Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) have an affection for each other in The Huntsman: Winter’s War

2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman introduced a darker take on the beloved fairy tale. It was, more or less, a decent flick minus the appearance of Kristen Stewart, the inconsistent tone, and the forced humor. However, it managed to make up for it with the beautiful visuals, sets and costumes, and James Newton Howard’s score. Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron were two of the biggest highlights throughout the film. They make their return in the sequel, The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

Originally going to be directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) before Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (who worked with the special effects from the previous film) taking his place, this movie suffers from the same problems mentioned above (except for Kristen Stewart, good riddance!). It ends being boring as hell.

Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt, at her absolute worse) are two sisters living peacefully in the Enchanted Kingdom. After Freya gives birth to a baby girl, she finds out that she was killed by Andrew’s lover, which pisses her off. She flees to a kingdom up north where she builds an ice palace so she can use her ice powers whenever she pleases and build an army of children.

Two of her best suitors—Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain)—break one of her rules to never fall in love. Years later, as the sisters’ rival continues to rise, they embark on a journey with a group of dwarves in search for the Magic Mirror.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War is a derivative exercise in fantasy filmmaking. As nice as the movie looks, it feels like an overlong behind-the-scenes look for a Vogue shoot. There are little to no surprises to be found. Hemsworth and Chastain barely have any chemistry together (not to mention their horrendous Scottish accents). The narrative goes all over the place—from fantasy to witty comedy to action and back again—with the dialogue making a perfect lullaby. Not only that, it closely ties with Frozen that it can be qualified as a remake (and an awful one at that). Simply let this one go.

1/4

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Movie Review: The Jungle Book

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Mowgli (Neel Sethi) gets some business from King Louie (Christopher Walken) in Jon Favreau’s remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book.

It has been years since I have seen the 1967 Disney animated classic The Jungle Book (and its forgetful 2003 sequel). I remember watching the VHS tape all the time as a kid, and would be amused by the characters and the catchy music numbers including the famous “Bear Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”. A live-action remake might be tricky back in the day.

Now, in 2016, anything would be possible with Disney remaking pretty much every classic animated film into live-action. Last year’s Cinderella was a breath of fresh air (compared to the two disasters known as Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent); Kenneth Branagh brought the classic Disney tale back to pure life while adding more than enough changes to stand on its own. The Jungle Book brings the unique imagination of director Jon Favreau (Elf, Iron Man, Chef) and the sharp narrative by Justin Marks.

Based on the book by Rudyard Kipling, Mowgli (newcomer Neel Sethi) is an orphan living in the heart of the jungle. Since he was an infant, he was raised by a family of wolves, led by Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). His guardian Bagheera, a black panther (Ben Kingsley, who is perfect for the role), teaches him the ways of the wolfpack. A gathering is disrupted by the snarling tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba), who threatens Mowgli about not being allowed in the jungle.

Along with Bagheera, he embarks on a long journey of self-discovery while encountering some other animals along his path including Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), Kaa the slithering snake (Scarlett Johansson), and King Louie the orangutan (Christopher Walken).

One of the biggest surprises in The Jungle Book is how Favreau makes the CGI look seamless—from the animals to the landscapes to the imaginative sets. Even though it’s undeniably darker than the original, this is a gorgeous film from start to finish. As someone who grew up with the original film, I couldn’t help but smile during Baloo’s “Bear Necessities” and King Louie’s “I Wanna Be Like You”. With a great cast and whole wind of emotions, this surpasses the original on every level. Elba’s Shere Khan is the best villain so far this year.

4/4

Movie Review: Eye in the Sky

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Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) makes a decision whether to strike the Kenyan terrorists in Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky

With the ongoing War on Terror, everyone is trying to come up with a bright solution. To quote Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers, “Eye in the Sky asks a provocative question: Does conscience still figure in modern warfare?” Director Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ender’s Game) gives the audience more than just your standard war film. He handles the issue with care, kudos to his excellent direction and Guy Hibbert’s sharp screenplay.

Col. Katherine Powell (Dame Helen Mirren) is a British military officer in command of a secret drone mission. The people who are involved include Lt. General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), U.S. pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul), and Kenyan field agent Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi). They are planning to capture a Kenyan terrorist group.

When Powell discovers two of the terrorists planning a suicide bombing, she sends out Watts to take them out. As Watts is about to engage, a nine-year-old girl (Aisha Takow) enters the killing zone (without her becoming aware of it) selling bread. This causes a dispute between the U.S. and U.K. governments as they try to make a decision as fast they possible can.

Unlike his previous films, Hood allows the audience to think as well as hanging on the edge of their seats with his outlook on the war. With a $4 million budget, the movie primarily takes place in London, Las Vegas, and Nairobi, Kenya. He uses limited amount of CGI with modern warfare technology such as drones in disguise of birds and beetles. Eye in the Sky is more about the debate of modern warfare and risking the lives of Kenyan civilians.

The performances all-around are excellent. Mirren brings enough confidence and fierce energy as opposed to letting a male actor play the role as originally intended. With most of the movie taking place watching surveillance of the situation, there is one agent that is actually on the ground aware on what is going. He is trying to get the girl out of harm’s way. In his first role after Captain Phillips, Barkhad Abdi plays the Farah brilliantly. In his last performance before passing away early this year from pancreatic cancer, Alan Rickman is definitely worth the price alone (especially in an early scene in which he buys a doll for his daughter). He embraces the issue with such dignity once he starts watching the surveillance (given he has contributed to the war for a number of years). This is the finest moment of his career. Rickman will surely be missed.

Eye in the Sky is what Batman vs. Superman isn’t: a suspenseful, intelligent, thoughtful political thriller. Go see it in theaters and strap in for one hell of a thrill ride!

4/4