POSTED ON JANUARY 30, 2013:
The Revolution Will Be YouTubed
Trolling the Occupation, as well as actual trolls
January might be a dumping ground for genre trash, but that doesn't always mean you're not in for a good time. Last week Arnie unloaded an arsenal of bullet-laden, '80s fluff with The Last Stand, and despite it generating as much audience interest as a Mitt Romney 2016 presidential run, the end result was a lot of fun (despite a sense of cognitive dissonance that made me somewhat hate myself for enjoying it). Is it disposable? Sure, but it's still comfortable, like a gooey macaroni and cheese made from severed limb pasta.
Not Your Fatherís Fairy Tale. Eye of newt and ass of witch, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton kick some serious stuff as the titular characters in Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters transposes that gory action to the brother/sister duo who only bear a passing resemblance to their Brothers Grimm selves in a film that happily ignores conventions in the name of blood-soaked, Looney Tunes entertainment.
Hansel (a game Jeremy Renner, The Avengers) and Gretel (an even more so Gemma Arterton, Clash of the Titans) were, as children, spirited by their father into the woods to shield them from an unnamed threat -- leaving them in the wild, alone in the dark. Discovering a creepy cabin made of candy in the deep forest, the young siblings are captured by an evil witch who looks to fatten them up for a little kid casserole. Tricking the witch -- after it turns out her spells don't work on them -- Hansel and Gretel push her into the oven, burning her to screaming ashes.
Which is pretty much where any connection to the original story ends. Fast forwarding 20-odd years later, the grown up siblings have made a name for themselves as bounty hunters who specialize in taking out witches and the occasional troll ("They cost extra") with a wide range of deadly, custom-made weaponry. Hired by the mayor of the rustic village of Augsburg to find the witch that has been kidnapping the town's children, Hansel and Gretel arrive just in time to stop the killing of an accused witch, Mina (Pihla Viitala, Red Sky) at the hands of the power mad Sherriff Berringer (bad guy staple Peter Stormare, who just got killed by Arnie last week).
The pair discover the perpetrator of the kidnappings, Muriel (the delightful, scenery chewing Famke Janssen, X-Men), a Grand Witch whose plan for invincibility, and uniting her wretched sisters, must be stopped at all costs.
Despite trailers that made it look like a Van Helsing knock-off, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is possessed of its own goofy and anachronistic vibe. When they save Mina early in the film, it's by Gretel putting a pistol to Barringer's head, informing that if he doesn't stop what he's doing she's going to "blow his fucking brains out." Hansel must inject himself with an unnamed potion every few hours "or I'll die," having contracted a historically untreatable case of diabetes from eating too much candy as a kid. Their weapons range from graven metal pistols, machine gun crossbows (in a nice hat tip to the obscure 1980 fantasy trashbomb, Hawk the Slayer), collapsible rifles, and even a Gatling gun. Mash up and steampunk culture usually annoys me, but the way Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters light-heartedly paints its world is too much fun to get annoyed by: especially when 19th century milk bottles still have missing children's faces on the side.
It's a nicely detailed world, between the thoughtful art design and the mostly practical and quality FX work. There's an imaginative distinction between the freakish witches: hot witches, H.R. Giger witches, Sam Raimi witches, goiter witches, Chinese witches. An excellently realized troll, Edward (Derek Mears, Friday the 13th), is a wonderful practical, animatronic effect who comes alive in a way CG still can't compete with. Shocker: filming real things looks more realistic. And he even has a character arc.
Writer/director Tommy Wirkola (of the overrated Dead Snow) really picked up his game, more smoothly integrating his influences (while that first witch is straight out of Evil Dead, he knows how to get the violent rage just like Raimi) and his playful sense of humor in ways he didn't with Dead Snow, creating a kinetic action film that suffers a bit from spatially cluttered, hyper-editing but still manages a confidently executed pace that matches the films lean narrative.
And it's gleefully violent. Witches get burnt, diced, and decapitated; heads get smashed by bullets and troll fists. Bodies explode in a burst of worms leading to the entrail-soaked climax that ties its somewhat predicable but perfectly pulpy plot strings together.
