Darke Reviews | The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Unsurprisingly I have a weakness for my fellow Ice Queens. I also have not been shy about my weakness for the amazingly talented and versatile Jessica Chastain. Then Hollywood gives us the sequel no one asked for from a movie four years ago, but with two enticing elements to a girl like me. Snow White and the Huntsman only made $155 million domestically ($396mm worldwide) with an estimated production budget of $170 million, and mediocre DVD sales ($50mm). With middling scores across the board (48% Critic/52% Audience) and neither a critical or financial success someone had the bright idea to go “let’s make a prequel…or a sequel. Ah hell let’s make another one.” I am almost sure they pitched it minus Kristen Stewart and her twilight baggage (an undeserved reputation). I am sure they pitched it as a franchise. The thing Hollywood as an industry is thirsty for like a lost traveller in the middle of the Sahara. Looking for the next thing they can split and create with abandon to make boat loads of money.

Did they find it here? Or is this reviewers heart like ice?

One of the writers  (Craig Mazin) is responsible for Scary Movie 3 and 4, Superhero movie and Hangover 3. Evan Spiliotopoulos, the other writer brought us Hercules (the good one) and a series of Disney Sequels no one asked for either. I can easily see Evan’s work on this based on the pacing and tonal controls of Hercules ever present through out, I am trying to figure out where Mazin’s hand comes in. I’d almost be interested to find out what the writing process for this one. The story is relatively cohesive even if it is basic and borrows heavily from other similar fantastical fare. I mean a quest to destroy an all powerful gold object that can corrupt those too near it? It seems…familiar somehow. Beyond the writers comes first time director Cedric Nicolas Troyan, who has worked as a visual effects artist and supervisor on the first Snow White and The Ring, and a second unit director on Maleficent. This background does explain much of the visual splendor the movie offers over substance. Not that it is entirely style over substance, but the visuals for me were quite nice even if many were barely seen.

I would praise the actors here. Charlize Theron is magnificent as the Evil Queen once more with an air of menace that I look forward to see her in more villain roles. Emily Blunt is passable, though it isn’t her acting but what she has been given to work with. Something to lament with the other characters as well. Hemsworth is fun, smiling, and charming. Honestly, I haven’t seen that many smiles in an action movie in  years. This felt more swashbuckling from his performance and I am quite ok with that; though at times he needed a good throat punch. I just wish he had kept the Irish accent the entire film. Chastain kept hers, was magnificent and was magnificently under used. More on that in a spoiler section at the bottom requiring roll over to read. Her chemistry with Hemsworth was good, not great. Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith all are at least memorable which is more than I can say about anyone else.

Technical speaking time the movie. One would think that a visual effects supervisor and second unit director might know how to let you watch a fight. One would also be wrong. One would think that he would know how to appropriately frame a shot. One would be wrong again. Now the movie is very pretty, but the shots are quick in places they need to linger. Linger in the places they need to be quick. Are far when they should be close and close when they should be far. It’s inconsistent in this as he gets some right and some wrong, but that inconsistency does make many moments lose impact they could have had and break tension when it could be ramped. The Ice was done in a way I hadn’t seen before and appreciated very much. Overall the Ice Queen was quite beautiful in her power. The set pieces evoked very specific geographic regions of the world and again I found quite beautiful.  In this space the movie got it right.

TL;DR?

Believe it or not the movie is good. It cannot, nor should not, be called great. It was simply ok. Just the right side of mediocre to have moments of entertainment. It does nothing particularly brave or adventurous with it’s plot other than remember to have fun sometimes. It is 100% paint by numbers and the palette is over used, but it isn’t used badly? It *is* better than Snow White.

I am trying to remember when more movies I saw were fun. I don’t expect it from every film, it’s not right for every movie. This needs to happen more often though. Again this is not a great movie by any stretch. Many are going to be bored by it. I have a spoiler corner with some other info below.

Should you see it?

If you have nothing else to do or are curious? Otherwise Redbox it or Netflix it.

Will Jess buy it?

Eh…probably? There’s enough that made me smile and enough beats I really enjoyed to own it.

 

Nothing coming out next week that I can see, but I may catch a showing of RWBY on the big screen and potentially Alien as well. So that may warrant some writing.

SPOILER CORNER.

YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

TURN BACK NOW.

