Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) Is A Fun Ride

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Hansel-and-Gretel-Witch-HuntersSometimes you just need to check your brains at the door, along with all logic and common sense, and just enjoy the ride of an obviously bad movie. Let’s be honest, with a title like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, I’m fairly certain nobody was ready for an award-winning adventure. That said, there are movies you are simply meant to enjoy. They aren’t created to change the world, just to let you escape that world for 90 minutes or so.

As a child, everyone read the story of Hansel and Gretel and their epic battle against the witch who was trying to eat them. However, if you’re that far removed from childhood or you lived under a rock, our movie begins with a recap of events that created the witch hunters known as Hansel and Gretel. We see a mother telling a father to take the children into the woods. Now, as a child, this concept was scary but here, all the atmospheric trappings are there to set the tone. We’re clearly in a fairytale but the lights have been dimmed and the number of things going bump in the night has been ramped up ten-fold. The ancient tale is quickly told as the children defeat the witch. Our opening credits roll and immediately I have visions of a Monty Python cartoon. We see how Hansel and Gretel took their experience with the witch and used it to mold into what we would call bounty hunters today. Now, we flash forward many years later and those two children are now grown and witch hunters for hire. They come upon a village and save a young woman from being falsely burned as a witch. The whole scene is reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It’s clear from the start that this movie is not going to take itself seriously. Therefore, you the moviegoer shouldn’t either. Otherwise, your experience will be a disappointing one.

hansel__gretel_witch_hunters 2Hansel is played by Jeremy Renner, fresh from last year’s The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy. I don’t think Renner is necessarily leading man material but he works well enough where he shares screen time. Gretel is played by the lovely Gemma Arterton, best known for the Clash of the Titans remake and Quantum of Solace. Both of them are sporting leather outfits not quite common for the time period. Then again, neither are some of their weapons of choice, which include a Gatling gun. One of the funniest anachronistic scenes is where Hansel reveals he ate too much candy as a child (thanks to the witch) and now has to take shots to survive. Yes, Hansel is now diabetic. And yes, I know just how ridiculous that sounds. But again, enjoy the fun and insanity. Famke Janssen (Taken and X-Men) is Muriel, the head witch in charge. She’s been kidnapping village children with the help of a troll in order to take advantage of a rare blood moon. It turns out there’s a recipe for making witches invulnerable to fire and our two witch hunters play a key role in its success. Now, Famke turns in an adequate performance, which goes hand in hand considering she’s revealed she took the role to pay her mortgage. It turns out those Hollywood stars have bills to pay like the rest of us. And yes, that is Derek Mears (Friday The 13th) we see in the credits as Edward the troll. However, it isn’t his voice and the body is all CGI, so clearly he was involved only to help Jeremy and Gemma during the filming.

The gore is plentiful. Sure, it’s CGI but mixed in with some old school “real blood”, it all works. The one-liners are packed into the 88 minute running time. There’s plenty of colorful anachronistic modern-day language and some surprisingly adult situations. Were we really surprised that young Ben, upon saving the life of Gretel, was tempted to sneak a peek while cleaning the ample bosom of Gretel? No, we don’t see anything and it was all innocent, but it is an example that this isn’t our sweet fairy tale characters we grew up reading. Then again, most fairy tales are overly dark in tone when you really think about. After all, Hansel and Gretel were tricked into the candy house and had to murder their kidnapper to stay alive.

I am surprised that some reviewers are blasting this movie for not taking itself more seriously. Really? Our main characters are Hansel and Gretel. I went in with lower expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters appears on track for making its money back and then some. I doubt we’ll see a sequel but then again, the door was wide open for more fun. While I can’t recommend paying full ticket price, it’s certainly worth checking out at the dollar theater or on DVD and Blu-Ray when it arrives a few months from now. Just remember, have fun with it and enjoy the escape from reality. That’s what these movies are supposed to be all about.

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Ramblings Of A Collector In A Digital World

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Barnes and Noble has announced it is reducing the number of stores by nearly 1/3 over the next ten years. In this digital age, we’ve seen this before. Once upon a time, when we wanted to buy a record or cassette or even one of those new CDs, we had to go to a record store. When records and cassettes went the way of the 8-track and the dodo bird, the number of record stores began to dwindle. You could still buy CDs at new places like Best Buy or the ever-expanding Wal-Mart. Soon, everyone was discovering Amazon and how convenient it was to buy music you could never find locally. Then, along came that cool little idea called iTunes. Now, virtually everyone owns an iPod or MP3 device and our music library is essentially all digital.

