Snow White & The Huntsman – Movie Review

It’s official. We can call 2012 the year of Snow White. Let’s see, there’s a whole TV show – Once Upon a Time – centered on her story. There has already been a movie, Mirror Mirror, which tackled the infamous fairytale with a comic approach and now Hollywood has decided to bring the world yet another adaptation which plays with the Brothers Grimm story: Snow White & The Huntsman.

Following a war that he wins, the father of Snow White (Kristen Stewart) finds a hostage with his enemies and he’s entranced by her beauty (as an aside, who wouldn’t be?). The woman’s name is Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and he immediately marries her. However, on their wedding night, Ravenna kills the king and takes over his kingdom, taking the still-young Snow White as a prisoner. Years pass by and Snow White comes of age, threatening the queen not to remain the fairest of them all. As she manages to escape her prison, Snow White joins forces with the huntsman the queen hires to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) and eight (yes, not seven. Eight.) dwarves to try and dethrone the queen.

Snow White & The Huntsman starts off promisingly but quickly fizzles away as Theron gets less screen time. In fact, the only person cast correctly in the movie is Charlize Theron who manages to do the impossible: pull you to her side. You actually root for the bad person in this movie and do so whole-heartedly.

Kristen Stewart, on the other hand, is entirely miscast. I have seen Stewart in other roles (no, not Twilight) and despite what people want you to think, she actually has potential. But she keeps choosing the wrong roles. Snow White is no different. To begin with, when it comes to being the “fairest of them all” how could she exactly compete with Charlize Theron? But let’s leave that argument aside for now. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I may have a thing for blondes. Her performance is not as riveting as Theron. She dwarfs in comparison when their scenes come after each other. Their characters meet only twice, one of which is an entire action scene. Theron still outshines her there.

She’s not feisty enough and when she feigns strength, it comes off as forced and not natural. Perhaps she could pass as Snow White in another version of the story. But in this Joan of Arc-esque take on the fairytale, Stewart fails miserably. She’s sulky and passive most of the time, while she needs to be commanding and strong. The attitude just isn’t there.

Chris Hemsworth is simply there most of the time. He doesn’t add anything substantial to the movie as he does in, say, The Avengers. He just hovers around, providing input when needed. Apart from that, the role of the huntsman in the story of Snow White is nowhere near how this movie makes it out to be. But I guess twists to the fairytale are needed in the 21st century.

When it comes to Snow White & The Huntsman, the movie’s main problem is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It aims at being an epic version of the story of Snow White but still manages to take Snow to a land of fairies and legendary elks. It aims to keep the feel of the fairytale alive but fails at that, totally losing the charm of the story the people fell in love with many years ago. It relies heavily on its visual effects, which were very well done – the eight dwarves are all regular-sized actors, as an example, but loses itself in the fact that it has diluted the story up to a point where those visual effects serve as the wheel moving the movie forward.  At the end of the day, Snow White & The Huntsman is visually pleasing, enough so to keep you entertained for two hours, but is essentially hollow. Blame it on the Hollywood rehash of the story.

Walt Disney’s 1937 take on the story still stands unscathed.



The Hunger Games – Movie Review

For legions of people, The Hunger Games is the most anticipated movie release of the year. And for a movie released so early in 2012, that’s saying something. Based on the book of the same title (read my review here), The Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen year old girl living in a post-apocalyptic America where hunger and oppression ruled, where hunting for rodents was the way to keep your family alive and where every day represents a fight for your life.

This post-apocalyptic America is the country of Panem, governed by the Capitol which oversees twelve districts, making sure they are stripped down to the bare necessities. Those twelve districts had been thirteen that rebelled against the Capitol’s oppression. They lost the war and are still paying the price, the heaviest of which is the annual Hunger Games which require each district to send a young man and woman, for a total of 24, to battle each other to the death. There can only be one victor. “May the odds be ever in your favor” is the sentence the tributes keep hearing as if odds will help them on the brink of death.

When her sister is chosen, Katniss volunteers in her place and is taken along with the male tribute of District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), to the Capitol where they are groomed like lambs for slaughter in an attempt to make an impression which can make it or break it for them once the games fall upon them. And fall they do, with devastating consequences.

