A spoon full of formula makes the story go down

The Boy: A Review

SPOILER ALERT

   The BoyLast weekend I was in the mood for something scary and decided to check out The Boy, a movie about an old English couple who hire a nanny for their child, a boy named Brahms. If you’ve seen the trailer or even just a poster you know that Brahms is a life-sized doll. Creepy doll movies are among my horror favorites. Years ago, when I was a painter, my work focused on the disquiet we feel when we catch an unguarded glimpse of a doll plopped on something or discarded—its painted eyes staring placidly, seeing—what?

I perceived a quiet acceptance of its fate. Inevitably, it would be discarded. Soon it would be part of a landfill, probably sooner if it lost a limb or its head or when the fantasy it offered no longer entertained and something newer took its place.

I painted other toys besides dolls, but the blank gaze and snarled hair of my daughter’s favorite doll made it my favorite. I created an alternate reality for it—the theater of our child minds was where dolls and other toys existed. I set the stage and painted the scenes. That was many years ago. I had some shows and eventually moved on. Using dolls as subjects is no longer cutting-edge. Long after my paintings were done and gone, the movie series Toy Story explored this idea and though charming, much of it is poignant and dark. Dolls have that effect. Our toys are usually forgotten as we mature and like any friends we leave behind and then unexpectedly encounter, they know things.

Why do I tell you this? Most of us find dolls creepy, especially the life size ones like the ventriloquist’s dummy in the movie Magic, like Chucky, like Talking Tina in the Twilight Zone episode or Annabelle; like little Brahms.

I had expectations!

Written by new screenwriter, Stacey Menear (Mixtape) and staring Lauren Cohen (The Walking Dead), The Boy, directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside), starts out well enough. Greta, a young American ends a long trip from the States, arriving somewhere in the English countryside to interview for a job as a nanny. She sees a big house that she deems “storybook” and I would describe as a standard horror movie mini-mansion. Inside, it definitely reads scary with the obligatory stuffed animals, bizarre knickknacks and lots and lots of stairs. No one is there to greet her. Intimidated and confused, she removes her boots before she explores. The boots disappear. There’s a family portrait of a couple in their late fifties and their son, a rather sullen little boy of eight.

As she and we are doing the math, figuring out how a couple that old could have a kid that young, a woman interrupts her. It’s the mom—or mum I should say. Only Mum is way older than she was in the portrait. After getting a list of to-dos and not to-dos, meeting Malcolm, the cute grocery guy who hesitates to give her the scoop on what’s going on, Greta meets Brahms. As we know and Greta finds out, Brahms is a life size doll. Greta struggles to keep a straight face as Mum talks to Brahms and describes his daily routine. The job is hers; unlike the other applicants whom he rejected, Brahms likes her.

Mummy and Daddy leave for a vacation. Later, we watch as they load their pockets with rocks and head into the ocean. Brahms is Greta’s problem now.

All right. I could go through the rest of the plot but it’s typical cat and mouse horror fare. As she’s left alone with the doll and rather than singing it a lullaby, fixing it breakfast, reading to it and all the rest, she tosses it on a chair and does what she likes. Some weird things happen. You guessed it. Predictably, Brahms is in a different place from where she left him, and is the doll looking at her? What was that noise?

When she sets up a date with Malcolm, the tiny gloves come off. Brahms is jealous. Greta’s in the shower and we see her jewelry slide away from the edge of the sink (does Brahmsie get his first woody?). Oh no! Her dress is gone and then later, Greta’s trapped in the attic and misses her date.

What’s going on? Less than you think. After days of harassment, Greta throws in the towel and works the program, hitting all the steps of the care and pretend feeding of Brahms. Concerned, Malcolm tries to persuade her to tone it down, but Greta’s convinced herself that what’s going on is supernatural. Malcolm told her that the real Brahms died years ago in a fire. He was eight, but he was, as people said, odd, and what was it about the little girl who disappeared back then? Was she the one he was glaring at in the old photo? Why, yes she was! Never mind. Greta’s survival instinct has kicked in and she’s going to do what Brahmsie wants.

