Birthdays in July: Big 50 for Cruise; Han-Indiana-Harrison turns 70

Birthday milestones in July:
30: Anna Paquin
40: Maya Rudolph, Wil Wheaton
50: Andre Braugher, Tom Cruise. Anthony Edwards, Wesley Snipes
60: Dan Aykroyd, David Hasselhoff, Terry O’Quinn
70: Genevieve Bujold, Harrison Ford, Karen Black

Birthdays:
Pamela Anderson 7/1 (45), Lucie Arnaz 7/17 (61), Dan Aykroyd 7/1 (60), Kevin Bacon 7/8 (54), Simon Baker 7/30 (43), Ned Beatty 7/6 (75), Kate Beckinsale 7/26 (39) Kristen Bell 7/18 (32), Karen Black 7/1 (70), Andre Braugher 7/1 (50), James Brolin 7/18 (72), Albert Brooks 7/22 (65), Betty Buckley 7/3 (65), Genevieve Bujold 7/1 (70), Sandra Bullock 7/26 (48), Ruth Buzzi 7/24 (76), Rose Byrne 7/24 (33)

Dean Cain 7/31 (46), Leslie Caron 7/1 (81), Diahann Carroll 7/17 (77), Lynda Carter 7/24 (61), Phoebe Cates 7/16 (49), Geraldine Chaplin 7/31 (68), Kristen Chenoweth 7/14 (44), Chris Cooper 7/9 (61), Bill Cosby 7/12 (75), Cameron Crowe 7/13 (45), Tom Cruise 7/3 (50), Rory Culkin 7/21 (23), Willen Dafoe 7/22 (57), Kim Darby 7/8 (64), Larry David 7/2 (65), Brian Dennehy 7/9 (74), Vin Diesel 7/18 (45), Phyllis Diller 7/17 (95), Shelly Duvall 7/7 (63)

Anthony Edwards 7/19 (50), Edie Falco 7/5 (49), Jamie Farr 7/1 (78), Will Ferrell 7/16 (45), Laurence Fishburne 7/30 (51), Louise Fletcher 7/22 (78), Harrison Ford 7/13 (70), Danny Glover 7/22 (65), Topher Grace 7/12 (34), Tom Green 7/30 (41), Arlo Guthrie 7/10 (65)

Tom Hanks 7/9 (56), Woody Harrelson 7/21 (51), Deborah Harry 7/1 (67), Josh Hartnett 7/21 (34), David Hasselhoff 7/17 (60, Robert Hays 7/24 (65), Edward Herrman 7/21 (69), Philip Seymour Hoffman 7/23 (45), Anjelica Huston 7/8 (61), Mick Jagger 7/26 (69), Alex Karros 7/15 (77), Lisa Kudrow 7/30 (49)

Cheryl Ladd 7/12 (61), Matt LeBlanc 7/25 (45), John Leguizamo 7/22 (48), Lindsay Lohan 7/2 (26), Gina Lollobrigida 7/4 (85), Jennifer Lopez 7/24 (42), Courtney Love 7/9 (48), Jon Lovitz 7/21 (55), Jane Lynch 7/14 (52), Cheech Marin 7/13 (66), Kelly McGillis 7/9 (55), Elizabeth McGovern 7/18 (51), Helen Mirren 7/26 (67), Sandra Oh 7/20 (41), Terry O’Quinn 7/15 (60)

Anna Paquin 7/24 (30), Jeremy Piven 7/26 (47), Franke Portente 7/22 (38), Jamie Pressly 7/30 (35), Daniel Radcliffe 7/23 (23), Jonathan Rhys-Meyers 7/27 (35), Diana Rigg 7/20 (74), Michelle Rodriguez 7/12 (34), Linda Ronstadt 7/15 (66), Maya Rudolph 7/27 (40), Geoffrey Rush 7/6 (61)

Eva Marie Saint 7/4 (88), Carlos Santana 7/20 (65), Fred Savage 7/6 (36), Arnold Schwarzenegger 7/30 (65), Jessica Simpson 7/10 (32), Jaden Smith 7/8 (14), Jimmy Smits 7/9 (57), Wesley Snipes 7/31 (50), Kevin Spacey 7/22 (53), David Spade 7/22 (48), Sylvester Stallone 7/6 (66), Terrence Stamp 7/22 (73), Harry Dean Stanton 7/14 (86), Ringo Starr 7/7 (72), Patrick Stewart 7/13 (72), Sally Struthers 7/28 (64), Donald Sutherland 7/13 (78), Hilary Swank 7/30 (38)

