The Huntsman: Winter’s War

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016) by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan

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Well, here we are again and you may wonder why. Why, after hating Snow White and the Huntsman so much, would I watch it’s prequelly sequel? It just shows that I really want to like this franchise. I have failed once more, or maybe the movie makers have once again failed me.

Here’s what happens:

thehuntsmanandtheicequeen1The Evil Queen, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), has a sister: Freya (Emily Blunt). Freya resists her magical powers and falls for a young man who is already betrothed to another woman, but he still gets Freya pregnant and later kills the child, seemingly because it interferes with his marriage plans. Freya, of course, kills him, freezing him to death with a single scream over her dead daughter.

In order to not live under her sister’s thumb, she goes north, builds an ice fortress and an army from the young people of the countries surrounding her own – she kidnaps them, kills their parents. She explains to them that love is non-existent and that they’re far better off with her. She’s freed them from the illusion of love and they’re trained to be her army of huntsmen.

One of them is Eric (Chris Hemsworth) whom we have met in the first film, another is Sara (Jessica Chastain). They fall in love and are then seperated by the ice queen, Eric thinking Sara dead while she thinks he abandoned her. Seven years later, after the Snow White-thing happened, they meet again to secure Ravenna’s mirror.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, the trailer looked great that’s why I watched this one. Another great trailer, another disappointing movie. Another failed attempt at feminism, too, though it’s not the main focus of this movie.

My problems with it stem less from the story and once again more from the underlying thehuntsmanandtheicequeen5messages. While the makers of The Huntsman seem to have taken advice from the makers of the show Once Upon a Time and screwed continuity, it’s not the worst they did. But let me tell you in detail.

For me, it all started with the question: so, Freya is Ravenna’s sister, where did she come from? It could be explained away, of course. She’s younger, she wasn’t kidnapped with Ravenna and her creepy brother, they reunited later, whatever. But then, they never even mentioned the creepy brother in this one, even though he could have been part of the narrative in the past. But they just dropped him. Okay.

But what about the fact that we last saw Eric eye-shagging Snow White across the throne room, and suddenly he finds out his wife isn’t dead? Shouldn’t that be awkward? Obviously not, because Snow White and the Huntsman were, it seems, never an item. He works for her, as a good huntsman would, and later swears to his wife that he was always true to her. Yeah, well… okaaay. So, continuity was thrown out the castle window, that’s mildly annoying, but whatever.

thehuntsmanandtheicequeen4This franchise boasts with its feminism. Look, it says, all the strong women we have, and women in power positions, too. And strong fighters. Seeing Jessica Chastain whup some serious Hemsworth-ass you would agree, but then, am I the only one thinking it kinda weird that the male population of the conquered countries outweighs the female population by about 6 to 1? Which means, far more male Huntsmen than female. And there goes your feminism. They try to present it in front of the camera, but then fail to employ just as many female extras as male. Why? Probably so that the male audience doesn’t feel uncomfortable by all those feisty women fighters. FAIL!

You probably think: oh, stop whining. Both evil queens are female! Yes, they are. They’re also evil and must be overcome by the good male. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate the effort they made of having three male heroes (Eric and his two dwarf companions) match with three female heroes (Sara and two randomly encountered female dwarfs). I do, but then, matching them is what they do, because every female becomes an instant love interest for the males. And here’s a theme that really rubbed me the wrong way: heteronormativity.

Having Freya fall for this young princely guy in the beginning is to be expected, it’s part of the plot. Having her become pregnant, that already seems problematic. It’s a Fairy Tale, girls who just give it away won’t be available for Happy Endings; her daughter dies, it was all a plot by her evil sister who feared the beauty her niece would become (they could have come up with a different reason here, but I guess why fix what’s not broken).

