“Jack the Giant Slayer”
Hollywood’s habit of re-imagining fairytales as action-adventure movies has had pretty terrible results – one need only think of Snow White and the Huntsman and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.
But Jack the Giant Slayer (wide release) proves the exception to the rule.
Despite an unnecessary conversion to 3-D, Bryan Singer’s film transforms the old story into a tale of a simple farm boy (Nicholas Hoult, from Warm Bodies) who ascends into the land of CGI giants in the clouds (via the huge stalk grown from some magic beans, of course) in order to rescue the princess he loves from afar.
With its almost giddily clumsy combination of live-action footage and computer animation, the picture feels like a charmingly old-fashioned homage to stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen’s boys’ adventure flicks from the fifties – The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, for example.
But it adds to the mix a touch of the goofy humor of Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. That’s evident not only in the sweet, class-conscious romance between commoner Jack and the princess, but in the Snidely Whiplash-style villainy of Stanley Tucci as a turncoat nobleman who seeks to become king of the giants, and in the preening heroism of Ewan McGregor as the head of the royal guard.
They’re the sort of cartoonish figures that made Bride a classic, and though Jack the Giant Slayer doesn’t achieve that exalted status – and has a culminating battle that drags on too long – it’s a surprisingly deft variation on the venerable fairytale, and serves as family entertainment that young children will love and their parents should find easy to enjoy, too.
Lore (Magnolia) is a World War II story told from a perspective unusual in such fare.
The title character is a young German girl, brought up committed to the ideology of the Third Reich, who’s forced in the waning days of the conflict to tend her four younger siblings. Her father, an SS officer, goes off to the front after burning all the incriminating documents in the house, and her mother, consumed by fear and selfishness, decides to try to reach safety alone.
Eventually Lore is forced to lead her sister and brothers on a harrowing trek to their grandmother’s house in Hamburg, in the process coming to depend on a young man they encounter along the way.
The problem is that the boy, a mysterious, taciturn fellow, is carrying identity papers that bear a Star of David – something that leads American soldiers to assist the little group but leads the anti-Semitic girl to look on him with contempt. In reality, however, he appears suspiciously healthy for someone who claims just to have been liberated from a concentration camp.
The film, in German with subtitles but directed by an Australian, is remarkable for its depiction of a demoralized, disillusioned population struggling with defeat while still clinging to the attitudes that had brought the Nazi regime to power, and it’s praiseworthy that it doesn’t give in to the sort of obvious uplift one might expect in a story like this.
But Lore never manages to connect emotionally on a deep level – even the death of a child fails to register – and ultimately is one of those films it’s easier to respect than to embrace.
“A Place at the Table”
A Place at the Table (Magnolia) is a fine, if formally conventional, documentary on the problem of hunger in contemporary America.
Using graphs, statistics, archival footage and interviews with experts, activists and politicians, it expertly lays out the specifics of the problem and shows how it has increased exponentially as a result of government policies over the past three decades.
It also explains how the specifics of food production and distribution have helped cause serious health problems – like the obesity epidemic, caused largely not by the consumption of too much food, but of the wrong kinds of foods.
The film is at its strongest, however, when it allows ordinary folk – a Colorado girl unable to concentrate in school, a single Philadelphia mother who loses her food stamps when she gets a job, an asthmatic Mississippi child whose condition is exacerbated by lack of proper nutrition – to speak to us directly.
Their testimony brings the reality of the situation home in a way that dispassionate evidence, as well mounted as it is, cannot.