Snow White and the Huntsman – Review

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)  

Directed by Rupert Sanders. Starring Kristen StewartChris HemsworthCharlize TheronSam ClaflinIan McShaneBob HoskinsRay WinstoneNick FrostEddie MarsanToby JonesBrian Gleeson.

Fairy tales and children stories are not what they used to be: my memories of Snow White was one of a lovely princess whistling in a forest surround by colourful birds, while the seven dwarfs were happily singing on their way back home. At the time the biggest question of was “will they wash their hands before dinner?”. Well, fair enough, 75 years have passed since the famous Disney version (and obviously over 20 other screen adaptations, including countless pornographic versions, which obviously I’m not going into). But young modern audience is used to much stronger stuff than singing birds, soap bubbles (though arguably the old witch in the Disney version gave nightmares to many at the time, and probably still does). This is a much darker re-invention of the story for the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd (not just in its colour palette but generally in its sensibility veering more towards horror than a fairy tale) and of  course with some Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones added the mix. The title itself might be a little bit misleading and possibly even prevent much of the older audience, who would potentially quite like this adventure like this, from thinking this might be for them.

We shouldn’t forget that after all the original  Snow White story had some undercurrent grim and dark tones to it, so in a way this version is almost going back to its roots.

Coming into this quite fresh, and expecting to find another horrible Red Riding Hood disaster, I was surprised by visual spectacle and the genuine inventiveness at display in SWATH (which is how Snow White and the Huntsmanis known on twitter). The director of Rupert Sanders comes from the world of commercials and that really shows, both in a good and bad way: on one hand the look of the film is actually very very good, in fact better than any of the Twilight movies, or the latest Harry Potter instalments I must say. The special effects too are seamlessly integrated in the action, and kudos to the film makers for deciding against yet another 3D post-convertion. However the other side of the director’s commercial background shows up in the film’s very patchy nature. At times it really seems to be made up by a series of scenes stringed together (well, it probably was) without a real sense of drama. Characters come in and out of the story, but none of them has any depth. There is obviously the usual love triangle at play here, which is now inescapable in our post-twilight culture. In one corner the Huntsman from the title, in the other Prince William (no, not that one), but the relationship is never really explored in any depth, in fact it’s hardly even touched on: it’s just there and we are supposed to take it for granted. What do those 2 men think of each other? And what does she think of them? And why didn’t the prince’s first kiss resuscitate Snow White? Did I miss something? It’s all a bit confusing… But then again, it might all become a lot clearer in the obligatory sequel (teased by the half-satisfying ending)

But does any of that matter? Well, only to a degree. Despite its obvious weaknesses from a dramatic point of view and being completely devoid of humour, the film still manages to be a sumptuous imaginative feast for the eye and an exciting and arresting action romp… It’s clearly derivative from all sorts of other movies made before, but it’s entertaining and inventive enough… if only somebody had remembered to tell a proper story too.

Charlize Theron is clearly having the time of her life playing the evil godmother/queen/witch. She camps it up as much as she possibly can and after all, if you’re hoping to get away with lines like “mirror mirror on the wall who’s the fairer of them all“, this is probably the only way to do it (… and by the way, despite of what the mirror says, my answer will always be “Charlize Charlize!!!!”). In fact she does such a fine job  that in the end you almost don’t want her to be defeated.

And finally the seven dwarves who come so late into the film that by the time they show up I had completely forgotten they should have been in at all. The CGI wizardry here is something to marvel at, as recognisable faces of well-known actors are somehow morphed onto bodies of actual small people. It is absolutely seamless and quite disconcerting (and a little bit unfair for real small people actually… Is this going to be the end of  their career as actors? It feels a bit wrong… Almost like having white people turned black by CGI). But however spectacular their appearances are, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re all quite interchangeable with each other and pretty soul-less. In fact there was a lot more characterisation in the Disney animated version from 70 years ago that in this one.