Liv Tyler 7/1 (35), Jerry Van Dyke 7/27 (81), Jan-Michael Vincent 7/15 (68), Sela Ward 7/11 (56), Wil Wheaton 7/29 (40), Forest Whitaker 7/15 (51), Robin Williams 7/21 (61)

Lincoln swings nasty axe as vampire hunter

While the title, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” may look fine on
the science-fiction/horror shelves of the book store, on the
theater marquee it almost induces snickers. As a movie, it seems to
provoke one thought about its expected style: campy.

But this movie, based upon the best-selling novel by Seth
Grahame-Smith, does not serve it up with a wink to the audience. It
is presented in a totally serious fashion, which might please hard
core fans of horror films but leave others feeling underwhelmed.

Graham-Smith wrote the screenplay, which has several deviations from
the book. Key characters in the book have been left out while others
have been added. The climactic finale is not written about at all in
the book.

The director is Timor Behmambetov, who displayed stylish action
chops with the Angelina Jolie adventure “Wanted.” In “AL:VH,” he
exploits many opportunities for slow-motion scenes of mostly
ludicrous human feats of dodging or deflecting mortal damage while
serving up dire consequences to the bad guys.

The book is a clever piece of historical fiction, offering the idea
that Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest presidents — an
emancipator and a man with the heaviest of burdens of keeping a
country from collapsing amid a civil war — had a secret life as a
vampire slayer. In the novel, Grahame-Smith inserts himself in an
introduction wherein he, as a struggling writer, is mysteriously
given a packet that contains an old journal that turns out to be the
writings of Lincoln. The rest of the book details what was in these
writings, interjecting Lincoln’s recollections into a narrative that
tells of Lincoln battling vampires that were thriving anonymously in
America, mostly in the South where they could feed off slaves.
The book reads like a history text and can be slow at times, but
interestingly, old photos and art work are distributed through the
pages, supposedly authentic proof of vampires.

In the movie, Benjamin Walker has the title role and at 6-foot-3
certainly has the lanky build of Lincoln, but he looks like a young
Liam Neeson — and in fact played a young version of Neeson’s
character in “Kinsey.”

As a child, young Abraham is traumatized by the death of his mother,
believing she was killed by the businessman Jack Barts (Martin
Csokas), who had employed Abe’s father before a falling out. Abe
stews for years, vowing revenge, and as a young adult goes on his
quest to avenge his mother’s death. Instead he finds Barts to be more
than he expected, surviving a gunshot to the eye. Consequently, Abe
is knocked around and upon regaining consciousness finds himself in a
strange home, hosted by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper).

It is Henry who enlightens Abe about the presence of vampires,
including Barts. Henry then recruits Abe to become a vampire hunter.
But this comes with sacrifices — putting aside for now his plan to
kill Barts, and to live a life of a loner with no family or friends.

Abe does put his revenge plans on hold, but violates Henry’s decree
about solitary living. He meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead),
and although attracted to her does not act until prodded by his
employer and friend Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson).

Two characters not in the book are the two head vampires, Adam
(Rufus Sewell) and Vandoma (Erin Wasson), who have allied with the
South, naturally wanting slavery to continue so vampires can have
sustenance. Also, Adam would like the country to become The United
States of Vampires.

The cinematography is the work of one of the superstars of the
trade, Caleb Deschanel — father of Zooey. The result is a visually
masterful movie. The scenes of Lincoln twirling his deadly axe are
exceptional — although one wonders what the point is of twirling an
axe. A lot of the action sequences do force one to suspend disbelief,
especially in scenes where Lincoln and his undead foes defy gravity.
The heretofore mentioned finale is an edge-of-your-seat piece of
great action, but do not spend any time thinking about it — it truly
is ludicrous.

As for the performances, Walker’s Lincoln is pretty ordinary. His
scenes with Mary lack any chemistry. He is best when interacting with
Henry or Joshua. The physical aspects of the role are where Walker
thrives. He really does look like a expert axe man, although he does
sometime tend to be a lame cowboy when going after vampires, getting
sucked into terrific jams.

Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln is a real deviation from the book, and
true history. In the book, after the Lincoln’s son Willie dies –
seen afflicted by Vandoma disguised as a maid in the White House –
Mary is bedridden. In real life, the tragedies of her life — losing
children and her husband in death — pretty much drove her crazy. In
the movie, Mary recovers from Willie’s death and plays an integral
role in the strategy employed by the president that turns the tide of
the Battle of Gettysburg, and The Civil War.

Cooper’s Henry is the soul of the movie, a man whose fate has left
him immortal in an eternal battle against those who destroyed his
life and continue to prey upon the world.

Another character not in the book but in the movie is Will Johnson
(Anthony Mackie), a black childhood friend of Lincoln’s who as an
adult becomes a valuable ally, standing with Abe against the vampires.

WOULD YOU DO THIS?
A Carnival Glory cruise ship excursion is being offered for fans of
the “Saw” horror movies. The cruise, from New York to Canada over
five nights, allows those on the ship to play volleyball and
miniature golf and more with stars of the series, Costas Mandylor,
Mark Rolston, the Jigsaw puppet and various actors who played victims
in the movie. Could the cruise turn out to be wicked and the setting for the next
“Saw” movie?

Black’s talents showcased in “Bernie”

In November 1996, 38-year-old Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede (pronounced
tee-dah), shot 81-year-old rich widow Marjorie Nugent in the back
four times. He stored her body in a freezer in the garage of the
widow’s home in Carthage, Texas. For the next nine months, Tiede
managed to bamboozle an entire community into believing Marjorie was
alive but indisposed, meanwhile spending her money lavishly, mostly
charitably. Upon being caught, Tiede confessed to the murder,
claiming it was the result of years of emotional abuse and
possessiveness, and later was convicted of the murder and sentenced
to life in prison.

Although a slam-dunk case in the court, it remains to this day a
story that is debated. Was Tiede a calculating monster who preyed
upon a wealthy lonely widow and gained her favor only to betray her,
or was he a genuinely nice man who befriended her out of compassion,
with the riches being incidental, and truly was driven to a moment of
insanity by her cruelty?

Director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “Fast Food Nation”
and “Before Sunrise”), addresses this story in “Bernie,” co-writing
it with Skip Hollandsworth, who penned the article on which the movie
is based.

Jack Black, in a performance that may earn him nominations come
award season, plays the title role in “Bernie.” Black is perfectly
cast as Tiede, a seemingly gentle soul who arrives in Carthage to
assume a job as an assistant funeral director. In this work he is an
artist, not only in preparing the dead for their eternal rest, but in
marketing and dealing with the grieving. He also becomes a pillar of
the community, active in a Methodist church, organizing events like
art shows and being a driving force in the local theater productions.

Also wonderfully cast is Shirley MacLaine as Marjorie Nugent. Nobody
can affix that dour look like MacLaine, and she presents the widow
Nugent as a truly mean woman, basically friendless, generally loathed
in the town and alienated from her siblings and children — she was
even sued by them.

Linklater structures the movie as a semi-documentary, inserting
comments from townspeople (not real Carthage citizens although some
residents served as extras). Some see “Bernie” as a dark comedy, but
the story itself is not humorous. The funny parts are the candid
comments from the citizenry.

The Nugent family is said to be upset with the movie, which
overwhelmingly presents a sympathetic view of Tiede and portrays
Marjorie is an unpleasant, self-absorbed and suffocating person.

Bernie and Marjorie meet at the funeral of her husband, and as a
dedicated employee, Bernie has made it a routine to make follow-up
visits to grieving widows, presenting flowers or gift baskets. But
with Marjorie, this soon escalates into an unlikely relationship.

Whether the relationship was romantic/intimate is never resolved.
Comments from the townspeople are mixed. The man who prosecuted Tiede,
Danny Buck (played with style by native Texan Matthew McConaughey),
alludes to a possibility that Tiede was gay. Real-life reports stated
that evidence of Tiede’s homosexuality was discovered in his home
after his arrest.

In “Bernie,” Tiede at first takes Marjorie on dates and has lunch
with her. Then they become traveling companions on junkets all over
the world. Ultimately, Bernie becomes her servant, cutting down his
job at the funeral home to a part-timer as he handles Marjorie’s
finances and soon becomes a 24-hour on-call nurse maid.

Even the citizens of Carthage acknowledged that for a while,
Marjorie seemed happier and looked lively. Then things started to
slip as Marjorie became more demanding, her impatience growing
thinner, her verbal abuse increasing.