All is well in Toyland until Greta’s abusive boyfriend tracks her down, the one who beat her to a pulp, forcing her to move to another country to avoid running into him. He wants her back, but Greta knows that Brahms doesn’t share. What Chuckyesque thing does Brahms have up his little sleeve? We eagerly await the cummuppins.

Then—the big disappointment. As bad boyfriend prepares to slaughter the Greta-defending Malcolm who is half his size, we wait for Brahms to defend his woman—I mean nanny. Suddenly a wall breaks open. A man wearing a doll-like mask rushes out and kills the boyfriend. Oh no! Brahms isn’t a devil doll! Instead, he’s generic–hidden-crazy guy! All this time he was hiding in the walls! How unusual!

Oh man—what a disappointment! So the rest of the movie is the chase. You know the drill. Brahms wants to kill and chases Greta and Malcolm who don’t want to die. Finally, with Malcolm seemingly down for the count, Big Boy Brahms has Greta on the bed! Just like when she tucked in Pretend Brahms, Big Boy wants a kiss! As he leers at her through the grotesque mask, presumably hiding scars from the long ago fire, Greta plunges a long screwdriver (very Freud) into him and she and a dazed Malcolm get the hell out. When the movie ends with Big Boy piecing together the shattered face of the doll, it dawns on me. Where have I seen this ending before? I don’t mean the crazy guy chase, but one where crazy guy hides in the walls to make us we think something supernatural is going on.

It’s the House Bound ending! Yes folks, check it out on Netflix!

Last year, I reviewed another of director William Brent Bell’s efforts, The Devil Inside. I summed it up by describing it as Godzilla versus the Smurfs. At the end of my review, I remarked that the story had no ending; it just stopped, as if they had run out of money.

It’s possible the ending of The Boy was the end result of the writer’s angst in finding the right resolution. I will say that much of the first half of The Boy entertains due to Cohen’s performance, and because of Stacey Menear’s deft handling of the exposition. It’s possible again, that the ending was a mere coincidence and nothing more, however my sense of having seen the exact same ending was overwhelming.

So how should it have ended? For a real scare, let’s keep the supernatural in tact. Let’s see—we have ghosts, devils, possession, voodoo . . .

I know. Let’s say Malcolm and bad boyfriend are dead, the victims of what? Greta is missing. Mummy and Daddy didn’t kill themselves. The police call them as they sip Mai tai’s on some beach. They return. Other than the bodies, the result they presume, of a crazed and still missing Greta, the police tell them that nothing else is amiss. Mummy rushes in to find Brahms, still dressed in his pajamas. Unlike the police, Mummy’s practiced eye spots a small drop of blood on her boy’s little hand. As she coos over what poor Brahms has endured, she sees something under the bed. It’s a Greta Doll! Mummy swears to never leave again as she nods her head. “Yes, of course she can stay!” At last, Brahms has a playmate.

Thank you Twilight Zone’s Talking Tina. Thank you Magic. Here’s a win for all you dolls in Toyland.

 

THE HOST: Now Serving Fish Legs in Agent Yellow

A Review of The Host, a 2007 Korean Creature Feature

SPOILER ALERT

   the hostDirected by Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder), The Host is an entertaining hodgepodge of social satire, monster movie tripe and political commentary. It is also a 2008 award winner—The Blue Dragon Film Awards among others.

Unlike Godzilla and The Pacific Rim, or earlier chill thrills like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms where the action is focused on government, scientists and military firepower, The Host is about ordinary people taking on the extraordinary.

The type of humor in this film reminded me of the 1990 movie Tremors where “just plain folks” banded together to take down giant worms summoned by mining and seismic activity. The ingenuity of hired hands and town folk as they do battle is similar to The Host, where a family pursues a monster to rescue one of their own.

I did wonder about the title. Who or what was “The Host.”?

