Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

I try to ignore box-office stuff, but I just read that Mama is leading the weekend again, and... really? It's kind of a not-good mess, and it's going to beat out both The Last Stand - which is a darn good action movie - and Hansel & Gretel - which is far from perfect but does as good as any movie at delivering loopy fun? That's just not right. It's not right at all.

Anyway, I talk in the review about how Hansel & Gretel director Tommy Wirkola has some pretty clear Sam Raimi influence in his work, but stopped after a bit because if I don't control myself, I'll look at the entire genre through Sam Raimi-tinted glasses. Still, it's pretty direct. I mentioned in my review of Dead Snow that bits of that reference Evil Dead 2 directly enough that I expected to learn the Norwegian word for "groovy"; that makes Hansel & Gretel something akin to his Army of Darkness - set in medieval times, taking great pleasure from tossing his stars around, and lots of big practical-make-up monsters and witches. It's also pretty funny.

I kind of wish this was the sort of movie that could do well enough to really boost some careers. Not necessarily Jeremy Renner's - I sort of waver between thinking he's kind of bland here and that he's doing something really clever in playing Hansel as a weirdly virginal swashbuckler who just represses everything. He doesn't talk about his parents, seems just thoroughly confused by a girl showing interest in him, and states that he tends toward the set on fire and ask questions later school when it comes to accused witches. I half-think that the movie was going for a spoof on religious zealotry, where people with little experience with human interaction try to determine what is and isn't reasonable behavior, but it never quite comes together. Meanwhile, Gemma Arterton is pretty darn good, although her accent distracted me a bit; I know she's English but she goes North American to match Renner, and it's almost like she gets all the inflections right but doesn't quite know how to emote with it, so her normal accent pops back up in spots. I liked her here, but I think I'd kind of like to see her in something more challenging again; looking at her filmography, there's not much there that's nearly as good as The Disappearance of Alice Creed (although Tamara Drewe is pretty decent). She's certainly built for this sort of mainstream part, and you might as well do them while people are paying you to be pretty, but enough of that may make people forget you're capable of more.

Speaking of, I saw on IMDB that Famke Janssen took the villain role because her house needed paying off. Gotta respect that, actually, especially since she didn't half-ass her way through it. It was odd seeing her use an accent, though - I've been a fan since she appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the only time I can recall her sounding anything other than American is GoldenEye, where the Russian accent was rather put-on. Heck, when she appeared at IFFBoston for Turn the River, she sounded like a native rather than someone from the Netherlands.

Anyway, I had fun with this, and it was nice to hit the Somerville Theatre again for the first time in a while (MoviePass's changes have really skewed where I see movies over the past few months). Dave The Projectionist mentioned on the Boston SF message board that he had the 3D looking pretty good for digital, and it did look fairly good for 2K resolution. I half-wonder how adjustable the lighting is for digital projectors and if Dave cranks it up for 3D; he's known for projecting things bright while 3D is known for suffering for lack of brightness. I've read a few comments in various places about how 3D-ifying a movie that has so much action at night was a horrible idea because as a result you can't see much, but I didn't have any issues with that.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

* * * (out of four)
Seen 25 January 2013 in Somerville Theatre #5 (first-run, RealD 3D)

When last we saw Tommy Wirkola, he took the high concept of "zombie Nazis" and made Dead Snow, a low-budget Norwegian action-horror movie that made up for a lot of shaky elements with sheer enthusiasm. It got Hollywood's attention, and after a bit of a delay he's back with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, whose high concept is right in the title, and while more in the way of resources doesn't mean perfection, the glee at making a nutty movie still helps a lot.

The Brothers Grimm published the fairy tale two hundred years ago: A brother and sister are left in the woods, find a house made of candy with a witch who wants to fatten them up and eat them, only to have the tables turned and wind up in her own oven. After the fairy tale ends, the orphans kept killing witches, and making good money at it to. Now, the mayor of a small German town has hired Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) to find the witch who has kidnapped ten local children. The Sheriff (Peter Stormare) thinks an immigrant, Mina (Pihla Viitala), to be a likely suspect, but the siblings soon find something bigger is going on: Grand Witch Muriel (Famke Janssen) has big plans for the upcoming Blood Moon.

The tone of the movie is established early on - yes, the young Hansel and Gretel have a decidedly non-slapstick fight for their lives, but the audience's first glimpse of the movie's "present day" is illustrations of the missing children tied to glass milk bottles in a bit of obvious but kind of amusing anachronism. Historical verisimilitude is not given a whole lot of consideration, especially once you get to Hansel's machine guns and the generally informal twenty-first century speech. It gives the movie a laid-back feel - they're not even pretending that this fits in any unnoticed corner of real history, just going for what's going to be fun for the audience.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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