Grimm Fantasy and Dark Comedy
‘Snow White & The Huntsman’
Starring: Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth
Director: Rupert Sanders
With a budget of $180 million, this updated version of the classic fairy tale had a lot riding on its success. The second movie to come along in less than year featuring Grimm’s princess should perform much better than the campy “Mirror Mirror” released last spring with Julia Roberts and Nathan Lane, which tragically underperformed.
For starters, it benefits greatly from impressive special effects, which have only enhanced the fantasy, bringing to life characters and creatures in elaborate fashion and creating breathtaking sets. The story is as dark as the heart of its lead character, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), the evil-as-a-snake-bite queen who marries then kills a king, steals his throne, imprisons his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and allows a malignant pall to settle over her kingdom. When Snow White escapes, Ravenna summons the only huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) brave enough to pursue her into the Dark Forest where she has fled, and the game is on.
With a much more realistic slant, there is no Disney-style frolicking with the seven dwarfs in this remake. That said, Ian McShane, Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones and Eddie Izzard are hilarious as the diminutive band of woodsmen who admittedly take advantage of forest mushrooms for recreational purposes. Theron appears to relish her role as the malevolent sorceress who must literally suck the life from others to stay young. As just “Huntsman,” thank you, Hemsworth trades Thor’s cape for a codpiece, but the two could be brothers.
With everything that is right about this film, it’s a shame the actress in the leading role doesn’t measure up. Stewart is as wooden here as she is in the “Twilight” films. Even Snow White’s 11th hour rally cry to her rag tag army to storm the castle and take back the kingdom is delivered with all the passion of a fast food order at a drive-thru window — hold the poison apple, please.
Although the overly long “Snow White” could have benefited from a sharper edit, this is wicked good fun, with emphasis on the wicked. It is intense and visually arresting, just the right summer tonic to offset superhero fatigue as “Spiderman” and “Batman” wait in the wings.
Starring: Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey
Director: Richard Linklater
This Texas-centric film kicked off the Los Angeles Film Festival last year to rave reviews largely due to Jack Black’s restrained, understated performance. Taken from a true story that Texas Monthly readers will remember as the basis for a 1998 story by executive editor Skip Hollandsworth (who also co-wrote the movie) about a small-town mortician who befriended a very rich old widow and then killed her, hiding her body in her freezer for nine months until somebody wised up to her absence. Black stars as the titular Bernie Tiede, who is now serving out a life sentence in maximum security, and this is probably one of the best roles he’s every had, collaborating again with director Richard Linklater as they did previously on “School of Rock.”
Shirley MacLaine appears as the locally detested Marjorie Nugent, a sour-as-month-old-milk widow from Carthage who finds a friend in sweet mild-mannered, community-minded Bernie and then proceeds to take over his life. Since the character is murdered with four shots to the back about half way through, she’s not given much to do, but it was great to see her. Her untimely death cues the entrance of Matthew McConaughey as the publicity hungry district attorney, Buck Davidson, a first-rate showboat stuck with a murder case he must prosecute in a town where most of the citizens love the defendant and hated the victim.
Linklater seamlessly draws from actors and real residents of Carthage for what amounts to a docudrama with many of the townspeople speaking directly to the camera in typical pithy Southern style about Bernie — look for McConaughey’s mother among them. They are so convincing, you’ll be ready to write a letter to the warden by the time the credits roll, begging for leniency for Tiede.
Categorized as a black comedy, this is really Black’s comedy. It’s just a shame it was dumped into theaters without much advance.