Buoyed by the charms of Renner and Arterton, who are clearly having a great time while never really winking about it, their performances set a tone that melds amusingly with Wirkola's loopy narrative momentum. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters might be B-rate but it's surprisingly well made, knowingly conceived and a blast to watch B-rate -- though I'd skip the IMAX version.
I mean, it's fun. But not worth 14 bucks.
Five Broken Cameras
On the other hand, 5 Broken Cameras is not fun. Not at all. In fact, it's maddening.
Imagine, if you will, a situation like our home-grown, survivalist gun-nuts most fear: a foreign government laying claim to your land, destroying your livelihood, and pushing you further to the margins, killing your friends, brothers, sisters and children at will; then building their society on the place you once called home. Think you'd get a little pissed about that? What's the NRA's position on the Palestinian Question anyway? I don't see Wayne LaPierre advocating guns for their kids.
Of course, FOX-loving dittoheads don't think critically, but many who do still seem to think the Israeli Occupation is some sort of moral grey area -- tied to Jewish persecution and the perception that all Palestinians are Kalashnikov-toting Hamas members. News flash: they aren't, though considering the undignified, morally-repugnant, forced settlement of their country, it would be hard to blame them for signing up.
One those who doesn't is Emad Burnat, a peasant farmer with four children. Living in the village of Bil'in, Emad buys a video camera to document the first days of his newborn son just as it's announced that half of the village, consisting mainly of olive tree groves (which the villagers essentially live off of) is to be annexed and bifurcated by a separation wall.
So Emad begins filming the kernels of a years-long, nonviolent (unless you count the Israeli response) series of protests, in an effort to regain the land that has been stolen from them. Teaming up with Israeli filmmaker, Guy Davidi, the result is 5 Broken Cameras, an intimate and frustratingly sad portrait, one small painting of the tragedy that is the Occupation of Palestine.
The hook of the title comes from the five cameras Burnat goes through, all of them destroyed by flash bombs and bullets (after one Sony camera stops a round from blowing Burnat's brains out, I was surprised when his wife didn't break the next one). All of the cameras capture the times of Burnat's life, the resistance and how it shapes his family and country. Told from the side of Burnat, his brothers and friends, 5 Broken Cameras is a rare glimpse into the day-to-day life of the oppressed and their human wreckage, unfiltered by Western punditry or governmental propaganda -- a true work of activism and citizen of the world journalism.
Try as they might, the villagers' peaceful protests are met with a minefield of bullshit: rougue Israeli agents impersonate protesters to sow discord for Western cameras, Israeli court decisions aren't enforced if they somehow fall in the protesters' favor, while settlers and builders defy even Israeli laws in their zeal to quickly erect their new homes on stolen land. When the resistance tries to use the settlers' tactics against them -- an obscure law that says cement structures can't be torn down -- hard-right settlers harass the villagers and burn down their olive trees in the night in cowardly retribution.
What's beautiful about 5 Broken Cameras is Emad's commitment to nonviolence, to the ideals of Gandhi and King, who realized that the best way to get people on your side is to let them see how badly you are being fucked over by your oppressors. As word of the plight at Bil'in spreads in the international media, activists (including Israelis), come to their aid, chaining themselves to the under-construction wall and putting themselves in harm's way to help right the wrongs being perpetrated. While they enjoy some success, too much, truly innocent blood is shed.
Apolitical Politics. Itís a heartbreaking true story of a Palestinian manís quest to preserve his home against an illegal Israeli occupation in 5 Broken Cameras.
Shot largely by Emad and co-directed with Davidi, 5 Broken Cameras is a soul-stirring work of documentary truths that are as ugly to look at as they are beautiful to see come to fruition. Witnessing children playing kickball with the burnt out shells of tear gas grenades (which litter the ground by the thousands) or watching impassive soldiers blithely gassing and shooting live rounds at unarmed peasants, the lives of these destitute people who refuse to give up what little freedom they have -- all while hopefully praying for an end to their oppression -- defines the true meaning of not just their humanity, but our compassion.
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