends and family.  If it merrily ignores any historical or scientific legitimacy, it shows its value with wit and heart.

(more…)

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3D Action/Adventure Animation Comedy Family Issues For the Whole Family Series/Sequel Talking animals

Snow White and the Huntsman

Posted on May 31, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Director Rupert Sanders is known for making television commercials that look like fairy tales, with angels falling from the sky for a guy who uses Axe body spray and a boy battling samurai warriors with Excalibur to sell X-Box game consoles.  With his first feature film he has made a fairy tale that looks like a commercial, with every frame filled with eye-popping images and a lot of dramatic posing.  A 30 second version would have made a great commercial for perfume or skin cream.  As a movie, it is just so-so, with uneven performances and dodgy pacing.  After over 100 movie versions of the classic fairy tale about the girl whose lips are red as blood, skin is white as snow, and hair black as ebony and the evil stepmother who orders her taken into the woods and killed, the Disney animated version is still the fairest of them all.

Like Tarsem’s superior “Mirror Mirror,” released earlier this year, this version makes Snow White into an action heroine, leading the battle against her evil stepmother.  Charlize Theron plays Ravenna, who literally bewitches a king grieving for his late wife.  She murders him on their wedding night, taking over his kingdom with the help of her creepy brother/henchman Finn (Sam Spruell) and locking the young princess in a grubby tower.  Ravenna cares for just one thing — eternal beauty.  She swans around looking haughty in fabulous Colleen Atwood costumes that can best be described as haute predator couture, with all kinds of intricate spikes and skulls.  Everything is either sharp or poisonous and laced-up tightly, with talon-like finger-armor.  She stalks and flounces nicely but when it is time for her to get ferocious she is all eye-rolls and screeches, a bad version of Carol Burnett doing Norma Desmond.

Ravenna has an enormous gold mirror that looks like giant frisbee hanging on the wall, and the robed creature who lives inside assures her that she is the fairest in the land.  She also gets some reassurance from skeevy Finn, with whom she shares the creepiest brother watching his sister take a bath scene since “Bunny Lake is Missing.”  You also know he’s twisted from his terrible haircut, a sort of medieval mullet.

While Ravenna is bathing in thick cream and literally sucking the life out of young women, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is still locked in the tower.  For years.  But she stays so pure that when the birds come to perch on her window, she does not grab and eat them.  She just allows them to show her a loose nail she can use as a weapon, which comes in very handy as Finn arrives shortly to indicate some predatory tendencies and take her to the queen.  The mirror guy has informed Ravenna that Snow White has come of age.  Her purity is so powerful that she alone has the power to destroy Ravenna, says the mirror.  But her power is so great that if Ravenna can eat her heart, she will no longer need touch-ups and refills.  Her beauty will stay as it is forever.

When Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest, where everything is creepy and scary and even Ravenna has no power.  The only person who knows the Dark Forest well enough to bring her back is The Huntsman (no name), played by “The Avengers'” Thor, Chris Hemsworth.  Ravenna promises to bring his dead wife back to life if he will capture the prisoner and he agrees to go.  But Snow White isn’t the only one who gets tripped up in the forest.  Sanders gets much too enmeshed in all of the tree-branches-turning to snakes-style special effects and the forest section of the film goes on much too long, with at least three too many set-ups and confrontations, including the return of Finn.  And it gets worse when they emerge into a sort of Light Forest fairyland, when the story really starts to go haywire, with a whole “chosen one” theme that had people in the audience groaning.  Stewart is out of her league.  She is fine playing characters like the vulnerable Bella in “Twilight,” but when called on here to inspire the troops, she sounds like she is ordering pizza.

And then there are the dwarfs.  It is hard to imagine that in 2012 anyone could think it is appropriate to cast full-size actors, no matter how talented and no matter how persuasive the special effects, as little people.  It is a shame to see Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, and others in roles that should be played by little people.  By the time they show up, the plot has fallen apart, with an unnecessary love triangle and a preposterous encounter with a troll.  Nearly everyone’s accents waver, some of the dialogue is truly awful, and I am certain no one in a fairy tale should ever use the word “okay.”  Recasting Snow White as the hero of her own story is long overdue and production designer Dominic Watkins creates some real magic.  But this is not only not the best Snow White; it’s not the best one in the last four months.

 

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy and battle violence with many characters injured and killed, and some graphic and disturbing images including bloody wounds, bugs, and snakes.  There is brief partial nudity and some scenes of a brother watching his sister bathe and then suggestively touching a young woman in a predatory manner.

Family discussion:  How did Ravenna’s costumes reflect her character?  How did the three drops of blood spilled by both characters’ mothers show their connection?

If you like this, try: Some of the more than 100 other movie versions of this story including the recent “Mirror Mirror” and the Disney animated classic

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Action/Adventure Based on a book Epic/Historical Fantasy Remake
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