Black’s Tiede shows enormous patience and despite being smothered
remains loyal to Marjorie — until a fateful day in November 1996.

Post-murder, Tiede displays exceptional savvy in deception, holding
inquisitors at bay with claims Marjorie is recovering from strokes
and other ailments. The most tenacious of those trying to locate
Marjorie — it is interesting that nobody in the Nugent family seemed
motivated to follow up on Tiede’s claims for many months — was the
widow’s stockbroker Lloyd Hornbuckle (Richard Robichaux), one of the
few people in town who suspected Tiede had sinister motivations.

Those who defended Tiede’s murder of Marjorie, insisting it was an
act of temporary insanity, argue that Bernie putting the body in a
freezer instead of disposing it was evidence he wanted to be caught.
He said he wanted to keep the body fresh so her could give her a
respectful funeral he believed she deserved.

Another strange aspect of the story is that once he had control of
Marjorie’s money, he continued to live in his modest home and drive a
clunky old car. Overwhelmingly, the money he did spend was of a
charitable nature or investing in businesses in town.

While the comments from the Carthage citizenry are a highlight of
“Bernie,” the movie is a showcase for Black in demonstrating his
acting skills beyond comedy in addition to his musical talent. He is
shown singing in church and at other events, significantly a tender
rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer” and a lively stage production of
“Seventy-Six Trombones.”

Like the real event, “Bernie” does not provided the definitive
answer as to who Tiede really was — a gentle man blinded brief a
brief moment of uncontrollable rage or a cool, manipulative customer.
One sure conclusion: Tiede accepted responsibility for his actions
and has transferred his acts of good will from the Carthage community
to the prison community.

ATTENTION “STAR TREK” FANS
On Monday, July 23, Fathom Events will be offering “Star Trek The
Next Generation 25th Anniversary Event” at theaters throughout
Southern California. The presentation will start at 7 p.m.
The event will include big-screen presentations of two popular
episodes: Episode 106, “Where No One Has Gone Before,” and Episode
114, “Datalore.” There also will be behind-the-scenes footage and
interviews with cast members. Go to www.fathomevents.com for more
information and locations of screenings.

Ridley Scott revisits sci-fi with “Prometheus”

In 1979, at a time when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were the
kings of movies that focused on outer space adventures and encounters
with beings from other planets, and “Star Trek” stumbled out of the
gate with its first attempt at a big-screen adaptation, a new sci-fi
film hit the theaters with a simple, chilling and enigmatic marketing
campaign.

The movie was titled “Alien.” It did not have any big-name stars in
it. The ad published in newspapers was dark, with the title stripped
across the top and just below it was an object that looked like it
could either be an oblong-shaped moon, an egg, or some kind of alien
head with light beaming out of the eye sockets. Under the object was
the real hook — the words: In space no one can hear you scream.

That was all the information potential viewers would get. Critical
reaction to the movie was mixed, but word-of-mouth truly paid off and by the end
of 1979, “Alien” was one of the most successful movies of the year
and has become a classic in the science-fiction and horror genre.

It really was a case of little known names making it big. The late
Dan O’Bannon (1946-2009) was the genius behind “Alien” as he and
Ronald Shusett, having worked together on John Carpenter’s “Dark
Star” five years earlier, collaborated on the screenplay.
In another fateful match-up, the writers were introduced to the
artists, notably Chris Foss, H.R. Giger and Jean Giraud, who would be
pivotal in the design of the full-grown alien xenomorph that now
ranks up there with other classic horror figures such as
Frankenstein, Dracula, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and
Godzilla.

Ridley Scott, who had only one other major movie under his belt,
“The Duelists,” directed “Alien” and with this team captured the
chilling and claustrophobic effects of being trapped inside a ship
in deep space with no way to escape a hostile being that was
practically indestructible and, by the way, bled acid.

The rest is history. While the sequel, “Aliens,” directed by James
Cameron, was a hit, the two subsequent movies tanked and have been
disowned by ardent “Alien” fans. Nevertheless, an industry of
products — action figures, puzzles, trading cards, novelizations –
has kept the franchise going, as well as a healthy post-theater life
of the movies via video-DVD and pay-TV exposure.