Ravenna still doesn’t seem overly interested in the kings she marries and keeps killing them. I appreciate that the movie makers are consistent here and pretty much still portray Ravenna as a lesbian. An evil lesbian, of course. Freya is less easily categorized, though. Of course, having had sex with a man before marriage does make her a sexual deviant of sorts, but the way they stage Sara’s ‘betrayal’ of Eric, it looks a little like Freya took advantage of Sara in more ways than one. It’s free for interpretation, but the looks that pass, the timing of Eric asking if Sara has been truthful… it lends heavily to the idea that Freya and Sara hooked up at some point. But since the whole situation, the Huntsman being Freya’s slaves (whipping scars included), is emphasized, it’s not Sara’s fault.thehuntsmanandtheicequeen2

And here we have another problematic topic: slavery. If we place The Huntsman in its original time and place, we could argue for indented servantry, I guess. But the movie makers push the story here, including black children in the kidnapped mix. Going back to the Brothers Grimm, this would have been fairly unlikely, but American Fairy Tale telling has always taken liberties, so let’s say it’s a liberty they took here. They made one of the kidnapped black kids a recognizable character, Tull (Sope Dirisu), marking him with an ice burn to the face, so he might be recognizable to the white audience (that’s not racist at all!).

You know, at this point, it’s not difficult to see why this movie made me so mad. I was surprised by my reaction, but I do feel it’s justified. The movie tries so hard to make things right, but in execution fails miserably. The main evil character is a lesbian obsessed with her beauty, her sister has sex before marriage and loses her daughter as a price for her indiscretion, the ‘dwarfs’ are being played by tall people, and the black character gets a mark so that we may not confuse him with the two black extras. Oh, and of course, everybody good is also inherently straight, even though one of the male dwarfs shows his affection through verbal abuse – never mind, he’s still a better choice than the supporting female friend!

I mean, seriously? And you thought this was representative, feminist Fairy Tale-ing? Actually, it’s abusive, is the nicest thing I can say about it. And again, the acting of the main players is SO good, the movie LOOKS good. Jessica Chastain can actually pull off a fighter that’s a worthy opponent of Hemsworth… but it’s all wasted on a movie that both demonizes or redicules diversity.

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The Other Woman

The Other Woman (2014) by Nick Cassavetes

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When Carly Whitten tries to surprise her boyfriend Mark in a sexy plumber’s outfit, she finds out that he’s married as his wife, Kate, greets her at the door. Carly resolves this very awkward and heart-breaky scene somewhat but the next day, Kate shows up at Carly’s work and blackmails her into having drinks with her. They bond somewhat turbulantly over their broken lives and vodka and become sort-of-friends when they find out that Mark had another mistress.

They follow Mark and make the acquaintance of Amber, a young vuluptuous woman twenty years younger than they are. But Amber feels just as betrayed by Mark as them and they plan his downfall, discovering not only that the man has the busiest libido ever but also that he’s theotherwoman3embezzling money left and right – in Kate’s name. Game on, cheater.

When I watched the trailer – and I’m not even going to reason why I watched it, let’s call it an accident – I thought ‘if Kate and Carly hook up in the end, I’m gonna watch it.’ I guess, I already knew that they wouldn’t and yet the trailer did look a little promising. There is actually a fair amount of homoerotic female physicalness going on in this movie but the movie makers made sure to put the ‘girl crush’-label on it.

And that is one of the reasons I once again left the movie theater desolate and disturbed. Lately, I find myself especially annoyed with Hollywood as an industry that caters to white, straight, cis-gendered, and male. Given, as this is a movie that clearly falls under the chick-flick-label, it doesn’t cater so much to the male but the other markers are securely in place, believe me. You may say, what did you expect, it’s a movie about three straight women who destroy the guy who wronged them, but who exactly says they theotherwoman4have to be straight just because they like guys? Nobody. What I’m getting at is the straight-by-default attitude Hollywood is so fond of while still going around and queer-baiting us into buying tickets – and it works and it’s frustrating because we have no platform at all.

About the movie, what can I say? It’s not an entirely new concept. I mean, the 80s have seen Roseanne Barr going she-devil on her cheating husband, ‘The Witches of Eastwick’ sorta did the same with Jack Nicholson, and seeing Nikolaj Coster-Waldau run headfirst into a glass-wall is not as satisfying as it may sound – only a little satisfying, really.