To see the Katniss Everdeen of your imagination after reading The Hunger Games books be incarnated so perfectly on screen by Jennifer Lawrence is a joy to the eye. Lawrence struts through every scene as if she was Katniss and Katniss was her. She exuberates confidence, sentimentality, fragility, innocence, worry, love and pain. Widely known for her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence is still in the same vein in The Hunger Games. This time, however, she manages to polish the sides of her performance, nitpicking until she truly becomes flawless. In Katniss, Lawrence gives you a heroine you want to root for with all your heart. It doesn’t even feel forced, it’s simply natural to feel invested in the primal force that Lawrence conveys to Katniss. And it is then that you realize the brilliance of Lawrence’s Katniss. She has managed to make her character one that is driven by principle.

Director Gary Ross manages to not let the movie’s extended run at 140 minutes affect it negatively. The Hunger Games doesn’t let down. It keeps picking up, bring in gut-wrenching revelations and action sequences one after the other. Ross uses the action of the movie to serve the characters, not drown them. He keeps the suspense going throughout. His camerawork is also highly interesting, with lots of focus on his characters’ faces, giving them a more humane appearance and seeing the struggles in them easily. Co-writing the movie’s script with the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, he stays true to the book’s essence. Even though some sequences have been shortened and some have been omitted, the feeling of the book remains there, present for you throughout to sink your eyes into.

At the center of the deathly games is a growing love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a friend of Katniss from District 12 who’s lucky enough not to have been chosen as tribute. Liam Hemsworth quickly establishes himself as a forceful character, with the limited screentime he gets. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is highly relatable as the man secretly crushing over Katniss whose only memory of him is him helping her in a time of need. But the greatest triumph in this regard for The Hunger Games is focusing less on the love triangle than other movies targeting the same audience, making you really not care about either Team Peeta or Team Gale. At the end of the day, the only team you want to be on is the movie.

Other actors that appear in the movie are Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, a TV host that charmingly narrates the games as they unfold. Elizabeth Banks stars as Effie Trinket, a Capitol spokesperson who’s as obnoxious as she is caring. Donald Sutherland appears as the horrible President Snow, governing his country with a hand of steel. Woody Harrelson is the always drunk Haymitch who has to sober up in order to tip the balance in his tributes’ favor.

The Hunger Games is an unflinching adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ book. In many ways, the book was more suited for a screen adaptation because it is that fertile for the imagination. The movie does not falter. It’s a more serious movie than many might think it could possibly be. It is gut-wrenching at times and heavily sincere at others. It takes you on a roller coaster ride that you never want to let go of. In fact, not wanting to let go is most evident when, after 140 minutes, the movie suddenly ends and you remain in your seat wanting more. Fans of the book, rejoice. The Hunger Games does not disappoint at all. It’s a haunting tale that, coupled with a chilling score by James Newton Howard that serves as a brilliant auditory backdrop the darkest of scenes, will leave you mesmerized by how real it feels and how good it turned out to be. May the odds be ever in favor of The Hunger Games.

Cash Flow – Movie Review

Cash Flow is the story of Mazen (Carlos Azar), a young Lebanese man leading a routine life out of his means. His salary of $900 is nowhere near enough for his superflous expenses, his clothes shopping, his outings and dating the girl he fancies: Elsa (Nadine Njeim), the daughter of a very rich man who refuses to follow her mother’s requests of working at her leisure for her father.

One day, on his way back from work, Mazen rescues a man from getting run over by a car, not knowing that this man is a very wealthy businessman. The following day, Mazen is surprised to find the man at his doorstep telling him to check the envelope left for him. It transpires that the man had left Mazen a credit card with a daily spending limit of $1000. It is then that Mazen’s life changes with all the cash flow. But with all the money comes trouble.

The thing about Cash Flow is that, even though it’s a Lebanese movie, there’s nothing Lebanese about it. The story is straight out of an American action-comedy movie. The movie has English subtitles (which at a time mistake how with hoe). The movie even opens with Mazen telling about his routine life: wake up after struggling with the alarm, pour coffee out of a coffee maker (who in Lebanon uses a coffee maker?), go to his doorstep and pick up a newspaper (since when do we get newspapers delivered to our doorsteps?).

Add to the cliche, overdone and “foreign” storyline way too many product placements (try to find a Lebanese clothing store that didn’t get an ad in the movie. Odds are you won’t), way too many “hotshot” actors and actresses with irrelevant roles and this is Cash Flow for you. You don’t need an “all-star” Lebanese cast to pull a movie. Just take hints from Nadine Labaki. The fact that some actors and actresses have a line or two is not enriching to a movie like Cash Flow, it’s actually very sad.

