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“Snow White and the Huntsman”: a response to the film

Considering how much was done right in this film, the few things that were mishandled, poorly written, or ill-executed really hurt my ability to recommend “Snow White & the Huntsman.” At times, one could argue that more could have been accomplished if they dropped the “Snow White” angle in the title and really went out there to create something new and special in the “Good-vs.-Evil-Kings-and-Princesses” genre”, especially considering how much artistic license was already taken to change many things. Despite these liberties, certain elements of the original Snow White tale were forced into this film to the overall detriment of the viewing experience, like pushing a square block through a circular hole.

To begin, this movie had quantitatively more strengths than weakness. The setting, dialogue, acting, costuming, sound design, set design, beautiful on location filming, and make-up were all top notch. Just looking at any freeze frame of this film, one instantly notices the money they had to throw around. There are a lot of good things to be said about this film, and its ability to create a mood was obvious. The action sequences were relatively clean; and the general style of the film — taking big chances in this regard — panned out nicely due to the exquisite team of producers and post-production special effects people making the world feel real. Truly great fantasy stuff here. Pretty stuff.

Now, after all of that praise, how could a few negatives bring down the ability to recommend the film?

Well, the few bones I have to pick with this film, while not many, are massive qualitatively, including some obvious, flagrant omissions; these issues cannot be defended or expalined and fall directly in the writers and director’s realm of blame.

The first 20 minutes of this film are rocky. Too much time is spent with the Queen’s back story and the escape of Snow White felt rushed. All the while we are being forced voice-over narration from the Huntsman? Why the voice-over is the Huntsman seemed very arbitrary. Why not any character? Why not Snow White? The narrator and whose character in the film it is matters, and here, it felt tacked on. Also in the first act or so, none of the characters, none, are easily relatable or easy to empathize with. It’s not until the Huntsman is introduced (around 30-mins) in the beginning of the second act that this film was saved. Thank you, Chris Hemsworth for playing the role so well. What little dimensionality there were to any characters, you brought it.

The direction with Charlize Theron didn’t work for me, at least not in the first half. In the first act, as she was often being directed to scream and flail at a “10”, where for the remainder of the movie she was at a 7 or 8 in intensity. Never pop that cherry of villain-rage so early. Basic Movie laws. BUILD it.

The second act moved along well enough, and the casting of all the dwarves worked well. It could have blown up in their tiny little faces, and I applauded, once again, the special affects work here. Most of these “dwarves” were played by 5 or 6 foot-tall Hollywood A-listers and B-listers. Cleverly done, a la “Lord of the Rings” perhaps with scale models, stand-ins, and brilliantly smooth “After Affects.” They really look like dwarves, not like pasted faces on tiny bodies.

The next issue was the inclusion of the apple from the old fairy tale. I think this should have been omitted from the film. The way in which the poison apple is used here seems inconsequential since it occurs at the ¾ mark rather than the ½ way mark, and then, within 10 minutes or so of screen time, she is kissed by the Huntsman and is back. Poof. Just like that. There needed to be 20 minutes at least where Snow White’s childhood friend and the Huntsman discuss their equal love for Snow White, try a few things to get her to wake, travel to the Keep where they promised they would take her, etc. It all happened to quick. In a time where many characters could have received some due development, they flushed the opportunity. As if not having Snow White in the film for more than ten minutes would have audience members walking out. Please.

The biggest sin was that when she did wake up, after the kiss, the Huntsman had already left the room, and this kiss IS NEVER DISCUSSED. Snow White just wakes up, she doesn’t know why, the Huntsman doesn’t know he was responsible, and they never discuss it. Ever.

Inexcusable.

If the director and the writer were going to go through the painful lengths of including the dwarves and the poison apple and the “mirror, mirror on the wall,” they needed to keep the love story and find its closure. It is such a simple inclusion that they pissed away, focusing all on style and mood and sights and sounds. This movie is a sights and sound movie. Not a tale which can find its value in the merits of its storytelling.

