The Titular Devil, With Hand

The Titular Devil, With Hand

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Belated Snow White and the Huntsman Review

Just got back from Snow White and the Huntsman. Yeah, I know it's been out for a while, but I thought I'd wait for it on DVD until my daughter Soph said it was pretty good. I haven't compared notes with her yet, but I suspect I liked it even more than she did. It's kinda uneven, but there sure is a whole lot of wonderful stuff, and me and the wife really enjoyed ourselves.

This is the second Snow White movie this year. The first was that Mirror, Mirror thing, which looked really awful to me. The only reason I ever considered going to see it was that it was directed by Tarsem Singh; The Fall is one of my favorite films period.. But I didn't care for Immortals, and the trailers for Mirror, Mirror made it look just dreadful, campy comic garbage. The trailers for Snow White and the Huntsman looked cool to me, but a lot of the reviews were sorta lukewarm...just goes to show you, you can't trust reviewers, and you can take my opinion for whatever you think it's worth.

Anyway, in case you haven't heard, Snow White's take on the Grimm Brothers is very different from Mirror Mirror's. It's basically a dead-serious heroic fantasy with extremely strong horror elements. A lot of it really stretches the PG-13 rating, and the imagery is frequently quite nasty in a nifty sort of way. There's a whole lot of emphasis on atmosphere, and it takes its time fleshing out the source material and setting things up. The writing, by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amin, is, on the whole, unusually literate. The screenplay retains a good deal of the fairy tale and builds on it. You've got the evil queen, the mirror, Snow White in the forest, a huntsman ordered to kill her, seven dwarves, our heroine eating a poison apple and going cataleptic, then getting awakened by true love's kiss...etc. True, thing is souped up with battle sequences and a ton of excellent CGI...the movie looks like it had a very healthy budget. But There's a lot more to it than the visuals. The characters are well drawn, and the acting is, overall, excellent.

The film's single stongest element is Charlize Theron's evil queen, Ravenna. Charlize looks awesome (she's way more beautiful than poor Snow White, at least when she's not aging hideously,) and she's absolutely terrifying, much scarier than she was in Prometheus, and she was pretty scary in that. She is, as a matter of fact, one of the very best heavies in recent films, and one of the coolest cinematic evil queens ever...yep, she's at least as good as Disney's Maleficent. She's ambitious, she's got a program, a backstory that's actually interesting. All of her trappings and minions are fabulous, and she comes out with lines like, "I'm going to give this wretched world the queen it deserves!"  The movie's worth seeing just for her...although it's also worth seeing just for the special effects, and the dwarves, and the Miyazaki-like fairy stuff....getting ahead of myself here.

As I said, Kristen Stewart's Snow White doesn't measure up, I'm afraid. She doesn't spoil the movie or anything, but given the all the biz about being the fairest of them all, etc., well...she's got great big buck teeth and constantly showing them off  in a variety of strange expressions. On the other hand, Chris Hemsworth's Huntsman works just fine...I hope the guy becomes a major star...I think he's way too good to get stuck as Thor, for example. He does have the movie ripped out from underneath him by the Dwarves, but, they're so good that you don't mind at all. Takes rather too long for them to show up, but when they do, they're super. Again, this is one of those flicks that gets a huge amount of mileage out of good Brit character actors, and the whole dwarf thing is rendered utterly jaw-dropping by the visual FX. Very different approach from Gimli in Jackson's LOTR...Here you have  the actors' heads superimposed on sawed off bodies, and it's completely convincing. Unbelievable motion control. It makes that head superimposition stuff in Captain America look lousy by comparison. I mean, you know perfectly well that in Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones, etc., are normal sized...well, maybe not Toby Jones. But you wouldn't have a clue from looking at this movie. I kept leaning over to my wife and saying, "That's amazing," over and over again.

Let's see, what else. The Mirror is extremely scary...Charlize taking her evil milk bath is most unsettling; when, at another point, she strikes the floor in an oily splat of melting ravens, it's even moreso. Monstrous apparitions in the dark forest were very satisfactory...the aforementioned Miyazaki-ish forest sprites and animals (my favorite was a tortoise covered in moss) click like crazy. Grade A Marchen material....I kept thinking of On Fairy Stories, by Tolkien...I suspect the grumpy old bastards might even have liked large segments of this film. It does seem  to address a lot of his criticisms of the Disney version, and the tone is frequently sort of Tolkien-like, more Beren and Luthien than LOTR, perhaps.

