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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As part of an obsession: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (2012) by Kirk Jones

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I remember watching the trailer and thinking: no way I’m going to watch that. I’m not sure if it was the way it was presented in said trailer or whether I didn’t pay enough attention to it but I was convinced that this was a movie about becoming a dad… somehow the ‘dude group’ got stuck in my mind as the main focal point and that was certainly no movie I wanted to watch.

Another problematic expectation for this movie was certainly that it was going whattoexpect2to be heteronormative to a fault – and at least on that account it delivered. But let’s look at what’s happening:

People are having babies. In this movie, there are five different couples in Atlanta who are expecting something small. Some rather unexpectedly, others after having tried for awhile, one couple is adopting. The different ways to deal with this are shown sometimes comically, sometimes tragically, even satirically.

Of course, most people know that there’s a book of same title out there, trying to prepare future parents for the big step of having off-spring. And I guess, it’s a helpful book – not having children or wanting children, I’m no expert on self-help books for expectant couples.

The storylines interweave in this movie, the couples are at different points in their lives, it’s all more about the comical element than representation of truth. It also tries to convey that pregnancies are diverse just as the women who are pregnant are diverse.

whattoexpect1It’s a little hard to talk about the different storylines of the film because there are several and all cast quite brilliantly. Of course, my focus was on Anna Kendrick as the young woman who got pregnant from a one-night-stand but miscarries. She probably has the most dramatic story-line and really builds a relatable character in a short amount of time. The ending to the relationship to Marco (Chace Crawford) is a little forced it seems. The movie is so adamant in creating a happy ending for all the stories that reasoning flies out the window in this one and we don’t really understand why Kendrick’s character Rose has a change of heart when she told him before that seeing him was too painful.

Maybe it is because the movie tries to tell too many stories and to do them all justice. But it is not the only problem this movie has. While the acting is excellent all around and the funny parts are really funny, some of Hollywood’s biggest problematic chlicées are reinforced. For once, people of color are rare. Jennifer Lopez and Rodrigo Santoro play a latino couple and while all the white people in the movie are capable of having children of their own, these two are the couple who adopt. I guess that’s the heteronormative equivalent of having the only woman of color in a movie play the gay/bisexual character. Another one: Chris Rock plays one of the dads in the ‘dude group,’ the wisest, most whattoexpect5informed, cool dad – but also the one with the most kids, planning on more. African-Americans having a lot of children while his white buddies all stop at 1.9? Seriously? Of course, one can talk of satire in his case, as most of his role seems to build on it. Still, when you look at the set-up of the film you can’t help but feel that the people of color are pushed to the sidelines, especially with the multiple birthing-scenes all intertwining while the adoption scene is set apart. It would have been nicer if the adoption had been interwoven as well, showing that adoption isn’t something ‘less’ or something ‘other’ than having a baby in the ‘traditional’ way if you want.

Which also brings us back to the problem of heteronormativity. No queer characters, not even lesbian moms. I’m not sure where the book stands on that but the movie lacks on that aspect. Straight couples having babies – or not, or unwillingly, or predictably. Because there is realy something predictable how it is set up for just the right audience – white, straight folks.

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I already said that the acting was excellent but let’s elaborate a little. I was probably most impressed with Elizabeth Banks. And I don’t know where I know her from or why I haven’t paid much attention to her before but she is a really good actress. Someone who delivers lines in the best comical way. Anna Kendrick, of course, is amazing. In a movie that is funny and droll, she’s the one who has to pull out the big dramatic guns and she’s amazing at it. Jennifer Lopez – I think she is underestimated in whatever she does. She’s a brilliant performer and has grown as an actress. As a woman who is that successful, she’s criticized left and right but is always giving her best and you can see it in this movie where she shows a lot of depth and inside. And then, there’s Rebel Wilson and her role is really small but she’s just great. I loved the interaction between her and Elizabeth Banks’ character, the only real sense of – if not friendship then – camaderie between women that you get throughout the movie. And maybe that is its biggest mistake – it puts too much emphases on men connecting through fatherhood but isolates the pregnant woman… just a thought.

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As part of an obsession: Camp

Camp (2003) by Todd Graff

camp1You may have noticed a slight change in the look of my blog, the header is different. This has something to do with my current obsessions: Pitch Perfect and everything Anna Kendrick. And when you’re obsessed you make poor choices – one was watching this movie.

Camp is about just that – in both meanings of the word. A summer camp full of music enthusiasts meet to hone their talents in acting, singing, and dancing. And these kids are certainly talented. But the story that is being told has little to do with what goes on on the stage. Vlad (Daniel Letterle) is kind of an oddity: he’s straight and he still likes to flirt with his gay roommate Michael (Robin de Jesus) sometimes. Michael is thrown because Vlad is cute but also very active with the ladies in the camp – especially Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) who has some insecurities of her own and is coincidentally Michael’s best friend.

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There are other kids as well, of course. One is Fritzi (Anna Kendrick) and Fritzi has a crush on Jill (Alana Allen). But Jill is a bitch and uses Fritzi as her personal doormat until the younger girl cracks and starts to sabotage the pretty girl who gets all the good parts just because of her looks.

The problem I had with this is rather simple: why make a movie with multiple queer characters, that is called Camp of all things, and then make the biggest part of it about the budding romance between Vlad and Ellen? There was potential there and it was certainly hinted at. But Vlad’s bisexuality never really materialized, he’s more of a tease than an experimental guy. And the makers took the conventional way out. Another thing: while the gay male teens are positively (if stereotypically) portrayed, the lesbian (if we can call Fritzi that) gets the weirdo treatment and then turns mean… certainly, she is talented but look at that temper! Oh, please. Her sexuality is more of a fetishized wet dream than part of her personality.

camp2The acting all around wasn’t as good as it could have been but the story is the major let down of this movie. While it is willing to promote queerness in teens it still pushes heteronormativity down our throats via its two main protagonists and when even Michael jumps onto the bandwagon (if only for one night) things get a little out of hand. There’s an ambiguity at work here that makes me admit: yes, these are kids, their sexualities aren’t set into stone, experiementing is a healthy thing… and I certainly agree with this take, however, it seems that the queer teens are lured into straight experiments more than the straight teen into gay experiementing. The ambiguity is actually a double-standard.

A word to Anna Kendrick: she was amazing. Her role isn’t very big but her character is certainly the most memorable and I was blown away by her performance of Ladies Who Lunch from Sondheim’s Company – the man makes a guest appearance as himself by the way. You should check it out on youtube, it’s a killer. The movie is not, though.

Star Camp / Camp