By this point I was going to give the film a 7. But then the ending happened. Oh, my.

Who do you think she got with? Answer: Neither. That’s right.

In the final moments of the film, when Snow White is supposed to bring the land out of its cold rapture and into a Spring for the animals, the plants, and mankind, there is decidedly NOT a montage of any kind showing the lands and the hills and the forests blossoming into their former glory. What? Did they run out of cash? Futhermore, at Snow White’s coronation and crowning in the final minute of the film, she JUST TRADES GLANCES WITH HER CHILDHOOD FRIEND AND THE HUNTSMAN.

The doors closed, the music crescendoed… roll credits. No epilogue. Something that could have given us all emotional closure in 90-seconds of fottage was not necessary apparently.

Can you see why I’m mad? In Snow-Freaking-White, part of it is the Prince Charming bit. She needs that love and the audience needs that closure. No satisfaction is to be found in the end of this film regarding who she picks and if she will ever really have love. Did they not want to choose team Jacob or Team Edward? Get the eff outta here. What a strike out.

They should have either changed everything in this Snow White tale and called it something else, or made the intelligent decision to play their cards closer to the chest and pull out a more traditional Snow White tale, still one with the style and mood and special effects all there. It was a real waste of money considering this will be soon forgotten and very few people’s “Favorite Snow White Variation.”

Really Let-down. Had a lot of faith. Really wanted to like this and give it a 7, but those last 30 seconds are unforgivable.

6.5/10

MH

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“Persona” (1966) by Ingmar Bergman: a film review

I don’t know what to say about Persona, but I know I have to say something. I can say straight out that I did not fully grasp it, nor do I believe that it is fully able to be grasped by anyone except Ingmar Bergman. Like “2001: Space Oddesey” or “American Beauty”, “Persona” allows for a plethora of interpretations depending on your mood the day of watching it, none of which can ever be said to be correct. Knowing and accepting that you cannot understand everything about humanity is an acute wisdom gained by only a few who watch this film, and I love that about it. It’s not elitism to which I refer, but a patience and appriciation for both the art and craft of film and “people.”

If there is not one yet , there should be a Criterion Collection Edition, complete with scholarly commentary (much like “The Seventh Seal”, also by Bergman, also one of my favorite 50 films of all time). Not that I want anybody to tell me definitively what anything means, but hearing a scholar or philosopher or psychologist talk about thtese films would facinate me. This is a film worth watching at least twice in one’s life, but never back-to-back within days or weeks of each viewing. This should be allowed to simmer; to be revisted months or years later, as we each grow and age in our own way. It is my humble opinion that revisiting films like these every five or so years would have one’s interpretation of the film slightly change. Different parts would be relatable’ scenes would take on a new meaning; a character we loved in our twenties is the character we despise in our thirties. I have found this true with “American Beauty”, “There Will Be Blood”, and “Fight Club”. As I have aged, the meanings change. Some messages strengthen; others weaken. It is marvelous.

The artistry of Sven Nykvist, the cinematographer, always been one of the very best, and on the acting skills of Liv Ulmann and especially Bibi Andersson, exhibiting some of the bravest and most powerful performances I’ve ever seen in a movie. These women are as good as Marlon Brando in “Last Tango in Paris.” It seemed to me that she was becoming extremely involved in her character.

And this is where I need to just engulf myself in this film. While I cannot exactly “get” this film from a narrative angle entirely, the important thing, and the aspect of the film which will no doubt bring me back time after time is the emotional aspect. It is flat-out haunting. While my intellect is sharp if I may say so, the text of the film is crafty and slippery; my emotions were right with the characters yet something was slightly askewed. few films are so clutching and silmutaneously illusive.

It was a gut-wrenching film for me, like many Bergman films, and I felt, some weird feelings after it ended. The best part is, the weird thing I feel when I watch it ten years from now may be totally different. One of the greats. Worth a watch for people who don’t mind having their mind screwed with, who don’t mind subtitles, who are curious, philosophical young adults, or just enjoy good cinematography.