Still here?

You sure?

Alright. Rollover.

There is one major flaw to the movie aside from it’s pacing. Missed opportunity. Three powerful badass women. Hemsworth’s constant mugging. You had an opportunity boys behind the pen and the camera and you missed it. You didn’t take the chance to let the girls be as powerful as the boys. They were badass, but the boy wins the day. You had an opportunity to do something new. That is ultimately what sums up the movie is a missed opportunity. The one major fight sequence where Chastain is alone and you don’t do anything with it and can’t prove it’s her. Then after that she barely does anything other than look badass and “never miss”.  *sigh* I won’t forgive the movie for it and it does need to be held accountable, but at least there are three powerful women a girl can look to and go “I wanna be her.” So that is a win…maybe?

 

Darke Reviews | The Jungle Book (2016)

A quiet year for my reviews so far with this as my seventh review in a time where I should normally have maybe ten or twelve. Some movies have left me with such ennui that I couldn’t even bring myself to write about them (Allegiant, London Has Fallen). Others have left me with seething disappointment (BvS: Dawn of Justice). Then came along The Jungle Book, another in a line of Disney adapting their classic animated, and other properties to live action. Alice in Wonderland was….bleh, Cinderella was a bore, Maleficent was good, The Lone Ranger was a putrid pile, and Prince of Persia was a train wreck. There have been other adaptations of this with the 1994 Steven Sommers adaptation (his filmography tends to bring me smiles), starring Jason Scott Lee and Lena Heady and Andy Serkis is planning his own adaptation. Most folks however are familiar with the 1967 classic animated one, if not the film you know the soundtrack.

How did this adaptation go?

The script is adapted from the Rudyard Kipling book, as all are, by Justin Marks who has nothing of quality to his credit on the big screen. With his sole film being Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, ironically in light of the new photo from the Ghost in the Shell, that movie has come up in conversation recently as simply being bad. Then again in this situation he merely need to take what a master has written and adapt it to the screen under the careful eye of director Jon Favreau; who is thankfully best known for being the director of Iron Man. The producers on this one are a hot mess of “Wow” and “whoa…”. Yet somehow they brought it all together and told a cohesive story, free of many tropes (not all), appropriately emotional and dramatic, and capable of building tension and smiles.

Some of that credit goes to the cast of course. Bill Murray as Baloo, I am still not sure was the right choice, worked really well. Ben Kingsley brought the appropriate gravitas to Bagheera. Lupita Nyong’o and Giancarlo Esposito as Raksha and Akela the wolves that served as Mowgli’s parents brought the heart. Scarlet Johansson was serviceable as Kaa, though many could have done what she did and had the same impact. Christopher Walken’s King Louis is memorable. Idris Elba. Idris frikkin Elba. When I first saw the trailer I was worried about his voice matching appropriately to the role, something felt off. Whatever it was – is gone. He was amazing. He was terrifying. It was magnificent. So many movies have weak villains these days and this film that is not a problem. He has real weight on screen and brought his natural commanding presence through as Shere Khan.

10 year old Neel Sethi has a huge task. He is the only live actor in this film against some tremendous voice actors and otherwise CGI experience. I cannot say he delivers every line like a pro, but damnit if he doesn’t try. He is just so earnest in his delivery of every single line that I want to believe him. A lesser actor would come across annoying with the same delivery, but he makes it charming. I suppose that is all he has to do though to play the part right? I mean I listened to his dialogue and how he presented it and went “ok so he’s 10.” I consider that a success.

Let’s talk technicals shall we? The movie is gorgeous. As many other reviewers will tell you CG must be used properly. If it is you can’t tell what is and is not computer generated. While intellectually I knew the animals were, the movie made me forget. I cannot tell you from scene to scene with 100% certainty what was real and what was not. This is how you do it right. This is how you balance your colours to make it look like it’s real even when it is not. This is a lesson so many others fail at with hyper or desaturation to try to muddy the edges. They didn’t do that here. It was near perfect.

TL;DR?

I liked this movie. As I write about it I like it more. As I talked about it today, I liked it more. This is a good movie. It’s got repeat value. It’s not “Oh my god I am going to see this again tomorrow night…” but I really just enjoyed this work.

Should you see it?

Yes. Yes you should. Especially if you have kids.

Will Jess buy it?

Very much so.