Amped-up ‘Snow White’ works
Owls Head — Snow White & the Huntsman (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13/NR, 128/132 min.). In the Grimm Brothers’ original tale, “Young Snow Hunt,” the Huntsman is there for all of one paragraph. In this film, directed by Rupert Sanders, who is making his feature debut after a successful career of directing commercials, the Huntsman is bumped to co-billing status. Then again, the original Snow White was not leading a rebellion against a stepmother who was a witch.
The film opens with striking white imagery of the Queen walking in her gardens amid the snow. This often beautiful and vastly entertaining wonder of the visual is carried on throughout the film. The Queen gives birth to Snow White, but than a strange army invades; the invaders are not really human, except for one found a prisoner. She is Ravenna (Charlize Theron), whom the King falls in love with, and they marry the very next day!. Then, Ravenna, who actually is a very powerful and ancient witch (she absorbs the life force of young virgins to maintain her youth), kills the King, lets her army enter the castle and imprisons Snow White. This whole opening 25 minutes is very dark and morbid. Years later, Ravenna’s magical mirror (there’s a bit of liquid Terminator to it, as the figure in the mirror actually emerges and takes human form) warns her that Snow White is both a big threat to her, but also her salvation -- for if she takes Snow White’s heart, Queen Ravenna will become immortal.
It is just after this that Snow White (Kristen Stewart of the “Twilight” films) escapes -- some birds show her the way -- to the Dark Forest, a place of stunningly-realized evil and twisted living things. Queen Ravenna orders the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth of “Thor”) to find Snow White and bring her back, as Ravenna has to powers in the Dark Forest. However, the Huntsman’s mind is changed when he sees Snow White and he decides to help her. Soon they encounter the eight Dwarves, all played by veteran British character actors, including Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost and Toby Jones. Along the way they come to the Enchanted Forest, land of the faeries and a truly wonderful place of visual delights (turtles nave vegetation crowing on them; the faeries themselves emerge from birds). By this time, Prince William (Sam Claflin), Snow White’s childhood friend, has joined the group, creating a minimal sort of romantic triangle. The next stage for Snow White has her in pure Joan of Arc mode as she leads an avenging attack on the castle and Queen Ravenna.
The story is not bad and the film is a visual delight throughout -- I especially loved the Troll (done via motion-capture and CGI). Mention also must go to James Newton Howard’s wonderful score. Extras include audio commentary by director Sanders, visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyau and co-editor Neil Smith. Both versions have the bonus feature, “A New Legend is Born” (20:53), about the director and the film, with many behind-the-scenes views. Exclusive to the Blu-ray version are a 360-degree set tour; “Reinventing the Fairytale” (6:07), which shows portions of the three-minute trailer Sanders put together to show what his vision of the film was prior to being hired; looks at “Citizens of the Kingdom,” including 6:42 on the Dwarves and some of the tricks used to “shrink” the famous actors who portray them; and a fascinating look at “The Magic” of the film (13:23). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Safe (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 95 min.). I like Jason Statham as an actor (I think he’d make a great, more grubby James Bond) and his movies are usually action-packed fun. Here, writer/director Boaz Yakim allows Statham to stretch a bit, showing more vulnerability. And yes, there is more than one meaning to the title.
Statham plays ex-NYC police detective Luke Wright, who ends up protecting an 11-year-old, Chinese math prodigy. She is Mei, played very well by newcomer Catherine Chan. Both the Russian mob and Chinese triad are after Mei because she has been given a string of numbers (she easily memorizes and manipulates numbers in her mind). As Luke figures out, the numbers contain a code that is the combination to a safe. That safe holds $30 million and is held by the Chinese, who are to exchange the money for a computer disc in a second safe. However, before Mei can be given the second string of numbers with the combination of the second safe, she and her traveling companions are attacked and she is grabbed by the Russians. Mei escapes, but is pursued. Luke sees her in the subway station and decides to help. In fact, her plight saves him, as he was contemplating suicide. Part of the jumbled up timeline opening -- thankfully this directorial mistake is short -- is seeing the Russian mob go after Luke because he won a boxing match he should have lost. They already had killed his pregnant wife. So, Luke also has the Russians as enemies and he also has the police against him because he gave up their crooked ways and left the force.