Ingmar Bergman rarely dissapoints. Even his worst are better than most. (rating: 9/10)

MH

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16 Years of Toy Story: a trilogy review

Buzz Lightyear. Woody. Rex. Slinky. Mr. Potato Head.

Andy and his toys. His friends.

You probably get an immediate image in your head when I mention these names and you’re not alone. I dare you to find anybody who doesn’t know who these Disney characters are, and that is in part due to the fact this 90s blockbuster was the first of its kind, was truly heartfelt, would touch several generations of people, and would change the look of animated films forever. Period. Don’t argue.

If you are reading this, then you have seen at least one of these films, driven by PIXAR. You know Tim Allen, you know Tom Hanks, and you know Randy Newman’s silly voice singing all the silly opening songs. I must tell you here and now that I will be focusing on the overarching themes and impacts of the trilogy which took fifteen years to come to fruition. If you haven’t seen Toy Story 3 (2010) then please go see it before you continue any further—unless you want my opinion of it first.

Here is my opinion: go see it now! Especially if you grew up with copies of the original or the sequel in your home. You owe it to yourself to cry with Andy.

The Toy Story films are more than original; they were the first to animate and personify toys, which is brilliant when your audience is kids who love toys. Duh. Secondly, you have not hand-drawn art, which I do love, but rather exclusively computer generated images for the first time. No drawn art, no live shots of people or objects. This movie was made entirely in computers. Many computers. And this created new challenges, opportunities, ways of editing and directing, and new hurdles in creativity and sound design. If you could dream it, you could probably make it happen, and you don’t need to damage anything or anyone. You don’t need stunt doubles. None of the “Actors” need coffee or “pee” breaks. They’re digital!!! And if a particular take doesn’t quite hit that facial feature you were looking for, there is no need to call back in the actor for a re-shoot, simply open the program, and make the smile on Woody’s face bigger or more shallow. Kind of crazy when you think about it.

Besides the technological advancements which many are already aware of, what of the cultural impacts? How did this family movie become one of the most important films of the twentieth century?

Firstly, it was the themes and the story being told. Without that, it didn’t matter how great it looked. It would be seen as a little fluke, as a small movie with fancy graphics: nothing more. But the story was relatable. The characters diverse, and the morals and motivations of the main and supporting characters were things the audience had dealt with in the past or would deal with in their youth. Betrayal, fear, loyalty, being parted from loved ones, putting aside differences to get back “home”, and most importantly, love. Had this animated franchise been about “Cars” or “Tall blue creatures”, they would be easily forgotten. But a child’s youth and innocence are not easily forgotten.  Family, a good one, reigns supreme. These emotional responses are deep-seeded, and frankly, genius of the filmmakers to tug on. Brilliant.

In 1995, Toy Story was released to theaters in November. The marketing and advertising was genius. The movie makes it own path for merchandising: Toys.

For god’s sake, how easy is that? Just make the toys that are in the movies and sell them. Bingo.

This continued for over a decade; through the 1999 release of Toy Story 2, arguably, the weakest in the trilogy and least satisfying of the three. Regardless, the characters popped up in Disney land and Disney World, and soon there were shoes, socks, t-shirts, lunchboxes, pencils, folders, sleeping bags, bed sheets, plates and plasticware—all dedicated to the money maker. I don’t mean to make it look as if they only cared about the money. I really mean to show that the films were so enjoyed by the public that all this crap was actually demanded for and sold very well. People loved these characters since the films had something for kids as well as teens as well as the parents. Disney has always been pretty good at creating films which don’t placate to solely children, since they realize “hey, the parents are going to be in the theater too. I guess we shouldn’t torture them.” Lion King and Aladdin are good examples of films with a higher level of quick wit and suggestive charm aimed at appeasing the 30+ yr. old chaperones.