But hey, let’s take the film for what it is and not for what it could have been. It is flawed, but in the end both look and style and the sheer inventiveness and the detailed recreations save the day and the film delivers more than the actual title promises.

7/10 (with some reservations)

The Woman In Black – Review

The Woman in Black (2011)

Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel RadcliffeJanet McTeer.

I am really sorry to have to reduce most of my review about this film to the fact that it all starts with a bad casting choice, but it’s really quite hard to see past Daniel Radcliffe portraying a father of a four years old boy. I mean, how can I possibly buy into it when the DVD of the latest Harry Potter film is plastering every single window of every store in town right now? It doesn’t matter how much facial hair Daniel is growing to disguise his baby face, or how far away he’s trying to take his new character from the ‘boy who lived’, or even how little dialogue he speaks in this film (because let’s admit it, it usually all falls apart as soon as  he opens his month), I am just NOT buying into it! Daniel Radcliffe has been Harry Potter in 8 films and up until the last one (only a few month ago) we were meant to believe he was just 18 and now all of a sudden, without a single “transition film” in between, I’m expected to believe that he’s a grown man (A lawyer in fact!) who’s been married, widowed and has a child of 4? That is a big leap of faith…

However I was willing to take the leap and I did really try my best, despite the film itself doing virtually nothing to help me and convince me otherwise: there was not a single mention of his young look from any of the characters and we are just supposed to take it all from granted. At some point in the beginning there was even shot of what looked like the Hogward Express, running through the British landscape, with steam and all the rest (I was expecting to hear John Williams’ tune at any point!).

Casting Radliffe was always going to be a dangerous choice. One one hand you get all those devoted Potter fans, on the other you’ve got to be able to shake off his enormous baggage otherwise you’re running straight into the lion’s den, with your public and critics alike.

Radcliffe himself does try his best to restrain his usual trade-mark heavy breathing (even the director James Walkins admitted he’s been trying to force Daniel breathing with his nose instead of his month as he always does, whether he is Harry Potter or even naked on the stage playing in Equus). The film-makers made sure he spoke as little as possible (sadly the worse and most laughable scene, when he has to say goodbye to his son in a train station, comes right at the top of the film, setting a bad start for whatever is left to come). Wisely they managed to  avoid having him standing right next to any other cast members (so that it wouldn’t show how short he is which would have made it even more laughable). But unfortunately all this is just not enough and his presence, instead of making the film better, holds it back. Surely some Potter fans will be drawn to see it, but I doubt anyone could possibly be enraptured by it and in the end bad word of mouth will make this film disappear from the big screens pretty quickly.

It’s probably not very fair to criticise a movie just for his main lead, even less fair to compare it to previous movies in which the same lead starred, I agree. But even when you take Radcliffe out of this film, you’re actually left very little else.

“The woman in Black” wants to be a film about “mood”  and “atmosphere” more than “action” and “twists”. It’s more about the expectations of the ghost in a locked room at the end of the corridor than the actual reveal of the ghost itself. In a way, it’s an old fashion ghost story: it’s all about those creaks in an old house, the thick fog hiding a secret and those eerie shadows that should make your skin cold.

On paper all this sounds great and I am all in favour of an old-style good ghost story… If only it was all building up to something… Alas the pace is even and slow and Daniel is alone for most of the film investigating strange noises around the house for what feels like an eternity; so much so that after a while it all gets incredibly repetitive and rather tedious.

James Watkins, the director, was probably aware of this and in order to “jazz it all up” decided to pepper it all with several fairly predictable loud stabs of cheap scares. I say fairly predictable because as an average horror fan I could see most of those “jumps moment” coming from miles away. Of course some of them are quite effective, but I don’t think that should be a mark of a good horror film. It’s certainly not difficult to scare people with a loud crashes and bangs in the middle of a very quiet scene.

