Archive for the Adult Fairy Tales Category

Meals for Monsters: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, Coming of Age Movies, Foreign Films, Jenny Orosel Columns, Meals for Monsters, Vampires with tags , , , , on April 10, 2013 by knifefighter

MEALS FOR MONSTERS: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)
Review and recipes by Jenny Orosel

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS silverferox design (1) copy

You know that magic moment when you’ve discovered a hidden gem of a movie?  That moment when you see something totally different and you cannot wait to introduce your friends, your family, and random strangers on the Internet to something totally unique and unknown?  And then the feeling following when you realize, you’re not the first to discover it, not the second or third, but the nine hundred, fifty seven thousandth.  That happened with me and VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970).  It turns out this is a classic unbeknownst to me, a film that influenced many that came after it (including being the inspiration for 1983’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES), is currently playing on Criterion’s Hulu channel, and is taught in many college courses from Women’s Studies to Eastern European History.  I feel like my eyes have been opened, much like Valerie’s (albeit, to a much less profound degree).

For those who haven’t experienced it yet, VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is a fairy tale from Czechoslovakia.  Not one of your Disney fables, but as they were in the Grimm days.  Thirteen-year-old Valerie is awakened from an afternoon nap when a thief steals her beloved earrings, the lone gift left by her long lost mother.  No worries, as they are returned the next day.  Only, now she begins menstruating, and when she puts the earrings back on, she can see the world as it really is.  Her suitor is now an eagle, the travelling missionary is a weasel, and her small village is overrun with vampires, from the local priest to her friend’s new husband, to her own grandmother.  The priest wants to corrupt her innocence, her grandmother wants to steal her youth, the eagle is hiding a dangerous secret, and nothing but evil seems to come from the missionary.  Can Valerie survive with her body and soul intact, or will she become yet another ‘monster’ herself?

Yes, a lot of the imagery in VALERIE is heavy-handed.  Weasels, vampires, demons…these were hardly unique in the seventies, and are even less so now.  But that hardly matters in VALERIE’s world.  The imagery is so stunning that it more than makes up for the lack of originality in the symbols.  ‘Lyrical’ is the best word I can come up with to describe the pacing.  Valerie moves through the week with such a gentle ease, despite the madness surrounding her.  And it’s hard to believe that Jaroslava Schallerova, the actress who portrayed Valerie, was only 13 herself when she made this flick.  She carries the movie, being in nearly every shot, without faltering, with a performance more nuanced than what most performers three times her age are capable of.  The only downside has nothing to do with the movie itself, but rather the DVD.  The subtitles are seriously lacking in the region 1 release from Facets Video.  It’s not quite at the “All your base are belong to us” level, but there are moments when it gets closer than it should.  From what I understand, the region 2 disc from Redemption, is much better, and I can only assume that Criterion’s streaming version is tightened and some of the grammatical issues have been fixed.

Coming up with a drink for this one was a little tricky.  In the past year, the Czech Republic put major restrictions on hard alcohol.  However, beer is more popular than ever over there.  So what would be a good beer drink to honor Valerie’s transition from childhood innocence to adulthood?  I present to you the:

BEER FLOAT

drink

Ingredients:
Fruit flavored ale
Chocolate ice cream

Directions: Feel free to adapt this to taste.  I used an apricot ale.  Strawberry ice cream was attempted, but the flavor was too light to stand up to the chocolate.

Kolaches, like VALERIE, are little bits of Eastern European deliciousness that I’ve only recently discovered. They can be made with sweet fillings or, as I used them here, with savory meat for a meal.  But they do need a vegetable side.  Boiled cabbage is a popular Czech side, but that’s not something I wanted to put people (or myself) through.  So I did the next best thing:

KOLACHES WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS

dinner

Ingredients for the Kolaches:
1 roll refrigerated French bread dough
½ Polska Kielbasa, diced
8 mushrooms, diced
½ onion, diced

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375.  Sauté the sausage, mushrooms and onion until the veggies are cooked through.  Divide the bread dough into 8 equal parts.  Flatten each piece into a disc and put onto a greased cookie sheet.  Divide the filling evenly onto the center of the discs and press down with the palm of your hand.

Ingredients (for the Brussels sprouts):
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
Other ½ of the onion, diced.
6 slices of bacon, cut into strips.

Directions: Toss the ingredients together and put on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake both of these, at the same time, for 25 minutes.

One of the most popular Czech desserts is a pastry called a Trdelnik.  It’s an elaborate bit of sugary goodness that takes multiple risings, and has to be baked over an open fire on a spit.  As delicious as they are, it’s too much work and too much of an expense, involving equipment that you’ll maybe use once or twice again.  Instead, I took the traditional flavors of the Trdelnik and put them into a bread pudding:

MOCK TRDELNIK

dessert

Ingredients:
1 small loaf cinnamon bread, cubed
4 eggs
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 can tart cherries (NOT pie filling, but the kind that are packed in water), drained.

Directions: Beat the eggs, milk and sugar.  Fold in the bread and cherries.  Pour into buttered baking dish (this can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake).  Bake in an oven preheated to 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done.  Can be served hot, room temperature, or cold, but best served with whipped cream.

I’ve seen my share of Female Puberty Horrors in my day. From CARRIE to GINGER SNAPS to countless others in between, the transformation from girl to woman has been done so many times as lycanthropic transformation, the emergence of witchly powers, as a sign that the demons within her has emerged with her menstrual blood.  It’s a welcome change in VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS that, it’s not the girl who is evil, but the world around her.  The added bonus is that it’s a fantastic movie that, although muddled at times, is both fascinating and gorgeous to watch.  If you’re in the same boat I was and have never seen it, do so now, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the dinner as well.

© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel

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THALE (2012)

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, European Horror, Fantasy, Feral people, Foreign Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mythological Creatures, Supernatural, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2013 by knifefighter

THALE (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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The last few years, we’ve been getting some interesting genre films from unlikely places, like RARE EXPORTS (2010), from Finland, which gave us the truth about Santa Claus and his elves (they’re really scary creatures), and TROLLHUNTER (also 2010), from Norway, about a special government agency focused on keeping Norway’s troll population in check. And of course, the films of Lars von Trier, who has been making unusual films in Denmark for several decades now (including the excellent THE KINGDOM, 1994—which was the inspiration for Stephen King’s underrated TV series, KINGDOM HOSPITAL—and more recent films, such as the distrurbing ANTICHRIST (2009) and the end of the world tale MELANCHOLIA (2011).

The new movie THALE (2012), like TROLLHUNTER, is also from Norway, and once again deals with creatures from Norwegian folklore, although instead of being about trolls, this time we learn about the huldras, woodland creatures that appear to us in the form of beautiful women with tails, that are much more dangerous than they appear to be.

As THALE begins, Leo (Jon Sigve Skard) and Elvis (Erlend Nervold) are at a house at the edge of the woods, which is also a crime scene. It’s their job to clean things up after the police are done. The two of them are also old friends, and Elvis is filling in for Leo’s usual partner. The two catch up on news about their lives and joke around, when they are told that only half of the victim’s body was found; the other half was most probably carried away by animals that live in the nearby forest. They have to try to find as much else of the corpse as they can, so they start looking around the property, tearing out the floors of the outhouse, etc., when they find a hidden stairway leading down to an underground bunker, which does not appear to have been used for years. Everything is covered in dust, and the canned goods that are stored down there have long since expired.

Elvis finds an old cobweb-shrouded cassette player, and somehow it still works. When he turns it on, the tape inside plays a conversation between a doctor (the victim of the crime they’re cleaning up, presumably), and a girl. Or rather, the doctor does most of the talking (actor Roland Astrand provides the doctor’s voice). We only hear the girl when she screams during a painful procedure.

Who are these people? It’s not long afterwards that the two men find Thale (Silje Reinamo), who appears to be a girl in her 20s, and who has been abandoned in this bunker since the doctor’s death. It seems that she was the subject of his experiments, and there’s something not right about her. Like the fact that she doesn’t speak, but if she touches you, she can project vivid images into your head that “speak” for her.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

Silje Reinamo is very effective as the otherworldly THALE.

As the men try to figure out who and what Thale is, some strange creatures stalk the woods outside, and at one point some nefarious men in gas masks and hazmat suits (and toting guns) arrive. It seems there are several individuals who would like to have access to Thale, now that the doctor isn’t around. Which ones have her best interests at heart, and which ones want to hurt her? Well, that’s for the viewer to find out. And Leo and Elvis are caught in the middle, waiting for their compatriots to show up (they’re delayed).

THALE is an atmospheric little film,  that gives us a good feel for the woods of Norway. The acting here is pretty good. I liked Leo and Elvis a lot, and Silje Reinamo is particularly  good as the otherworldly Thale. Effectively written and directed by Aleksander Nordass (whose other work is mostly short films and TV movies), I thought THALE was an enjoyable horror/fantasy that reveals that there are probably many Norwegian fairy tale creatures who have yet to be explored on film.

Despite its short running time of 76 minutes, I thought THALE fleshed out its characters well, and has a compelling storyline. My only complaint is that the other huldras we see, which are much more animalistic than Thale, are CGI creations that really are not very convincing. For the most part, Nordaas films them from a distance, or fleetingly, but there are times when they are in full view, and they don’t look realistic at all. I think it actually would have been better to go with makeup effects for the creatures in this case; they are just more visceral and not as cartoony as low-budget computer effects.

Aside from this one setback, however, the movie is original and worth seeing. I give THALE three knives.

It was made in 2012, and was shown in Austin, Texas last year as part of the South By Southwest Film Festival, and is getting a brief theatrical run (mostly in arthouse theaters) now. It is also currently available on cable OnDemand.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

The original Norwegian poster for THALE.

 

(Editor’s Note: I was originally planning to see and review the new Ryan Gosling film THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES this weekend, but it was in limited release and wasn’t playing anywhere near me. When it goes into wider release, I’ll be writing about it here).

LL Soares gives THALE  ~three knives.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

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Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

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LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Action Movies, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Family Films, GIANTS!, Heroic Warriors, Michael Arruda Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on March 4, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013)
By Michael Arruda

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(THE SCENE: The Kingdom of the Giants, high above the clouds.  A GIANT stomps onto the scene, approaching MICHAEL ARRUDA, who sits on a rock counting some beans in his hand.)

GIANT:  Fee Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an English Muffin!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Don’t you mean Englishman?

GIANT:  No, I mean English muffin.  (pulls out an enormous English muffin).  I love the nooks and crannies.

MA:  I see.  Does that mean you’re not partial to human flesh?

GIANT:  I didn’t say that.  I’m just in the mood for an English muffin right now, that’s all.

JA

MA:  Am I safe to do my review here without worry that you might try to eat me?

GIANT (with his mouth full of English muffin):  I’m not going to eat you.  I prefer to eat meat in the evening, not in the morning.  I’m watching my cholesterol.

