Tagged: kristen stewart

Box Office Democracy: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

In my first year of reviewing movies I ranked Snow White and the Huntsman as the ninth worst movie of 2012 and by that time news had come out that neither star Kristen Stewart nor director Rupert Shane would be returning for the sequel, and I predicted that it would probably be a better movie. I was right, The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a better movie, and it still isn’t a very good movie.   Freed from trying to retell a more famous story, there are some interesting choices made in the script— but it’s all overwhelmed by the crushing clichés of high fantasy. At its lowest points Huntsman is the slickest Lord of the Rings fan-film you’ve ever seen; at its highest it’s a kind of cute romantic comedy starring Nick Frost.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War wraps around the first movie with a little bit of an origin story and then the kind of sequel where you barely need to bring any of the cast back. The story now revolves around a previously unmentioned northern kingdom ruled by Freya (Emily Blunt) the ice witch sister of the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) from the first film. Freya has a plotline so similar to Elsa in Frozen that it feels like the script was written by lawyers, everything feels just distinct enough while still constantly threatening to break in to a chorus of “Let it Go” at any moment. Freya, it conveniently turns out, raised and trained a whole army of Huntsmen (and Huntswomen) and her sociologically fascinating but completely implausible ban on the very concept of love ends up driving away Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and starting him on his journey that leads him to the first movie. We then skip ahead to after and Eric with one of the eight dwarfs from the first movie (Nick Frost) plus a new dwarf (Rob Brydon) end up on a convoluted quest to rescue the evil magic mirror to save the completely absent Snow White and save the world, I guess. Sara (Jessica Chastain) is Eric’s presumed dead wife who saves his life at a miraculous moment, and then just a bunch of fantasy junk happens until they have to wrap it up.

I feel like a crazy person typing all that up. There’s just an insane amount of idea bloat in this film and it struggles to find a focus.

Some of that struggle for focus is the result of not having a clear protagonist. Going strictly by the screenplay writing books it’s Freya, because it is the change in her attitude that allows the climax of the movie to happen, but she’s practically a Bond villain in terms of her scheming for the rest of the film and it’s hard to feel particularly invested in the well-being of someone who keeps a room full of people turned into ice sculptures. In terms of screen time (and billing) it’s Eric, but he doesn’t change his attitude one iota through the film— he’s right about pretty much everything all the time and is super capable and has no need to improve, he’s Aragorn with an axe. It’s probably supposed to be Sara, she has a clear narrative arc and she has the biggest impact on the events of the film but they try so hard to obfuscate her actions and intentions that it’s hard to connect with her. That along with the stilted narrative structure leaves the movie feeling like a series of vignettes and not like a cohesive narrative.

I did genuinely enjoy the love story between Nick Frost’s dwarf and Alexandra Roach’s. It was cute, and it felt clever, and most importantly… it didn’t feel like it was shaken out of the fantasy magic eight ball like every other piece of Winter’s War. It was the only thing that felt genuine or surprising. This was a movie full of twists and every one of them was telegraphed so far in advance and the one that might have been surprising was shown in its entirety in the trailer for the movie. That simple, silly love story was the only thing I liked, the only thing I will remember fondly in this overplotted mess, but it deserves to be recognized. If the next movie just takes those two characters I’d be first in line for more; otherwise, please put this series out of its misery.

Box Office Democracy: American Ultra

American Ultra would have been the coolest movie in the world in 1996. It has the lovable loser slacker protagonist with a quirky hobby and a mundane job, it has plenty of sudden graphic violence, and it even has a plot that’s a metaphor for parental issues.

Unfortunately, the last 19 years haven’t been particularly kind to these tropes, and this movie that would have easily swept the Independent Spirit Awards two decades ago instead feels less special and more tired. It doesn’t sink the movie, it’s still frequently a blast and features one of the most best ensemble supporting cast I may have ever seen but this is a movie that in another era could have been a home run and it’s disappointing to see it just be a long double.

While not a fantastic reflection on the originality of the film, American Ultra lends itself very handily to mash-up comparisons. It’s Chasing Amy meets A History of Violence, it’s Slackers crossed with The Bourne Identity, it’s SubUrbia having a baby with The Transporter. Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner convenience store clerk who draws an ambitious if nonsensical comic book in his spare time. Unbeknownst to Mike he is an old CIA asset that due to a power struggle within the agency has been targeted for termination. When the CIA assassins come to kill him Mike discovers he’s an amazing killer. The ensuing chaotic escalation of this operation ends up bringing everyone in Mike’s life in to the orbit of this violent struggle especially his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) who is the cliché suspiciously-attractive girlfriend of a total loser. There are enough clever twists and fun tweaks to the formula here to make the film exciting but maybe they go a little too far as there are all these vestigial bits of plot hanging off the edges like threads that they forgot to weave in to the main fabric of the story.

While both Eisenberg and Stewart are quite good— in fact, both seem to be trying very hard to shake of the notion that they are budget-friendly versions of bigger stars— the real winning performances in American Ultra come from the supporting cast. Topher Grace chews scenery hard as the smarmy evil CIA supervisor and I’ve seen him do this douchebag performance so well so many times I’m beginning to wonder if he’s not like that in real life and that’s probably the mark of an exceptional performance (or an exceptional jerk in real life, but I hope not). Connie Britton usually acting across from Grace does a great job bringing a grounded energy to those scenes, but when she’s doing scenes with any other characters she switches gears and becomes the scene stealing performer we know she is. Walton Goggins is a terrifying presence as the CIA lunatic killer Laugher turning in a performance that is 100% chilling nightmare fodder. The cast is so embarrassingly deep that Tony Hale and John Leguizamo, both national treasures and utter delights in this film, feel criminally underused but there just isn’t room for more of them.

By the time I’m writing this it’s pretty apparent American Ultra didn’t find its audience. We’ve even gotten the 2015 signature move of the underperforming movie and someone involved in the production has taken to Twitter to complain about the results of their labors. It’s a shame, this movie deserves better and I hope that eventually people discover this movie on Netflix or wherever because it deserves to be seen and to be appreciated. Not because it’s screamingly original or clever but because it’s an example of exceptional execution and the good work a solid cast can do to carry a middling script. American Ultra is a film that deserves better than it got from America this weekend and better than it got from whoever came up with this terrible non-descriptive title.

The Point Radio: THE STRAIN Proves Grit Beats Glitter

FX’s THE STRAIN winds up it’s first season this weekend and we sat down with Guillermo del Toro and his cast to talk about where the show ended, where it goes next and how their vampires stack up against those who “glitter”. Plus famed actress, Isabella Rossellini takes her GREEN PORNO from TV to the stage and tells us how it all got started.

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