Snow White And The Huntsman * * *
Cert 12A, 127 mins
Fairytales are all the rage these days. Hollywood has really fallen for them, with Red Riding Hood and a modern take on Beauty and the Beast the first out of the gate last year.
Hansel and Gretel is on its way. Just last month we had Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror, and now comes another – darker and better – take on the Snow White story.
Think Lord of the Rings rather than the Disney version, though. Kristen Stewart as Snow is a gutsy princess who wears trousers underneath her skirt and later dons a full suit of armour to fight with a sword.
She’s been kept locked up in the castle by her evil stepmother Ravenna (a fabulously demented Charlize Theron), who killed her father on their wedding night and literally sucks the beauty out of young girls to keep herself looking young.
The secret of immortality, though, is to rip out Snow’s heart – so she’s a little annoyed when the girl manages to escape. She sends the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) after her into the forest, though it’s not long before he switches sides. Also pursuing her, to rescue her, is her childhood friend William (Sam Claflin). That’s right, Twilight’s Stewart is starring in another film full of magic and mythical creatures in which two love rivals team up to protect her.
She’s also got the seven dwarves on her side, played with ridiculous haircuts and much gruff humour by the likes of Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins and Ian McShane.
The film looks gorgeous – nature plays an important role, with the help of clever effects – and its many striking images deserve to be seen on the big screen.
The mainly British cast is great. Of the foreign actors, Stewart and Theron nail English accents while Hemsworth just about pulls off a Scottish one.
I’m not so impressed with Stewart’s perpetually open-mouthed look. Honestly, just watch and see how rarely she shuts it. Apparently there are at least 15 more fairytale films in production, including two each based on Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan, but I doubt many of them will look as good as this. RL
The Angels’ Share * * *
Cert 15, 101 mins
Awarded a Bafta Academy Fellowship in 2006, Nuneaton-born filmmaker Ken Loach is showing no signs of losing his powers to create gripping cinema, even though he will be 76 on June 17.
I wasn’t a fan of his last film, Route Irish, about the consequences faced by private security contractors working in Iraq. But this is a return to the sort of lively form he showed with the hilarious Looking For Eric (2009). At its heart is the story of a young man called Robbie (Paul Brannigan) who can’t keep his nose out of trouble. Given one last chance to avoid going down, he swears blind that the birth of his son will keep him on the straight and narrow.
But with others out to violently lead him into temptation, is it a promise he will be able to sustain?
With films like Carla’s Song, My Name is Joe and Sweet Sixteen, Loach has become something of a celtic warrior keen to operate north of the English border.
This is another of his films set in Glasgow, where the threat of violence in the early part of the film is so palpable you’ll almost be gripping your chair arms (though it’s by cutting out some language that it has been given a 15 certificate and not an 18).
This is a place and a time where people will brutalise others for next to no reason, perhaps while under the influence of drink or drugs but not so far out of their heads that they won’t forget family grudges going back generations. Exploring – if not fully explaining and certainly not curing – this aspect of human behaviour is where The Angels’ Share is at its strongest. Loach shows how people like Robbie can be guided if they are taken under the wings of mentors.
It is a surprise, then, that The Angels’ Share should lose so much focus on its social issues and almost turn into a bizarre training manual for profiteering venture capitalists to follow.
At this point it becomes a whisky-tasting adventure, whereby the film’s title refers to the degree of evaporation from barrels of the stuff.
The scenes where The Angels’ Share unexpectedly becomes a surprisingly-tense and innovative heist movie are much more fun than the averagely tiresome bank robbery drama.
But, in the end, by illustrating how you can profit from doing something illegal, I think Loach has betrayed a character for whom the birth of a son should have been more than enough compensation when his lovely partner says: ‘The midwife says half of his brain is developed... the other half depends on us’. GY
Men In Black 3 * * *
Cert PG, 105 mins
It has been 15 years since the original Men In Black and a decade since the sequel was released.
So was it really worth revisiting the idea of two special agents who protect the earth from aliens – and was it worth the wait? On balance, no.
It’s a bit better than the second film, but nowhere near as entertaining as the first.
Men In Black 3 begins with Boris The Animal (Jemaine Clement, rather than London’s Mayor) breaking free from the prison on the moon.
He’s out for revenge on Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones), the man who shot his arm off and locked him away.
And to do that, he needs to go back in time to his arrest in 1969.
When Agent J (Will Smith) finds out what’s going on, he time travels too by jumping off the Chrysler Building, a dizzying scene which looks rather impressive in 3D.
Emma Thompson is the new boss, Agent O, and is played by Alice Eve in 1969 – cue a few clichés about Britain. But the best new recruit to the cast is Josh Brolin as the young K. He is superb at taking off Tommy Lee Jones, getting the voice and mannerisms spot on – perhaps he studied his co-star closely when they were both making No Country For Old Men.
The end is actually quite clever and rather moving, but I’m not sure it’s worth sitting through what is just an average film to get there.
The plot gets badly bogged down halfway through with the rules of time travel, which are always baffling if you try to think too hard about them.
There are a few good lines but not nearly enough funny moments. The assorted weird-looking aliens are amusing, but we’ve seen this all before.
And although they do get to use jetpacks and ride cool gyroscope motorbikes, I could have done with more action and fights.
The main problem with Men In Black 3 is that, while it’s fairly watchable, it’s not a particularly memorable film. RL
Cafe De Flore * * * *
Cert 15 ,120 mins
From showing probably the most adventurous bedroom (and swimming pool) scenes you will see all year to Johnny Depp’s wife Vanessa Paradis clearly breastfeeding, Cafe De Flore is something of an about turn from the director of The Young Victoria.
We shouldn’t be too surprised though, because Jean-Marc Vallée is a French-Canadian filmmaker. And this film, shot in Paris and Montreal, is clearly a labour of love.
Neither the cinematography, nor the plot, such as it is, are conventional in the three-act Hollywood sense.
Instead, they are lyrical in the European way.
Not that the subtitles or the style are likely get in the way of your enjoyment at either the Warwick or Midlands Arts Centres.
Its linked stories decades apart are filtrated with a keen sense of how life really is.
Joyful, loving, spontaneous and romantic. Edgy, fearful and inhibiting.
Had this been an English film it might have been directed by Michael Winterbottom, one of the few British directors whose style is to try to not have a style but who rarely manages to pull a hefty chunk of the mainstream audience in a more challenging, non-Hollywood direction.
A film about ‘letting go and leaving’, Cafe de Flore is confusing in its construction but its purest essence is still all about love, actually.
Think of a fusion of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Crash, The Lovely Bones and The Tree of Life.
Vallée always keeps it watchable not least because the performance by Marin Gerrier as the young Down’s Syndrome boy is the best of its kind since Daniel Auteuil’s stunning 1996 Belgian film, The Eighth Day starred the brilliant Pasquel Duquenne as an adult with the condition.
Cafe De Flore’s central musical theme is a haunting piece of work.
And it’s equally remarkable that there are almost 300 different works on the soundtrack, including The Cure and Pink Floyd.
Though not, to the director’s disappointment, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven which he wanted to fit in with Paradis’s staircase-bound life in the poor district of Paris where she lives. GY