Sunday, January 27, 2013

Movie Review: Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters

I went into this movie with a fair amount of trepidation. Having not been truly convinced by the previews that this movie would be a worthwhile option for viewing, I decided to bite the bullet and choose the new film starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as my weekly movie outing. The movie, which was originally scheduled for a March 2012 released date, was delayed to capitalize on the success of Renner’s big year in 2012, though Bourne Legacy turned out to be a bit disappointing. I’m not sure if the delay was also for the 3D conversion, as was the case for G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  3D movies have continually failed to impress me, but I opted with the 3D since its showing was at the best time.  Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at the technology that was used. It didn't seem to be simply post-production conversion. It seemed as if there were shots that were crafted specifically for 3D and it was utilized, in my opinion, in a good way. From witches flying through the air, to Gretel’s crossbow bolts there are plenty of shots that allowed the production team to work their collective 3D mojo.

The film seems like it’s probably set in the 1600s, considering that the 17th century was rife with witch hunts across Europe, which eventually bled into the American colonies. However, there’s not definitive date in which the film is set. The town of Augsburg is referenced several times throughout the movie, which gives the audience a sense of place. Augsburg, as it turns out, is Germany’s third oldest city. Of course, if this movie is set when I assume it is, Germany actually didn't exist. That, however, is a history lesson for another day.

We begin the movie with the back story of Hansel and Gretel. Surely, we know the tale by now. In this movie, we don’t have any pebbles or breadcrumbs, none of that “finding your way back home” business. (Or do we? *ominous laughter*) Rather, at the beginning of the film, Hansel and Gretel’s father drops the siblings off in the woods in the dark of night. Where they wander upon a (gingerbread?) house covered in candy and sweets, which is the part of the story that we’re accustomed to. What follows is safely along the tradition, but what after the siblings vanquish the wicked witch, the next chapter of Hansel and Gretel’s story unfolds.

Most synopses about the movie state that the film picks up 15 years after the events of their childhood, though the film itself says “many years later.” Regardless, the duo has made a name for themselves as hunters of witches, slaying all that practice magicks. The audience catches up with them in Augsburg, at the scene of a witch trial. Without revealing too much of the plot, Hansel and Gretel must defeat a growing evil which may hold a clue to the truth behind their parents’ disappearance and reveal more about their destiny. The movie’s climax during the Blood Moon (not a spoiler, it’s in the official synopsis) is an action-filled gorefest.

Renner seemed very stiff at the beginning of the movie and was not a very commanding star, but by the end of the film, seemed to lighten up a bit. I was glad to see Arterton back on the big screen and in a leading role, after seeing her last in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I think that the two stars made a very good team and seemed to play off of each other well.  To be honest, I didn't know that Famke Janssen was in the movie, so that was actually quite the pleasant surprise; I absolutely adore her. Finnish actress Pihla Viitala appears as Mina, a supporting character whose intentions are questionable throughout the film. Rounding out the cast is newcomer Thomas Mann, whose character Ben has a few scene stealing moments. You do find yourself cheering for H&G and the two have some great one-liners.  In addition to the obvious villains of the film, the witches, there is also opposition from various townspeople in Augsburg who want no part of the witch threat, including Berringer, the town’s sheriff. He’s a vile, loathsome creature that gets his comeuppance on multiple occasions.  Though not an ensemble piece, I do feel that the cast worked very well together with the exception of the two witch minions of the big bad, who were utterly forgettable.

I really do not have too many gripes about the movie. It did seem short. At a running time of 88 minutes, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters does seem to be the shortest movie that I've seen in quite some time. I remember an eight year old me complaining about the length of Pocahontas when it came out in 1995, but H&G does beat the Disney animated feature by seven minutes. Though the movie is on the short side, there are several truly action-packed moments. It’s pretty common for films set in European countries to have everyone speak in a British accent. Apparently director Tommy Wirkola didn't get that memo. Hansel, Gretel, and Ben all speak American accents. Really, it’s as if Renner is just using his normal speaking voice.  There are muddled British accents, some German, and though I admit that I’m not an expert on Finnish, Viitala seemed like she was probably speaking in her native accent. That was one issue that threw things off just a tad.