I couldn’t help feeling there was nothing in this film that I had not seen before… A haunted house, rocking chairs moving by themselves, spider webs, locked doors, ghosts appearing in windows, a graveyard at night, thick fog and quicksands, old fading photographs … No cliché was left untouched. Oh look, Daniel is reflected in a window! How long will it take until a ghost appears in the reflection. Not long, believe me.

As for the plot itself, it really feels rather dated, like a story that belongs to a different era, which in theory should be fine, but 10 minutes into the film I really get the feeling that I have already seen it all. There have been way too many horror films following the same sort of set up and this has nothing to add to any of them.

I haven’t read the original story, nor seen the stage play, but by watching this film alone I do get the feeling that this is a short story stretched to its limits. Probably OK for a twilight Zone episode, or maybe even or a theatre stage (apparently this is still a bit hit in the West End in London), but as a film, aside from some interesting visual and a few promising scenes (the very start with the little girls is intriguing for example), there was just not enough to keep me interested for the length of the film and by the time the ending came I just did not really care who lived or died.

I know I am going to be quite unpopular with the many Radcliffe fans out there (and please, don’t take me wrong, I do usually like the guy), but I found this film very very very disappointing. In fact, quite laughable and just boring. Sorry.

5/10

PS: I must probably say, that since I have written this review, I have spoken to a couple of friends of mine (non-horror fans) both of which were absolutely petrified by this film… and bought into Daniel from the start… The beauty of movies: they’re subjective.

 Click here to read the review from the last Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)

Directed by David Yates. With Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael GambonRalph FiennesAlan RickmanJohn HurtHelena Bonham CarterTom FeltonJason Isaacs (hello!), Maggie SmithJim BroadbentDavid ThewlisRobbie ColtranGary Oldman.

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Watching this film in a packed theatre with some of the most excited audience I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit with, was as much part of the experience as the film itself. The tension was clearly palpable: cheers,laughter, sniffling and sobs from the crowd seemed to accompany the soundtrack all at the appropriate moments, and yet it was in the most intimate and quiet scenes where you could feel how much the audience was with this film: you could have heard a pin dropped for how quiet everybody was!

For many fans (and let me get this out now: I am one of them), this is much more than just another film in the franchise: it’s the it’s the end of an era, or simply  the end of a journey which lasted for over 10 years (14 if you count the first book, back in 1997).

There are no precedents like this in movie history (the closest thing it can be compared with is the end of a long-running TV series like Friends, for example). There’s a certain poignancy that comes with it, because, as we all know, this is the last one EVER. There will not be any other Harry Potter, no matter what.

The film clearly knows all that and consciously plays to it, tapping into our deepest-self, reminding us about this journey we’ve taken and how we’ve grown up with it. But we are certainly not alone: these films themselves seem to have grown up too: this isn’t your normal dull blockbuster like Transformers, with idiotic one-liner, explosion-galore and music plastered all over (I was actually surprised to see how much restrained the music was on this film, but just carefully used only when it was really needed), this is more of an emotional roller-coaster. It might not be completely appropriate for your average kid (some of the images are pretty strong and after a while I lost the count of how many dead bodies of students I saw…), but if you’ve seen the previous ones, you should be prepared for this too (and if you haven’t, I must ask: what on earth are you doing here?!).

The previously-unknown David Yates has slowly been able to find his own voice with the latest 4 of the 8 instalments, by combining the sense of magic the first 2 films had, the darker tone introduced to us by Afonso Cuaron (with the third episode) but also that more grown-up approach to the story, which has been brewing and growing with each chapter (and book of course).

In fact Yates has also been one of the bravest too, as he has found the courage to actually hack to pieces the overly-written source and actually make a better film (clearly after book 3, no editor would dare to tell JK Rowling to cut anything out). In this last “Deathly Hallow”, he was able to basically stretch the final battle over the course of the whole film, making it seem greater and more epic than it’s ever been in the book (In the end, box office aside, it really did pay off to split the movie in two parts).

