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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Maleficent

Maleficent (2014) by Robert Stromberg

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Let’s talk about Angelina Jolie for a moment. I have my problems with reviewing any of her movies, to be honest, even though I’ve watched most of them at the movies. It’s just incredibly difficult for me to look beyond her iconic status and see her work outside of it. I’ve been a fan since February 2001 when I first saw the Tomb Raider-trailer and that’s probably also around the time she became this iconic figure so I’ve rarely seen her without it. But we all know that she is a talented, incredibly able and dedicated actress. And I want to stress this point because Maleficent is probably her most iconic role to date – and it could have been a disaster if anyone but Jolie had played it.maleficent1

What happens:

An old tale with a new twist – Maleficent is a fairy living in a kingdom with other fairies and magical creatures just next to a kingdom where envious men dream of conquering that neigboring world they don’t understand. When a king (Kenneth Cranham) finally tries, he and his army are defeated and it is Maleficent as protector of her kingdom who is responsible for the defeat and the humiliation the king suffers. As he lies dying, he promises the kingdom to the man that kills Maleficent.

Stefan (Michael Higgins, Sharlto Copley)  who has been Maleficent’s childhood friend and first love reconnects with her but then betrays her. But since he is unable to kill her he cuts off her wings and takes them to the king – and becomes king in return. Maleficent swears revenge and makes herself queen of the beforehand leaderless fairy kingdom – a dark queen. She curses Stefan’s first (and only) child, Aurora (Elle Fanning), to fall into a deep sleep on her sixteenth birthday from which she shall not awake unless it’s by true love’s kiss (since Maleficent does not believe in true love anymore because it’s what Stefan had vowed to her it’s a mute point that Aurora will never wake).

maleficent4Aurora is send away by her father to live with three fairies (Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville) who show such negligent care of the child that Maleficent feels the need to intervene just so that Aurora will live to see her sixteenth birthday. She unwillingly befriends the girl who thinks that Maleficent is her fairy godmother and as she grows attached to the girl she tries to take back the curse. She fails and has to watch as Aurora falls victim to it. She brings Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) to the castle – a young man who has met Aurora once and was enchanted by her – but his kiss does not wake Aurora. Only when Maleficent kisses the unconscious girl – grief-stricken over the fact that she couldn’t save her – Aurora wakes.

There’s loads of battle and awesomeness and Maleficent finally gets her wings back. In the end, Maleficent and Aurora unite the kingdom in what can best be described as a gay marriage ceremony (that’s open for interpretation and discussion). The Happy Ending.

Now, there have been a number of fairy tales lately who tried and failed at maleficent-poster2giving the old tales a feminist spin – Maleficent is not one of those. It’s also not a lighthearted, musical color-explosion that’s been ejaculated onto the screen. It’s not flashy, it’s not distastefully pointing fingers at mythical creatures in a ‘look how different they are’-kind of metaphorical way. It is what it is:

A tale about people. People who are flawed, who are cruel, who are obsessed, who are kind, who are trying so hard at being better. There is a wide range of human frailties at work here and most of them are displayed in Maleficent – the ‘villain’ of the tale – but they’re all displayed on the remarkable body of Angelina Jolie’s talent. She’s a playful fairy, a scary avenger, a violated woman, an action-hero, and a tender lover.

I don’t even have words for how magnificent Angelina Jolie is in this role. It’s the kind of role meets actor that you would wish for all of your favorite movies, the kind of combination of talents that comes along far too rarely. This is an epic movie, a movie that sets standards, a movie you will want to watch again and again because its pieces fit perfectly into a well-told story, a powerful drama, an exciting action movie, a love story that is rarely told in such a way (and yes, I’m talking about the love between Maleficent and Aurora and I’m not going to put a label on it). This is the movie you should watch if you were only going to watch one movie this year – you won’t regret it.