BB VideoWe are now witnessing the same occur to video stores and bookstores almost simultaneously. Well, honestly, most video stores are already gone. Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and Movie Gallery storefronts are either vacant or remodeled for the next tenant. Locally, we still have a very nice video chain called Family Video. They are surprisingly busy but their selection is generally limited to recent DVD releases and those movies that are still in print. But it is nice to occasionally visit and walk around, remembering what it was like back in the glory days of VHS. My love and passion for movies dates back to childhood but my addiction to collecting movies dates back to 1988. It was that year that I worked at Duncan’s Movie Magic in Topeka. At the time, it was the largest video store in the Midwest. I fondly remember buying the very first pre-viewed videotapes they offered. Robocop and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were added to a very small selection of store-bought titles like Creature From The Black Lagoon and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Now, slowly, we are moving towards streaming and digital collections. On one hand, it’s exciting to know movies are available instantaneously but there are still a lot of issues that need resolved. How often have you gone to Netflix to watch a movie only to realize it’s no longer available? And I miss not being able to have that DVD with cover art and extras in my grubby little hands. However, the next generation won’t miss it because to them, a movie will always be something they had digitally.

For bookstores, my local chains were B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Those two stores, along with Camelot Music and Musicland, made going to the mall a real adventure. As time marched on, these are all gone now. The bookstores pushed out of business by the bigger Barnes and Noble and Borders. Then that little engine that could known as Amazon set its targets on them. First, Borders disappeared and now Barnes and Noble is taking that first step by closing 1/3 of its stores. It’s part of our digital world. Fewer members of the next generation are reading. A sad but realistic fact. Those who do are learning to do so online. Now, I love the Amazon Kindle. In fact, much more than I ever thought I would but it will never replace holding a book in my hand or the musty smell of an old treasure. Unfortunately, for the next generation, if they never experience the shopping around in a bookstore, they’ll never miss it in the first place.BB Video2

I can immediately give you the titles of books and movies and CDs I never would have purchased had I not seen them on a shelf. However, I can also just as quickly share titles with you I bought online that I would never have seen in the store. Time marches on and the digital world we live in becomes more and more prevalent every day. I guess it’s time for me to get on my porch and start complaining about the young whippersnappers. However, as I wax nostalgic about the past, I’ll probably be listening to my iPod while I wait for the mailman to deliver a DVD from Amazon. As the saying goes, future waits for no man. We must embrace the future and I do so gladly. Just as long as I still have those musty old friends on my shelf, I can enjoy both worlds just fine.

Fringe Finale Gives The Elusive Conclusion We Normally Don’t Get In Sci-Fi TV

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Fringe castHow many times have you started watching a new television series only to have it cancelled without ever getting a resolution? I’ve been burned many times. What really upsets me is when a series ends on a cliffhanger. It essentially makes the show worthless when it comes to revisiting. I loved Flash Forward but wouldn’t even recommend it to anyone now because you never get an end to the story. Same thing with shows like Invasion, Nowhere Man and Now and Again. Sometimes, a show is cancelled then revived, only to disappoint and, ultimately, become another series not worth revisiting. It should have stayed cancelled. Jericho anyone?

I remember back in the fall of 2008 as I sat down to watch the first episode of Fringe. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be worth my time, let alone if it was going to last. Should I wait until it lasts at least a season? Should I just watch it in reruns? Well, those questions were answered as soon as episode one finished. I was hooked and never looked back. I immediately fell in love with the character of Walter Bishop (John Noble, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). His quirkiness, evenly matched by his charm and childlike innocence, never ceased to entertain me. As with any series, it takes a while for you to become connected with some characters. Watching them grow year after year, developing and changing, can either be engaging or the oft-mentioned “jump the shark” moment. Some will argue that Fringe took that jump once Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson, Shutter) ceased to exist. Of course, Peter came back and things went on a new yet familiar course. I’ll admit, there were a few rough patches. However, those bumps in the road were more than worth it to get to the fifth and final season.

Fringe observerThis final season only ran thirteen episodes but it brought the show to the magical number of 100 episodes, supposedly what is needed to become profitable in syndication. Thankfully, Fox opted to run a shortened season and let J.J. Abrahms and the other producers wrap up the series. These last thirteen episodes were engaging, allowing us to take a glimpse into a dark future. We were dealt the death of a regular cast member and shocked by a surprise death of a new one. We saw just how deadly the Observers really could be (who would have guessed it from where they started). How fun was it to revisit some of the earlier Fringe division cases? And there were some truly emotional moments in the final episodes. If you didn’t tear up at least once, chances are you have no soul. Best of all, we had no loose ends and, for all intents and purposes, a happy ending. How many people said that when Lost ended?

