Movie Review: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

Starring
Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Sheridan Smith
Director
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

Snow White and the Huntsman” wasn’t a terrible movie, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that was craving another installment, especially one without its titular heroine. Plans for a proper sequel were reportedly axed in the aftermath of Kristen Stewart’s scandalous affair with director Rupert Sanders, so Universal forged ahead with a Huntsman-centric film instead, relegating Snow White to a mere footnote. (Though she’s still hanging around the kingdom somewhere, she’s only mentioned in passing.) That may seem a bit harsh for a would-be franchise originally built around the Snow White tale, but the studio has tried to distract from Stewart’s absence with the casting of A-listers like Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain. However, while both actresses help to class up the movie, no amount of talent can save “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” from its dull and completely pointless existence.

In a lengthy prologue set before the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” we learn that the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) has a younger sister named Freya (Blunt), who flees to the north to rule her own kingdom after a tragic betrayal turns her heart ice-cold and awakens her dormant magical powers. In order to conquer the land, Freya trains an army of Huntsmen using orphaned children from the nearby villages and forbids them to love. But when she discovers that two of her best warriors, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Chastain), have developed a secret relationship over the years and plan to defy Freya by running away together, she sentences them to death.

Eric miraculously survives, and seven years later, he’s living a peaceful life within Snow White’s kingdom following Ravenna’s demise. However, when her Magic Mirror is stolen while being transported to a place called the Sanctuary, where its dark power can be contained, Eric teams up with a pair of boisterous dwarfs (Nick Frost’s returning Nion and Rob Brydon’s newbie Gryff) to track it down before it falls into the wrong hands. During his journey, Eric crosses paths with a very much alive Sara – whose death, it turns out, was simply a trick played on him by the ice queen – and must regain her trust to stop Freya from retrieving the mirror for her own nefarious reasons.

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The Versus Problem: Why we love watching our superheroes fight each other

versus_problem_1

“Who would win in a fight…?”

It’s the way millions of playground discussions begin, and have for decades. Pitting one character against another is a great pastime for nerds of all types, weighing the pros and cons of each before being forced to come to a decision on which one would emerge victorious. But recently it has crossed over from idle banter and comic book events into the mainstream with Hollywood getting in on the fun. Two new blockbusters, “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Captain America: Civil War,” both have heroes fighting heroes as the centerpiece of their plots (and marketing). But what is it about pitting the good guys against each other that is so compelling to audiences? Why is this story such an interesting hook that it has been used by comic book companies for years and has now bled into their cinematic counterparts?

Part of it is an innate need in many to rank items – particularly those of a nerdier set, of which I count myself. Consider the popularity of top ten listicles, various award ceremonies, championships or March Madness; these are all ways for people to determine what is “the best” in any given facet of life. It’s an extension of those playground discussions, wanting to place an order (however arbitrary) on a subjective element and come up with something that resembles an empirical and objective judgment on that element. Is the Best Film winner at the Oscars really the best film of that year? Of course not, but it lends credence to one’s devotion if a film you love is recognized by many to be great.

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Blu Tuesday: The Revenant, Veep and Silicon Valley

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Revenant”

WHAT: During a hunting expedition in the early 1800s, fur trapper Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) miraculously survives a bear mauling and is left for dead by members of his group. When one of the men responsible (Tom Hardy) kills Hugh’s half-Native American son after he protests about leaving his father to die, Hugh conjures up the strength to navigate the rough terrain and weather in order to seek vengeance.

WHY: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to “Birdman” is an unflinchingly brutal tale of survival and revenge that completely immerses you in the rugged conditions of early frontier life. Iñárritu does his best Terrence Malick impression with this gorgeous drama filmed largely in the Canadian wilderness, reteaming with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to deliver more of the same great visuals and signature tracking shots, which amplify the realism of the never-ending suffering that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character endures throughout the story. The much talked about grizzly bear mauling may be one of the most intense sequences ever captured on film, but it’s only a small piece of the actor’s raw and physically demanding performance. Though Tom Hardy is absolutely electric as the villain, DiCaprio has the tougher role, and he makes you feel every bit of blood-curdling agony. “The Revenant” is the classic battle of man vs. nature at its cruelest, and save for some pacing issues (at 156 minutes, it’s way too long), it doesn’t disappoint.

EXTRAS: There’s a 44-minute documentary on making the movie and the social responsibilities of portraying Native American people and their culture in film.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Everybody Wants Some!!”

Starring
Blake Jenner, Glen Powell, J. Quinton Johnson, Temple Baker, Zoey Deutch, Wyatt Russell, Austin Amelio, Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman
Director
Richard Linklater

Nobody makes “slice of life” movies quite like Richard Linklater. From his directorial debut “Slacker,” to the 1993 cult classic “Dazed and Confused,” to the Oscar-nominated “Boyhood,” Linklater thrives at creating films that you experience rather than simply watch. His latest movie, “Everybody Wants Some!!,” has been proclaimed as a spiritual sequel to both “Dazed and Confused” and “Boyhood,” and although its connection to the latter is tenuous at best (based solely on the idea that the new film picks up where the other story left off), “Everybody Wants Some!!” shares more in common with the former. In addition to having a similar vibe, Linklater’s coming-of-age companion piece explores many of the same themes and is once again fueled by an awesome soundtrack.

While “Dazed and Confused” followed the adventures of various social cliques on the last day of school in 1976, “Everybody Wants Some!!” focuses exclusively on a rowdy college baseball team in southern Texas. Due to student overcrowding, the university has provided the team with a pair of houses off-campus for the players to live in without any adult supervision. That freedom comes with a couple conditions – namely, no alcohol inside the house or female guests upstairs – but it doesn’t stop the self-entitled group of athletes from breaking those rules immediately and often over the course of one party-filled weekend in the summer of 1980 before classes are scheduled to begin. That’s pretty much the full extent of the story, as the guys amble around town trying to pick up women while passing the time with beer, competitions, more beer, stupid pranks, still more beer and even a little baseball.

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Movie Review: “The Jungle Book”

Starring
Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlett Johansson, Christopher Walken
Director
Jon Favreau

There was much ado when Disney announced that they were going to make live-action versions of some of their most beloved animated films, but so far, the results are far better than what the naysayers were predicting. “Cinderella” was a lovely, if safe, first step, and while “The Jungle Book” doesn’t quite hit the same highs that “Cinderella” does, it’s packed with thrills, and it has the courage to go about the material in its own way. It should be noted, though, that this ‘own way’ may scare the hell out of young children.

Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is a “man-cub” that was found abandoned in an Indian jungle by the panther Bagheera (voiced by Ben Kingsley). Bagheera asks the wolf pack, who recently had pups, if they will take care of him, and they gladly oblige. Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a man-eating tiger, takes issue with the animals protecting Mowgli, threateningly suggesting that more than just Mowgli may die if they continue to do so. Mowgli doesn’t want harm to come to anyone in his pack, so he agrees to leave. Bagheera walks him to the nearest man village, but Shere Khan interferes, and the two are separated. Mowgli is nearly done in by Kaa the python (Scarlett Johansson), but is saved by a sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray). Baloo appreciates Mowgli’s ability to make “machines,” but Shere Khan will not stop until he’s had his man-cub meal. Further complicating matters, Mowgli has attracted the attention of King Louie (Christopher Walken), a giant orangutan who wants Mowgli to teach him how to make fire.

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