Tale Of Tales

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!

4.5

 

Advertisement

Alice Through The Looking Glass

Disney provides a sequel that no-one actually asked for

Alice Through The Looking Glass is, quite literally movie-making by numbers. The end-product is tick-boxing, almost as if it is following a guide called Pretending To Be Weird For Dummies, but it was only ever made due to the admittedly very large numbers of the first film. Six years ago Alice In Wonderland made a worldwide total of $1,025,467,110 at the box office. It currently ranks at number 23 of the highest grossing films worldwide. It’s therefore not unsurprising that this film was made, though the fact it took six years to get it done is and the fact its sequel film is equally mediocre is no excuse at all.  Interestingly Alice Through The Looking Glass was predicted to earn $55–60 million  from its opening weekend but instead earnt only $27 million. Alice In Wonderland earnt $116 million  in its opening, a difference with its sequel of 70%.  Considering it earnt so much money Alice In Wonderland had a frosty reception with critics and audiences alike. Clearly the people sat around the table who greenlit Alice Through The Looking Glass cared more about getting money out of its audience as opposed to actual enjoyment or satisfaction. Deciding to see ATTLG was due to curiosity and to quote the 1951 animated Alice In Wonderland, “Curiosity only leads to trouble.”

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the past three years sailing the high seas upon her father’s beloved ship ‘Wonder’. Alice returns home she finds that her family’s finances are so poor that they will have to either give up ‘Wonder’ or the family home. It’s at this point that Absolem (Alan Rickman) in the form of a butterfly calls her back to Wonderland. The Mad Hatter/ Tarrent Hightopp (Johnny Depp) believes that his family may actually still be alive. No-one else believes him which is causing him to fade away. Alice must use a time travelling device stolen from Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) to save Hatter. Old foe Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) wants the time travelling device for a different reason, to get revenge on her sister White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Will Alice succeed in her mission to save Hatter, will she be intercepted by Time or will Wonderland be destroyed forever through her trying to change time?

 SPOILER ZONE (SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS) The main problem with this film, its fatal flaw if you will, is that so much of it is so utterly pointless. Time tells Alice from the outset that she can’t change time. But she tries anyway, for an hour of the film’s running time, only to find out that she can’t and in the process may have destroyed Wonderland for ever. Not only does it lead to feelings towards Alice akin to my current view of Bran from Game Of Thrones ( I still can’t hear the phrase ‘Hold The Door’ without nursing an internal sob) but there’s also an ironic feeling of having had your time wasted. Time is established as a villain who accent-wise seems to be impersonating Arnold Schwarzenegger yet arguably (this may have come about due to my less than satisfied feelings towards this film) he was surely trying to do the right thing? Alice is the one who nearly destroyed everything, yet she is the one lauded and celebrated from stopping it happening..? 

Anyways…the big problem that Alice In Wonderland had was that it tried to be weird. The ridiculousness of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter personified this problem with a truly grating performance. Mercifully he has less screentime in this one but it is still enough to make you wince and feel slightly creeped out. It’s a combination of make-up, costume , performance and vocal choice that I just do not understand. Wasikowska is wonderful as Alice, an actual wonder to watch in a land filled of synthetic versions of it.In fact I’d argue the film’s best moments are when Alice is bringing that wonder into the real world – how society views her with such ill-regard and her brief stay in the ‘care’ of female hysteria speicliast Dr Bennett (an underused Andrew Scott) are moments when the film feels real fresh and lacking the self-consiousness that lingers of the rest of it.

A surprising appearance of Richard Armitage as King Oleren reminded me of Middle Earth and how Peter Jackson managed to create a fully fledged world that athough different from ours seemed equally real. That has not happened with AIW or ATTLG. Instead we’ve been given two films that try to be quirky and strange yet are truly not – neither film has heart to it – and are instead synthetic manifestations of it. The first film may have succeeded on trying to profiteer from the ‘strange’ but the huge defeat of its sequel suggests that people have learnt their lesson. On a grander scale it’s hard not to ponder what this huge loss means for future Disney films. Nearly all of Disney’s upcoming slate is of remakes or reimaginings as they seemed to be safe entities with a pre-sold audience. Just a few weeks ago with Jungle Book (click here to read my review)  Disney proved it could do it well. But after this, I’m not so sure now. Hollywood has taken an approach of putting all of its eggs (monies) into one safe basket (a film based on a book/previous film) yet the scale of ATTLG box office after numerous others may require a change in thinking.