While I loved seeing the development of the characters Olivia (Anna Torv) and Astrid (Jasika Nicole) and the actresses who played them, I’m more interested to see where John Noble goes next, as well as Lance Reddick, who played agent Broyles. Reddick has a role in the Oldboy remake. Not sure yet where I stand on that one but his presence,  added with Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Brolin, certainly have me intrigued.

I highly recommend Fringe as a fun 100 episode ride that gives you a conclusion we so often never get with sci-fi and fantasy television. This is a series I will revisit in the future as the complete Blu-ray set is already on my Christmas list.

Lost Three Stooges Short Found, Hope for London After Midnight?

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Hello PopIt’s been reported on the Classic Horror Film Board that Ron Hutchinson, a film aficionado, has announced that the lost Three Stooges short Hello Pop (1933) has been discovered. It is a complete Technicolor print of the MGM Colortone short subject that was believed lost when the only known print was destroyed in the infamous MGM vault fire. On May 13, 1967, an electrical fire erupted in vault #7 the MGM studio in Culver City, CA. Hundreds of films were destroyed, most of which are now “lost”. Some are surely waiting to be rediscovered somewhere but, realistically, most of those films will never be seen again. Hello Pop is in need of restoration, which Ned Price at Warner Brothers has confirmed will happen. Following the 2008 discovery of a more complete print of Metropolis (1927), this has renewed hopes that other “lost” films will eventually be discovered.

For comedy fans, there’s no denying that Hello Pop and The Rogue Song (1930), starring Laurel and Hardy, were at the top of the wish list. There is evidence that The Rogue Song was copied, dubbed and sent to Russia at one point. Hats Off (1927), another lost Laurel and Hardy short, is also among many fans wish lists. It was very successful upon its release and helped established the boys as box office gold. While it is more likely that someone will eventually find it as it was filmed on a more stable black and white film stock, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that The Rogue Song could someday turn up in someone’s basement in downtown Moscow. This discovery of Hello Pop is proof that it could happen.Hello Pop 2

For horror fans, there are two holy grails that are usually at the top of the wish list. First, London After Midnight (1927), also destroyed in the MGM fire. In 2002, Turner Classic Movies used film stills to partially reconstruct this Lon Chaney classic. While well received from horror fans everywhere, all it really did was just whet the appetite of those who want to see the original in its entirety. The Cat Creeps (1930) is another “lost” classic that doesn’t get quite as much press. It is a sound remake of the 1927 silent film. However, some people believe it would be better than London After Midnight as some early reviews of the Chaney film were less than stellar. There are always rumors of a print of these films existing here or there. I personally believe they do exist but are either sitting in a personal collection of someone with no desire to share it or that a person may have a copy and not even realize the entire film community is looking for them.

Lon Chaney LondonThe recent discovery of radio episodes of The Shadow is further proof that “lost” gems are just waiting to resurface. These 11 radio episodes weren’t only lost, nobody knew they even aired. Yet there they sat for some 70 years in the vault of a former Goodrich tire executive. Listening to those episodes has taken me back to the late 70s when I first discovered old time radio, listening to Shadow records in the dark with my dad. I for one am now anxiously waiting to add Hello Pop to my “complete” Three Stooges collection. It’s moments like these that being a film collector are beyond exciting.

Robot Monster (1953) Better Than Expected

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Robot MonsterWhen people begin talking about the worst movie they’ve ever seen, the answers can vary quite a bit. It depends on that person’s personal likes and dislikes as well as their tolerance for bad and their overall frame of mind at the time. Many people absolutely hate Manos, The Hands of Fate. However, I find that movie to be the classic “so bad its good”. On the other hand, The Incredible Petrified World bored me to tears and the background music of Mesa of Lost Women was too much for my ears to withstand. Robot Monster (1953) is one of those movies where many abhor it with a passion. I, on the other hand, found enough enjoyment in it that the 62 minute running time seemed to fly by.

