Fairy Tale Is Gigantically Ordinary
Oscar-winning director Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects, X-Men) makes a flatfooted visit to the muse of his childhood in Jack the Giant Slayer, a relatively straight-forward retelling of the classic fairy tale about a young lad named Jack and the magic bean that gets him into so much trouble. In this version, Jack (Nicholas Hoult Warm Bodies), is an inquisitive farm boy who finds himself attracted to Isabelle, the intrepid princess of the realm whose father the king (Ian McShane) is terribly over-protective. Things get exciting when a magic bean unexpectedly sprouts into a massive, sky-climbing plant that whisks the terrified princess up to the realm of the human-hating giants. The king sends a rescue party under the charge of his head of security (Ewan McGregor), but things go awry when Isabelle’s fiancé, Roderick (Stanley Tucci), proves to be a treacherous weasel with plans for world domination.
The plot chugs along efficiently enough, with the humans stumbling from one peril to another, while the horrendous giants dream of getting back to earth to exact a terrible revenge. And the final confrontation is certainly dramatic enough, as a 100-strong army of grubby, humanoid monsters with bad teeth lays siege to the king’s castle. This movie certainly looks like a fairy tale, but the feeling of magic is sadly lacking. Unlike, say, The Princess Bride, there is little charm or originality on offer, just an over-abundance of CGI special effects and underwhelming performances. Although the movie’s approach is pleasingly old-fashioned, with none of the pop-culture riffs of Shrek, its attempts to be a “rousing adventure tale” are generic and mostly fail to sprout.
Crass Collegiate Comedy
The word “hangover” used to denote a temporary, alcohol-induced throbbing in the temples, but now, after Hollywood set a pair of boozy bacchanals in Las Vegas and Thailand, the hangover has become a permanent subcategory of comedy. Which brings us to 21 & Over, an epic binge set in and around a Pacific Northwest campus. The action starts when two high school buddies descend on the third member of their long-ago trio, a stereotypical Asian brainiac who’s attending pre-med. It’s Jeff Chang’s 21st birthday, and his two pals – the thoroughly lunatic Miller and the more responsible Casey – want to take him out for a riotous booze-up. The problem? Jeff’s controlling dad has pulled strings to get him a crucial med-school interview early the next morning.
Quicker than you can say “just one beer,” Jeff is off and running . . . hitting a sequence of bars that had previously denied him entrance because he was underage. Before long, Jeff goes from pre-med to pre-coma, and as his buddies try to get him back home for a sobering sleep, they run into various crises ranging from homicidal members of a Latina sorority to an escaped buffalo. The screenwriters are equal opportunity offenders when laying on the racist, sexist and homophobic humour. And the gross-out gags have moments of scuzzy inspiration – most notably the slo-mo garlands of vomit flying from Jeff’s mouth while he rides a mechanical bull in a western-themed bar.
Given the generally low aspirations of the frat-boy genre, honesty compels me to say that 21, while undeniably crude, rude and relentlessly vulgar, is reasonably well acted and actually rather funny. But my granny still hated it.
(Jack the Giant Slayer continues at the Capitol, SilverCity, and Westshore; 21 & Over continues at SilverCity and Westshore)
It’s been a long time since I drank for effect moreso than flavour, so we’ll leave those frat boys to their debauched gargling and find something much tastier to sip on. Blended scotch usually gets looked down upon by connoisseurs of single malt, but there are some magnificent blends out there. One of the best is the 17-year-old Ballantyne’s. Wonderfully smooth, with hints of chocolate, spice, and smoke, this is a winner all the way. At $77 it’s maybe birthday present material – but you’re worth it!