Snow White and The Huntsman Review

The Plot:

A wicked Queen seizes power in an enchanted kingdom only to be warned by a magic mirror that the one threat to her rule is a beautiful young girl called Snow White. With the unlikely help of seven dwarves and rough edged Huntsman, Snow White must defeat monsters and evil minions on her quest to save the kingdom.

The Good:

Hot on the heels of family friendly Snow White adaptation Mirror Mirror, this darker big screen version boasts sumptuous and impressive visuals. First time director Rupert Sanders succeeds in bringing a world full of trolls, fairies and dark magic to life. Easily the film’s greatest asset, it’s beautiful and sinister by equal turns.

Beautiful and sinister are both adjectives equally applicable to Charlize Theron in her role as Ravenna the evil Queen obsessed with youth, beauty and power. She does well to add some fragility and emotional depth to the iconic fairy-tale villainess. It’s unusual to see a performer even try to make a maniacal tyrant seem vulnerable or almost sympathetic.

Hunky man mountain Chris Hemsworth, Twilight starlet Kristen Stewart and a host of accomplished supporting character actors like Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan & Ian McShane all round out a credible cast.

The Bad:

With a run time creeping over two hours there’s a disappointing lack of momentum for a film that’s supposed to be a thrilling adventures packed with desperate escapes and urgent quests.  Audiences who have grown up with this classic fable will likely find much of the film’s lethargic exposition fairly redundant. Particularly some of the lengthy early stages of the film could have been pruned away to leave something more dynamic.

Kristen Stewart has an army of devoted fans, but she also has her eager critics. No doubt they will find ammunition to attack this performance, between her cut glass English accent and earnest speeches. Some will deride her for being too well groomed, others for being too sullen or grungy. You get the feeling she just can’t win. This isn’t a performance that will convert her doubters, but it will at least please her loyal Twilight fanbase.

Chris Hemsworth has his own enthusiastic fans, but unfortunately his mud-stained Huntsman is less readily likeable than his Marvel Superhero Thor and struggles with a drunken Scottish accent. Secondary romantic lead Sam Claflin also struggles to impose himself with limited screen time as Prince Charming figure William.

The casting of accomplished actors like Nick Frost and Bob Hoskins as the seven Dwarves with the aid of CGI is effective but may cause some people to question whether or not it’s right for Hollywood to squander such rare opportunities to cast performers whose stature actually fits these roles.

The Ugly Truth:

Snow White and the Huntsman has captivating visuals but likely asks too much of most audiences with its slow pacing and laboured exposition. Though the darker fantasy tone may initially appeal more to an adult audience, in truth it’s hard to avoid craving something a little more camp and fun as this sombre tale unfolds.

Dark Shadows Review

The Plot:

18th century gentleman Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp) lands himself in supernatural trouble when he scorns the advances of a seductive young witch Angelique (Eva Green). After losing his parents and the true love of his life, he is cursed to become a vampire and buried alive for nearly 200 years. Emerging into the bizarre era of 1972, Barnabus resolves to restore the fortunes of his remaining Collins family descendants while seeking revenge and an end to his curse.

The Good

Tim Burton is a director with a unique style and distinctive visual flare.  Dark Shadows offers him the perfect opportunity to pay homage to both of the elements which have so clearly inspired him, combining 1970s kitsch and classic gothic horror. There is something gleefully silly about juxtaposing ghosts, witches and vampires with lava lamps and The Carpenters.  Adding a well-placed Alice Cooper cameo to the mix is also a nice touch.

Dark Shadows marks the 8th collaboration between Burton and his magnificent muse Johnny Depp. Depp remain one of the most mesmerizingly charismatic actors alive today. Universally adored he’s capable of carrying entire films on the back of his own stellar performances. Sit through the Pirates Caribbean franchise for a dramatic illustration of this.

Whilst Depp is on predictably fine form as polite and reluctant vampire Barnabus, luckily this time he can also rely on a strong supporting cast that includes the like of Chloe Moretz and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Eva Green deploys all her considerable other worldly charms playing a lusty villainous witch. With bleached blonde hair, piercing eyes and startling curves she manages to be convincingly scary and sexy simultaneously.

The Bad

Tim Burton’s trademark visuals and fondness for blood drenched campy horror is an acquired taste. It’s won him an army of devoted fans, but it does also alienate those who lack a taste for the dark side.

Compared to Burton’s previous work, Dark Shadows is perhaps most similar in tone to Sleepy Hollow, veering regularly between melodramatic horror and slapstick comedy. Some people may find the sudden contrast a little jarring. Although the film can claim a fair few laugh out loud moments, they’re almost exclusively courtesy of Johnny Depp.  The film’s frights also fall flat. There’s no shortage of blood, murder and monsters but it’s all too silly to ever be anything approaching scary.