It’s nice to see Lebanese cinema producing movies. But when you have a struggling industry as it is and you find funding for a movie, you don’t go make an American movie with Lebanese actors in Kaslik. You make a movie about the woes and passions of Lebanese society – at least until you’ve established yourself as a filmmaker to produce movies like Cash Flow. So for what it’s worth, this is a self-indulgent, useless movie that shouldn’t have been made in the first place. And to think some people are actually comparing it with Where Do We Go Now. 


Safe & Sound (From “The Hunger Games” Soundtrack) [feat. The Civil Wars] (Single Review) – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s Christmas present for her fans arrived in the form of a song titled “Safe & Sound,” which is serving as the lead single for one of 2012’s most anticipated movies: The Hunger Games.

The song opens with a guitar playing to which Swift sings eerie breathiness: “I remember tears streaming down your face when I said, I’ll never let you go, when all those shadows almost killed your light. I remember you said don’t leave me here alone. But all that’s dead and gone and passed tonight.”

The moment Swift utters the first note, you know this isn’t like any song she has written before and it’s a very welcome departure from her previous works to a more mature, mellow musical sound.

“Just close your eyes, the sun is going down. You’ll be alright, no one can hurt you now. Come morning light, you and I will be safe and sound” Swift sings on the chorus, with the hums of The Civil Wars, who are featured with her on the song, in the background only serving to increase the overall tense atmosphere of the song and make it more fitting of the movie it will be part of.

For those who don’t know, The Hunger Games is based on a book of the same title and is set in a post apocalyptic world where there is very little hope, very little potential for a better life and where the young people of that world have to kill each other for the entertainment of their ruthless governing Capitol as part of the Hunger Games. Once you have that in your mind, it’s very easy to see how this song fits perfectly that atmosphere. You can easily imagine the characters of the book sitting around a campfire and singing this to maybe bring nonexistent strength to their spirit.

Don’t you dare look out your window, darling everything’s on fire. The war outside our door keeps raging on. Hold onto this lullaby even when the music’s gone,” Swift sings on the second verse with slightly more strength to echo a buildup in the song teller’s morale. The vocals are layered and icy while trying to echo the building fire inside. It simply works.

The Civil Wars are more pronounced on the second verse onwards as their provide beautiful harmonies to Taylor’s singing, providing an eerie echo that resonates with the overall ethereal atmosphere painted in the song, adding to the folky sound the song has.

Safe & Sound is dark. Safe & Sound is anything but safe and sound for a singer who has become more known for her tween hits than her better songs that never see the light of day on radio. Safe & Sound is here to show that Taylor Swift is truly one of this generation’s best songwriters – one who is able to craft an idea into a song that can fascinate you. She uses beautiful imagery and manages to create musical hooks out of the gloomiest of songs. Safe & Sound is no exception to that rule. Safe & Sound is the most grown-up Taylor Swift has ever been on song. This is one of the few songs she has where she doesn’t talk about boys, love, fairytales and broken romances. This is a song about life, about hardships – and she pulls it off brilliantly.


The Artist – Movie Review

In The Artist, director Michel Hazanavicius takes Hollywood retrospectively to 1927 where the age of silent movies still reigned – all with a silent black and white movie.

Silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the top of the world. His movies are always a huge success. He’s adored by his audiences for his sense of humor and all around fun attitude towards everything. 1927 Hollywood was all about Valentin.

Soon after the premiere of his latest movie, he stumbles on a girl named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) who kisses him on the cheek to newspaper headlines. Soon after, Peppy lands a role as a dancer in one of Valentin’s movies during which he gives her the advice of needing to be different to stand out, giving her the big break she needed. And with that, Peppy starts climbing her Hollywood stairs, quickly becoming a sensation by 1929. It is then that talking movies are introduced and Valentin refuses to start speaking in his movies. The reason for this refusal is ultimately answered in a subtle and touching way as only a movie like The Artist could pull off. His career quickly deteriorates and he is forced to deal with his own pride, decisions, miscalculations – all as Peppy Miller’s career soars with her talk to unreached heights.

The Artist is a breath of vintage fresh air in a Hollywood movie scene that is relying more and more on brainless blockbuster action movies than on truly artistic cinematic features that would leave you speechless as you leave a movie theatre. The Artist is one of those movies that leave you baffled as you watch it.