Considering the incredible amount of expectations which a film like this can carry and, consequently, the almost impossible task of bringing everything to a close, HP 7.2  does a really good job! Yes, of course there will be some disappointed people, but I think the disappointment will come from the fact that secretly each of us would like this story to go on forever and, no matter what, you can never please everyone.

There are flashbacks and cameos from pretty much every single member of the cast from the previous instalments (I think only Kenneth Branagh was missing), some of whom are unfortunately relegated to just a couple of shots and a single line (there are time where you just wish they had a whole spin-off movie about Snape, as Alan Rickman deserves a lot more screen time). Maggie Smith however manages to make the most of her little screen time and makes up for the fact that she wasn’t around in previous “deathly hallow”. She most definitely steals the show with her “I’ve always wanted to do that spell” and with that smile that carried both pride and embarrassment at the same time, so cute that you just want to hug her and ask her to be your grandmother.

The film is a real feast for the eye. The special effects are the most detailed on any Harry Potter (fair enough it’s been 10 years since the first one!) and actually I have to confess the 3D conversion was probably one of the best one I’ve seen in a while and although it’s not quite the same as actually filming in 3D it makes me rather curious and hopeful for the forthcoming Star Wars saga.

Unfortunately nowadays we are so used to see big battles with thousands of CGI-rendered extras, that focussing on those alone would certainly lead to some disappointment. Once again the film knows this and decides to concentrate more on the emotional aspect of the story. Don’t get me wrong, the big action scenes are there (in fact, the whole film seems a big action scene!), but as a fan it’s the most emotional moments in the film that stick with you: the death of some of the characters, the overdue kiss, the flashback sequence with Snape and most crucially the moment where Harry is ready to go and die and says goodbye to his friends. I must confess that had be too. Credits to that trio of those not-so-kids-anymore (Radcliffe, Watson and Grint) who this time clearly show how much they have matured as actors.

Daniel Radcliffe is at his best here: he has a clear understanding of his character as his face shows not just the loss of innocence but also a deep maturity in the acceptance of his fate. Emma Watsons shines with a freshly newly acquired spontaneity: the moment where she kisses Ron is followed by a smile which feels so real that could almost be mistaken for an outtake. And obviously Rupert Grint who’s always been the best of them all and can now relax in his role of ice-breaker with his funny comments in the most tense situations.

As always, if there are faults in the film they are mainly to do with the original source itself and, in this particular case, with the overly long and convoluted plot. Still to this day I have some problems in telling you what a deathly hallow is what its purpose might be… and I am a fan who has actually read all the books and seen most of the films more than once!! I can only imagine what the average viewer will make of it). At some point I almost had no idea what was going on anymore as horcruxes, crowns, snakes and plot twists all got mixed up in my head. Did it matter? Not really… to a degree.

And yet, even though I knew that the stakes were high and I could follow the rough plot (well, I mean, it’s clear enough: good vs evil), I still couldn’t quite grasp exactly how could Voldemort be killed or how was Harry Potter able come back from the whited-out King’s Cross (In fact that was also the biggest let-down of the book as far as I am concerned: it would have made a lot more sense if Harry had died. What a brave and powerful ending that would have been).

On the whole the film is a success. It’s hard to see how it could have been better: it can be argued that some of that sense of magical wonder that some of the previous instalments had, was probably lost here, as it gave more space to its three main characters. The very final scene was unusually underwhelming for these types of films and is a clear example of that as it decided to concentrate more on the faces of our three main characters rather than letting itself go by showing us perhaps an aerial view of the Hogwarts Express leaving with a possible rousing them from John Williams. And yet, Spielberg did manage to do both things in ET, by giving us the unforgettable image of the spaceship leaving a rainbow-like trail but also finishing on a tight close up of Elliot’s face, thus creating on of the most emotional ending of any fantasy film ever!

But these are just small quibbles: either you go with the film or you don’t and I certainly did.