Dark Shadows doesn’t make full use of its glittering cast either.  Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Lee Miller in particular are given little opportunity to make meaningful contributions. In fact, Johnny Depp’s Barnabus is the only member of the pale faced Collins clan who generates any real intrigue.

The film’s increasingly outlandish climax works its way through mostly predictable plot twists and witch bashing action that lacks memorable magic. The last minute addition of shotguns, spells and all sorts of unexpected monsters feels more overblown than satisfying.

The Ugly Truth

Dark Shadows will be another slice of Goth genius for those that adore Tim Burton’s work, but if you’re not already a fan this certainly won’t be the film that finally wins you over.  Whatever your disposition, Johnny Depp’s supernatural charms and Eva Green’s sumptuous smouldering should keep things watchable and mostly enjoyable.

American Pie Reunion Review

The Plot

Jim, Kevin, Finch, Oz and Stiffler reunite in East Great Falls, Michigan for their high school reunion.  13 years after the first American Pie film, they all find themselves facing up to the pressures and uncertainties of adulthood. Perhaps another dose of cringe worthy calamity will help them finally learn how to deal with marriage, kids, jobs and love.   

The Good

There is something nice about seeing Eugene Levy (Jim’s Dad) finally joined by the rest of the original cast, after suffering through several atrocious straight to DVD sequels on his own. There’s only so long one man can carry a comedy franchise on his quizzically raised bushy eyebrows.

While all the old characters are busy enjoying a friendly reunion and predictable hijinks, it’s fairly interesting at least to see how kind father time has been to their familiar faces and bodies. Fortunes are mixed.

Although American Reunion has little genuinely new territory to explore it does have one potential ace up its sleeve, a long overdue meeting between Jim’s Dad (Eugene Levy) and Stiffler’s Mom (Jennifer Coolidge). It’s just surprising it took the franchise this long to take advantage of pairing two of its most successful elements in the same scene.

The Bad

Whilst the misguided mistakes and embarrassing escapades of sex obsessed teenage boys is a ready source of easy comedy, the jokes have worn pretty thin by the time everyone’s creeping into their obvious thirties.

Given the fact the main theme of the film is about dealing with maturity it’s ironic that so much of the humour is entirely dependent on having kept the characters forcibly regressed and artificially immature. The obnoxious return of Sean William Scott as Stiffer is a prime example, sure to divide opinions between those who love or loath his foul mouthed antics.  The storylines for several of the returning cast do feel especially forced and unnecessary.

It’s fair to say the acting prowess on display varies wildly, ranging from fondly enthusiastic to painful paycheck chasing. Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas (Kevin) and Tara Reid are some of the worst offenders. Ideally you want the audience to laugh at the contrived awkward situations, not the casts’ attempts to emote.  Only Alyson Hannigan can claim to have escaped the franchise with any degree of real success and with good reason.

American Reunion relies a little too heavily on affection for the franchise which won’t necessarily exist among uninitiated teens and more discerning older audiences.

The Ugly Truth

Nostalgic fans of the early slices of American Pie will welcome the return of all the familiar characters and the franchise’s trademark brand of disastrous sexual misadventures.  New audiences unfamiliar with the past films may judge American Reunion more harshly by its obvious faults. It is a dramatic improvement on the most recent DVD offerings but remains at best a guilty pleasure.

Avengers Assemble Review

The Plot

After nearly a decade of anticipation and groundwork in other Marvel films;  superheroes Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Nick Fury team up to take on mischievous demi-god Loki who has a plan to use a mystical all-powerful energy cube to unleash an evil alien army on earth.

The Good

Marvel fans will be delighted to finally see this film become a reality and appreciative of how closely it has stuck to the original comicbook material.

With TV shows like Buffy and Firefly, Director Joss Whedon has always demonstrated a great skill for handling ensemble casts. Once again, he gets the balance pretty much right between the formulaic demands of action adventure storytelling and well placed comedic relief. The bickering banter between our heroes keeps audiences entertained between the more explosive sequences.

Avengers has a glittering array of all-star Hollywood talent to draw on with the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Samuel L Jackson, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Chris Hemsworth all jostling for the chance to showcase their costume clad charisma. Combined with glossy production values this ensures it’s always easy on the eyes.

Tom Hiddleston’s effectively malevolent turn as Loki is another major asset for the film, as is Mark Ruffalo’s performance as the not so jolly green giant The Incredible Hulk. Ruffalo in particular deserves credit for being the third actor to play the troubled character on the big screen but the first to truly win over audiences.


The Bad

It’s virtually impossible for any film to live up to the weight of unprecedented hype and expectation heaped upon Avengers Assemble.

With so many characters and plot points to juggle it’s perhaps unsurprising that the film suffers a little from a slow moving first half. Despite a sluggish start, those unfamiliar with all the other Marvel films may still struggle to follow things.