MA:  I see.

GIANT:  Start your review.  Don’t mind me.  I’ll just sit here eating my breakfast if that’s okay with you.

MA:  Not a problem.  Welcome everyone to CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m riding solo today, as L.L. Soares is on the other side of the clouds reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2.  I’m here in Giant Land reviewing the latest fairy tale movie, JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ( 2013).

And you know what?

GIANT:  What?

MA:  For the most part, I liked this one.

GIANT:  No kidding?

MA:  No kidding!  It certainly has its share of drawbacks, but it could have been a lot worse.  That being said, I’m also here to tell you it could have been a lot better.

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) lives in a kingdom where the children grow up hearing the legend of the giants who live high above in the sky, and how they were vanquished years ago by the heroic King of the land, who defeated the giants with his magic crown which, upon his death, was buried with him.

Jack is a young farmer who lives with his uncle.  Sent to the village to sell a horse, Jack instead takes in a traveling show where he happens to meet the Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson).  The princess is restless and upset that her father King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) has arranged a marriage for her with the much older Roderick (Stanley Tucci), so she constantly disguises herself and sneaks out of the castle.

When she runs afoul of some aggressive men, Jack jumps to her aid, but before the men rough him up, the king’s guard arrives, led by the head of the royal guard, Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and they whisk the princess back to the castle.

But you can’t keep a good princess down.  She sneaks out again, coincidentally ending up at Jack’s farm (yeah, that’s believable!), when the magic beans Jack had taken for his horse sprout the gigantic beanstalk which rises high into the sky above.  Jack manages to escape the beanstalk, but the princess is trapped and is lifted into the sky.

The king organizes a rescue party, led by Elmont, which also includes Roderick and Jack.  It’s up to these men to climb the beanstalk and rescue the princess from the clutches of the flesh-eating giants.  Things grow more complicated when it’s revealed that Roderick has an agenda of his own, and saving the princess isn’t part of it.

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER has its moments, and the best part of the movie is that everyone involved seems to be taking it quite seriously.  You won’t find goofy camp here.

However, on the other hand, although the material is treated with integrity, it’s handled with kid’s gloves.  This movie is rated PG-13.  It easily could have been rated PG, and in fact felt like a PG movie.  This was not a good thing.  So when the menacing giant takes a human and bites his head off, the camera cuts away long before we see what happens.  When soldiers suffer deadly wounds, not a drop of blood drips from their bodies.

Which makes JACK THE GIANT SLAYER a curious animal.  The actors in the film play things as if they’re in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, director Bryan Singer, the man behind the first two X-MEN movies, shoots it with the pacing and ferocity of Wolverine, and yet it’s edited in such a way that it is so kid-friendly it makes you wonder if somewhere along the line the folks behind the film changed their minds as to how they wanted to present this thing.

The end result is it’s really nothing more than just a children’s fairy tale.  The kiddos will love it because it’s exciting and action-packed, a bit more serious than their usual fare, but it’s all wrapped in a neat little PG package—sure, the rating says PG-13, but trust me, it’s PG material.

I found it enjoyable in a mild sort of way, but kept wishing it was a darker picture, and by darker, I don’t mean “R” rated, but I mean something along the lines of the aforementioned Peter Jackson LORD OF THE RINGS movies (not THE HOBBIT, which lacked the same intensity).  JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is more akin to a Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movie than LORD OF THE RINGS, only without  Harryhausen’s fun effects.

GIANT:  Speaking of special effects, how were the giants in the movie?  I’m always eager to hear how my cousins are represented on the big screen.

MA:  I’ll get to the giants in a bit.  Not yet.

Jack

Nicholas Hoult, who was one of the few things I liked about the recent zombie romantic comedy WARM BODIES (2013), is very good again here as Jack.  There’s something very likeable and sincere about him, and I found myself easily rooting for Jack.

Eleanor Tomlinson is also very good as Princess Isabelle.  She does a nice job playing both the strong and independent woman, and the vulnerable princess who doesn’t mind having Jack rescue her once in a while.  I bought into her performance as a princess much more than I did Kristen Stewart’s tomboyish take on Snow White in SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER is also helped along by its veteran cast.  Ewan McGregor as Elmont, the head of the king’s royal guard, shows more passion and exudes more personality here than he did in three movies as the sterile Obi-Wan-Kenobie.  It’s a neat role for McGregor.  He’s not the lead, not the young farm boy, but the seasoned veteran who is single-minded in his purpose to serve the king.  To use another STAR WARS reference, he’s Han Solo to Jack’s Luke Skywalker, although he plays Elmont less like Solo and more like James Bond.

Playing King Brahmwell its Ian Mcshane, a veteran actor who I almost always enjoy watching.  McShane has been in countless movies, and he’s probably most famous for his British TV show LOVEJOY (1986-1994) and for playing Al Swearengen in the HBO series DEADWOOD (2004 – 2006).  Incidentally, McShane was also in last year’s SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, where he played one of the dwarves, but he’s much better here as King Brahmwell.  That’s because in JACK GIANT SLAYER he delivers a performance that’s way above the material.

Stanley Tucci rounds out the veteran cast as Roderick, and surprisingly he was a disappointment.  His performance was fine, but he doesn’t get to do a whole lot.  Roderick should have been a juicy role for Tucci—a no good scoundrel whose secret desire to rule the kingdom leads him to betray just about everyone in his path—and for a while it is, but he never really develops into the kind of villain this movie needs.  I expected more.

