CGB Review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016)

Ironically the theater auditorium I saw this in (Theater 10) was the one where I endured last year’s Fant4stic Four…
Beware of Theater 10!

This is my review of The Huntsman: Winter’s War!

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Okay, so this is a prequel/sequel to 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which means my summary will require some time travel.  Where’s the DeLorean when you need it?!
Anyway, so long before the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the power-hungry sorceress  Ravenna (Charlize Theron) learns that her sister Freya (Emily Blunt) is carrying the child of the Duke of Blackwood.  One jumpcut later, the baby girl has been born and is destined to become fairest of the land because–fairy tale.  On the night that they are supposed to marry and run off together in secret, Freya sees that the Duke has murdered their daughter, so she unleashes her suppressed ice powers and kills the Duke.  From there, Freya becomes a tyrannical Elsa and raises an army of kidnapped children into soldiers.  Two of those soldiers are Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who are engaged in a forbidden romance that gets them kicked out of Freya’s ice kingdom.
Fast-forward seven years after the events of Snow White and the Huntsman, the magic mirror of Ravenna has gone missing, Freya is planning to destroy Snow White’s kingdom and Eric, Sara, and four dwarves must find the mirror to keep Freya from finding it and using it to resurrect Ravenna.

Am I the only one whose brain hurts after reading that summary?  Just imagine what it was like to get through this mess.

The Hits
I’ll give them this: The costumes for Freya and Ravenna are very pretty.  While Ravenna’s costumes are a little too extravagant, they do fit the fairy tale setting.  I did like how Freya’s dresses were white and silver; this keeps her from being an Elsa duplicate.
I understand what they were going for with Freya’s character; a hardened, grieving woman who tries to quash all sentiment while suppressing her own motherly instincts.  In scenes that call for Emily Blunt to be heartbroken and vulnerable, she conveys these traits very well.   With better writing, Freya’s tragic arch would have been more compelling than what we currently have.  As it is, I found myself sympathizing with Freya, just not empathizing with her.
The first act is fine for the most part.  It’s nothing to write home about, but I was fairly invested.  The idea of a betrayed queen “raising” an army of child soldiers had potential and even some of the scene transitions were pretty creative.

The Misses
The writing!  Holy cow, the script is embarrassingly amateur!  The story is painfully predictable, the flat and one-dimensional characters speak about how “true love conquers all” in blatant, on-the-nose spiels and the second act of the film is boring filler.  If I had been watching the film with my high school creative writing teacher, he would’ve been face-palming every five minutes because the plot suffers from a plethora of narrative missteps.
I’m sure that you know the difference between a plot-driven narrative and a character-driven narrative, but I will go over it anyway because once I do, we can get to the heart of why The Huntsman: Winter’s War doesn’t work.
A plot-driven narrative is where the events move the story and the characters are a small part of a bigger story.  A character-driven narrative is where the story could not happen without the central protagonist(s); it is specifically about the evolution of one person or a group of people. Star Wars is a great example of a plot-driven narrative while American Sniper is very much a character-driven piece.  Some films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Imitation Game are a seamless mixture of both.
In the case of The Huntsman: Winter’s War, this is a plot-driven film that really should have been a character-driven narrative.  From the dialogue, I could tell that the screenwriter intended for there to be more to Freya, Eric, Sara and the others, but whatever they intended got lost in the director’s agenda.  This doesn’t work as a plot-driven story because the actual plot is very weak, which explains the sluggish second act and the rushed third act.  The action gets in the way of any unique ideas that could have been explored and because Eric and Sara are written so poorly, Hemsworth and Chastain can do very little to make their characters interesting.  After the first act, Freya comes in and out of the plot, so whatever interest there was in her gets lost.  As for Ravenna, she is a shoehorned villain who is only prominent in the third act.
The story should have been a character study of two rival queens who are also sisters.  If Eric and Sara needed to be a part of the story, have Eric be Freya’s confidant and huntsman and make Sara the right-hand woman of Ravenna, then use their forbidden love to deepen the seething hatred between Ravenna and Freya; love and hate would collide through these characters.  The freaky magic mirror (which looks more like a gong, but whatever) could have been some all-powerful treasure that both Freya and Ravenna were after and would add even more fuel to their animosity.  I’d rather watch that movie!

All right, I’m just gonna say it: This movie is pretty awful and it’s all because of the stilted, mediocre writing.  Hey, Universal Pictures, do us all a favor and let Disney handle the live-action fairy tale genre.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go cleanse my brain by watching Maleficent and Cinderella again.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

Retro Reviews: Back to the Future Part II (1989)

How was your weekend?  Good?  My weekend was busy but fun.  An old friend of mine who I will call “J.B.” invited me to a public screening of Back to the Future Parts 1 & 2.  J.B. and I haven’t seen each other since high school and had been trying to get together, so this was the perfect opportunity for us to catch up.  Also I had already seen (and reviewed) the first one, but had never seen the second one.

This is my review of Back to the Future Part II, just in time for October 21, 2015!

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Back to the Future Part II quite literally takes place right after the first installment (I say “quite literally” because the first movie ended with Marty and Doc going on their next adventure).  In the sequel, Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown “Doc” find themselves in the year 2015, where they first have to prevent Marty’s future son from being arrested.  Then they have to make sure Marty’s girlfriend Jennifer doesn’t come across her future self…and then they have to stop the villanous Biff Tannen from messing around with the timeline of the first film.