The movie looks good; fine locations; moody well-composed cinematography by Greig Fraser. Loved the production design and costumes...things look fantastic, yet plausible. James Newton Howard's score is appropriately foreboding. Oh yeah, there's a poisoned apple which sprouts grey hair after Snow White takes her bite...amazingly disgusting. I laughed out loud. Seriously, you should check this flick out. Yeah, I know, this must be towards the end of its theatrical run, but you should rent it on pay-per view. As usual, you don't have to bother with the 3D.

I hope, by the way, that someone makes a movie of one of my books and advertises it as being in 2D, and gives you glasses that are just clear plastic and don't do anything....

Friday, June 8, 2012

Prometheus Review

Just got back from a midnight show of Prometheus, and I must say, I feel like I got my money's worth. The visuals---VFX, prosthetics, production design, fake and real locations, photography---were all top-notch, and were more than enough to carry the movie for me. There are some great monsters and gross-outs, and some of the acting, chiefly by Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron was awful cool. All that being said, however, this was a very pretentious movie completely unaware of the fact that it isn't very bright. It wants to be cerebral, but in the final analysis, it's a giant well-directed glop fest. In short, it was helmed by the Ridley Scott who did Alien, and not the guy who did Bladerunner.

As you just concluded from reading the previous sentence, I was not a fan of Alien. I liked the Giger monsters and designs, but I thought the script was frequently idiotic, with characters doing all sorts of bizarre things, like seeing an alien egg-case opening up, and immediately deciding to stick their faces into also featured a lot of  "Let's all split up," and going back for the cat, and deep-space crews armed with flamethrowers, and stuff like that. Now, you might say, well, a lot of horror movies are like that, and you'd be right, and some do  manage to get past my guard...on the other hand, some don't. Most people liked Alien a whole more than I did. But James Cameron's sequel was much more my cup of tea, among other things because it seemed better thought out to me.

As for Bladerunner, it wasn't a horror flick or an action movie, and it spent a lot of time on the ideas and did a good job on them. If you read my ten best SF movies, you'll see that it's right up there in my estimation, although some aspects of it have dated fearfully. Of course, a lot of the film's success has to do with the source material---Philip K. Dick was a great idea man. The movie diverged pretty strongly from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, but its preoccupations remained quite Dickish, which may sound obscene, but it's really high praise. Alien had little on its mind besides anti-capitalist propaganda, improbable feminism (embodied by Sigourney Weaver's outthrust chin) and admittedly cool monsters and goo. Also cat-fancying, which I have no use for whatsoever.

So then, given the fact that Prometheus takes place in the Alien universe, one shouldn't be surprised if the movie's defects are rather similar to Alien's. Actually, if it comes right down to it, Alien had a better script. There was indeed mucho silliness, but the structure was tighter, the movie moved right along, the scares were scarier and less reliant on goosh, and the characterizations were superior...for one thing, you only had a few characters, they were relatively well-developed, and all the actors were solid pros like Sigourney, Ian Holm and Harry Dean Stanton. There are a whole lot of spearcarrier/ciphers in Prometheus, and you're frequently surprised when they show up, because you forget that they were in the movie to begin with, and you sure as hell don't care when they die. Also, as dopey as Alien was in so many respects, it was smarter than Prometheus, and the science just wasn't as dumb.

In case you haven't heard, the story in Prometheus revolves around the notion that human beings were created by wierdos from outer space whose faces are reminiscent of that colossal bust of Constantine...I'm not giving anything away here. The very first sequence, breathtakingly shot in Iceland, features one of these scary-looking humanoids ingesting some genetic sauce which turns him into sauce as well, whereupon his liquefied self slops into a river and apparently seeds the whole planet with DNA, from which we will eventually evolve...I had the impression we were looking at an exercise in terraforming here (except for the fact that terra  itself was being terraformed) rather than just the creation of people, but on one viewing I'm not sure if we're supposed to infer that.

Flash forward to a while from now...archeologists led by. Dr. Shaw (Noomi Rapace, who played the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the Swedish adaptation) have discovered a bunch of cave-paintings and other stuff which seem to indicate either a racial memory of aliens or actual contact with them...they seem to be inviting us to to come visit them. And this introduces a whole lot of contradictory biz....if you don't want to know what happens in the movie, don't read any further, because I can't bitch about stuff if I don't reveal some spoilers.


The cave paintings direct us to visit the moon of a particular planet. They're from 35,000 BC. When intrepid explorers, led by Dr. Shaw, get to the moon, they find a giant and not particularly ancient military installation where the aliens were preparing to annihilate us with biological weapons they were developing...the  weapons got loose and killed them 2,000 years ago.