Now, 33 years later, Scott, who had nothing to do with any of the
“Alien” movies following the original, is revisiting the genre with
what may or may not be a prequel, depending on who is talking about
it. Noomi Rapace, who plays the key role of Elizabeth Shaw in
“Prometheus,” has said that when Scott first brought up with her the
possibility of being in the movie, he called it a prequel.
However, co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof — co-creator of “Lost” –
said that his intention during the writing of “Prometheus” was not to
treat it as a prequel. Lindelof had been hired to work on an
original draft of the movie written by Jon Spaihts, which was penned
as a straight-up prequel. Lindelof saw his objective as pushing back
some of the familiar aspects of the story — face-hugger and
xenomorphs — and fortifying more of the original concepts of the
Spaihts effort.

So the premise of “Prometheus” is learning about the beginnings of
man rather than an exploration of possible life in outer space.

In the late 21st century Rapace’s Shaw and her partner not only in
scientific research but in life as well, Charlie Holloway (Logan
Marshall-Green), discover etchings on cave walls throughout the
world that despite being done thousands of years apart have a common
theme of people looking up to a cluster of planets or moons.
Their discoveries catch the attention of Peter Weyland (an
unrecognizable Guy Pearce), the elderly ultra wealthy owner of the
Weyland Corp., who finances a journey to this faraway destination on
the spaceship Prometheus.

Unlike “Alien,” wherein the basically blue-collar crew of the
Nostromo is forced to detour from a trip home to become planetary
explorers, the Prometheus crew is hand-picked specifically for this
mission. While Nostromo is essentially a cramped dump truck of a
space vehicle, Prometheus is roomy and luxurious. On board with Shaw
and Holloway are a few other scientists, a crew led by the
wise-cracking captain, Janek (Idris Elba), the Weyland corporate
figurehead Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and of course the
android, David (Michael Fassbender).

Their destination is a moon orbiting a Saturn-like ringed planet.
This moon has atmospheric conditions similar to Earth and upon a
closer look there is evidence some form of intelligent life is or has
been there.

Here the aura of “Alien” hangs over to the disadvantage of
“Prometheus.” In the 1979 movie, when Dallas (Tom Skerritt) , Lambert
(Veronica Cartwright) and Kane (John Hurt) leave Nostromo and venture
on foot on the unexplored planet to find the source of the
transmission that diverted the spacecraft there for investigative
purposes, viewers had no idea what to expect. The result was truly
shocking. In “Prometheus” the anticipation is that the space jockey,
egg pods, face-huggers and possible xenomorphs will be appearing.
There is a sense of foreboding but not surprise.

“Prometheus” does offer clues as to what transpired on this planet,
explaining the space jockey that the doomed Nostromo crew
encountered. “Prometheus” also presents some ideas about the
beginning of life and leaves a few questions unanswered, likely in
anticipation of sequels.

Aside from the chills supplied in “Alien,” the 1979 movie was lifted
by the characterizations. The crew of Nostromo was a motley group.
Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) are the
engineers, the mechanics of the ship, two guys low on the totem pole,
bitter about what they feel is unfair compensation for their work.
Lambert is the I-do-what-I-am-told employee, not really anxious to
offer more than token effort; one who stands frozen in the face of
death rather than try to flee. Kane is the dedicated second officer,
efficient and driven, a guy everybody can talk to. Dallas is the
leader, a man probably with loftier goals, having resigned to the
fact he is captain of a oversized ore hauler with a crew of misfits
– he distrusts the company that employs him but does what he is told
without question.

Then there is Ash (Ian Holm), who is kind of the nerd — the science
officer — not close to anybody and the character who turns out be
only a tool for the company that has a secret agenda. He is, in fact,
an android whose true purpose is to carry through with
company-mandated exploratory projects should they arise.

And Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). An unknown when she was cast as
Ripley, Weaver’s career was propelled by this role, applauded as a
ground-breaking character of a woman who despite being scared to
death maintains her wits and eventually outsmarts a hostile, wily
creature.

In “Prometheus” Shaw no doubt will be compared to Ripley in that
when mortal danger threatens, she is resourceful, or as android David
notes, has a strong resolve to survive. Rapace, who proved herself as
being able to play tough roles with her turn as Lizbeth Salander in
the original “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series, gets really
sweaty and dirty as Shaw and even forces the audience to endure with
her an excruciating scene of impromptu surgery. She presents an
interesting case of a scientist who also firmly embraces her faith.

Theron’s Meredith also is a strong but underused character. Her
primary interest is to oversee the journey and make sure Prometheus
returns to Earth in one piece, with minimal depreciation. Her
allegiance to the mission is minimal, more obligatory than anything.