Cameron Diaz likes to be in movies that support strong bonding between women and that is one of the things the story is hailed for, while on the other hand, it’s being criticized for failing the Bechdel-test. Me, I thought the plot flat, the conversations too male-centric and, really, one of the few reasons to watch this is the chemistry between these three women and a show of beautiful female bodies that are not all the same and not all 20-something years old. Some have criticized that the movie just once again shows hot bodies, but as I said earlier, this is a movie that mostly women would watch – so why parade half-naked women in front of other women? Positive body-image. And this is actually something that the theotherwoman1movie does right as it shows three very different women with beautiful bodies that are actually apprecitated by the other women in the movie. And do you know how rare that is? (Outside the lesbian occupation, of course.) It is very rare. And having Cameron Diaz – who has meanwhile crossed the 40 – show other women that you can have a super-hot body that can no-doubt compete with Kate Upton’s – kudos!

Beside the hot-bod parade, though, there’s really not much to laud. As said, the story is not that good or innovative, the conventions of Hollywood’s favorite status quos are firmly in place, and, thank goodness, nobody turned out gay or bi or otherwise sexually challenged – though, let me tell you, it wouldn’t have been much of a leap to have Kate and Amber end up happily lesbionizing, instead Amber is canoodling with Carly’s father (Don Johnson), just to have the few men watching able to keep dreaming that there is a twenty-year-old in their future whom they’re not related to. Can I have a ‘you can’t be serious!’ But we all know that this is serious – it’s serious bullshit.

And I’m now angrier than I was when I left the movie theater yesterday, which makes me almost forget about another redeeming aspect of the movie – Leslie Mann. I don’t know where she came from, I haven’t seen much of her but… oh my God, she’s funny and whitty and… athletic. Her character, Kate, feeds to all the neurotic stereotypes you can come up with but seeing Mann play her lends another layer to this suburban housewife. She’s quite brilliant and I want to see more of her.

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Snow White and the Evil Queen

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) by Rupert Sanders

I am not sure what Hollywood’s current fascination with fairy tales is all about. Two Snow White-movies and Little Red Riding Hood, not to mention other mythical creatures that haunt us since Bram Stoker… I would like to blame it all on Stephenie Meyer but I guess that would be too easy.

And the premise (or the trailer) of this one was quite good: Snow White as independent amazon-like figure who will fight the evil queen with a sword – and looks awesome in chain mail. Who didn’t want to see it after the first glimpse of the trailer. And then, of course, tumblr was all aglow with bits and pieces of interviews with the female leads – who flirted shamelessly (with each other). After that the rest of the world (or was it only the lesbian world?) was enchanted and rushed to the movie theaters.

So did I. And as mostly everybody else I was disappointed. It actually has me believe that Hollywood should just produce trailers and leave the actual story to our imaginations. Then we can use platforms like these to talk about our various versions of a movie and not complain about an actual production – because let’s face it: that happens more and more often.

I don’t want to go into the details of why I think Hollywood produces so many bad movies right now, let’s discuss instead why Snow White and the Huntsman is one of them.

Fairy tales do not easily adept to feminism, that is a basic truth, as mostly these stories were there to scare women off. Not just off seeking a different aim in life than marriage (because marriage obviously makes a princess out of any girl) but off seeking an independent sexuality. And I am not talking only lesbianism here as you might think, I am also talking about women wanting to experience an orgasm… women were there to fulfil male sexuality not establish an own sexuality. Women who tried that were deemed witches (not just in fairy tales but in medieval Europe as well). This is what the beginning of Snow White and the Huntsman tells us as well. Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil queen, gets married to Snow White’s dad (Noah Huntley) and poisons him in their wedding night. But the poison does not kill him, Ravenna does as she plunges a knife into the man.