A huge budget and elaborate sets yet no-one appears to have worried about the plot. It’s a mess.

1.5stars

Warcraft: The Beginning

123 minutes of beginnings and little take-off

I came out of Warcraft feeling confused. As a total noob when it comes to W.O.W I knew nothing about the material before seeing the film and the film has little provision for the uninitiated.  Whilst scowling the web for plot summaries and plot explanations to answer my questions I also came across the reviews. Two outcomes came out of this experience, 1) I still have unresolved questions that may just have been plot-holes 2) There are some really brutal reviews out there that make me feel very sorry indeed for Duncan Jones and his film. Read any of his PR for the film and it is clear this is a project of passion for him – an element that really shines through when watching. Warcraft is not horrendous nor particularly bad; just too convoluted to allow it to flow. Plus, considering the entire film focuses on introductions it still manages to leave too many gaps and lead to much head-scratching. 

Draenor, the homeworld of the orcs, is dying. A green-skinned orc called Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) controls a magical force called The Fel which allows him to open a doorway from their world to another, Azeroth the home of the humans. Gul’dan plans to send over the orcs in batches, the first being a group of the strongest warriors. Duratan (Toby Kebbell) the chieftain of the Frostwolf clan, his pregnant mate Draka (Anna Galvin) and his second in command Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky) are amongst the first to cross. Duratan has his doubts over the mysterious green magic, believing there to be a link between Gul’tan using it and  the destruction of their home. Fearing the same will happen again with this world me makes contact with Anduin Loather (Travis Fimmel), the military commander of the city of Stormwind who in turn contacts the king (Dominic Cooper), the Guardian (Ben Foster) and a young mage (Ben Schnetzer). United will they be able to stop the Fel from destroying yet another world?

That’s the plot as far as I understood it (apologies to any of the more informed if I have gotten anything majorly wrong there!) It’s not the plot itself that leads to confusing, but some of the main nuances. Character motivations often go unexplained, as are the links and relationships between them. Considering the film’s focus is to introduce it almost feels like a prior film that I had missed had already done so. When it comes to the storytelling process I’m still not sure if the film is really clever or really stupid, lumbering along from one set-piece to the next, frequently impenetrable to the viewers.

The world of Warcraft is a rather beautiful and detailed one, with lots of layers and depth. However although it has made the transition to the screen it has perhaps not been translated enough for it to draw in those new to franchise, and I suspect it it is too diluted for it’s loyal fanbase. I have no qualms in metaphorically using a glossary to understand a mythology for a Fandom, something I have regularly had to do whilst watching six seasons worth of Game Of Thrones or even the six Middle Earth films,  but this film has too quiet a soul and too dull to warrant such extracurricular research. There is also a prevailing sense, resulting from poor critical and commercial reviews along with poor box office takings, that this is a world that will not return to the screen again…

The characters that inhabit this world are fine, not particularly good nor particularly bad. Just. Fine. Kebbell is standout as the conflicted Orc, proving yet again at his great skill at using the technology to create such wondrous creatures. Fimmel is almost an Aragorn 2.0, a reminder of just how good Viggo Mortensen  was in the role of charmer with a heart of gold. A shoehorned-in romantic subplot with half-orc Garona (Paula Patton) is undercut in terms of believability both by underdevelopment and forced chemistry. The rest of the cast are criminally underused. 

Warcraft is a film that is fantastical, but far from fantastic. Although the story being told is adequately entertaining it is told in a manner that is rather butchered, dull and rushed. It’s enjoyable enough but there is a prevailing sense that this film is not as good as it could have/ should have been.

2 stars

The Jungle Book

It’s really a Bare Necessity that you see it!

For reasons somewhat unknown and potentially puzzling for many fans, Disney has decided to make a series of live-action versions of their animated classics. Apparently there are even 15 currently being planned. If they are all even half as good as this one then it’s not something to worry over. The Jungle Book (2016) is a marvelously wonderful adaptation that is both true to the original 1968 film yet with enough of its own nuances for a fresh-feel.

