First there was “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” and now there is “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters.” What’s next? “Yogi Bear and Boo Boo: Werewolf Slayers”?
While “Abraham Lincoln” took itself seriously, “Hansel & Gretel” winks at the audience throughout with its twist on an old tale. Propped up by the pairing of Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in the starring roles — two performers who look like they can tangle with witches — this jolly romp is both silly and violent, a nice mix in a film that speeds by in 88 minutes.
As children, Hansel & Gretel are uprooted from their quiet home one night when their father takes them into the woods and tells them to stay there. But after a while, when their father does not return, they wander away and find the candy-structured cottage, built to lure them with its sweet offerings into the lair of a witch.
The resourceful children do manage to gain the upper hand and destroy the witch. Now certain they have been abandoned, the siblings work out their post-traumatic stress issues by becoming witch hunters. Over the opening credits are shown several clippings from ye olde newspapers describing the exploits of these two as they become legends of the countryside.
Years later their services are required in a little country hamlet where several children have disappeared, likely abducted by witches, who tend to do such things. The town, in the grips of hysterical reactions led by the Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare) are on the verge of burning an alleged witch, Mina (Pihla Viitala), when H&G show up and stop the lynching. Despite Berringer’s protests, H&G are contracted by the town mayor to find the missing children and bring them back — and maybe put an end to the witches responsible for the kidnappings.
Written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (“Kill Buljo: The Movie”), “S&G: WH” unabashedly dives into absurdity. H&G are armed with some rapid-firing weaponry that are way too modern for the times. They even have a groupie, Ben (Thomas Mann), who keeps a scrapbook of H&G clippings and a poster-like sketching of Gretel on the wall of his home.
Famke Janssen gets to strut around as Muriel, the lead witch who is orchestrating the child abductions in preparation for an upcoming Blood Moon ceremony and to lure H&G into the fray, as they can be entrapped to play a vital role in the ceremony that will make witches invincible.
H&G suffer their fair share of bruises and blood-drawing injuries in their pursuits, and as usual have unlikely allies, like a troll named, no kidding, Edward (Derek Mears).
“H&G: WH” has an explosive and gory final confrontation, and along the way, H&G learn the truth about their parents and develop a revised philosophy regarding their witch adversaries. Also, they have expanded their payroll, poised for more adventures should Wirkola get the green light for additional “H&G” movies.
In “Parker,” once again we root for a criminal who is not a total bad guy
Maybe it started with Robin Hood — the idea that a thief can be redeemable if he/she has some sense of charity, like robbing the rich to give to the poor, or kindly standards such as stealing but not injuring or killing anyone in the process. This is a character that continually crops up in the world of fictional stories.
In “Parker,” Jason Statham, who has played this scene before, takes on the title role as the good-guy thief, based on the novel by Donald E. Westlake. Directed by Taylor Hackford, in only his second film since “Ray” in 2004, “Parker” is a familiar story of a man who breaks the law but within his own sense of ethics. Although he runs afoul of the law, he is more at peril within his own fraternity of fellow criminals rather than the police.
Hackford and screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (“Hitchcock”) set up the character with an elaborate detailing of a robbery of the gate receipts at the Ohio State Fair. Disguised as a priest, Parker calmly leads the heist and is reassuring of the people that no harm will come to them. He even talks a panicked security guard down from an anxiety attack.
The job is pulled off, but a goof-up by one of his accomplices, August (Michah Hauptman), does result in some injuries to people. So Parker is stewing anyway as the five-man theft team flees. When Melander (Michael Chiklis) proposes that Parker join him and the three other guys in using the take from this robbery as a stake for an even bigger jewelry heist, Parker declines. Things get nasty and Parker ends up jumping out of the moving vehicle. Too injured to flee, he is shot by August and left for dead.
However, good Samaritans find him and get him to the hospital. Beat up but alive, Parker now has a new agenda — to gain revenge on Melander and his buddies. While on the mend, he reunites with girlfriend Claire (Emma Booth) and her father Hurley (Nick Nolte), who has some vague connection to organized crime. Hurley tries to talk Parker out of his plans — he even has managed to secure Parker’s take in the state fair robbery and offers it to the thief. But this is not about the money, Parker says. This is about a professional code among thieves and avenging his betrayal.
Parker’s tracking down of the Melander gang takes him to West Palm Beach, where posing as a wealthy Texan he pretends to be house-hunting and hooks up with struggling real estate broker Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez). Rodgers, recently divorced and having to assume some of her ex-husband’s debt, is forced to live with her mother Ascension (Patti LuPone) and is desperate to get a fat commission. But she finds something amiss about the stoic Parker and digs into his background, which comes up basically non-existent. Still, she tries to sell herself as being helpful to Parker, who reluctantly accepts her offer — especially when she helps pinpoint where the jewelry robbery may take place.
Statham gets to use his natural likeability here and of course lays the pain on a few people who get in his way. But he also takes his lumps. He is indeed, within his own set of rules, a decent guy, fending off Leslie’s advances in his faithfulness to Claire.
“Parker” unfolds as a predictable caper, and Hackford challenges credibility in scenes where Parker, as he maintains surveillance of Melander and gang, is never detected despite Melander knowing they likely are being stalked and apparently is on high alert.
Yes, Leslie will become a pawn in the final showdown, but we all know that “bad” bad guys will be going down. The only mystery will be how and when. Then later, Parker will add some good will to ease the ambiguity of his chosen professional and code of behavior.
Key February birthdays:
Sadly, Conrad Bain passed away Jan. 14, just a few weeks before his Feb. 4 90th birthday.
50: William Baldwin 2/23, Travis Tritt 2/9
60: Michael Bolton 2/26, Christine Ebersole 2/21, Joanna Kerns, 2/12 Mary Steenburgen, 2/8
70: Blythe Danner 2/3, Fabian 2/6, Joe Pesci, 2/9
80: Kim Novak 2/13