Let’s talk about the obvious symbolism of this act. Wedding night constitutes the first time man penetrates woman. Ravenna turns it around (literally as she flips her new husband over and straddles him) and penetrates him instead – with a knife to his chest. She explains this to be her feminist manifesto against the injustice of women having to be beautiful while man only having to have a penis.

Of course, there is some truth behind her reasoning. But it is so obviously done as if to say: look, we make women in fairy tales feminist and strong women now, we are not sexist, men do understand woman’s need for independence (the makers and shakers of the film are mostly male). Yeah, well, and no! Especially since they make the evil queen not just a feminist, they make her a lesbian – and quite deliberately so. You think I am delusional?

So, during the wedding night, Ravenna penetrates her husband – put in here one of the early sexolgists, and you have the typical penis envy scenario. She keeps a beautiful young girl (Kristen Stewart) prisoner in a tower, not killing her (and if you wondered what her brother [Sam Spruell] has to do with the story at all, why not see him as her male alter ego so that she can watch Snow White…), she sucks the life out of young women with a kiss (yes, I know, they finally refrained from executing the kiss but what do you think it stands for? CPR?) – this takes us back to 19th century “lesbian” literature that protrays lesbians as sucking the life out of young (and straight) women using a higher social standing (hello, queen) to seduce them (the vampire myth is linked to this, as well). The queen wants the heart of the fairest of them all – do I really have to point to the symbolism of the heart? Ravenna coaxes Snow White into sharing her first kiss with her – in the guise of a man but still… why not just plunge a knife into her (also note that Ravenna never actually kisses the king but she kisses his daughter – what does that tell us?)? And finally: Snow White’s last words to the evil queen – ‘I can’t give you my heart’ – in a movie that is so forceful with it’s many symbols… I guess, this last line seals the deal.

So, here we have another dead lesbian, a witch, an evil woman. Sure, they try to build a little story around her vanity and her strangely symbiotic relationship with her brother but that is more confusing than anything else. Just because your mother tells you that your beauty is your only worth, does not make it right to suck the life out of female citenzry and land.

But let’s come to our damsel in distress who is also more of a fake feminist and more of a virginal (and Christian) standard. The girl has been in a tower for a decade, no one knows she’s alive and no one (especially not the audience) knows why she’s still alive. Maybe so that the queen’s brother has someone to peep at other than his sister (that guy creeped me out). Her beauty does not just stem from her lovely red lips, the black hair and the white skin, it is mostly an inner beauty (here they went all out with the beauty-comes-from-within-message that Hollywood sells so well…). Albeit the fact that she has spent the last ten year in a prison cell, she is in pretty good shape when it comes to escaping the castle (I especially like the sliding into the… medieval canalization thingy). Make no mistake, she’s a feisty one but she is also not quite the amazon princess the trailer makes her out to be. ‘Cause her main fighting skill is a move the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) shows her early in the film and, of course, it is the way she finally kills the queen (this is foreshadowing waving at you).

Don’t get me wrong, Kristen Stewart sells this girl well and, I guess, compared to Bella Swan every girl is a feminist but still, the message does not sail. Why? Snow White is a virgin, stays a virgin to her death, is awakened by true love’s kiss (from the Huntsman), and, as far as we know, stays a virgin until she is crowned (I must say, though, that this crowning scene had me a little confused – and not just because of the head-nodding at the very end – but she is wearing red and she and her huntsman have a little bit of an eye-shagging accross the entire room… this could mean that they have been intimate, but the fact that she is crowned and not married at the end of the movie could also mean that she will be one of those “virgin queens” history has invented as another means to suppress woman’s sexuality).

On the whole the movie overdoes it’s showy feminism when it is about beauty but forgets about setting female sexuality free. It also mixes too many mythical tropes. I mean, we knew there would be dwarfs (because, hello! it’s Snow White!), but then there were fairys, and then there was a shiny white stag (if it had started speaking at one point, I would have left the theater), there was witchcraft and then there was Snow White, reciting a Holy Father in front of her fire place while holding voodoo dolls (or something). And this already freaked me out after half an hour. It was just overdone.