Jean Dujardin is absolutely breathtaking in this. He leads a masterful, brilliant, stunning performance – all without speaking a word. It is a testament to an actor’s ability when he can communicate the struggles, emotions, triumphs and defeats of his character to the audience all through his facial expressions and overall demeanor in a movie.

Bérénice Bejo is great as Peppy Miller – the actress who is taken places because of George Valentin and who eventually leads to his downfall, feeling guilty about doing so and wanting to increasingly take care of him. You can see her metamorphose on screen from an awkward dancer who wants to get places to America’s sweetheart, who knows exactly what she can leverage out of movie makers.

Despite being black and white, The Artist is visually appealing. Soon enough, the fact that you aren’t watching a movie in color goes to the back of your mind and you start enjoying the genius of it all. The score of the movie, composed by Ludovic Bource, is beyond a masterpiece. The Artist, if you don’t want to consider it a silent movie simply because of the lack of speech, is a movie without spoken words to the melody of a brilliant symphony. It’s very difficult not to be taken into the ingenuity that is the music of The Artist.

At the end of the day, The Artist is examining the extinction of silent movies in Hollywood by giving Hollywood in 2011 a silent movie that triumphs in quality most of its talkies. And that’s precisely what this is such a great movie. It is delicate and original. It is profound and fun. It makes you laugh and it has its heartfelt moments. It might be a lament to the Hollywood age it represents but it does so without being overly pessimistic. In a way, it seems that this European movie is reminding Hollywood of its roots, of its origin. Without being technically proficient, The Artist is showing exactly how much all those extras can take away from the essence of movies. It’s showing audiences that you can really enjoy a movie that doesn’t demand anything of you except to look at shadows, black and white pictures and moving people. And in return, it gives you so much more…


The Help – Movie Review

Based on the best selling novel by Kathryn Stockett (find my review of the book here), The Help is a drama about three Southern American women in their struggle for racial equality in Jackson, Mississippi.

Emma Stone stars as Eugena “Skeeter” Phelan, a recent college graduate going back home, who wants to break out of the mold society has limited her in. She’s an aspiring writer who happens to live during the era of Civil Rights Movements. Viola Davis stars as Aibileen, a maid working for a Mrs. Elizabeth, her main job being taking care of Elizabeth’s little girl, Mae Mobley, whose mother doesn’t care about. Octavia Spencer stars as Minnie, a snarky maid who literally can’t keep her mouth shut but whose cooking is so superb that her white employers tend to turn a blind eye to her blabbing.

After a proposal by Skeeter’s friend, Miss Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), to have separate bathrooms for the colored help, the idea in Skeeter’s mind of the necessity of change begins to blossom, especially after it gets fueled by an enthusiastic New York publisher who wants her to write. So Skeeter sets to write a story about the help in Jackson. Her first two maids to go on board? Minnie and Aibileen, who will tell Skeeter their deepest and darkest stories – stories they’ve hidden for such a long time they’ve become permanent scars in their souls. Aibileen tells her about all the little kids she raised, about how Elizabeth is an unfit mother, about how she doesn’t treat Mae Mobley like a real mother should. Minnie, who also happens to be Miss Hilly’s former maid, tells Skeeter about the “horrible awful thing” she did, which involves a special ingredient in a pie, to which you will have heartfelt laughs. But it is their struggle as a community that will bring the other maids on board – the chance to tell their side of the story, to be liberated – at least on paper – and to somehow seek salvation.

The performances in the movie are top notch. Starting with Emma Stone, she is one of our generation’s most promising actresses. After a great performance in Easy A and being the best of the actors in Crazy Stupid Love, she is back here not to steal the show but to offer an emotionally subtle performance that is exactly how the character she portrays is: not flamboyant but calm and reserved. Stone’s most emotional scenes come when she remembers her maid Constantine and discovers the story of how Constantine left them and it is in those scenes that she truly shines.

Viola Davis’ performance is being touted by critics everywhere as a tour de force performance. And it truly is. There’s one scene in particular, when she tells the story of how her son dies, where she plays on your emotional strings like a banjo in a country song. But her performance throughout is always nuanced, always great and always emotive. Probably the movie’s highlight scene, its ending, is purely her work. Davis is truly captivating. Whenever she focuses her eyes on another character in The Help, you almost see her gaze into that character’s soul. She is penetrating, invasive… and you welcome it with open arms.

