“Snow White and the Huntsman” movie review

Over the past couple months, I’ve become a fan of Chris Hemsworth. So when “Snow White” opened, I decided to check it out. Honestly, I went in with mediocre expectations; this is the story of Snow White after all. To put it mildly, I was pleasantly surprised. I actually really enjoyed this film. This is no “ha-ha-funny” fairy tale. This is a true blue Grimm Brothers tale, dark and sinister to the hilt.

I’ll spare you all an in-depth storyline breakdown since I feel we’re all pretty familiar with one of the oldest and most-beloved fairy tales. The bare bones plot runs as follows: Snow White’s mother, the queen dies. Her father re-marries the beautiful (and evil) wicked queen who quickly offs him and takes over the kingdom. Through the years, she keeps Snow White locked up until her magic mirror tells her she’s not the fairest anymore, and in true lady-like fashion she goes postal. Our heroine escapes into the Dark Forest before she can join daddy in the ground and the hunt is on. Enter the Huntsman, played by Hemsworth. He’s sent to track her down. Of course, he joins her side, they meet the dwarves, gather more supporters, an epic battle is waged, the wicked queen is destroyed, credits roll.

What I enjoyed: to be fair, I was a little wary of the fact that Kristen Stewart (of “Twilight” fame) was carrying the title role. I saw only the first “Twilight” film (one was enough), and I responded with a resounding “meh.” I actually enjoyed her performance here. She was believable and held the strength of her character even when sharing the screen with Hemsworth or Charlize Theron…speaking of whom. Theron takes the role of the wicked queen and owns it. There’s no joking around with her. She’s pure evil. She prefers sucking souls out of poor victims, thank you very much. Then you’ve got Hemsworth. He really carries the film. I mean, you could have called the movie “The Huntsman,” and it would have been fine. From his intro as a drunken brawler, he gradually opens up throughout the film until we come to learn of the man underneath – a much more interesting character than Snow White, but I digress. The dwarves (shrunk down in true “Lord of the Rings” fashion) are played by a group of incredibly gifted actors (Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost, Toby Jones, etc.) who add depth to the film. They even find time to throw a couple of “heigh ho” lines in for laughs. Then there’s the filming itself. The action pieces (and there are several) are fantastic and feel bigger than life. The opening sequence calls to mind the opening battle from “Gladiator” (minus the gratuitous bloodshed). The Dark Forest as well as the Enchanted Forest are equally enthralling (think “Pan’s Labyrinth”). Beautiful landscapes and fanciful creatures; what else would you expect from a fairy tale? Director Bryan Singer seemed to be going for a Guillermo del Toro feel, and did a good job of it.

What I didn’t enjoy: Theron could have been given more meaningful dialogue. At times, it felt like she was just waiting to scream the next wicked witch cliché. She exuded such a menacing presence, I wanted to know more about her. Moving on to Snow White’s young friend/odd man out/long lost love (huh?). I mean, the poor guy thought she died twelve odd years ago, but when he finds out she’s alive, well he’s all gung-ho to save his lady-love. Whenever he was on screen I just wanted Hemsworth to come across and kick him off camera. No need for some weeny Twilight-esque love triangle here.  No offense, just cut the character. We all know who really loves Snow White….hello, did you read the title when you walked into the theatre?!

All in all, I enjoyed the film. It’s definitely dark with some scares/violence that gear it more toward the adult crowd. As far as fairy tales go, it’s not 100% “happily ever after,” but it really is a fun ride.

Hunger Games – movie review

As a fan of The Hunger Games trilogy I was ecstatic when I heard the books would be brought to film. Fast-forward through the months of waiting, and I finally found myself jammed into a sold-out theatre for the midnight premier. (Side note: I usually get to films early to get a good seat, but I’ve never gone an hour and fifteen minutes early; regardless of that fact, I found the theatre already packed.) I found a mix of enthusiastic fans who had devoured the books like me, others who had only read Book 1, and still others who had no idea what was in store. It was highly entertaining to say the least.

Now on to the movie – I was a bit worried how the book-to-film-adapation would translate, but the story came off brilliantly for me. I tried to watch as a person who had no knowledge of the film outside of the movie itself. The script writers did a great job of providing enough integral details to fill in the gaps that normally occur when cramming an entire book a film.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot, The Hunger Games is set in a future “post-war” type setting. Twelve Districts live under the totalitarian rule of The Capitol. To remind the Districts of who’s in charge, each year one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 are chosen as Tributes from each District to participate in The Hunger Games – a fight to the death where only one Tribute can emerge as victor. Needless to say, this plot lends itself to a whole plethora of violence. The film manages to hold on to its PG-13 rating by muting sounds effects, cutting away, and inferring rather than showing the violence. All that being said, there’s still some rather harsh scenes, due more to the fact that the violence is propagated by such young kids, rather than the gratuitousness of its nature.