Even as a historian I really had no problem with the anachronisms, because at the heart of it this is really not a period piece. You cannot really categorize this aspect of the film as steampunk, but what you see is distinctly out of place. The pictures of missing children affixed to the sides of milk bottles gave me a good chuckle. I really liked the weaponry that Hansel and Gretel used.  Over the years, the pair had not only developed their own techniques for killing witches, they could probably write a tome on it. I loved Gretel's crossbow and Hansel's gun was very THIS IS MY BOOMSTICK. Clothing was a bit wonky. Their witch hunting outfits do seem to have a bit of period essence about them. The shoulders are formed a bit like full-plate spaulders, though the ensemble is made of leather. Unique twists regarding Hansel and Gretel individually bring new element to the fairytale mythos.

Was Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters a spectacular movie? Not really, but it was a fun, albeit short, take on the classic fairytale. I completely appreciate the fact that it was given an R rating by the MPAA. Let’s face it, I don’t think that a treatment of the story in this manner could have withstood a rating any more family friendly. The film has its dark moments, due to the way that witches are portrayed as truly disgusting and inhuman, an aspect of the movie that I really liked. The makeup was really great. Most of the special effects were done in CGI, but it wasn't very poorly done CGI, in my opinion. The movie even had a great score with some nice Goth rock moments.  

Don’t expect Academy Award winning performances from anyone, I don’t think it’s deserving of its 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. Apparently enough people were intrigued by it, because H&G has taken the top spot this weekend with $19 million, beating out Movie 43 and Parker. If you go into it with low enough expectations, you won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Baby Got Theft: Glee and Intellectual Property Violation

Yesterday morning, I was checking Twitter like I do and noticed a tweet from Jonathan Coulton, one of my favorite artists posted this on Twitter:

Hmm? I thought as I clicked on the video to which he had linked:


I must say that I've been defending Glee to the haters, particularly to people who have given up on the series now in its fourth season. I've tried to maintain my identity as a Gleek through it all, but honestly, this is the last straw. On Coulton's blog, he says that he was initially alerted to an unofficial Glee Wiki with the listing for Baby Got Back. The wiki, of course, does not give credit to Coulton's cover, rather it gives full rights to Sir Mix-A-Lot. Could this be because people are not familiar with Jonathan Coulton's work? Perhaps, but the powers that be at Glee and Fox would have been aware of him to have specifically picked his version of Baby Got Back.

Coulton's cover of Baby Got Back is extremely unique and true to his artistic style. Not only did Glee swipe his cover, but it's believe that they actually used his audio and stripped away his vocals. There are aspects of his song that they included however. At 2:17, he says "Johnny C's in trouble" instead of "Mix-A-Lot's in trouble." Johnny C? Jonathan Coulton! They didn't even change the lyric! There's a duck quack for [expletive deleted as well.] That's just complete and utter crap.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of Coulton's original recording and the Glee recording, which will premiere on the eleventh episode of the season "Sadie Hawkins." It is to be sung by Kurt's new love interest Adam.

As you can see, the resemblance is uncanny. Really, this just pisses me off. Coulton maintains that Fox did not contact him for permission to use his cover. I have no doubt about that. Honestly, I think that someone heard his version ... somewhere... who really knows where and came into the planning meeting saying, "I have a brilliant idea! I heard this great version of Baby Got Back that we might be able to pull off as unique and fresh!" "A RAISE FOR YOU!" said his/her boss. Yes, I'm sure that's exactly how it went.

For more updates, check out Jonathan Coulton's blog and his Twitter account. You can support him by buying his music at CD Baby! Some of my favorite songs by him include Creepy Doll, Still Alive (of course),  Code Monkey, which was the first song I had heard by him.

I'm going to be following this story closely. I'm on the fence about watching this episode of Glee at all, but I think I will... for science!

Help Bring a TARDIS to LCTC in March!

At Lexington Comic and Toy Convention 2012, con-goers were privileged to a visit by the DeLorean, with proceeds from photo ops going to Parkinson’s Research. As discussion of LCTC 2013 progressed during the year, many, myself included, thought that inclusion of the TARDIS would help round out the convention experience. David Endicott of Ashland wants to make that happen. He has started a Kickstarter project to help pay for some of the TARDIS related expenses and to help expedite the process.

