A twisted take on twisted tales
I bloody loved this film. It has everything I love in one place- fairytale s (the dark kind), kings & queens, tricks & spells, deals & plots, oaths & secrets, love & betrayal and tales of the unexpected. It’s all told so well, with so much love and care, with everything looking absolutely gorgeous. Last week I criticized Alice Through The Looking Glass for many things (see my review here) but the main one was for being a ‘film which feels like it was made by people who read a book called ‘Pretending To Be Weird For Dummies”. Those ‘people’ need to go see this because this is how you do it. If you’re looking for strange, dark and morbidly entertaining tales then look no more!
The Queen of Longtrellis (Salma Hayek) is desperate to have a child but everything she and her husband (John C. Reilly) try fails to work. When a mysterious stranger, a necromancer (Franco Pistoni), visits the castle he offers a risky solution. They need to find a sea monster, kill it and then have its heart cooked by a virgin which the Queen must eat. She will fall instantly pregnant. The necromancer warning that this will be at the cost of a life – a warning the Queen ignores.
The King of Highhills (Toby Jones) befriends a flea that appears to be able to follow instructions. A friendship soon blossoms and the flea grows and grows. When the now extremely and unbelievably large flea dies the King uses the flea’s skin as part of a game – whoever can guess the what animal the skin belonged to will get to marry his only daughter. Such a shame for Princess Violet (Bebe Cave) that it’s an ogre who guesses correctly.
The sex-obsessed King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) hears the voice of an angel whilst prowling his kingdom. He pursues the voice and demands to seduce her, not knowing the voice belong to an elderly woman Dora (Hayley Carmichael) who lives with her equally elderly sister Imma (Shirley Henderson). Dora intends to lead the King along, knowing that she is putting her’s and her sister’s life in danger. A chance meeting with a witch provides her heart’s greatest desire – but is it too good to be true?
That’s only the beginning of each tale. There’s so much more for you to see – so much of which is unexpected, some of which is slightly scary, and all of which is a true pleasure to watch. It’s a feast for the eyes, the brain and the heart. The performances are all solid and utterly believable. There’s depth within each character, a reason and motivation rooted in their decisions. Hayek is stand-out, as is Toby Jones as a man who shifts from arrogance (‘ha ha they’ll never guess what animal it is and I’ll keep my daughter forever’) to devastation (‘Now my son-in-law is an ogre!’) in truly sympathetic manner. Even Cassel’s lustful pursuit manages to be bizarrely sympathetic for all parties involved.
The three tales are interwoven, tentatively linked within the story but fully linked in terms of message. The three tales are based on stories from a 17th Century anthology, they are La Cerva Fatata (The Enchanted Doe), La Pulce (The Flea), La Vecchia Scorticata (The Flayed Old Lady)- but they have been freely adapted with elements of other tales by Giambattista Basile, as well as a touch of artistic license. Although set in a medieval Italy it does feel that their are messages being targeted the audiences today – about consequences of decisions and the nature of family.
The costumes are jaw-dropping, the monsters Kafkaesque, the settings breath-taking, the soundtrack haunting yet never overwhelming and the performances totally memorable. Films like this don’t come around very often so see it whilst you can!
A fantasy with just enough farce to make it fun
I doubt there are many people who have spent the past four years desperately counting down until the sequel of the rather mediocre Snow White and the Huntsman. The film was lacking entertainment and personifies Hollywood’s serious issue with getting ‘dark’ confused with ‘murky’ and deeply frowning viewed as the only way to articulate inner torment. Now we have the prequel/sequel sans Snow White aka. Kristen Stewart (after a certain scandal involving the film’s director Rupert Sanders) who realistically is not much of a loss as she spent most of the film biting her lip. A new threat befalls the kingdom and the Huntsman is called in to help, after we learn more about his mysterious backstory.
Many years ago evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) murdered her way through the land to rule the kingdoms, with her powerless sister Freya (Emily Blunt) by her side. Freya falls in love, something her sister is against as love is a foolish distraction, and has a daughter. When tragedy strikes Freya’s powers are activated (think Elsa-from-Frozen-type powers) and she moves away to take control of her own land. She decides that she must have her own unique army and orphans the children of a village. The children are brought to her castle and taught the one commandment of her rule, that love is a sin. Years pass as the children are trained and moulded into true Huntsman but two children, her two best, break her one rule and fall in love. Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) marry and try to flee but are caught in the process. Freya the Frost, as she is now known, places a great wall of ice between the pair to separate them. Sara appears to be murdered and Eric is thrown into a nearby river to be swept away. Seven years later, after the events of the previous film when Snow White killed Ravenna, Eric is called on by Snow White’s close friend William (Sam Claflin) to stop the Mirror being intercepted by Freya.
You do not go into films like this with a closed mind. They require a deep suspension of disbelief, with any concepts of logic or reason needing to be locked away for 114 minutes. If you do this you will find this film to be a serviceable and entertaining lark. It would be easy to list all of the flaws within this film but doing so would ignore how relatively entertaining it is.The script is truly mediocre, full of boulder-sized clunky exposition and mawkish sentiments. In fact a bingo or drinking game could be formed based on all the lines/phrases that are uttered about love (‘love is a sin’ ‘love doesn’t conquer all’ ‘love is not a fairytale’ ‘you reek of love’ etc.) There’s a line about wet-never regions which shows how uncertain the filmmakers are about who their audience actually is. Liam Neeson is on needless and grating omniscient narrator duties.
If you can ignore that, which I know is asking for rather a lot, what is left is a host of charming performances going above and beyond to make the lifeless script fun. Chastain is a fantastic new addition, being far more kick-ass than her running in heels stint in Jurassic World. Hemsworth is as charming as we now expect from him, mugging about and having fun. I doubt there is little I wouldn’t watch if he was in it. Blunt and Theron are solid and borderline-stirring in their villainous portrayals, making some truly dreadful lines sound half-way believable. Complex issues aside about people playing dwarves the four dwarves who aide the Huntsman on his journey (Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach and Sheridan Smith) are great fun and a joy to watch.
It’s not going to win any awards and will most likely be forgotten by the end of the month. It also does not deserve nor need a sequel (instead I would propose a new series called ‘Let’s watch Chris Hemsworth do things’ where we watch Hemsworth do a variety of activities and charm us all). BUT, it is an entertaining enough farce with just enough camp and laughs to fill a dull afternoon/evening.