And not to nitpick, but since Roderick was in line to marry the princess per order of the king, and was about to inherit the kingdom without having to lift one treacherous finger, the fact that he goes to all this trouble to conquer the king makes little sense when you think about it.

GIANT:  Are you going to talk about the giants now?

MA:  Not yet.  Soon.

Director Bryan Singer brings a lot of energy and zing to this one, imbuing the film with exciting action sequences, colorful sets and costumes, and pacing that keeps the movie rolling.

The screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney offers likable characters, enjoyable dialogue, and enough references and tweaks to the original tale to satisfy fairy tale connoisseurs.  McQuarrie also wrote the screenplay for JACK REACHER (2012), VALKYRIE (2008), and, way back when, THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995).

The set-up is all here for a rousing adventure, but somewhere in the editing room, it must have been decided this needed to be watered down.  The final result therefore is a mixed bag, an entertaining story without much bite.

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GIANT:  I’m going to bite you if you don’t start talking about the giants!

MA:  Okay, I’ll talk about the giants.

GIANT: It’s about friggin time!

MA:  What can I say?  I was saving the giants for last.

Anyway, it should come as no surprise where the giants fit in here.  Like the rest of the movie, they run hot and cold.  At times, they look really cool with some neat attention to detail, while other times—actually, most of the time—they look fake and cartoonish, off the set of some old Looney Tunes cartoon.

They’re portrayed as menacing evil beings that’ll bite off a man’s head in an instant, but we never feel their wrath or their enormous hatred of humans.  They’re rarely scarier than a villain in a Disney movie.  In fact, some Disney villains are scarier.

Like other watered-down parts of this movie, had the giants been grittier, the film would have been that much better.

And don’t ask me how the giants procreate.  There’s not a female giant anywhere in the land.

I chose not to see JACK THE GIANT SLAYER in 3D, believing the 3D effects wouldn’t be worth the extra money.

I liked JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, but I certainly didn’t love it.  The acting by everyone involved was very good, the story decent, and the film itself energetic and exciting, but it could have used more of an edge—an adult take to the fairy tale proceedings—as well as some more convincing and frightening giants.

I give it two and a half knives.

GIANT (burps):  That English Muffin was delicious.  But I’m still hungry.  Now what shall I eat?  (Eyes MA and licks his lips.).

MA:  You’re watching your cholesterol, remember?

GIANT:  I know, but it’s so difficult!

MA:  Here, have some magic beans.   (tosses beans up towards giant.)  They’ll put beanstalks on your chest.

GIANT:  I probably shouldn’t eat these.

MA:  No, but you can trade them in for all the food you want.  They’re worth quite a bit.

GIANT:  Gee, thanks!  (Exits)

MA:  Okay, we’re done here.  Time for me to return to the real world.  Now just where is that beanstalk again?  I sure hope the elevator is working this time.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives JACK THE GIANT SLAYER ~ two and a half knives!

Cinema Knife Fight COMING ATTRACTIONS for March 2013

Posted in 2013, Action Movies, Adult Fairy Tales, Body Horror, Coming Attractions, Crime Films, Demons, Exorcism Movies, Fantasy, GIANTS!, Occult with tags , , , , , on March 1, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – COMING ATTRACTIONS:
MARCH 2013
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene:  The magical land of Oz, outside the Emerald City to be exact.  Munchkins are dancing and singing, good witches are flying about singing cheerful songs, and MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES stroll down the yellow brick road.)

L.L SOARES:  Being here brings back so many memories.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Like the day you met your cousins, the flying monkeys?

LS: That was a special day.  Teaching them how to be scary, and how to beat tin men over the head with clubs.  Ah, memories!  But I was actually talking about watching THE WIZARD OF OZ as a kid. Back in the days before videotape, it only played once on TV every year, and was a really big deal.

MA:  I’ve never liked THE WIZARD OF OZ.

LS:  What?  Was it too scary for you?

MA: I used to find it depressing.  I enjoyed Hammer Films much better.

GOOD WITCH:  Welcome, Cinema Knife Fighters!  Are you here to review OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL?

LS:  Not yet.  We’re here today for our MARCH COMING ATTRACTIONS column.

MA:  That column where we announce which movies we’ll be reviewing in the coming month, and we’re here in Oz, because OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is probably the month’s biggest movie.

LS:  But it doesn’t open until March 8, and so we have some other films to discuss first.

GOOD WITCH:  Carry on.

MA:  First up in March, we’ll be bringing you reviews of two movies.  I’ll be reviewing JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013), and L.L. will be reviewing THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2 (2013).  Both these films open on March 1.

While no fan of the recent rage of fantasy fairy tale movies aimed at adults, films like HANSEL & GRETEL:  WITCH HUNTERS (2013) and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), based on the trailers, I don’t think JACK THE GIANT SLAYER looks half bad.

LS: I think you’ve been eating too many magic beans!

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MA:  It looks like it might be taken seriously enough to be a successful movie.  I know the CGI effects in the previews look pretty good, and the giants look formidable.  Sure, it’ll probably be stupid, but I’m hoping it might have an edge to it, something along the lines of the movies Terry Gilliam used to make.

LS: You said the CGI effects look good and the giants look formidable? I’m not sure we saw the same trailer. The giants I saw looked pretty damn hokey. Incredibly fake-looking giants don’t tempt me to see this movie much.

MA: Nicholas Hoult is playing Jack, and we just saw Hoult in WARM BODIES (2013).  As much as I didn’t really like that movie, Hoult wasn’t bad in it, so hopefully he’ll be decent as Jack.