The protagonist of the books is Katniss Everdeen. Jennifer Lawrence shoulders this role and carries the entire film with a smouldering presence that begs you to root for her. She was a fantastic choice, and she shows some outstanding acting chops. Nothing but a bright future ahead for her. Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark, the boy Tribute from Katniss’ home District. I’ve heard some reviews that take issue with his acting, but after reading the books you have to understand that he’s supposed to come across as more of an introvert, not as brash or caustic as Katniss. He’s not supposed to “power the scenes away from her.” She really is the focal point, and I felt like Hutcherson carried his role well. If people have issues with the perceived chemistry that’s built through the film, I recommend reading the books. There are so many nuances and circumstances between Katniss and Peeta that just can’t all be shown on film. Gary Ross helmed the film, and I really enjoyed his directing. He uses a blend of stable shots and “shaky cam” to keep it interesting. Shot on location in NC, the scenery is beautiful and Ross conveys such a stark portrayal between the different worlds of the Districts and the Capitol.

Overall, I was really pleased with the film. Already knowing the plot, I knew that the end of the film would have a bit of a “let down” feeling due to the fact that Books 1 and 2 basically run right into each other. I know fans everywhere (myself included), will be anxiously waiting to hear when Catching Fire will be released.

“Act of Valor” movie review

There is so much I wish to say in regards to this film that I’m struggling with what to put down. First, I’ll give you some perspective: I spent 8 years in the Marine Corps. I love my country in a way that only those who have signed up to put their lives on the line will truly understand. I know what it means to volunteer for a lifestyle where you answer when the call comes, even if that means leaving loved ones and family behind. I was ecstatic when my brother-in-law, an intel officer in the Marines, made it back home safely this past weekend after a year in Afghanistan. Words can’t express the joy I felt in his safe return.

Now I’ll get to the film…

“Act of Valor” takes us into the lives of the Navy SEALs. Stepping outside the lines of traditional film making, actual active duty SEALs were cast instead of actors. As discussed in numerous interviews with the producers and directors, the goal was to make the film as authentic as possible. Nothing like bringing in the best of the best to show how SEALs operate. Sadly, the same can’t be said of the script. Even seasoned actors would have been hard pressed to carry the movie’s stilted dialogue. And these aren’t actors…they’re highly trained, lethal warriors. Frankly speaking, they are paid to kill, not act. If the film could have been comprised strictly of action scenes, it would have been tremendous. These men operate with a surgeon’s precision, honed by years of training. The first jungle extraction scene literally drew some shouts in the theatre when the gun boats opened up. I’ll admit, I smiled. There’s also a scene later in the movie that every wannabe suicide bomber hell-bent on his 70 virgins should watch concerning the dangers of sympathetic detonation (sorry, my background as an ammo tech still pops up at times). It’s too bad the writers couldn’t have given us something more for the antagonists than such a cliche band of big-bearded jihadists, but after the first couple rounds of dialogue, I figured it was about par for the course. Don’t go into this film expecting some great cinematic event; instead, see it as a 1.5 hr recruitment film shot on a multi-million dollar budget. Does it convey the message of these heroes in a compelling way? Yes. Should it have been better? Most definitely. These men are the legends of our day. The true heroes. As the film ended, the words of Tecumseh offered a fitting tribute to these warriors:

When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”

“50/50” movie review

To be honest, I’d steered away from this movie simply because of Seth Rogen. Rogen tends to act in films that are long on forced laughs and short on most other things that comprise great movies, but after seeing “50/50” in a critic’s top 15 list for 2011 I decided to give it a shot. I was in for a surprise. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (of “Inception” fame) stars in this film based on the true life story of a young guy who’s diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Rogen fills the role of his best friend. It’s hard to say if this movie falls into the drama or comedy category or somewhere in between. The film is definitely intended for adult audiences; never skirting around the dark issues cancer brings, but rather embracing them in an honest way. Rogen makes use of a great script to inject humor at just the right time to keep an even keel under a story which could have run into the melodramatic; instead, it maintains a genuine feel. Gordon-Levitt has firmly announced his ability, not only to star in a film, but to give such a raw, empathetic performance that you can’t help but be moved by the understated yet poignant path he walks through the fight with cancer. Anyone who has lost someone to an illness, or experienced something like it themselves, won’t be able to remain untouched by this film.



“Safe House” movie review

Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors, so in the name of research, I checked out “Safe House.” It’s safe to say that Washington’s intensity and brute force pick up this movie and carry it from start to finish. Ryan Reynolds holds his own, but in the emotional scenes, Washington simply overpowers him. The action is incessant; continuing at such a break-neck pace, you find yourself wishing for a moment’s rest. Daniel Espinosa directs the film like a teenager who’s just downed a 12 pack of Red Bull. The camera work is so quick and jumpy it’s almost disorienting at times. Expect a few gaping plot holes as well as the requisite twist that’s meant to surprise but ends up falling mostly flat. Another conspiracy theory-driven film that does a fair job of entertaining if you don’t mind checking your brain at the door.