Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Posted on January 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Once upon a time, a brother and sister were left in the woods by their father.  They came upon a house made of candy that turned out to be owned by a witch, who used it to lure children and then fatten them up so she could eat them.  But the children outwitted the witch by shoving her in the oven.  The classic Grimm story is quickly dispatched in the first few moments of this fanboy fantasy so that we can get to the good stuff.  Hansel and Gretel, it seems, developed a taste for killing witches.  They grow up to be Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, who haul their arsenal from town to town as something between bounty hunters, exorcists, and hitmen. And “Ghostbusters.”  It’s got special effects and some rocking fight scenes, and its cheeky anachronisms and brief running time (under 90 minutes) mean that it is over before the audience gets a chance to get tired of it.

There’s a lot of winking at each other and the audience.  A local fan of the duo (he has a 14th century scrapbook filled with their pre-Gutenberg news clippings) offers Gretel some porridge and assures her that it is not too hot or too cold but just right.  The local milkman delivers milk in bottles with drawings of missing children tied to them.  And the siblings have some Batman-worthy gear, including a device that draws electricity from a hand-crank, useful for zapping witches or, in a pinch, a bit of defibrillation.

Hansel and Gretel are hired by the mayor of a town where nearly a dozen children are missing.  The local sheriff (“Fargo’s” Peter Stormare) does not trust them and, more important, wants to stay in charge.  It does not help when Hansel tells the sheriff that the woman he is about to burn as a witch is not, and when Gretel head-butts him and breaks his nose.  He sends his own search party into the forest, but they are killed by a witch (Famke Janessen).  So, it is up to Hansel and Gretel after all, and it turns out that they have just three days before a “blood moon” will rise that gives the witches a rare chance to make themselves more powerful and much harder to kill.

The production design by Stephen Scott is imaginative and nicely varied, avoiding the trap of looking too Disney-fied.  The witches are eerily insect-like in their motions and sounds; there are moments when it feels like they are slightly more human-looking Predators.  Arterton and Renner look sensational in their tight, laced-up leather and handle the action scenes with a lot of verve.  It is silly, but it is entertaining.

Parents should know that the movie has intense and extensive fantasy violence with some graphic and disturbing images, including a medieval version of assault weapons, crossbows, knives, and a lot of throwing people around.  Human and witch characters are injured and killed.  Characters drink and use strong language and there is brief female rear nudity and a non-explicit sexual situation.

Family discussion:  Why didn’t Hansel want to talk about his parents?  Why did Gretel want to talk about them?  Why didn’t the sheriff trust them?

If you like this, try: “Stardust” and “Dragonslayer”

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book Epic/Historical Fantasy Horror
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Tamara Drewe

Posted on February 8, 2011 at 8:00 am

You might think that in a movie called “Tamara Drewe,” the character named Tamara Drewe would be the protagonist. She isn’t. You might then think she could be the primary antagonist creating the chaos that has to be straightened out by the protagonist. Not really. And you might think that a movie based on a graphic novel would have some sci-fi or fantasy or at least be set in a big, modern city. Not even close. This film, based on the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds has a few surprises in store.

Tamara Drewe (Gemma Arterton) does create something of an uproar in the almost-too picturesque English village she returns to after the death of her mother. Her ostensible purpose is to fix up her home so it can be sold. Her real purpose, one with which we all can identify, is to show the folks she left behind that contrary to their impression of her as an awkward teenager dubbed “Beaky” because of her big nose, she is now a very glamorous and successful young writer with a smaller nose who looks very, very good in a pair of jean shorts that are very, very small.

There are two people in particular she would like to get this message. First is the middle-aged married man who hurt her feelings, a very successful writer of mystery novels named Nicholas (the oleaginous Roger Allam). Second is the young man who broke her heart, a handyman named Andy (Luke Evans), who works at the writer’s residence owned by Nicholas and his wife Beth (the superb Tamsin Greig). While Nicholas turns out eight pages a day and basks in the adoration — and sometimes more — of fans, Beth caters to an assortment of would-be writers with home-made cookies, gentle encouragement, and a few shrewd suggestions about plotting and tone.  Meanwhile, a pair of teenage girls (the terrific (Charlotte Christie and Jessica Barden) with a crush on a rock star (Dominic Cooper) create all kinds of mischief for everyone, especially after Tamera’s interview with him turns into a romance.

The fun of the film is the way it upends expectations.  In a setting that superficially appears to have changed very little since the time of its Thomas Hardy inspiration (especially Far from the Madding Crowd), there are splashes of modernity from lesbian porn to a nose job and a rock band called Swipe. Hardy’s lost letter mix-up is recalled when one of the teenagers sends emails from Tamara’s account. On the surface, too, with its title cards showing the four seasons and Masterpiece Theatre understated rhythms and elegant accents, it seems at first to be a conventionally structured story. But it has a beguilingly episodic nature, based on the book’s multiple narrators and on its origins as a weekly comic, with its leisurely and open-ended story-line, where even the author has not decided on an end point. Some viewers may find that unsettling, but it has some sharply observed moments for those who are willing to meander.

Parents should know that this film has very explicit sexual references and situations, nudity, drinking, drugs, fatal accident with some graphic images, extremely strong language, and bad behavior by teens including smoking and sexual conversation.

Family discussion: How did Tamara’s teenage experiences
influence her adult decisions? 
What do you think will happen to the girls? 

If you like this, try: the graphic novel by Posy Simmonds

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Based on a book Comedy Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Drama Romance
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