This ain’t your momma’s bedtime fairy tale with Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of bread crumbs to find their way home after their father abandons them in the forest. Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (whose previous film “Dead Snow ” which was about thawed Nazi zombies!) is again shot in and around Germany.
Young’uns Hansel and Gretel are abandoned and left to die in the forest. They do find the cottage made of candy and are almost cooked by a witch when they escape and end up killing the witch and baking her instead at 800 degrees with some french fries and nice Chianti. Okay, I made that part up about the fries and Chianti.
We pick up the story years later with siblings Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and sis Gretel (Gemma Arteton) who have become an ace killing team when it comes to witches, ever since they dispatched their first “candy house” incident they’re known for. They travel from village to village with weird hi-tech weaponry (for the 16th (?) Century, that is…we’re never told; but they do all speak 20th Century lingo.)
Anyway, in the town of Augsburg, 11 children have been kidnapped by a witch and the overzealous town sheriff (Peter Storemar) almost burns sweet young Mina (Pihla Viitala) as the witch who done the ‘napping. Gretel punches his lights out and Hansel frees Mina exclaiming that he knows witches and she is not the one.
He’s right. The real culprit is Murial, the Grand High Witch (Famke Janssen) who wants to concoct a potion to give to her fellow witches to make them all burn-proof! To do this, she needs 12 kids sacrificed under the upcoming “blood moon” and a secret ingredient….and it has something to do with Gretel.
They’ve even got a groupie in town named Ben (Thomas Mann) who’s not only a fanboy of the pair scrapbook of their exploits at the ready!), but knows a thing or two about witches himself.
Meanwhile, Mina has the hots for Hansel who apparently has “the sugar sickness” ever since the candy incident way back when. He must inject himself with some medicine (insulin?) every day or die. Bummer. And then there’s Gretel and the Sheriff’s men. They don’t like gorgeous women making them look like fools in front of the whole town so, while they’re beating her up, a huge troll named Edward shows up and saves her. But troll’s can only serve witches, so does that mean that…?
There are revelations revealed, really nasty knock-down, drag-out fights, and blood-spurting body explosions, not to mention corny dialog and some silly plot expositions. There are a couple nice touches here and there like missing children paper scraps on milk bottles and Hansel’s addiction to candy…but also some serious lapses in logic as well.
The feel of the movie is very much like “Van Helsing” with a lone monster hunter using unusual hi-tech weaponry in the 17th Century, but without the excellent script and direction. The movie here also suffers from a classic newbie directors blunder of shooting a fight scene: shooting TOO close to the action and thus obscuring the actors and what’s going on. Wirkola’s script also is peppered with so much 20th Century jargon that it took you out of the movie’s time frame… not to mention all the F-bombs. Mind you, it wasn’t that bad of a movie like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, so I suppose it’ll do for a Saturday afternoon at the $3 theater or a rental when you get a chance.
THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)
Based on the fairy tale of Red Riding Hood, this quirky British import is unusual inasmuch it’s 4 short stories told in one movie and based on Angela Carter’s short story collection The Bloody Chamber. Carter herself even co-wrote the screenplay along with director Neil Jordan which fancifully tells about cranky, but lovable ol’ Granny (Angela Lansbury) spinning tall tales to her granddaughter, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson.)
Now, before you throw up your hands and say, “Oh no, not ANOTHER Red Riding Hood/werewolf movie like that terrible Amanda Seyfried movie!”, let me assure you that this one is actually GOOD! Bizarre, dreamlike, atmospheric, and just this side of indie film-ish, it scores with some very clever storylines, wolf transformations that are different with every story, and a European flavor all it’s own.
The stories jump back and forth in time and place from quaint villages to regal castles and back again, depending on what story Granny reads to Rosaleen. Each story, much like a “Night Gallery” episode (remember those?), is a wonderfully engaging story unto itself: whether it’s a young she-wolf who is cared for by a parish priest after being shot or a young man who is tricked by the devil (who arrives in a Rolls-Royce, no less!) into turning into a wolf after drinking a potion or a rich nobleman who shuns a she-wolf and marries another only to have that she-wolf and her “clan” show up at the wedding feast! The bookend stories tie everything up with a equally strange and odd little bow tie that befits this quirky little film that slipped in & out of the theaters back in 1984. I thought it was genius.
Available for rental at Netflix or Blockbuster .com
OTHER “FAIRY TALE” MOVIES
THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005)
Quirky you want? Quirky you got! Terry Gilliam directed this uneven fantasy about two brothers (Heath Ledger & Matt Damon) who, for a price, will hunt down and eliminate evil…evil that THEY created in the first place! Yes, it’s the Grimm Brothers as con men in a weird adaptation that only Gilliam could envision.
Set in French-occupied Germany during the early 19th century, these two make a dishonest living by setting villagers into thinking that a witch is in their midst, then ride heroically into their town and destroying said witch…for a tidy little sum. Nice work if you can get it.
Problem is, word gets out about their prowess over evil and French General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) forces them to solve a mystery: the girls of the small village are disappearing and the villagers are convinced that supernatural beings are responsible. The Grimms are charged with finding who is responsible and they soon discover that it is the work of a REAL witch! A beautiful (of course!), yet dangerous 500-year-old queen (Monica Belucci) who stealing young girls to restore her own beauty.
Believing in their own con and thinking they can really DO this, they set out into the forbidden forest (there’s always a forbidden forest, isn’t there?) and to the queen’s castle tower to destroy her.
There’s ton’s of special effects and Gilliam’s trademark lavish direction, but he was (as always, it seems) hounded by the studios to bring in the goods “on time and under budget”. He shot the movie entirely in the Czech Republic with severe budget constraints
and it shows, given the claustrophobic feel of the movie and the choppy script. Not one of his best efforts, but still worth a watch.
Yes, It’s Red Riding Hood …again…but, this time it’s told “Rashomon”-style and in CGI animation! Police detective Nicky Flippers (a long-legged frog) questions each of the ‘suspects’ after the Big Bad Wolf was about to eat Granny. Each person (Red, Granny, the Wolf, the Huntsman) tells their story in which each looks guilty…but are they?
A damn fine script by Cory Edwards, Todd Edwards, and Tony Leech, the scenarios are hysterical and the dialog rich with one-liners. The Huntsman’s “Schnitzel song” had me roaring in laughter. The whole movie is crazy funny. It’s a shame that the sequel flopped.
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1962)
Shot in the ultra-wide screen format called CINERAMA, this lavish, big-budget European movie starred Laurence Harvey and Karlheinz Böhm as the Grimm brothers… only these two weren’t con men looking to score money by hunting fake witches!
Using a filming method way back then called “3-strip negative” (for intense, rich colors) , this almost true story is about both brothers working to finish a family history book for a local Duke (Oscar Homolka), but Wilhelm (Harvey) is more interested in collecting fairy tales and often spends his money to buy them from locals.
With each fairy tale that Wilhelm hears and jots down, we (the audience) see the story play out in his fantasy mind. “The Dancing Princess”, “Tom Thumb”, “The Singing Bone”, all are fun to watch and have great fun family entertainment. My favorite is “The Cobbler & the Elves” which combines live action with co-directer George Pal’s famous “puppet-toons” (stop-motion animation). Shunned by his brother, his family, and some townspeople for “his head being in the clouds”, he eventually triumphs and their stories become classic books that became movies today that are twisted into tales about witch hunters.