Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters banner

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Pihla Viitala, Derek Mears, Thomas Mann, Rainer Bock and Peter Stormare

Written by D.W. Harper and Tommy Wirkola

Directed by Tommy Wirkola

New in theaters this week is the first big budget Hollywood production from the Norwegian director of the horror comedy Dead Snow, Tommy Wirkola: the horror/fairy tale reinvention Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton star as the legendary siblings. In this version of the story the two have become full blown witch hunters after disposing of the witch in the candy house of the original fairy tale.  But can Hansel and Gretel match the absurdly fun Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, from last year, on the enjoyment scale?

After getting a taste for blood as children, Hansel (Renner) and Gretel (Arterton) have devoted their lives on their hell bent retribution against all witches. Now, unbeknownst to them, Hansel and Gretel have become the hunted, and must face a nemesis far greater than the average witch. As the fabled Blood Moon approaches, the siblings encounter a new form of evil that might hold a secret to their past. Along the way the pair must deal with an over bearing Sherriff (Stormare), a pair of determined admirers in Ben (Mann) and Mina (Viitala), and a troll (Mears), named Edward, in league with the evil witch Muriel (Janssen).

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is not a good movie, it’s ludicrous and ridiculous in concept and sadly does not know exactly what to do with it. The film languishes in the middle, not pulling back enough to be taken seriously and not going far enough over-the-top to be considered a full out tongue-in-cheek romp. Unlike last year’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Hansel and Gretel lacks charm and the loveable goofiness of the presidential supernatural flick. The script and direction play a major part here, as director Wirkola seems to be afraid to let his cast go completely over the top. You can almost see the reigns being pulled back on the actors steering them directly towards straight line readings on dialogue so perverse in parts it’s practically screaming for an ironic/comedic delivery. In fact, Stormare seems to be the only one getting exactly what he is supposed to be doing here, devilishly smiling and sneering throughout and screaming almost 50% of his dialogue until his admittedly fun demise.

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But that brings us to the biggest issue on display here, the total miscasting of Jeremy Renner. Arterton’s turn as Gretel is actually very satisfying, especially considering the limitations of the script she was presented with. It’s Renner as Hansel that really lets the film down.  Renner seems to lack the ability to just completely cut loose and go comedic, his punch line delivery is uninspired and does not work, and as a result spends the film mainly in a gloomy/moody haze that he hops out of for action sequences then drops right back into. Adding to this is the ‘phoned in’ performance of Famke Janssen as our main villain. Janssen seems disinterested, as if he were under the influence of marijuana, throughout the film and in the end lacks any real gravitas as a foil for Hansel and Gretel.

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The special effects work is one of the highlights here as there are many aspects that impress. The legendary ‘house of candy’ is a visual treat when we first see it, and looks grimy and unkempt when we see it later on.  Hansel and Gretel’s arsenal is quite impressive, including Hansel’s modified shotgun and Gretel’s souped up crossbow, and the weapons cache used in the final showdown is impressive as is the damage it delivers. But the real highlight here is the work done with Edward. Edward looks impressive and immense, but also becomes endearing and a crowd favorite.

Ultimately Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a shiny looking wrapper with an empty center. It lacks the substance at the heart of the film to truly engage for more than moments at a time. With content and aspects of production that do work, the film seems like a rudderless ship that constantly drifts back towards the areas that don’t work. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is a non-recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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The Last Stand Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo Courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo Courtesy of Eone Entertainment

The Last Stand (2013)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Rodrigo Santoro, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Peter Stormare and Genesis Rodriguez

Written by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Goergeo Nolfi

Directed by Jee-Woon Kim

Making his first starring bow since leaving his office as Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns this week with his new film: The Last Stand. The film also marks the English language debut of Korean director Jee-woon Kim, the director of atmospheric thriller “I Saw the Devil” and the western homage “The Good, The Bad and the Weird”. But will Jee-woon’s frenetic style mesh with the action veteran Schwarzenegger’s own signature style?

Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) moved out of Los Angeles and settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction. But that peaceful existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez (Noriega), the most wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, makes a spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. With the help of a fierce band of lawless mercenaries led by the icy Burrell (Stormare), Cortez begins racing towards the US-Mexico border at 250 mph in a specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1, a hostage in tow. Cortez’ path is straight through Summerton Junction, where the whole of the U.S. law enforcement, including Agent John Bannister (Whitaker) will have their final opportunity to intercept him before the violent fugitive slips across the border forever. At first reluctant to become involved, Owens ultimately rallies his team and takes the matter into his own hands after a tragic encounter, which sets the stage for a classic showdown in the middle of Sommerton Junction.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