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Gee, CGB, what’s up with the messy, unfocused summary of the movie?”
Fear not, my dear reader.  There is a reason for the sloppy plot summary and I will get to that in the Hits and Misses.

The Hits
As a newbie convert to the Back to the Future franchise, I have to say that I am in love with Marty and Doc’s relationship.  Their friendship is the glue that holds the trilogy together.  Something that J.B. and I talked about was how Part II expands their dynamic, leading to some great character development.  Marty is the naive brawn while Doc is the brilliant brain.  However, Doc’s head is so packed with complex ideas that it’s easy for a simple thought to slip past him, while Marty’s lack of foresight makes room in his mind for a clever idea.  This means that Marty can act in a tense situation while Doc can plan for scenarios before they happen. These two oddball souls balance each other out and their bond is more fulfilling than any other relationship they will ever have.   I think that not making them father and son adds to their relationship because it means these two unrelated people have made the choice to stick together and become their own family.  The only thing they gain from being around one another is understanding and adventure.  I know I’m going to be really sad when I finally watch Part III and have to see my favorite movie duo end their story.  Honestly, I’m so tempted just to scrap this review and turn this into a CGB editorial on Marty and Doc’s friendship. These two characters are like Francis and Clare of Assisi; they’re two different people on the same mission and that’s why I love them so much.

The Misses
Just like in the first film, it still bothers me that we never learn exactly how Marty and Doc met.  Because I’m so invested in these two people, I really want to know where this friendship began.  I’m open to hearing fan theories.
Okay, here’s my explanation for my messy intro: I gave an unfocused summary because Back to the Future Part II is very unfocused.  The first film was about a teen who gets stuck in the past and must get his future parents together, as well as find a way back to the present.  In the second film, Marty and Doc have a series of side missions before the real conflict happens.  The episodic story formula is very hard to pull off because you run the risk into having your story feel like three different stories crammed into one.  Part II is like Amelie (2001) and The Walk (2015) in that there are a series of mini-conflicts building up to the main conflict.  This would be fine except that it makes it hard for the audience to care about the main conflict because so little time is invested in it.  Now to the movie’s credit, it does weave Biff Tannen into the story very well so that he has presence, but that doesn’t save the movie’s scrambled tone.

Overall, it is the strength of the characters that keeps Back to the Future afloat. You could put Marty and Doc in any other story and they would be enough to make it great.  Here’s to the hope that the October 21st, 2015 prediction is correct and the Cubs do indeed win the World Series.

Saint Peter, pray for us.

Retro Reviews: Back to the Future (1985)

I come from a family of Dodger fans, so going to a Dodger game is a time-honored tradition.
I bring this up because after the Dodgers beat the Cincinnati Reds, they had a screening of Back to the Future at the stadium.

This is my review of Back to the Future!

Great Scott!
Great Scott!

Back to the Future tells the story of Marty McFly, an aspiring musician who is accidently sent back 30 years into the past.  When he becomes his mother’s romantic interest, he must get his future parents together to prevent altering his future.
Now according to my mother, this movie was a surprise hit.  Various studios rejected Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale’s script until Zemeckis’ film Romancing the Stone was a financial success.  This compelled Universal Studios to pick up the Back to the Future script and this turned out to be a great decision for Universal.
Well, I was born six years after the movie came out.  Last night was the first time I had ever seen it, so how does a film from 1985 hold up to a millennial living in 2015?

The answer: It holds up very, very well.  Back to the Future is a pretty freaking good movie!  It is such a fun and entertaining story with loads of heart.

The Hits
Time travel is a story formula that has never been done completely right, but this movie handles it with great skill.   Michael J. Fox was definitely a perfect choice to play the resourceful, dry-humored Marty.  I like that he’s not an all-out bad boy stereotype.  He’s a typical teenager with a bit of an attitude who truly cares for the people in his life.
The real standout is Christopher Lloyd as Doc.  Mad scientists characters are tough to portray without coming off as over-the-top, but Christopher Lloyd keeps his Doc intelligent and fast-thinking.  There’s a rhyme and reason to his eccentricities.  His moments of sincerity and genuine care for Marty is balanced with his quirks and bursts of ideas.
This movie has a surprising amount of subtly.  It will introduce things such as a clock tower or a neighborhood sign by having Marty pass by them without spelling out for us that those items will be important later.  This respects the audience’s intelligence without being too cryptic.
Finally the comedy is spot-on!  Every joke is well timed, the witty banter never wears out its welcome, and the heartwarming relationship between Marty and Doc never feels contrived or emotionally-manipulative.  The movie’s self-awareness keeps it from being campy, allowing it to be an entertaining adventure story.

The Only Setback
My only complaint is that I wish we learned how Marty met Doc.  Is Doc a family friend or a former science teacher or something?  The most that we learn is that Doc lets Marty use his garage so that he can practice his music.  I know this isn’t an origin story of Marty and Doc, which is totally fine, but I would have liked some context regarding how these two characters came to know each other.

Overall Back to the Future is my new favorite retro movie.   To quote my mother, “It’s as funny today as it was 30 years ago!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Saint John Bosco, pray for us.