And don’t get me wrong, the movie was visully stunning, it looked gooooood. But other than that… and this is especially sad when you look at the acting. I mean, KStew was great, she really was, but even Charlize Theron, who I consider a very good actress, overacted. At some point in the movie I stopped thinking of her as evil queen and thought of her as the drama queen…

There are still so many thoughts in my head about this movie: what they did well, they overdid (like slowmo… why did they need it 1.5 hours into the film to tell us that, yes, Snow White is the heroine?!), what they screwed up, they really screwed up (that whole brother figure was a disaster!), and then they put a quasi-amazon village into the film and neither did these women help Snow White hone her fighting skills nor did they show much resistance against a handful of guys raiding their village in search for Snow White… the only good thing about that was Rachel Stirling as the amazon queen (or whatever you want to call her) – I actually sat in the the theater and said: is that Rachel? (the guy next to me probably wondered if I was talking to him, who Rachel was and why he always had to sit next to crazy folk at the movies…).

So, there you have it. Another movie which could have been great but wasn’t…

Drive

Drive (2011) by Nicolas Winding Refn

I sometimes wonder if I know anything about movies at all. I know I am different in my observations of movies a lot of time, so maybe writing reviews is not really something I should do because 89% of you people out there who read this will probably be of a different opinion about a movie… it’s possible. Well, I like doing this, I like putting my opinion out there maybe especially because it is different from so many others. And having now looked up “Drive” on imdb.com and noticing the splendor of the “Best Director (Cannes)” emblem on the poster, I know that many of you will definately not agree with me. But that’s alright.

So, I went to another sneak preview last week and they showed “Drive.” The movie is about a stuntdriver/mechanic  (Ryan Goling) who at night earns his money as get-away driver. He falls for his beautiful neighbor but unfortunately she has a husband (and a son which is not really a problem, just mentioning it so you know) who is just coming out of jail as our hero tries to get cozy with the missus. Because he is a good guy and tries to be helpful he ends up getting into a lot of trouble when the husband is blackmailed into another heist.

Things get ugly and our hero barely survives – end of story. Well, I wish it would have lasted only the two minutes it took me to retell it… because then I would not have sat through those 100 minutes bored out of my senses. As you should know about me by now, I am generally a little impatient with stories about male heroes. It’s nothing personal, there are just so many of them out there and they are all so similar and taking themselves for so important – well, not to me. But judging by the reactions of the rest of the audience, I wasn’t the only one who was bored.

The title of the movie sure does indicate a fast movie – cars chasing around the city and all that stuff that men love so much, well, there was a little of that but mostly it was about the driver (he doesn’t have a name, I looked it up) looking longingly at Carey Mulligan’s character and trying to keep up with her questions. And I could never tell if Gosling was either as bored as I was or trying to portrait a guy who has fallen on his head too much. That was my impression – although the poster tells me that “Some heroes are real” – which I guess should indicate that this is supposed to be a portrait of a real hero… Joe Average kinda-guy that saves the girl he cannot have but still loves.

Well, needless to say, he wasn’t that to me. And he wasn’t that to a lot of other people in the audience. Maybe this is too American a subject for us to relate – although there rarely is one too American for Germans, we are that Americanized – but maybe the movie is just plain bad, idiotic, boooooring (there ought to be more “o”s in there but I don’t want to bore you by putting all of them that I feel adequate in here), annoying, and stupid. That’s what it felt like for me. Half an hour in I wished I could fall asleep during movies but unfortunately I cannot.

Make no mistake, this is the worst movie I ever watched at the movies. Van Helsing has filled that spot until last week, Van Helsing! It is just a shame about the actors. I mean, how can you not love Carey Mulligan? The cast (I would say except Ryan Gosling) was actually quite good… but WTF?!

Maybe Albert Brooks made a meta-comment when he said that the films his character used to make were considered European… I don’t like European films much, they are too art-sy for me. And maybe this movie is just too sophisticated for me to understand, everything’s possible. But honestly, I don’t think so.