LS: Another reason I’m glad I’m not seeing it.

MA: The cast also includes Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Ian McShane, so there’s some pretty good talent involved here.

It’s directed by Bryan Singer, who directed X-MEN (2000) and X2 (2003) and SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), a film you liked more than I did, but again, there’s talent involved in this movie, so it just might be good.

LS:  I like Singer, but nothing about the trailers for this one makes me want to see it. Then again, the trailer for THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2 looks like it could be awful, too. This movie really didn’t need a sequel, but the reason why the first movie was so good was because the lead guy, the exorcist Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), made the story compelling. It looks like he’s not even in this second movie. So I don’t have high hopes for it. It just looks like the usual exorcism shenanigans.

I doubt either one of us will see something great, but at least we’ll get two solo reviews out of it.

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MA:  Yeah, THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2 looks like one of those movies that has no business being made.  Now, I liked the first movie a lot, but, like you said, the main reason for liking that one was the main character, the preacher Cotton Marcus, but this second movie isn’t about him, it’s about the young girl from the first movie, Nell (Ashley Bell) and her story just isn’t as interesting.

Plus the trailer for this one makes it look really silly.

LS:  On March 8 it’s the big release of the month, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

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MA:  I have to admit, this one looks really good, but I can’t say I’m overly excited about it, since I’ve never been a fan of THE WIZARD OF OZ.  But it is Sam Raimi at the helm, and I do liked James Franco a lot, and Mila Kunis is nice to look at, so I probably will end up liking this one.

LS: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ before. You’re an odd gent.

MA: Really?  I know a lot of people who aren’t fans of THE WIZARD OF OZ. I can’t speak for them, but for me, when it was on TV each year when I was a kid, I used to watch it and like it, but eventually found myself sick of the story, especially the final scene where Dorothy’s relatives chuckle at her story about Oz, obviously dismissing her tale as a figment of her imagination.

LS:  What did you want them to do?  Believe her?  Tell me, is it possible this scene bothered you because when you were a child, people didn’t believe your stories?

MA:  Vampires are real and living in my basement!  (suddenly composing himself).  Sorry.  No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Anyway, on March 15 we’ll be reviewing the new thriller THE CALL (2013), starring Halle Berry as a 911 operator who becomes entangled with a serial killer.  Now, if you’ve seen the trailer for this one, you’ve probably seen the entire movie.  It’s pretty extensive, and I feel like I’ve seen the film already, so I’m really not that excited about it.

It also stars Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine herself.

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LS:  Oh boy! Maybe she’ll sing! But seriously, I am not looking forward to this one at all. It looks pretty awful, and you’re right, the trailer makes you feel like you already saw the movie. So why bother?

LS:  On March 22, we’ll be bringing you a DVD review of CELL COUNT.  This one is part of our up-and-coming filmmaker series, where we review new movies by directors who are trying to make a name for themselves. I hope it’s good.

MA:  I don’t know much about CELL COUNT, but I’m looking forward to seeing it.

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We finish the month with two reviews on the same weekend yet again.  I’ll be reviewing G.I. JOE:  RETALIATION (2013), and L.L. will be reviewing THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES (2012).  Something tells me you’re getting the better end of this deal!

G.I. JOE: RETALIATION I’m sure will be absolutely stupid.  G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF THE COBRA, which I saw in 2009, was not only one of the worst movies I saw that year, but one of the worst movies I’ve seen period!  Ever!

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Yet, somehow, this one’s got a decent cast— actually more than decent— with the likes of Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson, Channing Tatum, Ray Stevenson, RZA, Arnold Vosloo, Byung-hun Lee from I SAW THE DEVIL (2010), and Jonathan Pryce.  So, who knows?  It might be good after all!

Plus, the screenplay was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the same guys who wrote ZOMBIELAND (2009).

LS:  Yeah, I can’t stand G.I. JOE movies, so I’m glad I’ll be missing this one.

MA:  I just don’t get why we even have G.I. JOE movies.  When I hear “G.I. Joe” I think of the popular toy action figure from years back, but is it even still around today?  I’m sure it is, but is it popular?  I don’t get it.

LS:  THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES is a mystery starring Ryan Gosling, and it involves some kind of heist, based on the trailer. I’m eager to see this one.

MA:  Yeah, it features Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, two of my favorite actors, so I’d say this one sounds like a winner.

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And that wraps things up for our MARCH COMING ATTRACTIONS column.  We’ll see you next week with reviews of JACK THE GIANT SLAYER and THE LAST EXORCISM PART 2.

GOOD WITCH:  Remember to give OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a positive review.

MA:  That depends on whether we like it or not, because if we don’t like it, then we can’t in good faith—.

(GOOD WITCH zaps MA with her wand and turns him into a frog.)

LS:  Wow. You’ll have to show me how to do that!  But what’s the idea of turning Michael into a frog?  I thought you were a good witch?

GOOD WITCH:  I am.  When it comes to casting magical spells, I’m good!

LS: I’d ask you to change him back, but that would be so unlike me.  Okay, folks, we’ll see you next weekend!  Don’t worry.  Michael will be back to his normal self in time to review JACK THE GIANT SLAYER.   I know this for a fact, because there’s no way I’m going to see it!

FROG:  Rib-bit!  Rib-bit!