When Robot Monster is the most recognizable film that director Phil Tucker did, you know he had a stellar career. He only directed nine films between 1953 and 1960; the only other title remembered today is The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960). He was also an editor on such television series as The New Adventure of Wonder Woman and Jason of Star Command. The last two movies he edited were The Nude Bomb (the 1980 Get Smart reunion flick) and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). So you can see he never strayed too close to Academy Award-winning movies. He was a Kansas boy, born in 1927 and died at the young age of 58 in 1985. Writer Wyott Ordung was also very selective about his work and, like Tucker, never strayed too far from writing or acting in somewhat questionable products. He wrote Target Earth in 1954, which isn’t too bad all things considered, as well as First Man in Space (1959). His few acting credits are a little more questionable and include such classics as Dragon’s Gold (1954) and Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954).

With a solid crew behind the camera, you needed nothing but the best in front of them. John Mylong (a lot of supporting roles on television shows including Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Combat!) heads up our cast as the professor who is seen at the beginning of the movie working in a cave alongside his assistant Roy, played by George Nader (House of 1,000 Dolls and The Human Duplicators). Then we have a mother and her three children, Alice, Carla and Johnny (Gregory Moffett, who did some TV work in shows like The Adventures of Superman and Highway Patrol). Now, why they chose to have a picnic in the middle of Bronson Canyon we’ll never know. Johnny, who sneaks away during his naptime, gets shocked at the cave entrance. When he awakens, it is painfully obvious he’s really dreaming. Oh wait, did I say spoilers? All of a sudden the professor is his father, which of course makes no sense since Johnny had earlier asked his mother when there would be a new dad around. Yes, we’re dealing with prize-winning writing here.

This is where we are introduced to Ro-Man. Yes, he has the body of a gorilla and is wearing a space helmet. Apparently, when one makes a movie for $16,000, you can’t afford a full space outfit. Who knew? So you hire someone with their own gorilla suit to save the day. The result is so ridiculous that it quickly falls into that “so bad it’s good” category. We discover that Ro-Man has killed everyone on Earth except for this family and they’re the last step to world domination. Along the way we get some nice stock footage. What really surprised me was how death is handed out rather quickly and callously. While we don’t see it, Ro-Man strangles a little Carla, then throws Roy off a cliff and kills Johnny very quckly before dropping dead himself. Oh wait, did he really? I literally laughed out loud as the professor comments how we enjoyed Carla while she was here but we’ll find a way to move on. When Roy collapses to the ground, he’s quickly dismissed as dead and “there’s nothing we can do.” And how much did Fisher Chemical pay to have their Billion Bubble Machine play such a key role in interplanetary communications?

Yes, you’re going to have to turn your brain off for this one. However, embrace Robot Monster for all its’ faults and I guarantee you’ll find enjoyment in it. Originally released in 3D, it is now available on DVD in various formats. However, you can save yourself some money and just catch it on YouTube. Vince, Mary and Nic cover it in episode 228 of the B-Movie Cast podcast. Also worth checking out is the review in Keep Watching The Skies!, written by Bill Warren and a must for any film library.

Manda and the Mu Empire Vs. Atragon (1963)

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atragonGenerally, when anyone thinks of Toho, they immediately go to images of Godzilla tearing up Tokyo. However, Toho also offered up some classic sci-fi flicks that didn’t always feature a big monster. With Atragon (1963), we are given a little bit of both but the monster of this feature plays second fiddle to the real star of the show, a flying submarine.

While I am quite well-versed in Godzilla and various other classics of the era, Atragon was one that never played on any local television stations. It was always on my radar but, admittedly, not high on the list. When Vince, Mary and Steve Sullivan from the B-Movie Cast podcast ushered in the New Year with a look at this one, it got bumped up the list. And what a fun ride it was. For starters, it was directed by the legendary Ishiro Honda. Honda was the mastermind behind countless Toho classics from the original Godzilla/Gojira in 1954 to Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1978. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya was also responsible for such films as The War of the Gargantuas (1968) and Latitude Zero (1969), which has also been covered on the B-Movie Cast way back in episode 94. So right out of the gate, you know you have experts behind the wheel.

The plot revolves around the resurgence of the lost Mu Empire. After disappearing some 12,000 years earlier, this group of underwater people (think Atlantis) have decided to reclaim their colonies on land. Sending agents to the land to kidnap engineers, they are eventually thwarted in their attempts to kidnap a former admiral and his goddaughter Makoto. The Muans steal a submarine, which contains plans for a new and superior sub called Atragon (or is it Goten-go). It seems Atragon is being created by a former World War II officer, Captain Jinguji, who just happens to be Makoto’s father. The admiral leads a group to confront Junguji and ask for his help, only to discover he wants to resume the war and restore Japan to its’ former glory. Meanwhile, the Muans continue their plan to reclaim the Earth.

