Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Movie roundup - June 2012

The Woman in Black, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Snow White and the Huntsman.  Warning: Here be Spoilers

The Woman in Black

Dan Radcliffe, long dark corridors, candles in
mid-air... this all seems very familiar
Sceptical about grown-up child actors as I am, I actually thought Mr Radcliffe's film for adults came off well.  I could have done with a few more facial expressions from him, but other than that I liked it.  As I've said before, I cannot do scary movies. I'm usually ok with general bloodshed, but my imagination is too over-developed to deal with thrillers with a lot of big psychological build-ups. That said, Woman in Black was better for me in this regard than I'd expected.  There's a few mild jumps and a lot of creepiness but nothing truly scary.  

Most of the reveals are subtle and rather than be a fright-a-minute movie it does become more of a supernatural quest, with Radcliffe's character Arthur trying to find a way to lay the ghost and it's curse to rest before anyone else dies. There's also a mild emotional element, which pleasantly surprised me.  Arthur is a young widower with a four-year-old son, and seems to empathise with the pain of the ghostly woman and allows us to do the same.  I felt sorry for the ghost rather than seeing her as pure evil ... which she still kind of is. The subjects of death and family are very close to Arthur and drive him in his search. In the closing moments of the film I almost wonder if her last actions towards him were some kind of favour rather than revenge. I was behind a cushion half the time (I know, I know, I'm a wuss), but I'd give it a thumbs up to those of you who like your thriller movies light.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Spot the difference
I went to see this with the same guy who watched Scientists! In an Adventure with Pirates with me, which should tell you exactly what I was expecting from this film. And I was right! AL:VH is, quite frankly, fantastically entertaining, but let's be clear from the beginning - this is not a film about one of America's best loved presidents. It's a film about a fair-minded tall guy with a good beard and some mad axe-wielding skills who just happens to share his name, and it's very nicely shot.

The presidency is hardly mentioned at all apart from a bizarre little pseudo-historical section in the middle which covers Abe's oddly vampire-free time in office. I have to admit that this didn't quite sit right, with the rest of the film or with me. This short section had to touch on matters of real importance such as Lincoln’s campaign against slavery, the start of the American Civil War, and the death of one of his children - all things that may just be too sensitive to withstand a dose of cheesy vampirism. According to the movie, slavery was endorsed in the southern states to provide a cheap food source for vampires, and the Civil War was an extension of this. Young Willie Lincoln dies from a bite as the vampires send a chilling threat to his father. These were real and serious issues, and I did feel that giving them this slant was cheapening them somehow...

But then suddenly we're on a steam train on a burning bridge surrounded with bloodsuckers being fought off with a silver axe by a fifty-year old man and all is right with the world again. I guess that's the key to this film; Escapism. It's silly and flippant and cheesy and ridiculous, it knows that it is, and where it sticks to that pattern it's at its most enjoyable.

Snow White and the Huntsman

As soon as I saw the trailer with Kristen Stewart in armour I wanted this movie to be good (as much for her acting range as the film). As it was, SWatH is... good-looking. It’s got some nice scenes and a lot of potential, and the Grimm-esque gothic look they’ve gone for really works, but for me it lacked substance at the crucial moments. Like War Horse I think that might be because it wants it's main character to be more awesome than they really are.  By trying to hard to please too many groups it manages to miss most of them.

Kristen Stewart as the besieged princess who escapes her evil captor and then returns to claim the throne was a good call, because as well being fundamentally a kind person this princess is scrappy and I believe Stewart could pull it off.  She does a lot of running, doesn’t complain when she’s wet and cold, and takes her royal responsibilities on the chin. However they also gave her the least amount of lines or character development in the film, and I’m not sure I’m ok with that.

It’s fine if our princess is an introvert but as a viewer I need to know what she’s thinking or trying to do, or I lose interest in her. The Huntsman and the Prince I do get invested in, because they seem to have drive and purpose which they speak about or act on. Everyone in this film is defined by their actions rather than what they were born as. The Queen is evil as a reaction to wrongs committed against her in the past, the Huntsman is grouchy but secretly good-hearted because he is coming to terms with a painful loss, the Prince is brave because he wants to see justice in the kingdom, and Snow is “the One” because ...the plot says so?  I love the idea of a heroic princess but Snow just isn't very proactive for a protagonist.  She seems to have no real goal for most of the film other than following people where she’s asked to and having a knack for making friends by staring silently at people/animals/creatures.  She also seems completely emotionally uninvolved in the love triangle that starts to form between her and the Prince and Huntsman.  (I also have a fond dream that one day they’ll give that girl a role where she’s allowed to smile.  For someone who's been locked up for most of her life she doesn't appear very happy to be free, or even to be queen)

Grubby, grumpy, and with an axe to grind
While watching this film I found myself saying “Okay, but why?” a lot of the time.  We're expected to believe that Snow is amazing without any real explanation or proof:
- When Snow escapes her prison she stumbles across a horse which lies down so she can climb onto it's back - Okay, but why?  Why would it do that?  
- In the final battle Snow has an armour and a sword which she can apparently use - Okay, but why?  We never see her learn any fighting skills or make any reference to the fact she's been taught.  
- Snow is also apparently the only one able to kill the evil magical queen – Okay, but why? We don’t see her have any magic of her own, she’s 'good' and 'pure' but we’re never told or shown if this is a source of power or not.  Is it because Snow got blessed by the magic deer, and if not why did she get blessed by the magic deer? And why is this deer magic when none of the other creatures seem to be? Is it because the land is magic? If so why isn’t the magic land that is powerful enough to choose a hero for itself able to fight off the evil effects of one evil queen? 
- According to a blind dwarf Snow is “the One... Life Itself” who will “heal the land”... Okay, but WHY?!  BECAUSE OF WHAT?  HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS?  WHAT EVIDENCE ARE YOU BASING YOUR THEORY ON? AAARGH!!!

So yes it’s pretty and some of the secondary characters are quite fun, particularly the villainous queen, but this movie suffers from not knowing what it wants to be, and therefore it’s not really anything. It’s not a coming of age story because Snow never really changes, it’s not a traditional fairy tale because it makes new rules but it’s not a reinvented one either because it also arbitrarily keeps some old rules without making them fit into the new vision of the story, and it’s not really a Good vs. Evil tale because we never see concrete examples of Snow’s overwhelming goodness to combat the queen's evil. I didn’t hate it, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

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