Movies: 'Snow White and the Huntsman,' 'Bernie' & 'For Greater Glory'
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN"
While this grimly revisionist Grimm fantasy appears family friendly, it's PG-13, with ominously discordant, disturbing elements that may scare younger children.
As the fairy tale begins, young Snow White's widowed father, King Magnus (Noah Huntley), is stabbed on his wedding night by his scheming bride, Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who she sucks the life-essence from his heart, snarling about how men only love her for her beauty. Seizing the throne, the evil Queen, who seems to have an incestuous relationship with her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), incarcerates Snow in the castle tower.
When the magic mirror says she's become pretty enough to pose a threat to her vain stepmother, Snow (Kristen Stewart) escapes into the dark, fog-laden forest, a bleak, Gothic woodland that's designed to evoke nightmares. Lured into service by the Queen's promise to resurrect his dead wife, a grieving Huntsman ("Thor" Chris Hemsworth, speaking with a Scottish burr) agrees to track her down.
Meanwhile, the aging Queen devours various young women to miraculously rejuvenate her power. There's a huge, menacing troll; an interlude with dwarves (Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan) whose identities are barely sketched; a poisoned apple; enchantment in a sprite-filled faerie sanctuary; brief respite with women who have disfigured themselves to elude the Queen, and a reunion with Snow's devoted childhood playmate, now-grown Prince William (Sam Claflin).
Culminating in a climactic battle between Snow -- as an armored Joan of Arc-type warrior -- and the obsessively jealous Queen, there's no doubt who emerges victorious.
Superficially scripted by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini and eye-catchingly helmed by British TV commercial director Rupert Sanders, the movie is filled with fanciful creature creations, opulent production values and brutal, bloody violence.
Theron ("Monster") delivers a ferociously powerful performance, although Stewart ("Twilight") seems too mousy to embody the "fairest" damsel, destined to inspire armies and heal the medieval realm.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Snow White and the Huntsman" is a seriously sumptuous, savage 6, idiosyncratically modernizing the alabaster-skinned, ruby-lipped feminist heroine.
"You don't want to turn grief tragically into comedy," notes funeral director Bernie Tiede (Jack Black) in Richard Linklater's weirdly wacky adaptation of a true-crime story that took place in East Texas. But that's exactly what happens when Bernie bumps off his best friend/benefactor, Marjorie (Shirley MacLaine). Yet nothing in life is straightforward or simple, particularly in this quirky black comedy.
In the tiny, rural town of Carthage, no one was more beloved than mild-mannered Bernie Tiede back in 1989, when he first met wealthy, recently widowed Marjorie Nugent, whom everyone, including her estranged family, agreed was a miserable, mean, hateful bitch. Eventually, genial Bernie, a devout Christian, won her trust, becoming her constant companion, traveling around the world as her personal assistant/business manager. Because he was a fey, fastidious bachelor in his 30s, there was speculation that Bernie was gay. But no one really knew -- or cared -- since Bernie was kind and generous to a fault, sharing everything with everyone whose path he crossed.
According to Bernie, Marjorie eventually became so demanding and possessive that he snapped, impulsively shooting her with the "armadillo" gun from the garden and then stashing her body in the freezer. His crime went undetected for nine months until Marjorie's stockbroker became suspicious and alerted her relatives. When questioned, Bernie confessed. No one, however, wanted to believe it, forcing determined District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson (Matthew McConaughey) to move the trial 30 miles away to St. Augustine to secure a conviction.
Inspired by a Texas Monthly article, it's subtly yet satirically scripted by journalist Skip Hollandsworth and director Richard Linklater ("Slacker," "Dazed and Confused"), who last joined forces with Jack Black for "School of Rock" (2003).
In the best performance of his career, Black plays Bernie with total conviction, as do MacLaine, McConaughey and a down-home Greek chorus of opinionated Carthage residents, talking straight into the camera.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Bernie" is an affectionately endearing 8, concluding with a clip of Black conferring with the real Bernhardt Tiede in prison.
"FOR GREATER GLORY"
Most Americans have never heard of Mexico's Cristero War (1926-29), a conflict that rocked that nation when Roman Catholic priests and peasants rebelled against the government's repression of their religion.
It begins with the lynching of an aged, frail-looking priest, Father Christopher (Peter O'Toole), and ends with the torture and execution of an angelic-looking 13-year-old boy, Jose Luiz Sanchez del Rio (Mauricio Kuri), who was beatified by the Vatican in 2005, the first step en route to sainthood.
In the 1920s, Mexico's President Plutarco Elias Calles (Ruben Blades) introduced secular reforms that included edicts that removed church dogma from schools, particularly science classes; ordered mass deportations of foreign priests, and advocated brutal violence against clerics who refused to leave.
As a result, a coalition of church officials and reactionaries rose up. These freedom fighters called themselves "Cristeros."
Although General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde (Andy Garcia), a retired, highly decorated hero of the Mexican revolution, is an agnostic, his wife Tulita (Eva Longoria from "Desperate Housewives"), is a devout Catholic. Filled with righteous fervor against religious subjugation, the general, a brilliant tactician, agrees -- for a fee -- to lead the ragtag Catholic militia against government forces, and that mischievous young boy, Jose Luiz Sanchez del Rio, becomes his surrogate son. The Cristeros triumphed, primarily because the skeptical U.S. Ambassador (Bruce Greenwood) brokered peace to preserve and protect American oil interests in Mexico.
Melodramatically scripted by Michael Love and heavy handedly directed by Dean Wright (visual effects supervisor on "Lord of the Rings"), it is overly portentous and ponderous, running 143-minutes, which is too bad since there are several credible performances.
What's memorable is its educational value, delivering an inspirational history lesson, commemorated by Pope John Paul II's canonization of more than two dozen martyrs and saints who participated in the struggle. Yet its R-rating for bloody battle violence discourages a younger audience.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "For Greater Glory" is a solemn, fervent 5, filled with histrionic, faith-propelled lines like, "God save us from these heathens!"