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Back to tv: Supernatural

Supernatural (2005 – ) created by Eric Kripke

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If you spend any amount of time on tumblr – or more specifically tumblr fan blogs – you will have to fight the temptation of starting to watch a new tv show pretty much every day. I’m not kidding. If you’re a fan and you’re following the blogs of other fans they will lure you to watch the shows they love and that you not yet share. And that’s why I bought the first season of Supernatural.

It is probably one of the most well-loved shows on tumblr (beside Dr. Who and Sherlock, perhaps) and so every now and then a half-naked Jensen Ackles will pop up even on my female-feminist-lesbian-centered blog. I’m not complaining (Ackles certainly can pull off the half-naked look), it’s part of being a fan on tumblr. And another part is to give into temptation and start watching shows, even though you already have a problem with keeping up with the shows you’re currently watching.

That’s the tumblr-issue.

supernatural1The Supernatural-issue is another.

The show is about two brothers, Dean (Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki), who are searching for their father John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who had gone missing monster-hunting. And while they’re searching they do what the men in their family set out to do ever since the boys’ mother died: kill monsters. It’s a path of vengeance and righteousness until the family is finally reunited. But evil is never over.

One comparison is unavoidable – and even perpetuated by the show’s creators it seems: the one with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Because Buffy set the standards of modern monster hunting, popcultural references and fast-paced dialogue. And as far as I’m concerned, Buffy is still leading in all those categories. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like Supernatural. I find the closer look at folklore and urban legends very interesting. Buffy was not a one-trick pony but her focus was mainly on vampires – whether it was the search for enemies or boyfriend-material. Supernatural broadens the scope and fights all (evil) supernatural powers.

Having two brothers fighting evil is also something new. Usually the premise of supernatural4a show – that is not a family show – starts with bringing together a diverse pool of people. Sam and Dean are different, sure, but they’re also family and engage in their share of family drama. Their absentee father brings a third angle to the discussion – even when he’s not present.

And therein lies my issue with the show. While the monster-hunting and dark look of the show are great, the family drama gets a little boring at times. The search for their father is a necessary one but the discussion of family issues is repetitive. And, at the risk of repeating myself here, I just don’t find male drama all that interesting. The patriarchal narrative is alive and well in this story. Women fill the void of sometime-girlfriend and evil fiend (and sometimes there isn’t even that much of a difference between these stereotypes because, as we all know: evil is hot). While woman fulfills sinner and saint-roles, the man is engaged in a constant pissing contest with brother, father, male adversaries.

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Am I too harsh? I am. I knew that I would have issues with a story that is centered so entirely around male characters but I still started to watch it because… fans are so really good at making you share their fascination. And the show is not bad and I might yet watch more of it. It’s just that I don’t feel that culture has anything new to tell me about the adventures of the male profession. And I don’t even think that it is me who is so focused on the issue of gender, here. It is perpetuated by the makers, it is shoved down my throat, that male adventure is just different from female adventure, that the male will always be more interesting, more engaged in the extraordinary. There are still people who think that this holds true despite the evidence to the contrary. But I’m not buying – sometimes I’m renting – into this franchise. In the end, your gender is irrelevant, the only important thing is the story you tell me.

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Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) by Tommy Wirkola

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I guess I’m still not done with my obsession with fairy tales and folklore. It so happens that this is part of my own folklore and I guess I never appreciated the Brothers Grimm as part of German culture as I do these days. Sure, I was always aware of them – as their fairy tales accompanied my whole childhood, more so than Hans Christian Anderson’s – but never quite as appreciative as I am now. Maybe it took for me to see that Hollywood knows and likes them, too, maybe I am just now starting to look through these tales and see how really disturbing and influential they are.

hansel&gretel3Hansel & Gretel surely is one of the best known fairy tales, at least, for me it is. The gingerbread house, the bond between sibling, the evil witch that is being tricked by two children. The movie shows this story but it focuses more on the aftermath of two children killing a witch.

Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are abandoned by their father in the dark forest. After some time wandering they find a gingerbread house and start eating away at it. The witch living there lures them inside, incarcerates them and is ultimately killed before she can eat them. The siblings set out on a mission to free other children being held captive by witches and kill the evil hags. They build a reputation until – years later – they come to a town that has several children missing and no idea how to deal with this. Hansel and Gretel help out – for a price – but encounter their strongest opponent (Famke Janssen) yet, one that also links back to their past.

Sometimes you start watching a movie and you realize in the first few minutes hansel&gretel6that the plot is going to suck – big time. Such a movie is Hansel & Gretel. However, if you realize this early on you’re not building any expectations and that’s actually good because then you can enjoy it as a dense action flick with a lot of 3D-effects thrown in for good measure. Well, they’re not actually measured, they’re rather spread liberally.

If nothing else this movie is nice to look at. We have two good-looking main characters, we have the usual banter with people of lesser charm and ability, and then there’s Famke Janssen as the evil witch and she is sooo good at it. Make no mistake: the movie is bad. It’s shallow, it’s predictable, it’s superficial hansel&gretel4entertainment. But at least, it does not bore us with any deep contemplation, and it doesn’t annoy us with the assumption that Gretel is any less of a hero than her brother is. Gemma Arterton is not only a pretty sidekick to her ass-kicking brother, she kicks ass herself. And this is actually so rare it’s delightful. And on top of that, she looks good in leather. Jeremy Renner didn’t impress me half as much, though. I usually like him but he seems to play a lot of the same roles lately – Bourne, Hawkeye, Hansel: tough as nails action heroes that blow up shit but have nothing new to tell us.

Neither does this movie tell us anything new about old tales. But if you’re looking for an action flick where you can just see some disgusting, some ass-kicking, some sibling-bonding – you’re welcome to enjoy Hansel & Gretel.

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Back to tv: Once Upon a Time

(The purple stuff is not the Gay Menace it’s magic – okay, even I noticed the contradiction in that statement…)

A tv show about fairy tales, I thought, this is either a very bad or a very good idea. I am still not sure which it is but I am watching every week now. The premise goes as follows:

The Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) hates Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and wants to destroy her happiness with Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) – actually she wants to destroy everybody’s happy ending. So she curses her enemies to live in a land without magic where she reigns. But the Charmings are having a baby and by prophecy this baby is to rid everyone of the curse – in 28 years. They put her in a magic wardrobe and Emma – thus the Charming’s off-spring’s name – is transported to our world, somewhere in Maine. Not far from that small town that magically appeared shortly after by the name of Storybrooke where all the characters from our favorite fairy tales are now living.

28 years pass – only in Storybrooke they don’t really pass because time has stopped – and Henry (Jared Gilmore) appears at Emma Swan’s (Jennifer Morrison) door, telling her that he is her son and that she has to safe everyone in Storybrooke from the Evil Queen, his adoptive mother, Regina Mills. Emma comes to Storybrooke and as she decides to stay, the clocks in Storybrooke start ticking again.

The story is told in flashbacks that bring us back to Fairytale Land and the story that is taking place in Storybrooke. We get to know the characters and who they were in a magical world and who they have – unknowingly – become.

The concept is actually quite fascinating, especially from a feminist perspective: most of the main players are women because fairy tales are so often concerned with them. The love/hate relationship between Regina and Snow White/Mary Margaret is as much at the core of it as the antagonism between Regina and Emma – who, after all, lay claims to the same boy as son – and the love between Snow and Charmin’ who in Storybrooke are a school teacher and a man in a coma (don’t worry he wakes only to learn that he has married the wrong girl).

With a lot of characters there come a lot of stories to be told. The show does not exclusively tell classic fairy tales either but dips into Wonderland, Neverland and also brings Victor Frankenstein (David Anders) to the (operating) table.

