Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters 3D
Latest in the trend of reinventing classic fairy tales, this sees Hansel and Gretel all grown up, hardened from their childhood encounter with the candy-obsessed witch of the Grimm story. Now globe-travelling witch hunters, they come up against a most formidable opponent, Muriel (Famke Janssen, effectively reprising her role as Dark Phoenix in X-Men 2).
This is mindless trash with little obvious intent to achieve anything more than forgettable entertainment; more Van Helsing than, say, Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty. As such, it is fairly effective, although considering things, there is little to praise. Gemma Arterton looks good in leather pants, while Jeremy Renner’s two-time Oscar-nominated acting talents are completely absent. The 3D is utilised exclusively as a gimmick, which is more satisfying than the current trend for “artistic” and “subtle” (read: pointless) uses. Following his far superior Nazi-zombie film, Dead Snow (2009), writer/director Tommy Wirkola’s more mainstream offering is silly and humourless, but it’s short and inoffensive.
In the House
Francois Ozon’s latest is an odd little movie with some interesting themes, touching upon concepts of literature, inspiration, teacher-student relations, art appreciation, jealousy, and growing up. Finding one student’s writing assignment more interesting than the rest of the class’s more vacuous offerings, literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) takes him under his wing and provides him with extra tutelage, encouraging him to foster his ideas, which focus on what happens in the home of his friend, the nice-but-dim Rapha.
Fact and fiction begin to melt together as the student’s writing changes from observation to creation; scenes start to blur together as the fictional characters, based on real characters, are reinvented. This is well done, and it is interesting to see Claude’s story come to life. Although light-hearted, there is an uncomfortable undercurrent of tension running throughout; as Claude, Ernst Umhauer brings an intensity to the role, so that it becomes difficult to properly understand his intentions.
One of the big questions posed is how one concludes a story and, ironically, this is the problem for Ozon also. Germain informs Claude that a great work of literature finishes with a solution that the reader cannot see coming, but, once it comes, they cannot imagine it ending any other way. Whether Ozon achieves this is up for debate, but it is an interesting, thought-provoking and entertaining film, with excellent performances and a delightful score.
Fire with Fire
Absolutely every single aspect of this film is clichéd. Josh Duhamel is trouble-maker-turned-good-guy fire fighter Jeremy, who becomes a key witness in a double homicide (a kindly shopkeeper and his inspirational scholarship kid) and has to go into witness protection. Unfortunately, the bad guys work out where he is and shoot his new girlfriend, one of the Feds tasked with looking after him, who abandons any sense of protocol for love. To save the people he cares about, Jeremy has to turn vigilante, and take out the formidable baddies himself. Early in the film, he makes an impassioned speech to his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson) about how he understands how fire works and moves, and how he says the same thing to every person trapped in a burning building so that they will trust him and do what he asks. No prizes for guessing how it ends.
Bruce Willis features for a few scenes, sporting his trademark knowing smirk; as a cop whose partner was killed by the very same baddies, he is happy to turn a blind eye on Jeremy’s completely illegal activity. Good thing too, because his character is utterly irrelevant. Everyone is a stereotype; Vincent D’Onofrio provides some much needed charisma, but even he, as the head-bad-guy, is ludicrous: not just a well-spoken druglord, but a swastika-covered White Supremacist – just to make it really clear that he is EVIL, in case anyone’s confused.
Not just a stupid film, but a boring one as well, there is absolutely nothing redeemable about Fire with Fire. Action fans will have seen this plot a million times before, in far superior movies. Duhamel is adequate, but there is little anyone can do with such two-dimensional characters to play. Finally, for a film with “fire” in the title, about a firefighter, with an inevitable fire-filled climax, the flames are horribly computerised; in fact, there have been more believable explosions in SyFy’s CGI-riddled straight-to-DVD trash.
Most odd about Stoker is that it is written by Wentworth Miller, the pretty guy from Prison Break. And, as it transpires, he can write an interesting screenplay. This is a strange, stylised, slow-burning mystery, directed by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), with an excellent performance by Mia Wasikowska as India, a young, awkward girl whose father has just died. Following his funeral, his brother arrives to stay in the house; charismatic and handsome, he appears to have some kind of relationship with India’s mother, the newly bereaved Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).
At its core, Stoker is about the uncomfortable relationships between these relatives; India and her mother, her mother and her uncle, her and her uncle. It is also about growing up – the arrival of her uncle sees India beginning to show signs of an awakening sexuality, which is cleverly symbolised by the shoes she receives each birthday. As India, Wasikowska is reminiscent of Wednesday Addams; silent, reclusive, pale as snow, but with a steely sense of self.
Stoker‘s narrative slips towards the end, with a contrived explanation that is necessary but disappointingly uninspired. It does, however, redeem itself by not actually finishing at that point, instead continuing for a few more minutes and finishing on a more satisfying high. Dissecting the plot will reveal holes, but when a film is this stylised, it is easy to suspend disbelief. A well executed, stylish movie, it may divide audiences somewhat, but it shows an unexpected darkness in the mind of Miller, and it will be interesting to see if he continues his screenwriting endeavours.
Steven Soderbergh’s latest reunites him with his Magic Mike lead, Channing Tatum, for an altogether different kind of movie. Here, he delves into the twisted world of psychiatry in America, where every suggestion of dysfunction is fixed with another pill. Rooney Mara is Emily, a young wife whose husband (Tatum) has just got out of jail for insider trading. Despite this good news, Emily is troubled, and after a failed suicide attempt, agrees to meet with Dr Banks (Jude Law) for treatment. He prescribes her a range of pills, culminating in Ablixa, but during a sleep-walking bout, the side effect of the drug, she stabs and kills her husband. At this point, the film’s focus shifts from Emily, to Dr Banks, whose reputation is seriously damaged as a result of this unfortunate incident.
For the majority of the film, Soderbergh provides an intriguing, and often surprisingly tense, situation that raises subtle but powerful questions about the prevalence of prescription drugs, and the dependency on them to cure every ill and whim found in America. From psychiatrists paid to participate in drug trials on behalf of the pharmaceutical companies, to the extended advertisments on television, these are seen as a quick fix. However, this all crumbles in an illogical and misconceived plot twist, in which a central character reveals a daft conspiracy that effectively makes the clever politics of the film irrelevant. This is a shame, because without this twist, the film is far more interesting. After the big reveal, it becomes little more than a well-made, well-acted murder mystery; effective, yes, but disappointing in its conclusion.