Mowgli was only a baby when he was found alone in the jungle by Bagheera the black panther (Ben Kingsley). Bagheera took Mowgli to the group of animals in the jungle who would best be able to care for him and protect him – the wolf pack. Raised by surrogate mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) and pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and bought up alongside their wolf cubs Mowgli learns the ways of the wolves, but as he is getting older Mowgli’s (Neel Sethi) progress is starting to lag behind his wolf siblings. One day, during the dry season, all the animals of the jungle are gathered to drink what remains of The Water Truce when Bengal tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) makes a reappearance after years away. Shere Khan smells Mowgli’s scent and warns the wolfpack to get rid of him or face the consequences. Bagheera offers to escort Mowgli back to the land of the man but the pair get separated on the journey. A close encounter with an enormous Indian python called Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) leads to Mowgli meeting Baloo the bear (Bill Murray). A true friendship begins to form between them but how long can it last with Shere Khan still desperate to hunt and kill Mowgli?

There are three key things that have been perfected to make this film as good as it is. Hopefully one of the things you noticed as you read the above plot summary is the cast. Firstly, how good is that cast!?! Look at the incredible group of actors that were brought together. Then look individually at each actor and the character they play. It’s not often you get to say that every casting choice is perfect within a movie and it’s something that you can say applies to this film. Kingsley provides the necessary paternal warmth hidden under layers of no-nonsense concern. Nyong’o as Raksha is a wolf fiercely protective and not afraid to speak out when it’s needed. Elba is fantastic, a properly scary villain, who growls around the land. Johansson’s Kaa is suitably seductive and hypnotic. But the award for most outstanding vocal contribution has to go to Bill Murray providing a performance that is un-bear-ably endearing and amusing in equal measure. How young newcomer Neel Sethi manages to hold his own is an incredible feat which he appears to do with ease. Let alone the fact he spends the film acting alongside CGI animals…

Leading to the second area in which this film excels – the visuals. I’m on the fence about 3D usually. After seeing too many films which claim 3d status yet do little to warrant it I tend not to be overly excited when having to choose between 2d and 3d showings.The Jungle Book is the first film in an age where I’ve been so glad I booked that 3d ticket. The depth of the frame, the landscape, the animals fur, the movement of the water and the curse of the red flower. All of these aspects are superbly enhanced by the 3d. Whilst aware of the cost it can add to a cinema visit I would firmly recommend seeing this film in 3d to access the added textures and wondrous depths it provides. The animals themselves are beautiful and almost life-like in how they look and move.I now desperately want to cuddle a baby wolf and sit upon a giant bears stomach as we float through the river.

Thirdly there’s the direction.Director Jon Favreau ensure first and foremost that this is a children’s movie whilst avoiding any pandering or talking down to the children. The film has enough darkness to give it bite – mildly frightening as opposed to truly scary. There’s even a lesson or two to be learned along the way. Unlike the original animation this film is not a musical but two of the classic songs are included – ‘The Bare Necessities’ is sung by Mowgli and Baloo during the aforementioned river floating sequences and Christopher Walken talk-sings his way through ‘Wanna Be Like You’ in such a wonderfully charming yet ultimately threatening manner – that feel like a natural fit as opposed to being shoe-horned in.

This may just be the most enchanting film of the year so far. It’s a marvellous visual spectacle told with wit and warmth. A treat for the eyes, ears and heart.

4 stars

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

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 FrostRob BrydonAlexandra 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.

 2 stars

The Last Witch Hunter

Lightweight, idiotic and trashy – but not in a good way…

First with the positives; I got to walk on a red carpet last night! After picking up the tickets to the premiere from a tent just off Leicester Square Gardens, then seeing the hundred-odd people surrounding the red carpet, I then got to walk it! It was a pretty incredible experience. Although it was brief, and unsurprisingly no-one knew/cared who I was, it was a bit like walking on air. Perhaps more of a case of floating along than walking the red carpet. There was a brief Q&A before the actual screening of the film – with three of the main stars (Vin Diesel, Michael Caine and Rose Leslie) and director (Breck Eisner) which was also exciting – primarily as I can now say I was sat less than 20 feet away from Michael Caine. Now onto the less positive stuff; i.e. the film itself…

