Sunday, February 24, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Mama, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Warm Bodies

As always, beware of SPOILERS!

Mama
A Spanish-Canadian ghost story directed by Andres Muschietti. Don't be fooled by the movie poster which boldly displays Guillermo Del Toro's name across the top. If you're a fan of Del Toro's movies, prepare to be disappointed, as the film is only "presented by" him. He served as executive producer and had absolutely nothing to do with the writing and directing of the film. 

The "Presented By" credit is an old Hollywood marketing trick to misdirect the rubes and try to lure them into the theater. Don't fall for it.


It's also pretty bold of the filmmakers to put Jessica Chastain's name above the title. She's been in a couple high profile movies lately (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) but she's far from a household name yet, no doubt making the majority of the audience scratch their heads in puzzlement as to who the hell she is.


Director Andres Muschietti says he's so pleased with the film he's already planning a sequel, hoping to start up a Mama franchise. Oy. Bold talk, considering there was barely enough story for one film.

The Plot:
Two young girls are abandoned in a cabin in the woods for reasons. Five years later they're found alive, but feral. Unknown to anyone else they've been cared for all this time by a jealous ghost they call "Mama."

Pros:
• The two girls who play the kids in the movie are incredible little actresses. They were totally believable as feral children, which I'm sure wasn't easy to pull off for ones so young.

• "Mama" had an interesting look to her, different from any cinematic ghost we've seen before.


• The cabin in which the little girls survive is decorated in a really cool 1970s style. I wish my own house looked like that (minus the years of dirt and grime. And the malevolent psychotic ghost, of course). Wow. I'm so ambivalent about this film that I'm down to praising the set design. 


Cons: 
• Although they try to hang some interesting decorations onto the tale, like the feral children idea and a punk rock surrogate mother, in the end it's a pretty standard and familiar ghost story that we've seen a hundred times before. A thousand, even.

• After the kids are abandoned in the cabin, Mama starts taking care of them, bringing them cherries to live on. It's implied that that's all they ate for five years. I find that hard to swallow (I see what I did there).

• There are a few moments of tension, particularly when Annabel (the girls' surrogate mom) comes close to opening the "forbidden" closet in which Mama resides, but ultimately it's just not very scary.

I give it a C+.

Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters
Yes, it's a ridiculous concept (I can hear the pitch now: It's Hansel and Gretel all grown up, and they're badass action heroes!), it's stupid, it's loud and it's dumb. But it's also a lot of fun. Despite of the drubbing it's taken by the majority of critics, I was entertained from start to finish, and loved every minute of it. It's a big dumb movie that knows it's a big dumb movie and revels in it.

I wouldn't mind seeing a whole series of H&G films, but the poor critical response and less than stellar box office will probably prevent that from ever happening. Too bad. We can't have nice things around here!

The Plot:

It's Hansel and Gretel all grown up, and they're badass action heroes!

Pros:

• The movie has a cool Hammer Studios kind of look to it (that's a good thing, kids).

• Although there are a few CGI effects throughout the movie, the filmmakers insisted on using practical effects wherever possible, something I greatly appreciated. Yeah, you can do pretty much anything these days with CGI, but nothing beats real, on-set monsters and explosions.


• I was especially impressed with the Edward the Troll character, who was realized through the use of a large animatronic suit rather than CGI. He looked to be at least 7 feet tall, possibly more, and was every bit as animated (or more) as the typical CGI character. Best of all he was actually there; on set along with the actors so they could see him and relate to him in a way they couldn't with a character that would be added in post production. I wish more films would realize this and use animatronics more often.

• The movie takes place in some undefined pseudo-Medieval age in a vaguely European setting. Lots of anachronisms abound, especially in regards to Hansel and Gretel's weaponry. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Just part of the overall insanity and charm of the movie.


Universal Horror films of the 1930s and 1940s seemed to exist in this same kind of weird alternate universe as well. They'd have characters living in castles and villagers attacking with torches and pitchforks, but then everyone had telephones and drove around in cars. 


• There were a lot of fun little touches, like milk bottles with drawings of missing kids on them (said kids having been stolen by witches), Hansel's diabetes (!) that he got from the witch forcing him to eat so much candy as a youth, and the fact that Hansel and Gretel have obsessive fans. 


• Lots of over-the-top gore, which is always a plus in a horror film. I was impressed that the filmmakers went for an R rating, rather than today's typical watered-down PG-13.


• Breasts! Honest-to-god naked breasts! That's something you just don't see much in movies anymore. How is it that in the 1970s and 1980s you couldn't swing a dead cat in a film without hitting some naked breasts, but here in the 21st century they're taboo? We seem to be moving backwards rather than forwards.


