“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” (PG-13) 3 stars (out of four)
The stars of “Snow White and the Huntsman” are back – sans Kristen Stewart – in “The Huntsman: Winter’s War,” a solid prequel/sequel to the 2012 original that adds Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain to the cast. Stewart was creatively omitted from the follow-up, which first looks at the origins of Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and the fellow warrior, Sara (Chastain), he grew up with; then skips forward over the events of “Snow White and the Huntsman” as it heads to an epic showdown between Eric & Sara, the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and her sister, the Ice Queen Freya (Blunt), over the all-powerful magic mirror.
While “The Huntsman’s” premise – a mishmash of fairy tale characters from “Frozen,” “Brave” and, of course, “Snow White” – is hardly original, a talented cast (including the hilarious Nick Frost as one of the Huntsman’s dwarf warriors), makes up for the film’s shortcomings. “The Huntsman” is far from perfect, but a crowd-pleasing film nonetheless.
Michael Fassbender gives one of the year’s best perf
ormances in the title role in “Steve Jobs,” a fascinating look into the complex mind of the Apple Computers genius. Foregoing the traditional biopic format, director Danny Boyle successfully opts to tell Jobs’ story in three thrilling acts, each taking place before product launches of the Macintosh Computer in 1984, the NeXT black box in 1988 and the iMac in 1998.
Unlike the previous Apple co-founder biopic — the 2013 Aston Kutcher bomb “Jobs” — “Steve Jobs” pulls no punches when illustrating the Jobs’ scornful behavior. Some of the most notable scenes chronicle his ugly child support battle with his ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston), the public lambasting of co-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen, in a familiar feeling portrayal), and Macintosh co-designer Andy Hertzfeld (an excellent Michael Stuhlbarg); as well as an examination of his volatile relationship with Apple CEO John Sculley (the always great Jeff Daniels).
If it’s to be believed (Apple and Jobs’ widow have raised objections over the film), Jobs was hated by most everybody he worked with (the exception being his loyal marketing guru Joanna Hoffman, expertly played by Kate Winslet). The interesting thing is, Boyle, through Aaron Sorkin’s searing script, tries to examine just why Jobs was the way he was — mostly because he was a socially inept genius who simply thought about things on an entirely different plane.
There’s a telling line early in the film where Jobs tells Sculley something to the effect of, “I like you John — you’re the only one who sees the world the same way I do”; to which Sculley responds, “No one sees the world the way you do, Steve.” In a way, it tells us that Jobs’ prickish behavior wasn’t necessarily born out of hatred, but rather his frustration that people simply don’t understand him. There’s no question Steve Jobs was one of a kind, and so is this movie.
“Crimson Peak” (R) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Gifted filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro sadly falls short of delivering on his film’s promise with “Crimson Peak,” a beautifully constructed and admirably acted Gothic horror thriller that is hobbled by its predictable story-line.
Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland”) stars as Edith Cushing, an aspiring American Gothic romance novelist in the late 1800s who is swept off her feet by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a charismatic British aristocrat. After marrying Thomas, Edith moves to her husband’s native England along with his suspicious sister, Lucille (a creepy Jessica Chastain) — only to discover their family’s mansion houses gruesome secrets, and there is no way to escape.
There’s no question Del Toro has an incredible handle in filmmaking, as he artfully brings back to life the types of settings and atmosphere that gave the Hammer horror films of the 1960s and ’70s a special brand of eeriness (plus, Edith Cushing’s surname is an obvious ode to late, great Hammer star Peter Cushing). While at its heart “Crimson Peak” is a haunted housed thriller (Del Toro’s ghosts are as creatively fashioned as anything you’ve seen in his previous thrillers), the script feels as vacant as the sprawling Sharpe mansion. True, the scenes with the specters of Edith’s, Thomas’ and Lucille’s haunted pasts are thrilling, but ultimately, the motivation of the siblings and their lurid back story come as no big surprise when they’re finally revealed.
Ultimately, “Crimson Peak” isn’t a bad movie; just a disappointing one that fails to meet its potential given the level of talent involved.
“Bridge of Spies” (PG-13) 2 1/2 stars (out of four)
“Bridge of Spies” has almost everything you would hope for out of a Steven Spielberg film: It transports you back to an important set of events in U.S. history, while being beautifully photographed and having a cast of colorful, convincing characters, including an Oscar-worthy performance by Mark Rylance. The theater veteran’s performance is so strong in fact, that it can’t help but highlight the film’s glaring weakness, involving someone in the cast that you’d least expect.
Tom Hanks stars as James B. Donovan, an idealistic New York City attorney tasked by the government to represent Rudolf Abel (Rylance) after he is detained in the city and accused of being a spy at the height of the Cold War. Asked to go through the formalities for a quick and speedy resolution — effectively, to put on a show so that no accusations could be levied saying that Abel didn’t have fair representation — Donovan instead represents the alleged spy in earnest. It’s a move that ultimately saves Abel’s life, and makes him a valuable asset for trade when an American pilot is shot down during a spy mission over East Germany.
Spielberg effectively presents “Bridge of Spies” in two acts: first, as it concerns the trial, and second, the exchange of spies with the Soviets in East Germany. For those looking for an intense spy thriller, you’ll only get it in the second act, and the thrills are limited at best. Action-wise, “Bridge of Spies” only has one scene of note, when the American pilot’s plane is shot-down in the enemy’s air space.