Fassbender’s David is the character with the most intrigue. Unlike
Ash, we know from the start that he is a robot. This keeps the
viewers guessing. It is known he primarily is programmed to complete
some mission that may or may not conflict with the safety of the
crew. Fassbender’s performance is marvelous — he is efficient, has
enough artificial intelligence to be analytical. He even has a
childlike wonder of things, much like the android Data from “Star
Trek — The Next Generation.” It should be noted too that the naming
of this android David follows an alphabetical pattern of robot names
in the “Alien” series — Ash in “Alien,” Bishop in “Aliens,” Call in
“Alien Resurrection.”

Ridley and his crew present as awesome view of the planet and the
pyramid therein where the Prometheus crew members make their finds. Indeed,
the visual aspects of this movie are stunning. There are shocks and
there is gore. “Prometheus” does not capture the eeriness of the grim
proceedings in Nostromo — that is not its intent. It just takes
another look at how life might have begun and how some things can go
horribly wrong.

“Alien” was absolute. It could stand on its own without any sequels.
“Prometheus” leaves us in the dark in some ways. It too could stand
alone, and thrive on years of discussions. The murkiness of the
ideas, whether intentional or not, leaves a serious challenge to
those who undertake a sequel.

Landscape more intersting than characters in “Snow White and The Huntsman”

The sets almost upstage the movie in “Snow White and the Huntsman,”
and even the title focuses on the two least interesting characters in
this adaptation of a classic tale.

The Dark Forest truly is drenched in death and muck, with twisted,
menacing dead trees, looking like a place where creatures that
embrace the grim aspects of life might find refuge. The Sanctuary is
a magic place of fairies and butterflies and cute furry critters and
even the tortoises look lively and energetic.

Through these extreme environments roam Snow White and the huntsman,
just barely out of the reach of evil Queen Ravenna’s posse, led by
her brother Finn.

Ravenna’s objectives in life center around her vanity, doing the
“mirror, mirror on the wall” routine, exploiting a spell that keeps
her young as long as she sucks the youth out of other women, and
maintaining power over people. Playing Ravenna with hammy zest is
Charlize Theron, and some viewers have noted that her performance is
over-the-top as she struts around, snarls and rules with a cruel
hand. In a movie like this, it’s OK to get a little campy. It is,
after all, a fantasy.

Her counterpart is Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart.
Physically, she is perfect as the beautiful princess with a pure
heart and eternal innocence, but beyond that the screenplay, a
collaboration of Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”)
and Hossein Amini (“Drive”) injects very little personality into the
character. As heir to the throne she shows no spunk or royal
qualities and even she wonders aloud how she can lead men.

Snow White is imprisoned as a child after Ravenna successfully wins
the love of Snow White’s recently widowed father, King Magnus,
murders him and leads a coup d’etat over the kingdom. The princess
manages to escape just when Ravenna learns she must cut out Snow
White’s heart to ensure her immortality. The princess flees to the
Dark Forest, forcing Ravenna to contract out The Hunstman (Chris
Hemsworth) to find and capture her.

The Huntsman is a standard issue reluctant hero — mourning the
death of his wife, he is a drunk with no ambition, willing to absorb
abuse. He more or less agrees to go after Snow White although he has
doubts that Ravenna, who promises to bring back his wife from death,
will live up to her end of the deal.

It is of no surprise that when The Huntsman catches Snow White, he
reneges on the agreement and sides with the princess.

Managing to get through the Dark Forest, Snow White and The Hunstman
soon encounter a band of dwarfs, finally bringing in some lively
characters to the story. These guys are not the Disney variety of the
dwarfs, with cute little nicknames. They are grungy and wary and
survivors.

As an aside, the dwarfs are played by some non-dwarf actors like Ray
Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane, Eddie Marsan and Toby Jones.
These are not tall people by any means, but some incredible computer
effects had to be employed to make them look even shorter.

Stewart’s Snow White spends about two-thirds of the movie fleeing
for her life as arrows fly and swords clang in violent interaction.
Meanwhile, The Huntsman takes his lumps serving as her protector and
trying to lead her to Duke Hammond’s fortress.