Considering what a massive commercial machine Warner Bros is we must be so thankful for the way the franchise has been handled (it makes me shiver to think that actually Spielberg wanted to shift it all to America… Thankfully somebody had the courage to tell him off for once). Producer David Heyman is obviously a man of heart, who cares for his fans and set out to make the best films he could ever make, playing on the strengths of its (let’s be honest) not-so-perfect source and in the end making it an even better product.

In the end this film must be judged with that same heart and not so much with the brain, taking in consideration the series as well as this ending.

And you know what? My heart can’t stop saying “I just loved the journey, thank you so much for it”.

8/10

 Read my review of Part one

MORE REVIEWS:

green lantern senna INCEPTION Tron- Legacy IRONCLAD

2010 Stats on MovieGeekBlog

This Blog has only been around for 3 months but it seems like it got off with a good start. The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ from WordPress seems to be veering towards the “wow”, whatever that means.

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1 – Review November 2010


2

Tron: Legacy – Review December 2010


3

True Grit – Review December 2010


4

Black Swan – Review October 2010


5

The Fighter – Review December 2010


I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for helping this blog being a success.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: part 1 – Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1   (7.5/10)

Directed by David Yates. Starring Bill NighyEmma WatsonRichard Griffiths,Daniel RadcliffeJulie WaltersBonnie WrightRupert GrintAlan RickmanRalph FiennesHelena Bonham CarterJason Isaacs (hello), Tom FeltonTimothy SpallMichael GambonRobbie ColtraneBrendan GleesonJames PhelpsOliver PhelpsMark WilliamsDomhnall GleesonClémence PoésyJohn HurtDavid ThewlisRhys IfansImelda Staunton

(SOME SPOILERS AHEAD)

Right from the very start, when the Warner Bros logo appears, this film feels different. The colours are gray and muted, the sound is a low rumble and even the famous theme from John Williams seems to have given way to a much darker drone. It doesn’t even feel like a Harry Potter movie anymore. It makes the first Chris Columbus movies feel like they are from a whole different universe. And this feeling stayed with me right until the end…

For the last few instalments of the series (possibly from number 3 onwards) we’ve been hearing a lot of “this one is darker” type of lines being bantered about, whether from the critics, the fans or even the film-makers themselves. But it’s never been more true than in this final chapter.

And yet, this is not just a darker and scarier film, it is also a much more mature one too. It’s as if the film-makers have grown together with thier viewers (who are now 10 years older than they were when the first movie got released)

A few years ago, when we first heard about the fact that the seventh and final book was going to be divided into two films, we all cynically thought straight away: “They really want to squeeze every single penny out of this last one, those greedy people”.  And I am sure that must have been one of the reasons, however director David Yates has been able to take advantage of this extra time to give the story a certain amount of depth, sophistication and gravitas that was missing from all the previous instalments.

The pace is a lot slower, for a start. Of course, you get some cracking action scenes too (a particular good one through the Dartfor Tunnel), some great visuals, whether just the perfect vistas and landscapes, the inventive special effects (the scene, in the trailer too,  where there are about 8 different Potters, is all done in one perfect 360 degree shot) and there’s even a beautiful short animation sequence (where “The Tale of the Three Brothers”, is shown as a shadow-play and that by itself should almost be nominated for an Oscar for BEST animated short), but the real core of the movie this time are actually the 3 main characters. Their dialogue scenes take centre stage and are played in the most realistic possible way, with long silences, pauses and meaningful looks.

Even the music is a lot more subtle and understated, aside from being of course a lot darker. There’s a particular chase scene in a forest towards the second half of the movie, where unexpectedly, they decided not to play any music at all, just letting the sound effects play through: that is very very unusual for a blockbuster of this calibre.