The story begins in Seoul, where in a U.S. Military lab, a snotty white guy (Scott Wilson—pre The Walking Dead) tells his Korean assistant that the formaldehyde bottles taking up shelf space have dust on them. If there’s one thing this higher up can’t stand, it’s dust. The solution? Pour it all down the drain. This toxic chemical will end up in the Han River, but the boss ignores the obvious.

Next we’re at the Han River where a fisherman catches a tiny creature, something peculiar enough to show to his buddy. The man and his buddy speculate on what the creature is and if it’s a fish, what about those legs? Is the Host where this thing came from? Whatever the tiny creature is, we know it’s not good when before committing suicide, a man on a bridge stares at the water below and says something down there wants him. Little fishy is going to get a lot bigger.

Now, we’re in a tiny snack shack by the water. It’s a family owned business serving food to picnickers spending a peaceful day on the riverbank. Gang-doo (Kang-ho Song—Memories of Murder, The Snowpiercer), son of the proprietor, is a fortyish man-child who sneaks food meant for “mat” customers who are relaxing on the river’s shore—that fast food octopus is missing a leg. Clearly, Gang-doo is no host, especially since his hair is bleached an unappetizing orange yellow.

As Gang-doo sits inside, watching television, his twelve-year old daughter, Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko—Snowpiercer) joins him. He offers her a beer, “You’re in middle school; it’s fine,” he assures her. Very unhosty. They’re watching as the family star (isn’t there always one in every family who can do no wrong) Gang-doo’s sister, champion archer Nam-Joo (Doona Bae– Cloud Atlas, Sense8), competes in a tournament. Then Gang-doo’s father Hie-bong (Hie-bong Byeon—Memories of Murder) tells him to take some snacks to their customers. Now things get interesting. That something is still in the water. As if we didn’t know! Customers forget to eat their octopus legs as they watch the mysterious shape. Since resisting an impulse is not in Gang-doo’s skill set, he throws a beer can at it—or maybe to it. Is the creature bringing out Gang-doo’s inner-host? Then, customers start throwing food and cans.

Can you guess what happens next? That’s right, it’s monster time! When we see it, we realize that this thing wouldn’t even qualify as Godzilla’s baby brother, but it’s nasty just the same. The size of a teen T-Rex, this cutie can run. Unlike Godzilla who eats radioactive anything, fish boy eats people. Opening like an umbrella, its four-cornered mouth with a fang at each corner reminded me of the Predator. Using its snaky tail like a to-go box, it grabs people “for later”.

When a U.S. soldier decides to fight the monster, Gang-doo helps. Not a good choice. The soldier gets eaten as Gang-doo hurries his daughter away. When they stumble, he grabs the hand of the wrong little girl. Poor Hyun-seo finds herself wrapped in the to-go tail as the monster decides it’s had enough fun and swims for home.

Later, we see photos of victims on a makeshift shrine. Gang-doo’s sister Nam-joo arrives as does brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park—Memories of Murder), an unemployed college grad. Gang-doo and his dad burst into tears. Then each family member tries to outdo the other’s grief over the loss of Hyun-seo. The contest becomes weirdly funny as they all fall to the floor, trying to out-mourn each other. Hyun-seo, a no nonsense twelve year-old, would be shaking her head in embarrassment.

Soon, Gang-doo and family find themselves in a holding area as government officials try to sort things out. The Korean government seems to be a movie favorite target. We see the confusion, boredom and politicking of various government types while they ignore the concerns of Gang-doo, his family and everyone else. After TV news reports that the American soldier who chased the monster (guess the monster spit him out) was not dead, but alas, covered with strange “spots,” doctors warn Gang-doo not to eat anything. Why? Eating might feed the “infection”! Not to worry. The Americans are planning to spray the river area with “Agent Yellow”! Ouch. As soon as no one’s looking, Gang-doo opens a can of food. Then a cell phone rings. It’s Hyun-seo! She’s in a sewer and soon will be a monster munchie, so please come get her!