This film confidently assumes its audience is fully aware of all its iconic characters and their recent adventures. If you haven’t already seen Iron Man, Captain America or Thor it’s probably worth investing the time before you see Avengers. With so many heroes sharing the limelight in this film there’s little time for any real depth to their individual stories.

In sharp contrast to the grounded realism of Christopher Nolan’s flawless Dark Knight Saga, Avengers is also unapologetically cartoonish. Our heroes fly around on an invisible airship doing explosion packed CGI battle with bad guys. The action, dialogue and special effects are all geared towards a younger blockbuster audience.

Though Loki is a great villain, unfortunately his army of non-descript alien baddies seemingly aren’t much of a threat to our impervious and all powerful team of good guys. Even Scarlett Johansson can easily pummel them into submission armed only with her fists, thighs, and a skin tight catsuit. A more convincing sense of menace and danger might have given all the enthusiastic 3D action scenes another dimension.


The Ugly Truth –

Avengers took nearly £16million in just its first four days at the UK Box office and has already taken a hulk sized $642 million worldwide. Success and popularity alone aren’t sufficient reason to watch any film, but ‘event’ movies of such impressive scale don’t come around that often. Avengers does deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.

If you have been left uninspired or disappointed by past Marvel films you might have a similar reaction to Avengers, but existing fans and most newcomers should be left thoroughly satisfied.

* Stick around during the end credits for a few quick glimpses of what’s in store for the inevitable sequel.

Jane Eyre Review

 

The Plot -

Orphaned as a baby, Jane Eyre endures years of cruel treatment at the hands of her Aunt and then at a viscious boarding school, but her life finally changes when she becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall – and meets Mr Rochester, a brooding hero with a dark secret. He captures Jane’s long-buried imagination, and is in turn captivated by her. It is Charlotte Brontë’s most famous novel and has been adapted for the screen over twenty times.

 

The Good -

This latest version is directed by Cary Fukunaga, cinema’s hipster director du jour, and he combines the vintage with the (post)modern to bring a freshness that’s been lacking in recent years. It’s out with the old and in with the new – instead of the classic “period drama” feel (there’s not a country dance or heaving bosom in sight) Fukunaga focuses on the novel’s Gothic roots, playing up the darkness of Thornfield Hall and the secret buried within it.

This is also the first adaptation with a different beginning to the novel, a brave restructuring by screenwriter Moira Buffini. It pays off, giving old fans a new way to look at the material, and those watching it for the first time will never notice the difference. In fact the film is perfect for newcomers – despite the new structure the film balances the different plot lines perfectly, thinning out the dramatis personae and focusing increased attention on a reduced cast. It’s Jane’s emotional journey – the novel’s core – that takes centre stage.

More than anything, it is stars Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender who shine. Wasikowska is a revelation as Jane, with a compellingly calm demeanour that makes more of her physical performance than it does her words – perhaps strange for an adaptation from a novel, but another new approach that’s emphasised by dialogue-free sequences and Jane’s quiet observations, passages not often seen on screen but vital to the character. As a result, Wasikowska’s Jane is a more vivid portrait than those that came before her.

Fassbender does present an immediate problem – he’s too handsome. Mr Rochester was never designed to be handsome, but Fassbender more than makes up for the pretty face with an intimidating and captivating performance. He captures the ugliness in Rochester without sacrificing the charm, and the two leads sizzle together in every scene. Their exchanges give energy to what would otherwise be a much slower film, and combined with the return to the Gothic – flickering candles and dark, haunting architecture – their encounters are mesmerising.

 

The Bad -

It’s difficult to pinpoint negatives – this film feels like the culmination of the previous twenty or so adaptation, flaws finally perfected and pace tightened – but you can find them if you look. Fukunaga is lucky that his two leads have so much chemistry – without it the film would have been too slow, missing the injection of energy that Wasikowska and Fassbender provide. There’s also a danger that it wonders too far over into arthouse territory; the dialogue-free sequences often feel like they’ve been borrowed from the indie school of shorts shot on Canon 5Ds, both in aesthetic and colouring. As part of a whole it works to contrast with the darker tones elsewhere, but it can be jarring.

It would be nice to see more of the other female characters too. Approaching the cast list as “less is more” does wonders for the film, but it’s the women who disappear. Only Jane and Mrs Fairfax (and arguably the young Adèle) really survive the cut – Diana and Mary Rivers are relegated to a few scenes each, and Jane’s cousins Eliza and Georgiana vanish completely. One of the novel’s most essential women is only seen once. Jane Eyre is often called the first protofeminist novel, and it’s sad to see it lose some of those female voices.

 

The Ugly Truth -

Superb performances, innovation and veneration in equal measure, and visually stunning, Jane Eyre captures the essence of the novel and the character in a way never done before. A worthy work for fans of the novel to enjoy and a perfect introduction for newcomers, this latest Jane Eyre is the adaptation the world has been waiting for.

 Review by Sophie Wing