While “Bridge of Spies” has several strengths, the biggest problem with the film, honestly, is its leading man, as Hanks’ umpteenth turn as the good guy is starting to wear dangerously thin. There’s no doubt that Hanks can act, it just at this point feels like he playing the same type of role over and over again. It would have been interesting to see him take on Rylance’s role, which is played with brilliant ambiguity. Instead, we get another film where it feels like Hanks is just reading lines. In the wake of “Bridge of Spies,” somebody needs to infiltrate Hanks’ management and urge that the Oscar-winning actor start taking more risks. His career will be all the better for it.
rt of filmmaking to dizzy new heights, quite literally, with “The Walk,” a brilliant dramatic recreation of Phillipe Petit’s death-defying wire walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974. Even though the amazing feat was chronicled in the Oscar-winning 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” and we know how the story ends, Zemeckis — through the stellar acting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit — still expertly manages to place the viewer right on the wire with the famed wire walker and creates an air of uncertainty. Before that, Zemeckis recounts the extraordinary events leading up to the walk, ingeniously framing them within something you’d see in a heist film.
“The Walk” can only be seen on IMAX screens until its wide opening Oct. 9, and quite frankly it’s the only way to see it. It’s a film experience that might not play well for those afraid of heights, as Zemeckis creates one of the most intense film atmospheres in recent memory. While “The Walk” is an uplifting film, there’s obviously a looming sense of sadness as the vision of the Twin Towers recalls the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 — an event that Gordon-Levitt handles with heartbreaking subtlety with a beautiful soliloquy at the film’s conclusion. It’s one of the best films of the year.
“The Martian” 3 1/2 stars (out of four)
The curse of lukewarm Red Planet movies is lifted by director Ridley Scott with “The Martian,” a smart, sci-fi epic that wonderfully mixes action, adventure, drama, comedy and great visual effects into a relatable narrative about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars. A movie that respects its audiences’ intelligence, “The Martian” works real science into the story, yet presents it in a way that we can all understand. Following the brilliance of director Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar,” Scott continues to raise the bar that future space films should strive for.
Unlike his classic space thriller “Alien,” and “Alien” prequel “Prometheus,” Scott’s monster in “The Martian” is time, as astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left alone on Mars and presumed dead after a storm separates him from his crew. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast including the likes of Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Sebastian Stan, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig, Sean Bean and Chiwetel Ejiofor as astronauts and NASA personnel scrambling to assemble a rescue plan, “The Martian” proves that Scott is once again at the top of his game.
Although he’s been in the movie and television business the past 12 years, the last four have been especially eventful for Sebastian Stan, morphing from good guy Bucky Barnes to the villain The Winter Soldier in the “Captain America” movies, and playing Sigourney Weaver’s son in the acclaimed USA Network miniseries “Political Animals.”
Given his role opposite Weaver, though, makes you wonder if the 33-year-old actor has a secret agenda to work with the people who brought the sci-fi classic “Alien” to life — including Ridley Scott, who directed Stan in his latest film, “The Martian.”
“I didn’t think of that at all. I should have said that to Ridley when we were shooting. I didn’t even think about Sigourney,” Stan told me with a laugh in a recent phone conversation from Toronto. “But now I should try (to work with everyone). It was a good cast.”
Opening in theaters nationwide on Friday, “The Martian” stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is separated from his crew during a mission on Mars and presumed dead after his fellow astronauts evacuate the planet. Watney is very much alive, though, and with a base camp and limited supplies, must find a way to establish communication with NASA on Earth and find a way to survive for months if the agency is to approve a rescue mission.
Stan plays Chris Beck, who with his fellow astronauts (Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Aksel Hennie) must decide to defy NASA’s orders and commit mutiny by turning around their ship to return to Mars and save Watney.
In order for the rescue mission to work, the crew members have to be 100 percent on board with the plan, or the already dangerous plan will put Watney in greater peril. Stan said that the reason that the crew seems so unified in the film is that the actors are also 100 percent committed to what they’re doing in their characterizations, which made shooting the scenes all the more exciting.
“It is about commitment, and that’s why it works with this group. They’re so versatile and not afraid to take chances,” Stan said. “Jessica Chastain, Michael Pena — everybody — they elevate you when they’re around you. It makes you realize, ‘I’m a better actor because of these guys.'”
Also making Stan feel like he was in the moment was Scott’s insistence — just like his other films — that he used practical special effects as much as possible.
“We really had a set to work with — it wasn’t just green screen — we really wore those astronaut uniforms and the ship was very detailed and intricate, and built from scratch,” Stan said. “Ridley and the filmmakers constantly spoke with NASA to finalize everything, including the overall look of the astronauts. It always pulls me in more when I watch a movie and I know that there isn’t that much CGI in it. It’s crazy to think that ‘The Martian’ didn’t have that much CGI.”
“The Martian” was almost an exercise in wish fulfillment for Romania native, who wanted to be astronaut as a child. But Stan, who moved with his mother to New York at age 12, said, audience members don’t have to have their sights set on the stars to relate to “The Martian.”
“The movie has right amount of humor and suspense, and you invested when you’re watching the film,” Stan said. “It feels very grounded and there’s an everyman feeling in Matt Damon’s character, just because he’s so relatable.”
Stan, who also recently starred opposite Meryl Streep in the music-themed family drama “Ricki and the Flash,” is currently reprising his role as The Winter Soldier in the hotly anticipated Marvel superhero sequel “Captain America: Civil War.” Look for that to hit theaters in May.
Original Interviews, Reviews & More By Tim Lammers