Octavia Spencer is equally great as Minnie. She brings humor to the movie. It may be dark humor sometimes – literally – but it will still get you to feel happy that even amid all the horrible things these people had to go through, there’s still room for happiness in their lives. She gives hope to the other characters in the book and to you, as a viewer, that there could be a better tomorrow for them. She portrays Minnie’s strength subtly. She comes with a bruised eye to work and acts as if this wasn’t caused by her alcoholic husband. But deep down, below the strong outside of Spencer’s character, you can feel the volcano of hurt waiting to erupt.

The movie’s director, Tate Taylor, is Kathryn Stockett’s best friend since childhood. This deep understanding between such two friends has helped him bring her book to screen while entirely preserving the message she was trying to get across on page. While there are many differences between book and movie, some of which I had wished to be included in the movie, the screenplay Taylor wrote still works as a great adaptation, one of the better ones for a book to movie adaptation.

The Help is also a stunning movie visually. And even though there’s obviously no visual effect work here, this means recognition should be given to the cinematography crew that worked on it, most notably Stephen Goldblatt, whose previous works include Julie & Julia, Charlie Wilson’s War. etc…

If there’s anything to take out of The Help it’s that everyone is a victim – even those white socialite women. Yes, they are the victim of their ignorance, of their repressed memories of the black women that brought them up. The black women are victims of being at the wrong time. The little white girls are victims of negligent mothers.

At the end of the day, The Help can be summed up by its most emotional scene, which also happens to be its conclusion. As Aibileen leaves the house of her employer, Elizabeth, she sits by Mae Mobley and asks her to repeat what Aibileen has been teaching her every day. Mae Mobley stares into Aibileen’s deep, dark eyes and repeats: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”


One Day – Movie Review

In One Day, Anne Hathaway is Emma, a British college graduate, who has a crush on Dexter (Jim Sturgess). On the day of their graduation on July 15th, 1988, Emma and Dex spend the night together and make a promise to catch up each year on that day to see where they both are in their lives and careers. One Day is a snapshot of 23 years in their relationship. Each scene in One Day is one particular year in the relationship of Emma and Dexter. Sometimes they spend the day together, other times they don’t. But they’re always on each other’s mind on that day.

Some might say that there’s simply too much gaps to be filled by such a premise. But the movie flows smoothly and doesn’t feel dragged out, mostly due to it being directed by the same man that brought the world An Education in 2009: Lone Scherfig. Instead of filling in the dull details and making this a three hour movie, Scherfig alludes to what happened in the year that past with each subsequent scene. Say Emma got an advance to write a book, you find the book already published in the next frame of the movie and so on and so forth.

One Day can be divided into three parts with each part representing a phase of the relationship between Dex and Emma. The first two thirds are closer in structure to each other than they are to the third even though the movie ends up wrapping up perfectly, with a little nice bow to top it all off.

Anne Hathaway as Emma tries her best to be British in the movie and for the entire length of it, she somehow pulls it off. Sure, there are moments where the role escapes her but in the grand picture, this is not the case. Hathaway is, really, a great actress. And for her role in Emma, although it feels a little restrained at times, possibly due to the nature of the character, her performance is still nuanced and emotive. You can see her showcase the struggles and the life of Emma and at times she manages to do so brilliantly. It’s definitely not her best work, however, but one cannot but see the true potential Hathaway brings to any movie she is part of. She is one of those rare actresses that have managed to escape the frame set for them by their debut Disney movie and transcended into giving the world great cinematic features. The best is yet to come from her.

Jim Sturgess, with Dexter to play with, is confident and charming as his character should be. But the moments he truly shines in delivering are those where, despite the strong exterior of Dexter, you can feel the sadness build inside him: the sadness of not reaching his desired goals in life, the sadness of losing his mother, the sadness of seeing Emma slip away, etc…

Sturgess and Hathaway nail their parts in One Day. Perhaps it would have been easier to bring British actors and actresses to do this movie. But what fun would that be? One Day is a quirky movie about a life. To have it be as authentic as possible, somehow perfect dialect would have rendered the movie less effective.

One Day is a realistic movie of a friendship. If you seek escapism in your movies, this is not the movie for you. The characters don’t always get to their goals in life and in their relationships. They don’t get to see each other whenever they want. There’s disappointment. But there’s also fulfillment. There are moments of sadness. But there are also moments of sheer happiness. Ultimately, the movie is similar to all our lives: we are but a collection of memories, some that fade away and others that are worth holding on to.