800-years-ago Kaulder (Vin Diesel) lost his wife and daughter to murdering witches. Determined for revenge/justice he joins a raid to destroy the Queen of the witches. Many of his peers die, but Kaulder does not. Kaulder is the last man standing in a face-off with the Queen, one which results in both of their apparent deaths. However, the Queen curses Kaulder in her last breaths to remain immortal – never to love and never to find peace. Now living in present day New York, Kaulder works with a religious sect to combat the thread of witchcraft. His liaison, Dolan 36 (Michael Caine), is one of his closest friends and about to retire leaving Dolan 37 (Elijah Wood) as his replacement. But when tragedy strikes, and Kaulder realises the Queen is returning, he must rely on help from the unlikeliest of people – a witch called Chloe (Rose Leslie).

Oh dear. Just, oh dear. This film is as good as its trailers (i.e a shambles). Again, as I have done with previous reviews, I will rely on bullet points to make my rant somewhat comprehensible.

  • The Plot – Derivative and out-dated. During the Q&A the director boasted of the film’s originality; proud of the fact it is not based on a comic book/tv series etc. After watching the film, this appears to be a flawed statement. The narrative is far from ambitious or new. The plot twist is immensely vanilla. All of the dialogue is just exposition, telling the audience what has happened/what will happen next. The scene with Max in the bakery, and the conversation between Kaulder and Dolan 37 exemplifies this, with Kaulder actually saying to 37, ‘Did you understand any of that?’ This is purely for the ‘benefit’ of the audience, who are clearly being presumed to be of minimal intellect. Kaulder then ‘kindly’ explains it to 37/us. The actual mission Kaulder is on is both absurd and poorly-paced, drifting from one set piece to the next. The story itself is messy, and how it is told it unbearably flat.
  • Gender roles – Who doesn’t love a casual bit of misogyny in their cinema? In a year that saw our silver screens graced with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in Mad Max: Fury Road we have a film that returns us to the woman-as-sidekick/pretty face. Considering how fierce her turn as Ygritte in Game Of Thrones was, Leslie is ill-served here. Her character is a witch, dressed in black and with loads of jewellery (another tick for the lack of originality box). The character could have been given any career but no, Chloe works as a bartender. [Spoiler alert!] it gets burnt down at some point and she spends a good chunk of time blaming Kaulder, moaning that the bar was all she had. Clearly she had forgotten just how big her Central New York apartment is (a problematic feature of tv/film is giving broke characters unrealistically fabulous apartments – a topic for another time). She then spends much of the time in emotional turmoil and needing to be rescued. Her witch powers are the kind that requite her to sit still and go into people’s minds – disappointing considering she could have been scripted to instead kick ass with her powers or even be able to defend herself without his help. The fact Vin Diesel himself must be almost twice Leslie’s age, and his character about 775 years older, a suggested romantic subplot is both ridiculous and patronising. Why not hire an older actress if so insistent on partnering them off? The fact that her accent wavers from cut-glass to eardrum-slicing really doesn’t help her characters attempts at appeal.
  • Vin Diesel – Kaulder is sad (blank expression and monotonal voice). Kaulder is being sardonic (blank expression and monotonal voice). Kaulder is being brave (blank expression and monotonal voice). Vin Diesel crosses the line from being hilariously bad in this role to being depressingly bad. His attempts at quips and banter fall flat without intonation and emotion. Vin Diesel in person has a great deal of charm but is so unconvincing in this with an incredibly wooden performance. Coincidentally you’ll spend the whole film waiting to boom the line, ‘I am…’ Character traits for Kaulder are heavy-handed added on – his predilection for watches to show that he’s deep and reflects of time because he’s immortal. He drives a fast sports car because he can afford one as he’s lived forever. He only sleeps with air hostess as he has a fear of commitment. All of these attempts at providing depth instead reveal how transparent the plot and its characters are.
  • Direction – The special effects are so bland and unspectacular, almost sludgy in presentation. Even without advertising (which has a separate budget) this film cost $90 million to make. Where did it all go?

This film is not even entertaining to be ‘so bad it’s good’. It’s just bad. Bad and boring, which is an unforgiveable crime in cinema.  Avoid.