While the story as conducted story is quite fascinating, the handling of characters is sometimes disappointing. It seems that the two villains are treated differently by the writer’s on the ground of gender, while Regina gets the cold shoulder treatment, Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) is forgiven his misdeeds because he is loved by someone. The writer’s also like to throw love-interests at Emma Swan, white male love interests while a lot of fans would rather see her with the Evil Queen, Regina, because these two have actual chemistry.

There are a lot of ships sailing under the Ouat (Once Upon a Time) banner, there are very few characters who are not in some way linked to each other and the fans love making up new ships (some of them not even romantic). One thing is sure: the fans are invested – and I count myself among them. Though my ship is the Red Beauty (that’s Ruby/Red Riding Hood and Belle/Beauty to you).

If you find the time, have a look. If for nothing else, the retelling and changing of fairy tales we’ve grown up with, is fascinating. And there’s room for plenty interpretation.

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…

Red Riding Hood – she’s not little anymore

Red Riding Hood (2011) by Catherine Hardwicke

That’s what I watched last night and am not even sure why (my movie habits are out of control these days probably because I am waiting for “Scream 4” – which opens today, finally). The trailer looked okay and I am always interested in how old legends/myths/fairy tales are being reproduced in out time and age. I guess that is a good reason.

What almost kept me from watching this was “From the director of Twilight.” I watched it, I didn’t like it. On the other hand, had the poster said “From the director of Thirteen” it would have been another story entirely and Catherine Hardwicke has made both these movies.

The original story has been changed: the wolf is now a werewolf and it terrorizes a whole village. The village in which Valerie (Amanda Seyfried) lives with her parents (Billy Burke, Virginia Madsen) and sister. Said sister is promptly the first victim in the movie. Valerie is devastated and the village people set out to kill the wolf. They kill something, too, unfortunately it is not the werewolf they had aimed for but just a common wolf. They are informed of this by Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), a self-proclaimed expert who has killed a werewolf who then turned out to have been his wife. He has come to the village to help but turns out to be a despotic nuisance who spreads paranoia among the villagers and finally claims that Valerie is a witch because she can talk to the wolf. The wolf wants Valerie to come with him, which narrows the suspects down to Val’s two suitors – the man she loves, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), and the man she is supposed to marry, Henry (Max Irons).

Solomon sets a trap but things get jumbled and he is bitten by the beast which leads to his death as one of his men kills him, using the same reasoning Solomon has used as he killed the man’s brother, “A man bitten is a man cursed.”

Valerie meanwhile sets out to her grandmother’s (Julie Christie) to find out who the real beast is and kills him in the end. Only, her love is bitten by the werewolf in the final battle and becomes a werewolf. So, no happy ending.

The movie looked a little like The Brothers Grimm meets Twilight but that is not necessarily a bad thing since they are visually quite interesting. Unfortunately, the story did not make it into that realm since Hardwicke gave away the identity of the werewolf too early, at least if you’re observant you find out quite easily. The references to the old fairy tale are amusing and the changes thought through quite well. Yet, what remains of the fairy tale is the partriarchal narrative of men’s angst of female sexuality and thus Valerie remains a virgin. Marriage does not turn out to be all it promised and the killing is set into motion by infidelity. I came out of the movie a little confused and a little disappointed because on the surface it is a good movie, if you look closer the story is quite disturbing in it’s old-fashioned views and thus reminded me of the whole Twilight-franchise. It values the same hidden messages: no sex before marriage, man is beast, woman best remains a virgin, blah blah. I know that this is classic fairy tale narrative but we live in the year 2011. Would it have hurt to put in a little self-empowerment for women? Would it have hurt to not put in any lesbian titillation – that was as that totally out of place AND character? And would it have hurt to integrate people of color and not have them pose as “the other”?

There’s no doubt the movie has some good acting in it. Especially Julie Christie as grandmother is fantastic – a little new age but at that time and place with the underlying promise of witchcraft. Unfortunately, that does not make the underlying messages any less dangerous and old-fashioned.