—END—

QUICK CUTS: FAIRY TALE MOVIES WE WANT TO SEE

Posted in 2013, Adult Fairy Tales, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Jenny Orosel Columns, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Quick Cuts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 8, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTSFairy Tale Movies We Want to See
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, and Jenny Orosel

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the recent the release of HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2103) and the upcoming JACK THE GIANT SLAYER, a re-working of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale, due out on March 1, the “fairy tale re-imaginings” are out in full force.

Let’s see, we’ve already had RED RIDING HOOD (2011) and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).  I don’t know about you, but enough is enough!

But since this new take on the fairy tale genre doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, it’s time for the Cinema Knife Fighters to get in on the action.

Today’s QUICK CUTS question: Which fairy tale would you like to see turned into a movie!

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DANIEL KEOHANE:  I’d go with THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL.

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Sent away from her home and left to die but saved from death by a long retired CIA operative Max Samaritan, Lillie devotes herself to stopping evil whenever – and wherever – it appears. She leaves the arcane world of wooden matches behind in favor of a stylish Zippo, which proves invaluable when all seems lost and she finds herself near a constant supply of combustible materials.

 *****

JENNY OROSEL:  I would like to see BLUEBEARD done, this time starring either Larry King or Rush Limbaugh.

A new version of Bluebeard?

A new version of Bluebeard?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I’ve always liked RUMPELSTILTSKIN.  In my movie version, entitled KNOW MY NAME OR PAY UP YOU LOSER!  Jim Carrey in full make-up with CGI effects added plays Rumpelstiltskin, and Chloe Grace Moretz plays the poor miller’s daughter.  In this movie version, rather than just guess his name, Moretz  kicks the crap out of Carrey’s Rumpelstiltskin to the point where he’s a mass of pulpy flesh.

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She then travels the countryside in search of demonic dwarves who terrorize young women.

Also starring Robert Downey Jr. as the King.

I’d also like to see WEE WILLIE WINKIE made into a horror movie where Mr. Winkie is a sinister gent who goes around terrorizing young children, whisking them away from their beds at night, taking them to some uncertain dark future, perhaps to a castle where a cannibalistic witch lives who loves children in her stews.  Rated R, with Sacha Baron Cohen as Wee Willie Winkie, Sigourney Weaver as the Witch, and Mark Wahlberg as the parent of a missing child who’s had enough and decides to step up and take justice into his own hands.

weewillie2

*****

L.L. SOARES: That’s easy. I’d like to see a movie version of THE WORLD OF MOTHER GOOSE starring Andrew Dice Clay.

"Hickory Dickory Dock..."

“Hickory Dickory Dock…”

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And there you have it, fairy tale movies we’d like to see.

Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane and Jenny Orosel, as applicable.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Gimmicks, Magic, Trolls, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

hansel

(THE SCENE: The middle of the woods, outside a house made of candy. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach house.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: A house made of candy! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES: I can think of better things for a house to be made of. Besides, I’m on a diet.

MA: Well, if you’re going to nitpick, I suppose I’d prefer a house made completely of chocolate. In fact, that looks like a chocolate doorbell. (starts to eat chocolate doorbell, which rings).

LS: Haven’t you read enough fairy tales to know you’re not supposed to eat the candy?

MA: I don’t care.

LS: Hey, this tile is made of Swedish fish. I think I’ll have a nibble.

(Door opens and nasty looking witch peers outside.)

WITCH: Welcome! Come on in, childr—-. (Looks at MA & LS, and frowns). Aren’t you two a little old for this?

LS: Speak for yourself, grandma. We’re just here to review a movie. We’re not here for the candy—at least I’m not! (elbows MA).

MA (wiping chocolate from his mouth): Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist. Hey this window is a giant lollipop! (starts licking)

WITCH: Hope you’re enjoying yourself. (adds on her fingers) That’ll be $15.00.

MA: Seriously?

WITCH: Yeah! What do you think this is, a fairy tale? Pay up!

(MA pays her.)

WITCH: You, too. At a penny a piece, you must have eaten 30 cents worth of Swedish fish.

(LS pays her)

WITCH: Thanks. Have fun reviewing your movie. Make sure I receive some compensation. You are using the exterior of my home for your review, after all. Plus, I’m making a cameo…and it’s a speaking part! (waves at camera).

LS: And that’s your compensation: exposure. Now leave us alone, you old bag, so we can review today’s movie!

WITCH: Well, I never!

LS: That doesn’t surprise me.

(WITCH slams door).

LS (to MA): Would you like to start today’s review? I’m going to look around to see if there are any houses around here made from better stuff than candy.

MA: Sure. In fact, I’ll come with you. Let’s walk and talk. Welcome, everyone, to today’s edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Today we’re reviewing the new action fantasy horror movie, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013), the movie that asks the question: Can you turn a fairy tale into a hard hitting R-rated movie? The answer is—yeah, sure, but does it work? That’s the better question.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS opens with the traditional take on the fairy tale, with young Hansel and Gretel deposited in the deep woods alone by their seemingly evil parents, only to make their way to a house made of candy, in which lives a witch who eats little children. Of course, this time around, little Hansel and Gretel kill the witch and grow up to become witch hunters.

LS: They’ve been given a mission in life!

MA: Years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are hired by the Mayor (Rainer Bock) of a small village to find and kill the witches who have been abducting the children of the village, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), a lawman who’d rather burn witches first, ask questions later. Plus, Berringer is still steaming over the fact that Hansel and Gretel prevented him from burning a woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala), who he believed to be a witch but who Hansel believed otherwise, a situation which ended when Berringer received a nasty head butt from Gretel.