Ravenna uses deception to get Snow White to eat the
poisoned apple. Here the tale has to be adjusted. There is no
wandering prince to conveniently stop by, plant a kiss on the prone
Snow White and get her back on her feet. The only available
candidates to perform this duty are The Huntsman and Duke Hammond’s
son William (Sam Claflin), who has loved Snow White since childhood.
Both do kiss her, but it will not be revealed here whose kiss works
the magic.

A revived Snow White is finally motivated to psyche up the exiled
duke’s army to ride valiantly back and reclaim the kingdom. Even
then, the final confrontation between Snow White and Ravenna lacks
much punch. And for crying out loud, the coronation of Snow White as
the rightful queen has all the excitement of something that would
even be too boring for C-SPAN.

“Chernobyl Diaries” not an endorsement of extreme tourism
“Chernobyl Diaries” is another story of group non-think — confirming
that the more heads that get together the more likely something
stupid will be done.

In the horror film genre it has been demonstrated that it is a bad
idea for party-minded young people to take up temporary residence in
a remote cabin in the woods, especially if there is a local legend
regarding multiple murders and/or psychotic hermits. Now, thanks to
Oren Peli, who scared the heck out of us via “Paranormal Activity,”
another bad idea has been presented.

It is called extreme tourism, wherein customers sign up to take a
day trip to some site that rational people would avoid. This kind of
service attracts those who would otherwise be trying to do skateboard
stunts, taking half-gainers off cliffs into shallow water, trying out
for NASCAR and such.

In “Chernobyl Diaries,” the person drawn to an extreme tour is Paul
(Jason Sadowski), a fellow who for whatever reasons has left America
and is taking up residence in Kiev. There he is joined by younger
brother Chris (Jesse McCartney), who has been traveling Europe with
his girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and her best friend
Amanda (Devin Kelley), who has just ended a relationship. Chris plans
to propose to Natalie when they get to Moscow.

But first, Paul has this grand idea. Because the screenplay drops
hints that Paul has a history of making mistakes, the inclination
already is to have a bad feeling about this. Paul says that he has
met a guy named — what else — Yuri (Dimitri Diatchenko) who runs a
unique extreme tourism business and is offering a tour of the city of
Pripyat where the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
resided.

Chernobyl, of course, is the icon of nuclear disasters. In April
1986, one of the reactors blew, contaminating the area with radiation
that forced the immediate evacuation of Pripyat. It became a ghost
town, its residents having to flee without most of their possessions.

Chris is apprehensive about Paul’s idea, knowing his big brother has
not been a pillar of good judgment, but Natalie and Amanda are
intrigued by the idea. So off they go to meet Yuri. There they are
joined by a backpacking couple, Zoe and Michael (Ingrid Bolso Berdal
and Nathan Phillips).

Yuri is a small-businessman in the truest form. He is his company’s
lone employee. His tour bus is an old van. Despite these red flags,
the six young people gamely get into the vehicle and rumble to Pripyat.
More bad vibes occur when the van encounters guard at a checkpoint
and is turned away because of “maintenance” at Pripyat. Chris,
seemingly the only one in the group with a functioning brain, wonders
aloud why there would be maintenance in an abandoned city. Undaunted,
Yuri changes course and gains access to Pripyat via a backroads route.

The screenplay by Shane Van Dyke and Carey Van Dyke in addition to
Peli breaks down at this point, failing to build on any suspense or
tension. The tour of the abandoned city, with the exception of one
jump-in-your-seat jolt, commences without incident. In the previews a
scene was shown in which Amanda, taking a closer look at a photo she
took of one of the apartment buildings, sees what looks like a figure
in the window of the supposedly abandoned complex. For whatever
reasons, the scene was trimmed down and by time it appears it is too
little too late.

The first indication that something creepy is taking place is when
the group loads up in the van post-tour only to discover it has been
sabotaged and will not start.

From this point, “Chernobyl Diaries” takes on a zombie movie aura
as cast depletion begins in earnest. The viewers never get a good
look at whatever is hunting down the group, because most of the
action takes place at night with the young people armed only with
flashlights. In one inexplicable scene, the people encounter a girl
standing frozen, facing the other way, but within seconds another of
the group is snatched and the mystery girl is never seen again.

Overall, the chill factor in “Chernobyl Diaries” is low. Peli and
the Van Dykes continually let opportunities for anxiety and suspense
to slip by. When the movie gets into the final act of people running
for their lives, it just becomes a matter of trying to guess who will be
the next to die and not be able to collect a refund from Yuri.