So, we have the very deadly ex-cop Luke and the genius girl Mei running around being chased by three major forces in a city that offers no asylum. There is lots of gunfire, a wrong-way street chase, some solid subway stunts and an action-packed film after the slightly confusing opening. However, director Yakim films some of the fight sequences a bit too close, muddying the clarity of the action. The film has a number of familiar actors in small. But important roles. James Hong is Uncle Han Jiao, head of the triad back in China and who has Mei taken from her mother. Reggie Lee is Quan Chang, who runs the triad’s business in New York City and becomes Mei’s adopted father. Sandor Tecsy plays Russian mob boss Emile Docheski, while Chris Sarandon is Mayor Tremello and Anson Mount is his assistant. Robert Burke plays corrupt police Capt. Wolf, another very interesting character, as Luke convinces his police enemies to help him steal the money from the Chinese.
Bonus features include audio commentary by director Yakim; a making-of feature (11:40) that features some storyboards (the film was made in 47 days, yet does not look cheap); eight minutes on the characters and their criminal backgrounds; and 10:16 on the action sequences. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars
The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Third Season (Warner, 4 Blu-ray discs or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 927 min.). There were two very notable and compelling story arcs in the third season of the vampires-have-invaded-Mystic Falls saga. The first is that original vampire Klaus (Joseph Morgan) compels his old ripper partner Stefan Salvatore (Paul Wesley) to lose his humanity (there is a flashback to them in Chicago in the 1920s). That means he no longer cares for human Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) --well 95 percent doesn’t -- and he is back to his evil, blood-sucking ways as when he became a terror to humans after being turned. The other main arc is the arrival of Klaus’ whole family of originals, including the thought-to-be-dead mother, Esther (Alice Evans), who hatches a plot to kill all her children at once. Of course, when a vampire dies, his whole line of turned humans also die, and thus the show would lose Stefan and his brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder), as well as the recently turned Tyler Lockwood (Michael Trevino), now a hybrid vampire-werewolf. There are flashbacks to when the Originals first settled near Mystic Falls and how the death of the youngest caused the parents to turn to witchcraft for the spell that turned them into immortal vampires.
The cast remains hot and the stories improve each season, so the show remains very watchable. The Blu-ray version also comes with the five-disc standard DVD version, making for a heavy box. Extras include a 9:45 look at Stefan’s descent into darkness, something the writers were working on already when actor Wesley said he felt his character should return to his dark beginnings; and a 21:48 look at the Originals storyline with executive producer Julie Plec and Dacre Stoker, the great grandnephew of “Dracula” author Bram Stoker, who explains how the legend of vampires could be based on actual physical details of deaths in the Middle Ages when science was not as advanced. Exclusive to Blu-ray are a look into the producers’ pages (23:12), including the writers’ pack, the producers’ spells and sound FX, score and suspense; a ho-hum gag reel (3:05); unaired scenes from three episodes; and a collection of the series’ most heart-stopping moments. Grade: series 3.25 stars; extras 3 stars
Wilfred: The Complete First Season (Fox, 2 Blu-ray discs or 2 standard DVDs, NR, 286 min.). James Gann, the series co-creator and co-star as the title dog, has referred to the show as “Donnie Darko meets Russell Crowe on a bender.” Another reference point would be the stage play and film “Harvey,” in which the star talks to an imaginary rabbit. Here, Wilfred the dog is real, but only Ryan Newman (a fine Elijah Wood) in the house next door can converse with him and sees him as a man in a dog suit. The show has been adapted for U.S. television by David Zuckerman, the show runner for “Family Guy,” which features equally absurd comedy. Another reference would be any of a dozen stoner movies, as use the unlikely pair both smoke and drink together.