Despite his garbled pleas, no bureaucrat takes Gang-doo seriously, but his family does. Determined to save Hyun Seo, the family escapes and hijacks an ambulance; then, with the help of Dad’s cash and credit, they acquire an Agent Yellow spray truck. They’re stopped at a checkpoint, but bluff their way through, telling the guard the truck is from a secret division.

Hiding in another snack shack, they wait, rifles ready for Godzilla Junior to appear. While they eat, each family member, including Gang-doo, imagines sharing food with Hyun-seo. When the monster shows up, the bullets only make him cranky, and Nam-joo’s arrows miss. The nasty thing chases after all three and Grandpa makes the ultimate sacrifice. Goodbye Hie-bong!

Now we’re in the sewer. Hung-seo crouches in a hollow pipe embedded in the wall. Each time fish boy drops another body, Hyun-seo waits until it’s safe, then searches for a live cell phone.

Back at the river, the authorities capture Gang-doo, but the sibs get away. Somehow, Hyun-seo manages to phone Gang-doo again, giving him a better idea where she is. Looking for more ”virus” (the virus was made up to cover the pollution incident), doctors lobotomize Gang-doo. Not only does the procedure have no effect, Gang-doo seizes the opportunity to escape again. We see all three siblings figure out Hyun-seo’s location. Will they be in time?

Meanwhile back in the sewer, another load of groceries is dropped, including two young boys. One, five-year old Se-joo is alive and Hyun-Seo takes charge. Se-joo and his brother were homeless and hungry. As they wait for the monster to return, she comforts him by promising a variety of tasty meals they will share. She improvises a rope, managing to hook it to an overhead grid. Alas, it’s too short. Then, double alas, the monster comes back and takes a nap right under the rope. You can see the wheels turning in Hyun-seo’s mind as she calculates the risk of using fish boy as a step stool. As she tiptoes up the creature’s back, a tail whips out. Like Hyun-seo, monsters know how to play possum! Oh no!

The three siblings, each on their own path, are seeking Hyun-seo. Nam-joo shoots some arrows but almost gets eaten. Where are the authorities—the police, the U.S. Military, the Korean Army? They’re getting ready to spray Agent Yellow. Disguised as a student protester, aided by a homeless guy with a gas can, Nam-il bumps into Gang-doo and Nam-joo just as the monster reappears. They douse fish boy with gasoline as Agent Yellow wafts through the air. Ears bleeding from Agent Yellow, the siblings battle the beast as it weakens. Then Nam-joo shoots an arrow and lights the fire. Gang-doo finishes the thing off with a pole just as he sees a little hand protruding from the beast’s gullet. It must be and it is Hyun-seo! Pulling her out, he sees her other arm wrapped around the boy.

Sadly Hyun-seo is no more. It must be a Korean thing—no similar American movie would tolerate such a downer.

The Host ends in another snack shack by the river. It’s night and it’s snowing. Inside, Gang-doo ignores the television (he has changed) as he feeds Se-joo the tasty foods promised by Hyun-seo. As the little boy enjoys his meal, the “Host” sits by the window. Rifle in hand, Gang-doo guards against the unknown night.

 

The spy who came in from the old

Spectre: A review

SPOILER ALERT!

spectre  This weekend, I went to see the newest James Bond movie, Spectre. I’ve never been much of a fan, though as far as I can tell, I’ve seen every Bond movie soon after its release. I mentioned in my review of Skyfall, the early Sean Connery movies were thrilling. Every exotic locale, the delicate dance of the gambling dens, where everyone was evil, but oh so glamorous transported our sixties humdrum selves into vivid cinematic sin. Even better were the women with big hair and funny names. The sex scenes faded at just the right moment. No morning mouth, snarled hair or wince of regret spoiled it.