LS: Mmmm…Gretel…

MA: Hansel and Gretel’s investigation leads them to the main witch baddie lurking in the woods, a witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen). With the help of a young witch-hunter wannabe, Ben (Thomas Mann), and a CGI-created troll named Edward (Derek Mears), who has a soft spot for Gretel, Hansel and Gretel go after Muriel and uncover some truths about their parents along the way.

LS: You probably should mention that Edward originally works for the bad witches and keeps the abducted children the witches steal in cages. It’s not until later that he “turns” good.

MA: When all is said and done, you already know which side is left standing and which side goes down.

One thing I’ll say for the folks who made HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, they took their jobs seriously, and they tried like hell to make this one succeed. And you know what? For a movie I wasn’t interested in seeing at all, I actually liked this one. Well, a little bit anyway. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t love this movie by any means, and I never really was able to get past the fact that I was watching a story about Hansel and Gretel, but there were a lot of things I liked.

First off, the screenplay by director Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper has a lot of things going for it. For one thing, even though this takes place in fairy tale land, people speak in modern day language, which means there are plenty of F-bombs flying around.

LS: I always hated that term: F-bombs.

MA: Well, this is a family-friendly site. Sort of. So we can’t exactly go on a cursing rant.

LS: Okay.

MA: At first, I didn’t think this worked, and I’m still not convinced that it did, but let’s put it this way: it made for some lively dialogue. This is a step up from the video game movies, like last year’s RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012), which really isn’t a movie at all, but an extended video game. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, as silly as it is, is several notches above those awful movie wannabes.

I also liked how the story returned to Hansel and Gretel’s parents, offering an explanation as to why they did what they did, abandoning their children in the middle of the woods. Some thought went into this screenplay, which is always a good thing.

LS: I actually thought the explanation of why their parents abandoned them didn’t make total sense, since leaving them alone in the woods wasn’t really all that safe, especially with an evil witch’s candy house right nearby. But the screenwriters tried.

MA: True, but I think the parents expected to retrieve them after a short time, but that being said, they certainly didn’t have a contingency plan if things went bad, as they ultimately did. So, you’re right, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

LS: Thank you.

Hansel___Gretel _Witch_Hunters_5.jpg-large

MA: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS also looks good, and director Tommy Wirkola made some good use of the 3D effects in some of the battle scenes. There’s plenty of blood and gore here—yes, it’s CGI— and even some nudity, and so this is definitely an R-rated pic.

LS: I didn’t see this one in 3D. I was getting sick of paying extra for 3D effects I didn’t care about. That said, this one was just fine in 2D. I didn’t feel cheated at all.

But there could have been a bit more of that nudity you mentioned. We never get to see the fetching Gretel nude. Or Famke Janssen’s evil witch….but Mina is quite nice.

(THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, as played by Margaret Hamilton in green makeup, suddenly appears in a burst of red smoke)

WICKED WITCH (laughing): How about me! Would you like to see me nude as well?

LS: Not really. (thinks) Then again, I’ve always liked sideshows.

WICKED WITCH: Well, the witches in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS are pathetic wannabes. I’M the real thing. Do these witches have flying monkeys? Do they have soldiers with big furry hats? NO! All they have is one simple-minded troll who turns against them. I’m the real deal, baby.

MA: No one is denying that.

WICKED WITCH: Well you better not! If I hear you talking smack about me, I’ll turn you into toads – and ugly ones at that. Mark my words, dammit!

(Suddenly, a house falls from the sky and crushes the WICKED WITCH)

MA: Oh, that was unfortunate.

LS: Ding dong, the witch is dead. Let’s go on with our review.

MA: Okay. I wonder how HANSEL & GRETEL would do against her.

(The WICKED WITCH’s feet wiggle beneath the house)

WICKED WITCH’s VOICE: I’d eat them for breakfast.

LS: She might be right.

MA: Anyway, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton make for a very watchable Hansel and Gretel. The characters they’re playing are strictly one-dimensional, but they make the most of it and get as much out of Hansel and Gretel as possible. I can’t say that I liked either character, but I did enjoy watching both Renner and Arterton.

LS: I think the casting is probably the biggest reason to see this one. Jeremy Renner has just been getting bigger and bigger since he starred in THE HURT LOCKER in 2008, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (sadly, he didn’t win). Since then, he’s been in high-profile roles in movies like THE TOWN (2010), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) and, of course, as Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS (also 2012), even if he was a poorly developed supporting character in that one (and where the hell was Hawkeye’s mask from the comics?). He’s become an A-list actor and it’s surprising to see him in something like this.

MA: I agree.

LS: I also thought it was interesting how they made it so Hansel has to inject himself with something every once in a while to keep going. At first, you think he’s a drug addict, but it’s later revealed that they’re insulin shots—as he explains, he got very sick after eating all that candy in the witch’s house in the beginning when they were kids. I thought that was a cool touch.

As for Gemma Arterton, she’s a hottie I’ve had my eye on for a while. Before she played Gretel here, she was also Strawberry Fields in 2008’s THE QUANTUM OF SOLACE, played Io in 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS (and was one of the few things I liked about that movie), and has been in lots of small indie films like 2010’s TAMARA DREWE. I’m a fan, and she’s always memorable in everything she’s in, and she’s good here as well, even if she joins a long line of hot actresses who have been in action movies that require them to dress in leather and act tough and one-dimensional, including Kate Becksindale in the UNDERWORLD movies and VAN HELSING (2004) and Milla Jovovich in the RESIDENT EVIL movies. But I like HANSEL & GRETEL more than any of those.

