Skip to main content

Trolls are extra.


Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
(2013)

It feels like a dubious decision to reinvent with adolescent boys in mind; you’re ignoring the core market and are unlikely to find one with a group who shy away from “kids’ stuff”. That it’s proved to be a hit shows I don’t know nuffink. Tommy Wirkola is just the latest to spin a new-but-less-than-dazzling twist on such material. He never has his sights higher than metal music, busty maidens and four letter words so, on that limited level, Hansel & Gretel is a resounding success.


Occasionally he forgets himself, and inserts a genuine element from family fantasy fare; the evil monster that turns good (Edward) is more the sort of thing you’d expect from Labyrinth than a movie desperate to squidge heads into bloody pulp at every opportunity. And Edward’s relationship with Gretel (Gemma Arterton) is the only one in the movie that musters any feeling. Certainly, there isn’t much chemistry between Gretel and her brother (Jeremy Renner). They’re given broad, wisecracking dialogue (none of it very good), coursing with very contemporary swearing in place of wit, but neither has the larger-than-life quality to carry it off. Both are curiously flat. On the one hand Wirkola seems to be pushing for a Sam Raimi vibe (the witch hags look straight out of something he would make), on the other he only has the talent of a Robert Rodriguez. Appropriately, as this most resembles the coarseness and crudity of From Dusk Til Dawn and shares a similar fourteen-year-old sensibility. It also lacks the infectious glee of Raimi at his best.


Wirkola furnished the script too (he’s very far from an auteur, though), so the hackery is entirely his fault. He revels in anachronistic weapons and clothing as much as he does language. We don’t really need to hear Hansel and Gretel’s biggest fan shouting “That was awesome!” any more than we want them to stomp about in designer leathers (well, some might…). The super-gadgetry was crap when it festooned Van Helsing; what makes Wirkola think it will be any cooler here?


It’s readily clear from the prologue that the director will be taking an irreverent approach to the material, as soon as Hansel pushes a witch in an oven and asks rhetorically, “Is it hot enough for you now, bitch?” He has the occasional inspired idea; Hansel is diabetic due to all that sugar as a small lad, and his ghastly witches are quite effective on the occasions they leap around on all fours. But his heroes’ mission is no more and no less than the title; they must rid a “shitty little town” of witches with the occasional intrusion of a par-for-the-course mystery from the past to solve. Even if the two are ready made to suffer from childhood traumas it’s no less one-note and predictable as it’s in every bleeding character description these days.


The director commendably puts an emphasis on practical effects over CGI wherever possible. You can also see that he has lots of ideas but not many of them pay off.  This really needs to be more cartoonish and less the sort of thing a couple of guys would come up with over a few beers. There’s a chicken joke in there (I maintain that no movie can be all bad if it contains a fowl gag) and a reference to Goldlilocks and the Three Bears and it’s vaguely amusing that the crones sound a bit like Predators. 


But generally Wirkola just wants to copy from better pictures. It seems awfully familiar when we break into a title sequence that brings the exploits of H&G up to date because it is; everyone’s doing it lately. He keeps the picture lively (although he doesn’t quite seem to know how to frame the action in 2:35:1), but the problem is his tale has no traction. It doesn’t take long for Peter Stormare to become a deranged nutter,; he’s befuddled by a script that can do very little with him, so he becomes a would-be rapist. He fared much better with his OTT turn in Terry Gilliam’s take on fairy tales, the problematic The Brothers Grimm (which at least dazzles fitfully).


Matthew Hopkins would probably be proud of a movie that takes such unbridled glee in slaughtering witches in a variety of high impact fashions. There’s an unpleasant undercurrent of violence against women throughout; it’s just meant to be okay because they’re hideously ugly (and because they aren’t even human, we’re told). By the time Wirkola introduces a white witch to redress the balance it’s too late. And then he decides to put Gretel through the ringer in a queasy sequence for what has generally been a knockabout experience. He has the temperance to cut away when a child is about to meet a nasty fate but seems to revel in the mistreatment of women. Famke Janssen seizes her part like her career depends on it, but the material doesn’t allow her to become so hissable that you’re rooting for her.


Wirkola’s movie was a surprise hit, dumped in dead-end January but going on to make more than $200m worldwide. Inevitably, a sequel has been announced. There’s always the danger that the audience feels they were hoodwinked into seeing something unsuspectingly and vow to give any follow-ups a wide berth. This is an unlikely franchise starter, not because it’s terrible but because it’s so derivative.

**

Popular posts from this blog

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

I’m just the balloon man.

Copshop (2021) (SPOILERS) A consistent problem with Joe Carnahan’s oeuvre is that, no matter how confidently his movies begin, or how strong his premise, or how adept his direction or compelling the performances he extracts, he ends up blowing it. He blows it with Copshop , a ’70s-inspired variant on Assault on Precinct 13 that is pretty damn good during the first hour, before devolving into his standard mode of sado-nihilistic mayhem.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

When we have been subtle, then can I kill him?

The Avengers 6.16. Legacy of Death There’s scarcely any crediting the Terry Nation of Noon-Doomsday as the same Terry Nation that wrote this, let alone the Terry Nation churning out a no-frills Dalek story a season for the latter stages of the Jon Pertwee era. Of course, Nation had started out as a comedy writer (for Hancock), and it may be that the kick Brian Clemens gave him up the pants in reaction to the quality of Noon-Doomsday loosened a whole load of gags. Admittedly, a lot of them are well worn, but they come so thick and fast in Legacy of Death , accompanied by an assuredly giddy pace from director Don Chaffey (of Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts ) and a fine ensemble of supporting players, that it would be churlish to complain.

Tippy-toe! Tippy-toe!

Seinfeld 2.7: The Phone Message The Premise George and Jerry both have dates on the same night. Neither goes quite as planned, and in George’s case it results in him leaving an abusive message on his girlfriend’s answerphone. The only solution is to steal the tape before she plays it. Observational Further evidence of the gaping chasm between George and Jerry’s approaches to the world. George neurotically attacks his problems and makes them worse, while Jerry shrugs and lets them go. It’s nice to see the latter’s anal qualities announcing themselves, however; he’s so bothered that his girlfriend likes a terrible TV advert that he’s mostly relieved when she breaks things off (“ To me the dialogue rings true ”). Neither Gretchen German (as Donna, Jerry’s date) nor Tory Polone (as Carol, George’s) make a huge impression, but German has more screen time and better dialogue. The main attraction is Jerry’s reactions, which include trying to impress her with hi