Without fail, a third film would come, but not for eleven more years. I admit, when I first saw that huge blue and yellow number “3” on the movie poster at my local theater, I was bemused and skeptical. Why had they waited so long? Is this necessary to the overall story or is this just to make money? The answer is both! I decided to skip it in the theater and see the film first thing when it came to DVD. There was a huge fuss over the film while it was in the theater and I wanted to understand what the fuss was all about.

The fuss was that it was just as good as the first film, and it was the end.

Those words: The end. I hadn’t even thought about it. Apparently, the writing team did.

We all grew up with Andy and these characters and this was a warm and affecting movie in which we say goodbye to the films and the characters just like Andy must say goodbye to his old toys. We’re all moving on and Andy is going to college. The time between the second and third film was well thought out and paid off… big time.

I will say that I am surprised this film got a “G” rating and not a “PG” rating. Films like “Finding Nemo” and “Tangled” are PG (could’ve been “G”), but Toy Story 3 is rated only “G” and has a pretty terrifying scene where the toy are literally all about to die and are holding hands. That was one of the saddest scenes in a Disney film I can remember, and would probably upset some kids. That is PG to me, and this film was heavier at times that a “G” should be. Let’s move on.

While Toy Story 3 was not flawless and suffered from some weird scenes and a drag in the end of the second act, the film is a must see. “A-” film at best. Some argue that that is too high of a score and that were getting our emotions confused with how this film is as a “stand alone.” I respect that you could say that about any film that is part of a series, but this is different. I say let your emotions and connection to the past films get the better of you. Is this a good film? Yes. Is it a great film? Award-worthy in more respects than just special effects? Only if you let your emotions get the better of you, which is one of the reasons I believe it was up for “best picture” in the 2010 Academy Awards. This was not going to win that category, but I understood that its inclusion was because it was the end of an era and was a tip of the hat. This films is probably not a masterpiece, but goddamn, our hearts sure think it is! I cried at the end of 3. Don’t tell anyone.

In the end of the day, this was the best Disney trilogy made so far, without question. Many sequels and trilogies by Disney, as you may unfortunately know, go through different director’s hands, different calibers of writers, and sometimes are direct to DVD. Never a good sign. Toy Story on the other hand is a remarkable success story which was given the red carpet treatment from day one; years of development went into making the first one. 800,000+ hours of frame capturing. Wow.

I deeply recommend checking out at least the first link below the ratings, which takes you to graphs showing voters vote on their top trilogies or series. Toy Story is always up there with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other classics.

MH (you gotta friend in me)

Toy Story 1 rating: 10/10

Toy Story 2 rating: 7.5/10

Toy Story 3 rating: 9/10

OVERALL TRILOGY RATING: 8.8/10

The graphs – http://ainsworld.wordpress.com/2010/07/27/is-toy-story-the-greatest-movie-trilogy-of-all-time/

The contrived part of the film: http://storyfanatic.com/articles/story-analysis/the-handshake-and-the-machine

Story structure, scripting, and brilliant act by act, point by point, breakdown: http://thestorydepartment.com/structure-toy-story-3/

 

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Revenge of the Ninja: a film review

Revenge of the Ninja is one of those films that you either understand or you hate. If you can grasp the decade in which it was made and understand what martial arts had become, you will actually enjoy the campy nature, funny one-liners, and bad post-production dialogue editing. The fact MGM rolled the dice and funded such a film was a surprise, but made sense giving that no major production houses were getting involved in what are essentially exploitation films. They just wanted a fair grab at some money in a niche market, and who can blame them for that? The other companies were staying out of it for the most part, perhaps even for good reason.

After the seventies, people wanted more and more, and these kind of kung-fu, bloody, rated-R films were going to small theaters, matinees in the cities, and drive-ins. These were never critically acclaimed films, but were tons of fun. You go to see films like these to enjoy insanity, and basically say “No way!” or “What was that?” to your friends every five minutes. This is one of those films that is so bad, it’s good. It’s also truly violent and gritty in a way we don’t really get anymore in modern action films.