While Renner is a respected actor now, he’s still waiting for that breakout role to make him a household name. So is Arterton. Unfortunately, despite their talent, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS isn’t it. But it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.

There’s something about HANSEL & GRETEL that feels like a movie that was on the shelf for a while, and was dusted off when Jeremy Renner started getting some buzz. And it was originally scheduled to be in theaters back in March of 2012.

MA: On the other hand, I was disappointed with Famke Janssen as evil witch Muriel. She spends too much time in the movie as a CGI creation, and I thought she was much more effective without all the CGI effects and makeup.

LS: I’ve always liked Janssen, but yeah, this is a thankless role. But she does as well as she can with it. And you’re right, she’s actually just as effective (if not more so) as a baddie when she’s not in the monster makeup.

MA: My favorite performance in the film, other than Renner’s and Arterton’s, belonged to Pihla Viitala as Mina, the woman who Hansel and Gretel save from being burned as a witch. Turns out, Mina has a secret of her own, and she and Hansel develop a relationship that is one of the more interesting in the film. Viitala is very sexy in this role, and I wished she had been in the movie even more.

LS: Yeah, I want to see more of her. I hope this leads to bigger roles.

(A disgruntled WICCAN emerges from the woods, holding a picket sign that reads “Down With Hansel & Gretel!”)

WICCAN: How dare you give this movie a proper review! After hundreds of years of persecution, the last thing we need is a throwback to the idea of witches as ugly old monsters who eat children. Real witches are nothing like that!

LS: You’re absolutely right. Real witches are nothing like this. But this is a fantasy movie. It’s not supposed to be reality. No one takes it seriously. Just like nobody believes that real-life dwarves have magical powers.

MA: Yeah, it’s just silly horror movie witches. It’s not supposed to be a realistic representation of witches.

WICCAN: Well, it still makes me angry.

LS: That’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinion. Don’t sweat it.

WICCAN: Thanks, I just wanted to say my peace. (leaves)

MA: Shall I continue?

LS: Be my guest.

MA: The rest of the cast is fine. Peter Stormare (who we just saw as an effective villain in last week’s THE LAST STAND) is effective again here as the villainous Sheriff Berringer. As he did in THE LAST STAND, Stormare outshines the main villain in the film, as I found his Sheriff Berringer here to be more dastardly than the bad witch Muriel.

LS: He’s certainly not as much fun to look at as Muriel. But I’ve always like Stormare. He’s been a character actor for a long time, and was great in movies like FARGO (1996), 8MM (1999), and George Romero’s BRUISER (2000), as well as TV shows like PRISON BREAK. He mostly plays bad guys, but he’s good at it.

MA: Derek Mears, as Edward the CGI troll, is also a decent character, but Edward is certainly more of a CGI creation than just an actor giving a strong acting performance.

I also enjoyed the music score by Atli Orvarsson. It’s lively, like the rest of the film.

There was also plenty that I didn’t like about HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. As I already said, the characters of Hansel and Gretel are strictly one-dimensional, and so as much as I enjoyed Renner and Arterton in the roles, I didn’t like either character all that much, and so it’s not like I’d be looking forward to watching more movies about these folks. It’s my hope that this is a one and done deal.

LS: Agreed. This was a case of good actors doing the best with roles that were beneath them. And while I thought this movie was fun, I really don’t think we need any sequels.

MA: I hope not! The same goes for the rest of the characters in this one, with the possible exception of Mina. For a while, you’re not really sure about her, whether she’s good or bad, and I found her a little more interesting than the other characters in this film; of course, it helps that Pihla Vitaala is so damned sexy!

The plot is pretty standard, and didn’t excite me one iota, but since there are some movies out there that don’t even bother to give you a plot, having even an average plot is a good thing. There’s definitely a story here, even if it’s not a very good one.

LS: I think the story was kind of cliché. It really felt like we’d seen stuff like this before, many times before. But the interesting stuff came with the little details. There were things the filmmakers got right. HANSEL & GRETEL is above-average for this kind of thing, but it’s still not a great movie by any stretch.

I agree with you, Michael, that I was dreading going to see this one. I’d seen the trailer like 50 times and felt it pretty much gave away the entire story, and it kind of did. But it surprised me, too. I think the acting transcended the script, and it was a little better written than I was expecting. It also didn’t hurt that this movie tried to earn its R rating. By doing so, it had a little more edge (and flavor) to it than the heap of other, similar movies, that are usually PG-13 and sanitized to the point of pablum.

MA: I appreciated this one’s efforts to be a hard hitting adult fantasy tale, but I wish it had been even more successful. I wish the characters had been developed further and that the evil witch in this one had more to do than what she ultimately does. Then again, in a movie about Hansel and Gretel, maybe that’s too much to ask for.

LS: Probably. But as we’ve said before. Great writing can turn any lackluster idea into something exceptional.

MA: I didn’t love HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS by any means, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and I can’t deny that it’s entertaining in a silly sort of way. Ultimately it’s is a fairly successful bloody gory fantasy.

I give it two and a half knives.

LS: Strangely, I give it the same score. Better than expected. Worth going to see if you want a fun night at the movies. But don’t go in expecting a movie you can really love.

(They come to a clearing and see another house, this time made of pizza and giant kegs of beer. Girls dressed as sexy beer maids beckon them forward)

LS: Now that’s a house that tempts me.

MA: I know we should go the other way, but what the hell.

(They run toward the house)

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS~two and a half knives, as well.