The Last Stand is a film that knows very much what it is meant to do and who the film is targeted at, and boy does it delivers. Arnold is in classic mode here, with many sequences feeling like he is winking directly at the audience, all that is missing is an actual wink and an already lit stogie. The film title sequence is a broad animated sequence that lasts about 30 seconds as just when you are ready for a full out sequence it ends as abruptly as it started. This just sets the tone for an all-out, action packed 107 minutes of bullets and blood that will satisfy any action fan. Schwarzenegger’s welcome return is flanked by a handful of familiar faces: Knoxville, playing a local gun aficionado who coincidentally has a full arsenal that he makes available for the final shoot out; Stormare, the leader of the mercenary team helping Cortez escape; the always hilarious Guzmán, playing a bumbling deputy; and Forest Whitaker, the agent in charge of the case. Whitaker’s performance is noteworthy as he is full on tongue-in-cheek and hilariously over the top throughout.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

Jee-Woon is very good at is staging action. The set pieces here all work very well and cater to Schwarzenegger’s capabilities. The sheer amount of blood exploding out of the very ‘juicy’ squibs used for the bullet wounds add a level of comic book mentality to the film and allows the audience to buy into the more comedic tone of the action. Schwarzenegger’s dispatching of a roof top mercenary is a stand-out among the sequences, as is Guzmán’s ‘hero moment’ in the film. The final chase through a cornfield ending on a knockdown, drag out fight on a bridge with traditional fisticuffs facing off against jujitsu is excellently staged and extremely satisfying. Car buffs will love the Corvette of Cortez’s and gawk in awe at how the film uses the vehicle as an escape device as well as weapon. The action here is also more “Expendables” that “Kindergarten Cop” in nature as it is extremely violent and not intended for small children as the 14a rating would suggest, and Jee-Woon revels in the freedom of this choice.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

An extremely satisfying North American debut form one of Korea’s rising stars, Jee-Woon makes the most of his opportunity in delivering a film very much influenced by his own “The Good, The Bad and The Weird”, with its western feel being set in a small town and a Sheriff refusing to back down. He is a very astute action director as Last Stand will attest to and with his compatriots in Chan-wook Park and Joon-Ho Bong also set for their English language debuts later this year, 2013 could be a breakout year for Korean cinema in mainstream North America. Full of plot inconsistencies with goofy dialogue and predictable story lines, The Last Stand is ‘technically’ not a great movie, but this film knows all this and plays to it, resulting an film that may end up one of the most fun times in a theatre this year. The Last Stand is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Email me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

Get the Gringo Review (Matt Hodgson)

Get the Gringo (2012)

Starring Mel Gibson, Peter Stormare, and Dean Norris

Directed by Adrian Grunberg

Love him or hate him the caustic and often politically incorrect Mel Gibson is back with an action movie that got me hoping for something similar to 2010’s Edge of Darkness, which I have to admit I actually enjoyed quite a bit. Sure, all I had to go on was the advertising, but as you can see in the poster above – Gibson looks like he means business. Unfortunately, Get the Gringo doesn’t even come close to the fast-paced fun that was Edge of Darkness.

The film begins with two clowns racing towards the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border, paper bills flying out the window of their car, red and blue flashing lights hot on their trail. Of course these men aren’t actually clowns, but thieves in disguise who have just stolen a huge amount of cash. One of the thieves lies mortally wounded in the back seat, while the driver (Gibson) spots a make-shift ramp which just might launch their car over the wall and into the relative safety of Mexico. Gibson’s character takes the chance, escapes the American authorities but ends up in a Mexican prison, his money divided between some corrupt cops. The rest of the film is about Gibson’s character adapting to the prison life, which is really like a dangerous, over-populated small town. Gibson’s character befriends a young boy and his mother, discovering later that he may be the only person who can help them get out of this hellhole alive.

While the story of Get the Gringo is fairly basic, it still could have been a very fun and effective action\crime film. The prison as a family community is quite a different concept from the one normally depicted (ie. daily shankings, stolen fruit-cups, and the dreaded shower scenes). The prison in Get the Gringo is certainly dangerous, but is much more of a functioning community. However, this is where the originality and fun ends. Many of the ‘bad guys’ are laughable, the action sequences uninspired, and the 95 minute run-time is one of the seemingly longest I’ve had to experience. Frequently while watching the film I wished that I would just put on Desperado and have a much more inspiring and entertaining night on the rough streets of Mexico. A particular gunfight, inexplicably shown almost entirely in slow motion could have been entertaining as an early film school project, but certainly not as part of a multi-million dollar production.

As I’ve said, Get the Gringo COULD have been an entertaining movie, although probably not a great one. However, too many poor decisions were made while making this one. A peek at the writing credits revealed Gibson to be the first author of the screenplay…this explained a lot for me.

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