Spectre, the newest Bond film, is an entertaining film with an impressive opening sequence. We’re in Mexico and from a Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) parade a man appears among the celebrants. He wears a skull mask and holds hands with a beautiful senorita. As we follow him and he removes the death mask, we see that he is 007. The death mask is fitting since in this film, Bond is labeled a professional assassin. He leads the woman to a prearranged room and they begin making love. Then he seems to change his mind. Exiting via a window, he tells her he’ll be right back. He never returns. Instead he chases and kills a bad guy and during some truly impressive helicopter stunts, he almost takes out half of the parade people.

Later at London headquarters, and back from “vacation,” Bond is in trouble. The new “M” (Ralph Fiennes, for my money one of the best things in the movie) suspends him for the unauthorized “hit.” The “license to kill” program is being phased out in favor of a new international surveillance conglomerate headed by “C” (Andrew Scott—Moriarty to Cumberbatch’s Holmes). “C” is a smarmy passive aggressive bureaucrat, a drab harbinger of all things “spy” in the changing world. “C” is the new reality and “M’ is the past, a theme carried over from Skyfall. Not every millennial is on board with the change. “Q” (Ben Whishaw) still believes in the program and happily creates all the fun cars and gadgets, giving Bond access even after Bond has been suspended. So why did 007 defy his orders this time?

We discover the answer when a concerned Moneypenny visits James Bond’s pitiful apartment to find out the real reason Bond was in Mexico. Like Moneypenny, we’re not impressed. There’s no movie décor, nothing “goes” with the couch, and the flat screen TV sits on the floor. 007, the embodiment of all things glamorous has no taste. Why does this matter? It doesn’t, except the movie reality doesn’t match the fantasy of the older Bond films. The ‘60’s Bond was a man whose freedom, the “license to kill” included plenty of other sins and little guilt.

When I thought about it, which was almost never, I assumed that whatever this enigmatic spy called home was likely a den of solitude like Superman’s fortress. And no women allowed (except the cleaning lady; 007 wouldn’t vacuum or make beds). Discovering the ordinariness of the Bond residence is like finding out there is no Santa. Once the bubble’s burst, there’s a new perspective (Spectre?) of Bond. This new view extends to his treatment of women, which changed as the film went on. He deserted the senorita with no apology, and after protecting a grieving widow by killing her assassins, he comforted her by ripping off her clothes (she helped). Then he goes home, unrepentant and when M (Fienne) suspends him, something changes. There’s weariness in 007’s eyes. In fact rather than shrugging off commitment, he becomes territorial. He pouts when he discovers Moneypenny had an overnight visitor that’s not him. “That’s life,” Moneypenny chides. So it is.

James explains his actions by clicking on the TV. A posthumous message from M, assigns him a mission. The woman who haunts James is not Pussy Galore, but “M” (Judy Dench). In Skyfall, M emerged as a mother figure for both James and his foe, an embittered agent. Her willingness to sacrifice them for the good of the Crown cut deep.

As in Skyfall, more than world domination, Bond’s past drives the plot in Spectre. These issues continue in the form of Blofeld, played by Christoph Waltz, an interesting actor, though the smirk is wearing thin. The scene introducing Blofeld as a man to be feared is masterfully done, using protocol and whispers and it ends in a gruesome murder. Blofeld’s connection to Bond is what drives Blofeld’s thirst for revenge. He has a childhood score to settle and he’s mad enough to make sure that all the important women in Bond’s life, including M, die. Like all Bond villains, Blofeld is a psychopath.

“M’s(Dench) posthumous assignment leads to Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux, an appealing French actress). A psychiatrist specializing in talk therapy, Swann is the daughter of a dying bad guy who begged Bond to save her from her father’s enemies. Bond agrees, but Ms Swann isn’t grateful. She can take care herself, thank you very much. Of course, she’s promptly kidnapped. He rescues her but she’s still not with the program, though she does lead him to the next clue. It seems that Blofeld and “C” are in cahoots. Surprised?