Cons:

• Honestly, I got nothing. I liked pretty much everything about this film.

A totally ridiculous but fun action/horror film. I give it a
 
B+.  

Warm Bodies
It's like Twilight but with zombies that don't sparkle.

Based on the teen paranormal romance novel by Isaac Marion. Seriously, have you been in a bookstore lately? There's an entire section devoted to teens getting busy with monsters. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself:


Look at all that crap! Teen girls falling in love with vampires, ghosts, werewolves, mummies-- you name the monster, there's a girl in these books who'll French it. No doubt fueled by the aforementioned Twilight novels, this is a bubble that's got to be perilously close to bursting.

The Plot:
After the zombie apocalypse, a young zombie known as "R" (he can't remember his former name) wanders aimlessly, wishing there was something more to his dull, undead existance. He meets Julie, a human from a nearby walled city, and begins falling in love with her. Eventually the power of love (or something) restores his humanity.

Pros:
• Interesting take on the zombie genre.

• Great performances by Nicholas Hoult as R and Rob Corddry as M. It's probably not easy to emote when you can't speak.

Cons:
• R and Julie = Romeo and Juliet. I don't mind the "star-crossed lovers" story parallel, but the cutesy name thing makes me want to punch the writer in the throat.

• The Boneys are realized through the magic of 1997 era CGI. It doesn't look like the film had a very lavish budget so I suppose they did the best they could with the money they had. They definitely could have been better though.

I'm also at a loss as to how they could see, as it appeared they all had empty eye sockets.

• At one point the other zombies catch a whiff of Julie's human scent and start hunting for her. R smears some of his own blood on Julie's face (how romantic!), which completely masks her delicious human scent. Bear in mind that he covers an area of her face about an inch wide and maybe three inches long. That seems like a shockingly insufficient amount of blood to hide the scent of a person's entire body, but what do I know?

• When R confesses to Julie that he killed Perry (her boyfriend) and ate his brain, she seems to get over it mighty quickly. Way too quickly if you ask me. One would think her reaction would be to recoil from him in revulsion, then crush his head with a shovel the first chance she got, but instead she says something like, "I guess I already knew that," then rolls over and goes to sleep.

• R experiences one of Perry's memories  (because he ate his brain, dontcha know) in which he and Julie used a secret passageway to sneak out of the walled city without going through the front gate. Later in the movie R uses this memory of the route to sneak into the city. The movie very helpfully replays the scenes of Perry and Julie traveling this route in order to explain to the dimmer members of the audience how R knows where to go.

Was replaying those scenes really necessary? I get it, movie. R has Perry's memories. Eating his brain somehow transferred his thoughts into his head, just like those experiments with planarians and mazes. He knows what Perry knew, including secret passages. 

You just told us that twenty minutes ago. This isn't the first movie to over explain a plot point like this; I see it practically on a weekly basis and it bugs me every time. I'm not an idiot who needs to be spoon fed every tiny plot detail. Has the national attention span really sunk this low? Or is the audience too busy diddling with their phones to pay attention?

• The movie is very careful to explain at the end that R is now (somehow) fully human again. They do this or course so he and Julie can get together without, you know, necrophilia and all that.

• Speaking of R's new-found humanity, at the end of the film all of his facial scars have magically disappeared! I get that zombie characteristics like the weird eye color and the unsightly veins would go away, but the scars shouldn't. Those were injuries, not zombie traits. Did he get some plastic surgery while he was being treated for his gunshot wound? What about all the other bullet and knife wounds he sustained during the film? Did those disappear as well?


Now that I think about it, why did he have scars as a zombie to begin with? He was dead. If a dead guy gets a laceration to the face, wouldn't the wound stay open forever? Why would it heal up? So many questions...

• Why is it that R is seemingly the only zombie who becomes fully human again? There's a scene at the end in which M is having trouble opening an umbrella because he has "zombie fingers." It's heavily implied that he's still a zombie, but one with self-awareness and human emotions. So why is R the only one who gets to become human? Because of his epic love for Julie?

• In the final scene R and Julie sit and watch the protective walls of the city come down, now that the zombie threat is no more. Is it really? Yes, the Boneys are gone and the zombies have all seemingly reverted to (kind of) humans, but will it last? Who knows? They turned to zombies once, who's to say it can't happen again? 

And what about all the other zombies in the world? The zombies in this city reverted after being exposed to R's humanity. It seems like a localized event. Zombies in other cities shouldn't have been affected. What's to stop them from attacking this now defenseless city? I think I might have waited a while before knocking down my protective wall.


A good-natured zombie love story that unfortunately raises more questions than it answers. I give it a C+

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