Endicott, who has an interest in prop making, says that he has been research TARDIS plans since Christmas and has enlisted the help of a local carpenter to help with the construction. The money from the Kickstarter project will go toward labor, building expenses, and transportation only. Endicott has said that because he already has tools, he can use the money strictly for construction necessities rather than a large piece of equipment. 

The TARDIS will be full scale, 10ft x 5ft, which is based on the version seen from 2005-2010 on BBC’s Doctor Who. Endicott expressed that TARDIS plans were extremely difficult to find, but I’m confident that he will be able to put together something fantastic, brilliant, and cool. Those who contribute to the Kickstarter project will be privy to in-progress updates and personal thank yous. I think that it would be awesome if we could get a local photographer to do professional photo ops in the TARDIS for a nominal fee (HEY PHOTOGRAPHERS – CAN WE MAKE THIS HAPPEN?!). 

At the very least, I hope that con-goers can take their own pictures with the TARDIS. I also hope that a big group of Doctor Who cosplayers can gather together for photo ops. (I’m looking at you, Jason Knopp, you David Tennant looking fella) I wish David the best of luck with the build and I look forward to hearing more about the updates. With space already allocated on the convention floor, now all we have to do is wait for the vworp vworp and the TARDIS to materialize inside of Heritage Hall on March 16.

Be sure to make your pledge now, the Kickstarter ends in 9 days! It's now at $335 of its $200 goal. Congratulations!

Lexington Convention Center, Heritage Hall
430 West Vine Street, Lexington, KY 40507
Saturday, March 16, 2012 10am-6pm 
Sunday, March 17, 2012   10am-4pm

22.50 in advance
$30.00 at the door! 
VIP admission - $45.00 in advance
Kids under 10 are always FREE!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cookbooks Are Cool: Dining With The Doctor

So, I'm kind of obsessed with cookbooks. I love to collect them and if I had a bigger budget I would own a lot more. I like taking recipes and figuring out how to make them more healthy. Specifically, I like cookbooks with a theme. I have a vampire themed cookbook called Love at First Bite: The Complete Vampire Lover's Cookbook and the wonderful folks from Inn at the Crossroads sent me A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook, which I will be reviewing soon. I want to pick up Alan Kistler's Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook as well, among countless others.

Today, I stumbled upon a cookbook that is FREE on Kindle! Dining With the Doctor: The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook features recipes that relate to every episode of the first six seasons of the new Doctor Who series. Yes, every. single. episode and even the specials. That's definitely some dedication. The cookbook's author, Chris-Rachael Osland, is dedicated to her craft, as she not only provides recipes for each episode, but includes interesting prose within the cookbook.

Hello, Doctor. It’s been awhile. You’re looking very modern in your black t-shirt and leather jacket - and if you don’t mind me saying so, kind of sexy with those high cheekbones and that sparkle in your eye. You’re trouble. I like it.
Oseland, Chris-Rachael (2012-12-01). Dining With The Doctor: The Unauthorized Whovian Cookbook (p. 9). Kindle Edition.
Because each recipe is centered around a specific episode, there will be spoilers included. The author notes that she doesn't think that anyone who would be reading the cookbook wouldn't already have watched all of the episodes. The cookbook stops with the Christmas episode from Season 6. I hope that she may do a follow up for Season 7 and beyond. I'm thinking sno-cones for The Snowmen or something related to a governess in a pond.

To be honest, some of the recipes really do not sound appealing at all. River Song (S4E10 - Forest of the Dead) incorporates a hard-boiled egg on a bed of angel hair pasta. Sure, it looks like River, but who wants to eat eggs and pasta? It looks like a lot of the recipes are all about the presentation. Sontaran Soldiers (S4E5 - The Sontaran Stratagem) instructs you affix small blueberries and almonds to a peeled potato. This is obviously for aesthetics rather than taste, but there's something offputting to me about blueberries and potatoes. I do however, like the idea of Weeping Angel Wings (S3E11 - Blink), which are essentially chicken wings.

It looks like this is a neat cookbook for any Doctor Who themed get-together. I hope to whip up some of these treats when Doctor Who returns in April!

Dining With the Doctor is free today for Amazon Kindle, but is also available in print.