As previously stated, the submarine Atragon is the real star of the movie. Not only does it do the usual underwater tricks, it can fly and is armed with a freezing ray. Now, it wouldn’t be a Toho flick without a monster and here we get Manda, who is essentially an underwater serpent. There are some cool sequences between Manda and Atragon but ultimately, Manda is a little disappointing. Supposedly, Manda was included after a suggestion by Honda and Tsuburaya as 1964 was the year of the dragon. While the concept was interesting, it really seemed like the primary budget was spent on Atragon. Not one of Toho’s better kaiju creations, in my opinion. However, where Manda is less than impressive, Atragon and the expansive sets more than make up for it.manda1963

Minimal stock footage from previous films was used, such as the destruction of buildings from Mothra (1961) and satellites from The Mysterians (1957). Manda would resurface briefly in Destroy All Monsters (1968) and Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), which also featured the return of Atragon. Atragon was widely successful in Japan as well as the United States, which finally saw it in 1965. It would be re-released in 1968 as part of a double feature with Destroy All Monsters. There has also been much debate as to the real name of the submarine. The international title is Atoragon and the American International Pictures’ dub refers to it as Atragon. However, the original Japanese name is Goten-go. Whatever you desire to call it, Atragon was finally made available on DVD in 2005 and remains in print from the usual suspects, such as Amazon.

While I found it to be the usual high quality Toho production, it did seem to drag a little in the first hour. It does take a while for Manda to finally show up but once it does, the action seems to pick up. The adventure is an overall exciting one, very reminiscent of a Jules Verne story. Not surprising considering it is based on a series of juvenile Japanese novels by author Shunro Oshikawa. Well worth adding to your collection and, while you’re at it, check out episode 227 of the B-Movie Cast for a great discussion. I also highly recommend Japanese Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films by Stuart Galbraith IV. Readily available from Amazon, it makes for some fascinating reading and is a great companion piece to the novel and the podcast.

What If I Had My Own Horror Hall of Fame?

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bride_of_frankensteinTony and Ted over at the Horror Etc. Podcast had a lengthy discussion about a Horror Hall of Fame in their recent episode #282. It got me to thinking who I would put in the first year of my own Horror Hall of Fame. Now, there will never be a truly complete first year that will make everyone happy. Therefore, I’ve decided to stick with only three entries per category. I went with movies and names that were both influential and had a long-lasting appeal, not just flash-in-the-pan. Some may argue whether a movie or person was truly in the horror genre. I believe a movie can belong to more than one category so I went in with that approach. So, let me reiterate, these are just my personal choices to kick things off.

Horror Film Pre-1973 (The year The Exorcist was released)

  • Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
  • King Kong (1933)
  • Dracula (1931)

Horror Film Post-1973

  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • Halloween (1978)
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

cushing price lee

Top Actor

  • Boris Karloff
  • Christopher Lee
  • Vincent Price

Note: Before anyone has a heart attack, both Peter Cushing and Bela Lugosi would be second year entries without a doubt. Lugosi made some unwise career choices, which puts him a notch below the three men above.

Top Actress

  • Elsa Lanchester (She may have only had one true horror role but it was incredibly iconic.)
  • Barbara Steele (So many great films of the 60s made this one a no-brainer.)
  • Jamie Lee Curtis (Her role in Halloween stands above all the rest from the modern slasher films.)

Top Director

  • Alfred Hitchcock (Maybe more suspense than true horror but a master and worthy of entry based on his overall work.)
  • John Carpenter (His work was influential at one time and changed the face of horror.)
  • Mario Bava (Bringing Italian horror film to the forefront earns him this spot.)

Special Honory Recognition

  • Lon Chaney Sr. (There are legitimate arguments that Lon Chaney Sr. was a master makeup artist but that his true horror film contributions only number two or three. For example, Hunchback of Notre Dame, while an amazing piece of work, is not a horror film. Therefore, Lon Chaney Sr. is recognized for being the father of makeup artistry that inspired generations of horror film makeup.)

king kongOkay, many of you are probably hyperventilating because your favorite isn’t mentioned above. Just remember that lists are subjective to the whim of the person writing them and influenced by their frame of mind when they sat down to the keyboard. If I was to write this list tomorrow, it may very well be different. Just enjoy it for what it was…a way to get your creative thoughts flowing and opening up some thoughtful cinematic discussion.