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Animadversion: Lost, lonely and vulgar

June 10, 2012


A spoiled-rotten and mandatory extremist dictator of a fabricated North African country meets a tree-loving, multi-ethnic American, and his obligatory one true love, when he is replaced by a doppelganger before his appearance at the UN Assembly. Now with his former nuclear scientist as an only ally, he must find a way to return to his rightful place and thwart his chief minister’s plan to bring democracy to his country.

The Dictator is infernally funny — but hold that thought for a moment. It is also (in recurring intervals) crude, vulgar, degrading and unapologetic. Since this is a Sasha Baron Cohen film (as producer, writer and actor), the obnoxiousness is pretty much a necessary ailment.

In one early cameo, we see Megan Fox — playing herself — cavorting with Aladeen (Baron Cohen). When she hastily leaves after a quick half-hearted Polaroid, we see him pinning the snapshot on his wall of celebrity ‘conquests’. His trophies include, amongst others, Oprah Winfrey and a depressed-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hollywood apparently loves Cohen as much as it hates him. Much later, we see a Chinese ambassador walking out of a restroom with Edward Norton.

The Dictator’s claim to notoriety is more at par with Ali G (SBC’s star-making film). Paramount, of course, has a film to sell and an Arab-looking tyrant with an exaggerated beard and an inclination for prompt beheading spells box-office backlash.

So at one point in the film Aladeen officially makes it clear: “I am not an Arab,” he says, pinning the xenophobia where it can be laughed off: the US political mindset. This ideology is cast in the form of Clayton (John C. Riley), an ex-CIA type whose personal bias counts all non-Caucasians as terrorists.

The other Americans introduced in the UN are friendlier. They are oil conglomerates, and as clichéd as it sounds, Aladeen’s country — named Wadiya — is a natural oil resource. His uncle and minister, played by Sir Ben Kingsley (a magnet for roles requiring subtle parts of villainy), has sold the commodity in advance.

For most of its runtime, The Dictator and its lead, Aladeen, resonate the feel of a mildly insulting but essentially safe Adam Sandler film. Although Sasha Baron Cohen may share the same oblong face cut as Sandler, I don’t know if he would consider it a compliment.

Co-starring Anna Faris and Jason Mantzoukas, The Dictator is rated R: it has a lot of kitsch — visual and verbal.

This princess flings swords

Forget the singing birds and the colourful forest of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White and the Huntsman skips on the cute princess-y fluff. This Brothers Grimm fable’s second retelling in just two months has a decidedly dark background to its agenda.

The film opens by following the traditional Snow White story. Her mother, the queen, dies in her childhood and is soon replaced by a beautiful stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), a sorceress in disguise who bewitches the grieving king returning from war. Ravenna then dismisses the king as well and takes over the kingdom. Snow goes to the dungeon where she blossoms into the very pale Kristen Stewart (Twilight), until the magic mirror — a gold gong with an oozing, golden cloaked figure as an avatar — tells Ravenna it’s time to sup on Snow’s heart for immortal youth.

Seeing the dilapidated kingdom’s sheer lack of security, Snow escapes to the Dark Forest, a place that nullifies Ravenna’s powers. Cue in the Huntsman (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) a drunkard widower fooled and sent after Snow. On his toes is Ravenna’s bad-intention harboring brother, Finn (Sam Spruell).

Somewhere there is another love interest, William (Sam Claflin), and a set of dwarfs — except they aren’t really dwarfs but full-grown actors in CGI. They are Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Eddie Marsan, Ray Winstone, Nick Frost and Toby Jones.

Snow White and the Huntsman tries to sell a strong heroine but ends up with Kristin Stewart looking breathless and confused. As with Mirror, Mirror, the fable’s romantic leads (now Hemsworth and Armie Hammer in Mirror) are both far more likeable than our heroines.

Likeable as the leads may be, the show stealers of both films are their evil stepmothers. In Mirror, Julia Roberts whips the country into submission with her cold stare and sharp tongue. Here, Charlize Theron with her woeful back story could have evoked sympathy, if only she would stop performing every scene with a theatrical gusto for loudness.

Directed by first-timer Rupert Sanders with the aid of the writing team of Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock and Hossein Amini, the film suddenly pops in unexplained magical aspects without thinking out the logic or consequence to the film’s feel. Snow White’s interest in its own storytelling is, at best, half-embraced: it starts off on a blast, loses momentum by midpoint and then drags itself all the way to the mildly interesting climatic battle sequence with a despicably rushed finale.

Released by Universal and Footprint Entertainment, the film is rated PG-13. It features a big angry witch, an angrier monster, a dark, barren landscape and a whole lot of nothing.

People should borrow some imagination from the late Jim Henson, and lately, Peter Jackson. At least they know how to tell a fairytale. — Farheen Jawaid