Ryan is a down-on-his-luck lawyer who is about to commit suicide -- he is struggling with the fourth draft of his suicide note -- when he meets Wilfred the next morning. Wilfred belongs to his stunning neighbor Jenna (Fiona Gubelmann). Seeing as Wilfred is foul-mouthed and prone to both speak his mind and act out whatever comes into it, the show is quite hilarious at times, dark at others and crass in subject matter. I quickly grew to love the show, and I think this season has been even funnier. Among the supporting players are Chris Klein as Jenna’s boyfriend, Mary Steenburgen as Ryan’s mother and Ed Helms as the perverted owner of a doggy daycare center. The season consists of 13 episodes, all shot with the Canon 7D DSLR. Extras include excerpts from the show’s Comic-Con panel; 15:38 of deleted scenes; a montage of the weed-smoking scenes; a montage of Wilfred and his friend Bear (sick stuff); and a 10minute Fox Movie Channel “Life After Film School,” with Gann answering questions from three film school students. Grade: show 3.5 stars; extras 2.75 stars
Other TV related releases:
Mannix: The Seventh Season (1973-74, CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 19 hours 52 min.). Mike Connors is back for 24 more episodes as straight-talking private eye Joe Mannix and his secretary Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher). In this penultimate season for the series, a psychic foresees death for a woman in a polka-dot skirt; a teenage boy, acquitted of murder of a technicality, goes missing; Mannix’s plane is hit by lightning and goes down in the mountains where an escaped convict (Greg Morris) rescues him; a reporter is killed at the zoo; Frank Langella plays an assassin in town for a big hit; Peter Haskell plays an ex-quarterback involved with a mobster’s girlfriend; Victor Buono plays a blind man obsessed with finding a stolen diamond collection; Anne Baxter plays a famous actress making a comeback after a year in a sanitarium; the survivors of an airplane crash start dying; and Mannix becomes a heroin addict.
Dynasty: The Sixth Season Volumes One & Two (1985-86, CBS/Paramount, each 4 DVDs, NR, 12 hours 26 min. and 11 hours 34 min.). Sold together, the complete season is 30 episodes of nighttime soap suds featuring John Forsythe, Joan Collins and Linda Evans. The Carringtons are a wealthy Denver oil family. Forsythe is father Blake and Evans is mother Krystle. This season opens with the aftermath of the Maldivian “massacre” that interrupted Amanda and Michael’s royal wedding, and we learn only two minor characters died: Steven's boyfriend Luke Fuller (Billy Campbell) and Jeff's love interest Lady Ashley Mitchell (Ali MacGraw). Collins (she plays Alexis Carrington Colby) was missing from the first episode due to contract negotiations, which were resolved by episode two. This season Evans also played her look-alike Rita, while Alexis’ sister Caress (Kate O’Mara) was introduced, leading to the spin-off series “The Colbys.” Spurned by Blake, Alexis finds her estranged brother Ben (Christopher Cazenove) and they strip Blake of his fortune. Steven (Jack Coleman) starts a relationship with closeted Bart, who is later outed. In the finale, Blake is strangling Alexis, while the rest of the cast is in danger from a fire at the La Mirage hotel.
NCIS: The Ninth Season (CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 17 hours, 6 min.). Twenty-four more episodes follow the adventures of the Naval Criminal Investigative Team headed by Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon). The season, which included the 200th episode, introduced a new love interest for Gibbs in Dr. Samantha Ryan. The season deals with a terrorist threat against the Navy, resulting in a shocking season-ender. Episodes include an amnesiac Tony; a “second-chance” restaurant for ex-cons and a buried cash treasure; a man killed in a car accident had a gun that was used to kill five hit-man murders; the current husband of both Gibbs’ and Fornell’s ex-wife is kidnapped; six Marines are killed during a Taliban attack on a girls school; and other cases take place in Cairo and Afghanistan. Extras include a behind-the-scenes look; the casting process explained by Susan Blustein and Jason Kennedy; a celebration of the 200th episode; an explanation of the work after the cameras stop rolling; a cast roundtable to answer fan questions; Jamie Lee Curtis discussing her role as Dr. Ryan; and audio commentaries on four episodes.
NCIS: Los Angeles: The Third Season (CSB/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 17 hours 9 min.). The season opens with a mission to Romania to rescue their boss, Hetty Lange (Linda Hunt), from a ruthless crime family. However, her mission reveals a secret about team leader “G” Callen (Chris O’Donnell). That secret leads to a crossover with “Hawaii Five-0,” a joint effort to prevent a global pandemic. Other episodes deal with military-grade bombs hidden around Los Angeles; a trip to Mexico to track down a killer; Callen traveling to Sudan to find missing Sam (LL Cool J), who was on an undercover mission; Kensi (Daniela Ruah) searches for her father’s killer despite being shot; a spy named Chameleon threatens Callen; Deeks and Kensi go undercover as a married couple to find a sleeper agent; and over the final two episodes, Chameleon kills two agents and Callen is arrested. Extras include six featurettes: behind-the-scenes looks at some of the car explosions, the storylines and scenes, the creation of the crossover episode, exclusive interviews with stars Barrett Foa and Renee Felice Smith, the technical advisor leading the cast through the correct way to interrogate a suspect and a tour of the elaborate sets. There also are six deleted scenes and audio commentary on one episode.