The film bravely takes a lot of risks, on one hand, by veering away from what kids are probably expecting, but at the same time it’ll give fans a real treat (and it might even change the minds of some of those Harry Potter haters)! It is a film about emotions, about characters, about friendship first and foremost and it all happens to take place in a magical world. It’s what every single avid Harry Potter reader has been waiting for years.

In a way, the mood of the film is much closer to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, not just in the muted colors of the landscape, or in the grittier looks of the characters (even Harry Potter looks dirtier this time and has even got a bit of a beard!), but in the way it’s paced and constructed.

It’s essentially a road movie (it’s also the first film to be Hogward-free. We only get one quick glimpse of the train going to the school, but that’s about it). There are much fewer laughs throughout and most of them come from Ron (Rupert Grint), but somehow when they do come, they seem to work a lot better than they ever did. Maybe because the whole film is so tense that you are  just craving for a moment to relax let the tension fade. And this is by no means a criticism, in fact, quite the opposite.

The film starts with a perfectly pitched montage scene where we see all the various characters leaving their homes and getting ready to meet. The soundtrack at this point seems to be straight our of one of the Bourne movies, or the recent Batman films by Christopher Nolan. There’s an uneasy tension running all the way through, which just makes you very uncomfortable (and I mean that as a compliment). That feeling somehow permeates the rest of the movie too.

We then cut to a scene where Voldemort, his Death Eaters & Co are all sitting around a table. Floating above them, the body of one of their young victim. Blood dripping from her face, her head bent backwards… This feels almost like the exorcist more than Harry  Potter!

Don’t take me wrong. Kids will be terrified, but will most likely love it too (after all, kids love to get scared… Or at least I used to!).

By all means, this isn’t a masterpiece. For all the tension, the great atmosphere and all the brave intentions, there are some slightly clunky moments here and there too. For example the scene where Ron comes back and rejoins the group, feels a bit “out of the blue” and could have been handled in a better way. Also some of the dialogue doesn’t quite ring true and too many characters come in and out like bell-boys in a hotel. But it’s interesting to notice how most of the stuff that doesn’t quite work in the film, has actually been lifted straight from the books. I think once again the film exposes the weaknesses of the book (which c’mon let’s face it, however gripping, it wasn’t really a great piece of writing. I loved it, in fact I loved the whole series, but I recognize its limits).

The acting from the three main characters still feels a bit dodgy from time to time. They all really try their best: Emma Watson is the best she’s ever been (sadly that doesn’t really mean a lot) and though she even manages to shed a tear at some point, most of her lines fall pretty flat. Daniel Radcliffe does his usual thing where he seems to act with all his body, except his eyes (he seems to like to show tension by stretching his whole body forward) and finally Rupert Grint, who seems to have gained a bit too much weight, but he’s still the best of the three and also he has the best lines. However there’s a good chemistry between all of them. Clearly having worked together for so many films has created a bond between them: some of that shows in the film too.

It is also a real joy to see so many of the other old characters back, even if most of them are around for just for one scene. This series has now officially become the “who’s who” of British Cinema (I was a bit sad that Maggie Smith was not around for this one, but as all the people who have read the book know, she’ll be back in the next one, in style!)

So on the whole, the film deserves a lot of respect for taking brave decisions which are probably going against your typical Hollywood blockbuster, let alone a Harry Potter movie. Mind you, it’s easier to be brave when you have something like this in your hands, this was always going to be a winner with the public! Now it might probably get some new fans from those picky critics out there.

Anyway, it’s good to see them trying something different. It’s good to see them slowing down a bit and taking good care of their characters. It’s good to see them trying to be more mature and stir away from cheesy cliches. I can see why this is JK Rowling’s favorite movie.

I was happy with it too… but then again, I love Harry Potter, so I am probably biased.

Summer 2011 cannot be here soon enough. And after that? Oh dear, I am already so sad that it’s all going to be over…

7.5/10

PS. If you liked this review, leave us a message.

My letter published on the Evening Standard

Check out my little email that got published on the Evening Standard about the BAFTA Awards

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