One thing I love about going to see a moive with expectations is your odds of enjoyment can be hightened. Every piece of advertising for Hansel & Gretel that I saw made it look like a piece of dog filth. The reason why it came out in January was because that's the cemetary where studios bury their bloated corpses that they know are crap but they have to release them anyway. Why? Because it's cold and snowy in most of the country and people usually stay home. If you're anything like me, you're smart not to do that because this one is a fun ride.
We all know the classic fairytale about Hansel & Gretel; they were two children that were lost in the woods and found a house made of candy but when they went inside they were trapped by a witch who fattened them up for eating until they fought back and burned her alive. Well, our titular characters in this are those two kids all grown up and boy, do they hate witches. They travel the countryside working as badass witch bounty hunters and are esstentially 19th century paranormal superheros.
Not sure how they did it but they convinced Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Avengers) to star in this along with the stunning Gemma Arterton (Quantom of Solace, Prince of Persia). Don't expect any silly accents or time appropriate vocabulary because the entire film is done very tongue-in-cheek. That might be because the film is produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay...yeah, THOSE guys responsible for some of the funniest comedies out there. Is Hansel & Gretel a comedy? Not really but the whole movie screams for you to not take it seriously and just have fun.
If you're really into movies you might recognize the name of Norweigan director Tommy Wirkola. Hansel & Gretel was his first American film but prior to this he caught movie nerds' attention with a movie called Dead Snow, which was a film about college students who are terrorized by resurrected zombie nazis and they have to fight them off. It's the same situation as this in that you watch it with rock bottom expectations and you actually end up loving it. The two films are very similar in style, tone and expierence. Hansel & Gretel is obviously better though because of the budget they had.
I was lucky enough to have seen this at the Esquire IMAX theater in downtown Sacramento and I highly recommend duplicating that for yourself. Most of the film was shot in IMAX and it's also in 3D, with gags and action sequences that you'd expect to see at an amusement park. The make-up and CGI FX are all excellent and the grotesque looks chosen for the witches remind me of The Evil Dead and come to to think of it, so does the whole thing. It's a horror/action movie that's got ridiculous and soggy moments but overall shines as the kind of movie you want to see on the biggest, loudest screen possible and have a good time with friends. Just make sure you leave a trail of breadcrumbs so you can find your way home. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: B
I was actually lucky enough to stumble upon the original Mama online. It's a short film by Andres Muschietti, who also directed this feature length version, that came out in 2008. It was a simple Spanish film that was only three minutes long but in those three minutes he created an atmosphere of tension, dread and horror as two little girls try to run from their Mama just as we discover in the final shot that Mama is not their mother but a horrific and twisted ghost. What I liked the most about this version is that those three minutes are in it shot-for-shot but the remaining 97 minutes aren't nearly as good.
Guillermo Del Toro is a writer/director/producer that has become an icon in the geeked-out, fanboy world and make no mistake that he has created some incredible films. He directed Pan's Labrynth, the Hellboy films, Blade 2 and The Devil's Backbone. His production credits however have extrodinary highs such as The Orphange and extrodinary lows such as Are You Afraid of the Dark. But he likes to think that he has a nose for talent and fleshing out stories. Half the time that seems to be true. In the case of Mama, I'm not sure if he helped or hurt.
The film has a very powerful opening scene that is beautifully shot and is tragic and ominous. The remaining first act as well as the second are creepy, chilling and disturbing. But the final act the film rides off the rails and becomes something different altogether. It transforms from a terrifying horror film into a gothic drama. It's not a bad final act but the tone doesn't match the rest and your average movie-goer will be very disapointed with the conclusion.
The movie stars Jessica Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) and I'm thinking she regrets that. A few years ago, Eddie Murphy was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for his work in Dreamgirls. Just a week or two before the awards, his film Norbit came out and it was so bad that, according to legend, it blew his shot at a win. Is Mama as bad as Norbit? Hell no! Norbit was one of the worst movies of the decade. Mama isn't even a bad movie but it's far from great and her performance in particular is not even quality by horror movie standards and I guess we'll see if Oscar voters will sentence her to a similar Eddie Murphy fate.
What Mama falls victim to is the classic rule that "less is more." Any film student student who barely paid attention in class knows that the reason why Jaws was so effective was because you barely see the shark. In Mama, the ghastly Mama is shrouded in shadow and creepy sound FX until that final act when it becomes a CGI fest that shows so much of her that she becomes comical and no longer creepy. Where does that leave you on a decision to see it? I say see it in a packed movie theater so you can feed off the terror in the crowd when the movie is good but around 65 minutes into it, sneak out and into another theater for another film and make up an ending yourself. There's a really good chance you'll come up with something better than how it actually ends. Mama (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: C+
In 2008 when The Hurt Locker came out and went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars, I was one of the few people in America that didn't get it. I understood the gravity of a woman, in this case Kathryn Bigelow, directing a war film like that and winning Best Director. What I didn't get was the film itself. It was good but far from great and miles from Best Picture. So when I saw that for her encore performance, Bigelow was making another film set in the same war theater, I was less than eager and the phrase "one trick pony" was galloping around my head. I was wrong and I happily admit it.
Zero Dark Thirty is the true story on how we tracked and killed Osama Bin Laden. If you're like me, you think, "Bin Laden was killed in May 2011. We're not even two years away from it. A movie seems excessive." I still don't know if I retract those thoughts but regardless, I'm glad this movie was made. I don't think anyone had any idea that the hunt for Bin Laden started so long ago and was so exhaustive. I understand that there is lots of controvery over what was actually true from the film but for the sake of this review I'll assume it all was.
Jessica Chastain (The Help, Mama) carries this entire movie on her back. She doesn't have much of a supporting cast and is instead just surrounded by a cast of characters that drift in and out of the plot, many of which are played by talented performers such as James Gandolfini (The Sopranos, Where the Wild Things Are) and Marc Strong (Sherlock Holmes, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). Chastain plays a woman (most likely ficticious) who is the one person who never gives up on the persuit of the world's most wanted terrorist. She captures the passion and intensity she has for it in a few scenes but in the rest she seems bored and surface. She's the front-runner for Best Actress this year at the Oscars and I'm not sure why.
That's not exactly all her fault though. The script by Mark Boal (The Hurt Locker) is rich on details, suspense and intrigue and poor on heart, emotion or making us care about any of the characters. The good news is that the movie moves fast and builds to a really exciting conclusion; even though we know how it ends before it even starts, we move to the edge of our seat in the final twenty minutes with suspense.
Zero Dark Thirty is a rare film in that I don't think it deserves Best Director, Best Writer or Best Actress but I think it has a serious shot at Best Picture. The reason why is a lot like the way we killed Bin Laden: lots of people who were above average at their job, worked together to create a great and amazing objective. Sure there's lots of controvery surronding the accuracy or source for aquired information but taking it at face value as truth makes it pulse pounding and very docudrama. One of the best films of the year and deserves to be up for an Oscar...but just in one category. Zero Dark Thirty (Rated R)
Gavin Grade: A-