There’re more betrayals, helicopter stunts and rescues before the movie’s end. There’s also something different. Bond decides to give it all up for Madeleine, a woman who cannot tolerate the world of her father. 007 has done this in other films and the future Mrs. Bond always ended up dead, leaving James newly available. This time, she survives and they walk away together. Bond seems sick of it all. But can this leopard change his spots, never to engage the deadly sleek glamour of the games, the adrenaline of the jungles, the seething volcanoes of life and death? Will he give up the miracle cars, suitcases with secret compartments, and exploding watches? Will he miss the sultry, double-dealing women, the rescuing of grieving widows? It seems this Bond can leave it all.

This is Craig’s last Bond film, a character he described as misogynistic. The world has changed since the days of Mad Men, when Ian Fleming’s smooth spy was unstoppable. Thanks for the memories, but spies now operate in a more complex, more inclusive world. A more human Bond might be a better fit. Maybe the next Bond should be more like Richard Burton’s character in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Maybe it’s time Bond did too.

Crimson Peak

Blood, Sweat and Fears

BEWARE–this review is full of spoilers.

 Crimson Peak  Crimson Peak is an okay ghost story about an American girl (with money) who marries an Englishman with a title, an old mansion, and a sister who likes poisoned tea and meat cleavers. Like the new bride on arriving at her new home, we find lots of motifs (the cold, the ratty mansion and more red than a mall at Christmas) but little in the way of scares, at least from anything supernatural. Yes, I know there were some moments where the undead plowed through a hallway carpet and rose from a vat of what looked like some super red preschool paint. The thing is, these devices don’t have the same effect anymore. The yawning death grin of Norman Bates’ mother scared the popcorn out of 1960’s audiences, but some times, and I’m talking to you, Guillermo, less is more.

I really enjoyed Mama, del Toro’s previous horror effort, but Mama, the actual ghost, with her absurdly elongated chin and little manic eyes looked like someone’s blind date nightmare. Much, much scarier was an earlier film of del Toro’s, The Devil’s Backbone. That one was truly eerie. Not only was the little boy ghost with a head of blood floaties like nothing I had ever seen, but the buildup to certain scares have stayed with me. Since I saw it for the first time, I avoid looking through keyholes.

One thing I’ve learned from watching Crimson Peak and Mama, del Toro’s latest scare-fests is if you’re the star and you die and come back from the dead, you get to be a good-looking ghost. In Mama, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau plays twins. One kills his wife and attempts to kill his children, and he dies as Mama’s first victim. One would assume, given his deeds, the dad would look like quite the troll in the afterlife, but noooo—he just looks sad.

The ghosts of all three victims of Crimson Peaks’ murderous brother and sister team, lost anything that might make them appealing and kept everything that rattled and oozed as they stalked poor vacant Edith (Mia Wasikowska). When she was a child, Edith’s dead mother appeared shortly after the funeral looking like a tar-drenched mummy with Halloween chattering teeth, ten-inch spikey fingers and wearing a funeral dress borrowed from Scarlet O’Hara’s Aunt Pitty Pat. So after being stalked by a number of gross looking ghosts, Edith tries to address what is eating (pardon the pun) the shades.

Alas, she discovers the truth. It’s murder and she’s next! But it’s complicated—She and Thomas (the brother) are in love and he’s having second thoughts. When sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain) discovers that she and her brother Tom are no longer exclusive as a couple, hell hath no fury like Chastain. Seriously I would never want to have a fight with Jessica. She’s almost as manic here as she was in Zero Dark Thirty. A very fine actress, she steals every scene. And like every imperiled Victorian damsel, her old American boyfriend (Charlie Hunam—none of these actors are American other than Chastain), who makes it just in time to feel Lucille’s steel, saves Edith. Lucille, who makes quick work of the boyfriend, decides to teach Tom a lesson by shoving a knife through his face, and Edith has had enough. She takes Sister Dearest down, by whacking her with the business end of a shovel. Though the brave boyfriend, thanks to Tom, survives, Tom does not and his ghost distracts Lucille long enough for Edith’s shovel to make it count. And his ghost, looking rather gray, with blood floaties around his head, makes sad eyes at his soon to be out of there and on the way home bride. And for the star, Huddleston’s ghost, there were no chattering oversized teeth and no head parts with a gaping hole where your brains once sat. And Lucille? There’s not a hair out of place nor is there a bow untied as her ghost plays the piano. They wouldn’t dare.

