Recent years have seen classic fairy tales spawn a variety of cinematic adaptations. In some cases we see family friendly updates like Mirror Mirror. In others we see dark reimaginings like Snow White and the Huntsman. In each of these cases regardless of how successful they might have been in achieving their artistic visions it was clear what type of movie was being made. With Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters such is hardly the case.
The film opens with a playful macabre tone hearkening back to the family-friendly (but nonetheless scary) Halloween movies of the '80s and '90s and prompting hope for this attitude to carry forth throughout the movie. The brimming imagery silly dialogue and overacting of the introductory scene makes it feels like the kind of thing you'd have loved as a child — the sort of film you'd make a tradition of watching every October... until you reached 9th grade and were forever robbed of your innocent love of simple pleasures.
But following the intro — which sends young Hansel and Gretel off into the pitch black woods after their mother and father are forced to hide them from an undisclosed threat and subsequently throws them into the clutches of a decrepit old witch in a candy house — we're treated to a movie with a stark identity crisis.
The subject matter pacing aesthetic style and sophistication of the material all suggest a film for children. But for some reason this movie seems bent on proving itself "mature." Kind of like when you reached 9th grade and were forever robbed of your innocent love of simple pleasures and felt the need to prove just how grown up you were Hansel and Gretel "rebels" against its childlike nature by throwing in very jagged flashes of grotesque gore and misplaced expletives.
The two youngsters manage to escape the wrath of a witch and then devote their lives to taking the witch race down hired as bounty hunters by a small town mayor to recover the kidnapped children of a handful of villagers.
Now this could successfully translate in two different ways: it could take form as a fun-for-all-ages adventure wrapped in black magic and kooky characters or as a dark adult deconstruction of the classic tale. What we get instead is a grab for both and an achievement of neither with the confusion of the mixed message landing Hansel and Gretel in a nebulous middle ground.
The story we're faced with seems best suited for young ones. Simplicity is the name of the game for titular heroes Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arteron who don't have much in the way of character beyond "We kill witches!"
Renner is the puggish kill-first-question-later gun-toter stricken with diabetes (the strangest element of this movie) after his run-in with the candy house witch; Arteron is vicious with a crossbow and a headbutt but more even-keeled and demanding of evidence of witchcraft before imparting her wrath.
The duo are teamed with the likes of Mina (Pihla Viitala) an enigmatic woman saved from torch-wielding villagers by Hansel and Gretel Ben (Thomas Mann) an overly eager young fan of the pair who looks and acts like he's straight out of Growing Pains and eventually Edward (Derek Mears) a closed-mouthed troll who takes a liking to Gretel for mysterious reasons. The uncomplicated characters fast-flying broomstick chases and incredibly accessible overarching plot would and should land us with a PG-13 gunner.
But the prevalence of the aforementioned gore nonstop violence and harsh language stamps the picture with an R-rating.
And for the adults to whom this brand of movie is limited something like Hansel and Gretel would come off as brainless. Not dull — the pacing ensures that you won't be bored. Not overwhelmingly bad in any way really. Just lacking in substance and charm. In a word dumb.
While preteens and young teens might eat this kind of thing up (whether or not they should is an entirely different question) adults will find it unfulfilling.
Empty characters paper-thin plots effortless (this is not a compliment) acting by the whole cast — even generally talented players like head witch Famke Janssen and villainous sheriff Peter Stormare — will give a sophisticated viewer nothing to hold onto.
But for some reason the movie insists on its head smashings and awkward exclamations of "F**k!" Throwing these to the wayside might have actually granted the movie a more successful mission statement.
Hansel and Gretel doesn't have anything at its disposal capable of making it a great movie or even a good one.
But a decision as to whom it wishes to please would at least have bumped it up a notch or two. No it's not a painful watch nor an offensive one. As suggested above it simply offers nothing discernible. And to whom? That's the big question.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Ain't no story here -- at least not in the fictional sense. This is the
real-life stuff straight from the streets and straight from the mouths
of our nation's finest pimp's -- guys with names such as Bishop Don
"Magic" Juan Sir Captain Fillmore Slim (from San Francisco natch)
Rosebudd (with two D's) and so on. In candid interviews each man tells
how he got into "macking" and discusses the ethics and rules of what's
known as "the game."
Ain't no acting here either -- except in the clips from a few
pimp-themed Blaxploitation movies that are prominently featured
including "The Mack " "Willie Dynamite" and "Slaughter's Big Rip-Off."
The Hughes Brothers have much intestinal fortitude (it takes guts to
enter the pimping community gain the trust of the real-life macks and
then stick around long enough to get their stories) but "American Pimp"
loses points for monotony and a lack of originality. This territory was
covered before in the all-too-similar HBO documentary "Pimps Up Ho's
Down" (I could swear that some of the same pimps were interviewed in
both films). And
"American Pimp" is so obsessed with the rules of pimping etiquette that
it forgets to tell a human story.