Why would the aliens, via those cave-paintings and whatnot, be inviting us to to visit the military installation where they're planning our destruction? For one thing, if stuff hadn't gone wrong, they'd have wiped us out while we're still primitive, and couldn't have visited their moon. Maybe it'll all be explained in the second movie...the film is obviously a stepping-stone to at least one more Noomi Rapace interplanetary adventure. But I dunno...there was just a lot of the story which didn't hang together.

Take the scene where everybody wakes up after being in stasis. Most of them don't seem to know each other, or have any idea what's going on. I suppose we're to think that the big bad corporation is being secretive....but in reality, it's just so we can have some clumsily-placed exposition, where all the characters have things explained to them. There's an unnecessary and quite innacurate history lesson, in which we learn that many different cultures had these same traditions about guys from the sky, and we're informed that the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Mesopotamians (and Egyptians) had no contact with each other....evidently Sumer and Babylonia weren't located in Mesopotamia.

There's just no excuse for this kind of stuff.

Nor is there any excuse for the shoddiness of the science, or the preposterous behavior of the characters. This is the sort of movie where people have a hunch that the atmosphere is okay, and just pop their space-helmets off. People are informed that living critters might be after them, so they go hide in a giant nest full of black goo and obviously biological crap, and then go and start fondling the first squirmy icky alien they see. Other idiots enter the same gooey nest and immediately, again, all take their helmets off. One of the characters has some ick introduced deliberately into his drink, and gets infested, and feels sick, and looks in the mirror, and sees maggots crawling out of his eyeball...does he notify anybody? Nah, he just goes out with a party that's going back into the alien complex and gets really sick and turns into a mutant, etc. He's so infectious, by the way, as a result of that little drop of ick, that earlier, he got Noomi Rapace pregnant with a fast-growing alien, which she removes from her body in an admittedly (and literally) visceral scene; she recovers almost immediately from this emergency C-section, even though the alien has deposited a bunch of glop into her open abdomen...a drop in your drink will get you, but being pregnant with an alien and having its glop introduced directly into your stomach won't.

Noomi's character doesn't make any sense, by the way, and it's really a problem, because the film kinda revolves around her. There's a ton of biz about faith and science and whatnot...she's a Christian who, for some reason, is all thrilled with the idea of the human race being created by aliens. Now, I can see her being interested because she was a scientist, but...I would think that she'd view this particular notion of creation as being at least a potential challenge to her religion, not necessarily supportive. As a matter of fact, I suspect most Christians would be kinda queasy about it. I'm a Catholic, and qua Catholic, I wouldn't get all excited. Noomi's performance is good enough, but the writing undermines her, and she's nowhere near as good as Sigourney Weaver.

As I mentioned, Michael Fassbender is very nifty playing a creepy robot who watches Lawrence of Arabia over and over again while everyone else is in stasis; he's the best character in the movie, and there are some interesting twists with him towards the conclusion. But you compare him to Ash in the original Alien, and Ash was better. Also, there's no reason for him to do the things that he does. Why does he put ick in people's drinks? He's working for the evil corporation guy who wants to achieve immortality. How will it help if ick goes into people's drinks and turns them into monstrous murdering mutants?

 Charlize Theron is effective as a nasty corporate bitch who's barking orders at everyone, and it's fun to watch her going around in her tight pants. Guy Pierce shows up as the corporate bastard who thinks, for some reason, that the aliens will help him get over his terminal disease...why he'd think that, I don't know, although you do get real-life loons who have similar ideas. Consider all the dummies who believe that they'll be resurrected by cryogenics.

The makeup on Guy is horribly overdone, by the's one of the few effects that aren't supremely ept. Holy shit, the visuals in this flick are seamless and impressively imagined. The tentacled orifice-opening biological weapons are completely convincing...found myself thinking they had to be CGI of some sort, even though they look like real objects, and I wouldn't think you could get performance like that out of prosthetics, but maybe they can. The space FX and planetary environments are sensational, and give you a real good idea of how far we've come since the original movie, in which some of the miniature work was actually rather shoddy. For large stretches of the Prometheus, I was interested and frequently quite satisfactorily grossed out in spite of myself. But once again, I was amazed at how lousy the scriptwriting is, generally, in these big special effects flicks. I kept thinking about Nigel Kneale's work (he landed three movies in my best SF movies list), particularly Quatermass and the Pit, which dealt with evil aliens fucking with human evolution, and did a much better job on it. If only that movie had had FX as good as Prometheus's. I understand Alex Proyas was trying to float a remake a while back...would have been the best SF movie ever, if only he stuck to the original script...