In The Haunting of Hill House, what walked there, walked alone. And we never saw it. It was one of the scariest novels I ever read and the 1963 film, made of it, The Haunting, was incredibly creepy. During the 1999 remake, there were tons of scary special effects and each over-the-top one detracted. Though I love a good monster and a good acid-dripping alien, when it comes to ghosts, less is more.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Hi ho-hi ho-politically correct we go!

No Spoiler Alert! (Hello–It’s Snow White)

As I write this review, SNOW WHITE and the HUNTSMAN, a 2012 release,  is a currently in theaters. Directed by Rupert Sanders (first film) and co-written by Evan Daugherty and John Lee Hancock (director of  THE BLIND SIDE), it stars Charlize Theron as Ravenna (the evil queen), Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth as the studly huntsman.

If you enjoy films with great visual effects, you ‘ll enjoy this film.The story, however, is muddled.

In my opinion, the movie’s too long. I became restless about three-quarters into it.  The story meandered. It may be that the writers were working from other versions of the fairytale and we’re all used to the Disney version. Regardless, it seems that they failed to settle on one version. Unfortunately, the result is muddled and questions like why Ravenna doesn’t kill Snow White when she kills the King and who this Huntsman really is are not answered. We’re left with too many loose ends.

Where is Prince Charming? He’s been demoted. His name is “William” (Sam Claflin)  and he’s the son of a duke. Ravenna’s overly devoted brother “Finn” Sam Spreull (Hamlet called and wants his hair back) keeps a handy supply of local maidens in the dungeon for those occasions when Ravenna needs a dose of youth to freshen up. Ravenna tricked the King, Snow White’s father, into marrying her. Ravenna has issues with men–and everybody else–and makes it her business to spread misery like a bad rash over the entire kingdom. Too bad she has no other outlets. Ravenna could do a mean blog and likely, the Facebook friend from hell.

Charlize Theron makes a believable evil queen–very intimidating. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of her. This actress is good in just about every role she does.

For some reason Ravenna keeps Snow White alive as a permanent dungeon resident. That is until The Mirror announces Snow White is “the fairest in the land.” Ravenna is not happy (she never is).  Especially when she learns Snow White can kill her. There is good news though. Snow White’s heart is a permanent beauty treatment. If Ravenna eats it, there need be no more messy maidens.

Kristen Stewart is okay as Snow White. She simply isn’t compelling. There’s a heaviness to her acting. No perceivable sense of humor.

When Finn comes to collect Snow White’s heart, Snow White escapes.  Then Ravenna sends out the Huntsman and one thing leads to another, including Ravenna impersonating William and handing  Snow White the poison apple. She bites, falls dead and guess whose kiss wakes her up. Not wimpy William–it’s Hunky Huntsman.

So now Snow White is really annoyed–that apple was the last straw. The result– Snow White leads an army and storms the castle to end Ravenna. The huntsman and William, and six of the seven dwarfs (one dwarf dies) join in the battle. Several well-known non-dwarf actors hi ho it to the castle including Bos Hoskins and Ian McShane. The dwarf scenes have lots of bathroom humor and though funny, they’re not in sync with the tone of the narrative.  Not surprisingly, this cast was a major issue for working actors who are in fact dwarfs. Of course they win and Snow White kills the queen. Kristen’s soulful Twilight stare helps Ravenna into the light.

This reworking of the Snow White fairy tale sounds a feminist note. It ends with her coronation. Who is going to be Mr. Snow White? Will it be the devoted William, the tormented rough-around-the edges Huntsman, or maybe a dwarf? Wait for the sequel. One thing for sure– no white charger, no “Some day my prince will come” for this girl. She has a kingdom to rule.