First of all, you need to have a certain kind of humor when watching this film. Made in 1983, Revenge of the Ninja stars Sho Kosugi who was in over 15 martial arts films, hilariously, most of them have “death”, “ninja”, or “kill” in the title. Go figure. Are you surprised? This film was shot on the West Coast, under Philippine influence, about the way of the Chinese. Besides this film, which he is known best for, he also starred in 1985’s Pray for Death and more recently, 2009’s Ninja Assassin.

If you enjoy ridiculous murders and fights which are actually very well choreographed, these films are must sees if you’re looking for a 90-minute romp of entertainment. These movies are not total crap. All these movies are meant to be exactly what they are: envelope-pushing entertainment. Rarely will you get creative camera angles, original stories, or good special effects. That’s not what these kinds of films are about. They are about shock, awe, fighting, and over-the-top deaths.

Produced by Canon Films in 1983, Revenge of the Ninja ran 90 minutes in length and made a pathetic $509,000 on just 93 screens in its opening weekend. It’s scattered run that year — jumping from venue to venue — collected just over $13,100,000. It’s available in DVD and as of this writing (August 2011) is available on Netflix’s instant view and streaming service.

I’m going to know run through a list of what is featured in this movie and I will leave it up to you whether or not you see it. But you have to admit, no other movie on the planet has all of these things. Trust me:

  1. Stereotypes Italians, gays, blacks, Chinese.
  2. Breasts. Through wet t-shirts and just completely out. All fake, btw.
  3. Random rip-off of first-person slasher scene from Halloween for no reason.
  4. Old, balding men with mustaches in very short gym shorts wrestling in a hall where there is definitely not enough room by a brick wall.
  5. Forced, out-of-place conversations after a sparring match to keep the plot moving with exposition.
  6. A Native American hired thug dressed in Indian attire with braided hair. He wields axes and tries to scalp our protagonist.
  7. Huge 9-foot jumps over walls – clearly off of trampolines.
  8. Rich, white guy is the antagonist, trained as super ninja.
  9. Grandmother who can kick some serious ass. Impossible considering her age. But funny to watch.
  10. A fight scene that immediately has you laughing as Sho Kosugi approaches a make-shift, rip-off of the Village People for information. Stereotypes include a gay cowboy with a mustache and cowboy hat. A Spanish biker with a jean jacket, a black dude with short shorts wearing a headphone radio with antennae and mustache wearing roller skates, yes, roller skates, and a Japanese, fat skinhead wearing a leather jacket with a huge red and white rising star on his t-shirt, just in case you didn’t understand his stereotype. This group of four men are met for the first time by the protagonist and the audience at a children’s playground where they are all sitting on a picnic table laughing and drinking beer. Real hardcore.
  11. Characters, many of them, having no common sense or lapses in judgment due to a poorly written script.
  12. A pint-sized child fighting a full-grown woman and winning.
  13. People’s hands getting cut off. Great effects.
  14. Ninja’s spitting out spikes and blades into baddie’s faces. Actually kind of sick thanks to the gratuitous zoom ins.
  15. The bad ninja apparently carries around two, yes, two mannequins of himself in case he needs a diversion on a roof. Where he keeps these is anyone’s guess. Maybe his ass.
  16. Kid distracting a bad guy by pointing up and saying “Hey! Look! Superman!” and that shit actually works.
  17. Holding breath in hot tub for two minutes in full ninja hear and knowing exactly when to pop out.
  18. Joe Pesci wannabe.
  19. Actually good stunt work, especially when Sho is chasing down the van!
  20. Streams of blood spraying 15-feet in final kill scene.

So there you have it. Without a doubt, boys may enjoy this more than girls and you really gotta watch it in groups. DVD is here.

MH

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