Halloween Galore: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) by Wes Craven

I don’t know if you knew but I L.O.V.E. horror movies – that is horror stories. Ever since I started reading Stephen King’s IT (it was the German version back then) for the first time when I was ten I simply am fascinated, enchanted, hypnotized and amused by horror stories.

So, what better to do on Halloween than watching a classic (well, not in the I-am-watching-a-silent-horror-movie-way, more in the I-am-impressed-with-how-Wes-Craven-reinvented-horror-movies-during-the-80s-way classic)? I went for A Nightmare on Elm Street since it was the only movie from that time that the vid shop had – the vid shop in my hometown is a really good one, they usually have all the wonderfully disturbing 80s nostalgia I can watch but my guess is that there is not a one horror fan among the guys (it is only guys) who work there so it is mainly remakes of the good ones….

I have watched it before (I remember my sister obsessing over Johnny Depp when he was on 21 Jump Street and her forcing me to watch it as side-effect of this obsession since she was too much of a coward to watch it alone) but didn’t remember much of it. What is always the most fascinating is the back-story: where does the monster/human turned serial-killer come from? What’s his (and let’s face it, it is usually a HE) story?

And, of course, it makes perfect sense that Fred Krueger comes back to haunt the dreams of the kids of the people who have killed him. I guess, I should have inserted a spoiler warning but, honestly, has anyone not seen this movie? Or at least the remake?

I am usually not against remakes of horror movies. The original The Texas Chainsaw Messacre, for example, was forbidden in Germany until after the remake got released on DVD. So I went to watch the remake. Still, when I read about the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street some time back I thought: Without Robert Englund? You must be joking!

I guess there are some actors we will always link to a certain role they played and the role back to that actor/actress. I haven’t seen that many original horror movies from the 80s because I didn’t know back when that I loved horror stories (I only found out these last five years when all the remakes emerged and I watched them all, that I may be a little twisted that way).

I am pretty much hooked on horror… and if only for the reason that most horror movies make better comedies than movies advertised as comedies…

Alice in Wonderland – or getting 3D-ed

Alice in Wonderland (3D) (2010) by Tim Burton

I should probably start by saying that I have never read Lewis Carroll’s stories about Alice. I am aware there are two, I am aware that they exist, never read, only ever watched. But I am willing to read them should the opportunity occur.

I like Burton’s take on the old story (just like I liked Ridley Scott’s new take on another old story) though something was lacking. In another review about the movie (http://www.afterellen.com/blog/afterelton/review-of-alice-in-wonderland) it was said that it lacks heart. I agree though I don’t share the opinion that the mad hatter is just another Edward Scissorhands. Still, the story shows maybe a little too much enthusiasm for Johnny Depp’s character. Having gone through early resentment of that actor in his 21 Jump Street-days I have come to like him – especially in Burton-films.

Where there is too much Johnny Depp there is too little Helena Bonham Carter. I love that woman. One of the finest actresses ever to come to Hollywood over the big pond and she nails the character of the Queen of Hearts like she does every other role. (I have been a fan of hers since Howard’s End, she’s just brillant!)

My sister commented on Anne Hathaway’s character that she appears to be on dope and I quite agree. Not her best performance in all but I still like her.

What I did not like and have a hard time to come to terms with is 3D. It made complete sense in Avatar, I was glad that Scott did not use it for Robin Hood, and with Alice in Wonderland it seems to have been just another distraction from the story. Maybe it is because I am wearing glasses and another set of them does not make me really happy but I really think that it is mostly much ado about nothing. As I said, it was nice in Avatar because of this wonderful new world of Pandora but I do not think that every other movie has to have it and am honestly surprised that it is seemingly only discovered by Hollywood now. I mean, it has been around for some time, right? Why all that hype now? I don’t get it.

I guess, I don’t have to. But, honestly, dance movies in 3D? Animated movies in 3D? Not for me, thank you very much. I am very happy with 2-dimensional views of my favorites.