31 Days of Witch Movies #26: Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters

I am finally getting around to another witch film review. This entire project was suppose to end on October 31 2013 but has lingered on well into 2014.  I am making no further promises on the exact finish date other than I will reach 31 at some point in the next century.

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Getting to the review…

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) may have been one of the worst witch movies ever made. It may be one of the worst movies ever made.

The Paramount film follows in a long line of fairy-tale spin-offs that explore the darker depths of the traditional fantasy narrative (Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland 2010; Snow White and the Huntsman 2012)  Unfortunately the studio missed the mark – any mark – with this one.

IMDB categorizes Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters as action/horror/fantasy. That is a perfect description because the film doesn’t know what it wants to be. It opens with the classic tale of two children lost in the woods. In this re-visioning the children are cast out by their parents in order to save their lives. After the classic witch encounter, the story moves into the “ever after” in which Hansel is a gritty Rambo-esque cowboy with diabetes. Gretel is the Terminator‘s Sarah Conner in a bustier and black leather who, like all good fairy tale girls, befriends a kindly woodland troll. As for the witches, they are flying magical zombies.

The film seems to have no clear self-identify. Is the film really Hansel & Gretel? Or is it Hocus Pocus (1993)? Or The Matrix (1999)? Or Shrek (2001)? The Walking Dead (2013)? Brother Where Art Thou (2000)? Or maybe the film just wanted to be Die Hard (1988) set in Bavaria? The broom chase is reminiscent of the biker chase in Return of the Jedi (1983). If that isn’t enough, the “good witch” is named Mina, a reference to Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula.

If all of these cinematic choices were referential winks for the well-worn film enthusiast, than the winking part was left out. Or maybe it was blocked by the bustier or the troll.

By the end the entire experience felt like disjointed scraps of weirdness pinned together with iron nails and covered in a black gossamer veil. Even the anachronistic elements, which could have given the film a fantastical “steampunk” aesthetic, just seem laughable.

Let me cut the filmmakers some slack. The concept was a good even if the execution failed. What does happens to Hansel and Gretel after their traumatic experience with the “evil” woodland witch? This question delves into the contemporary exploration of the underlying psychology lurking within the fairy tale itself. Nearly getting eaten by a hag in the woods must have left some type of impression or scar on the children. Unfortunately that depth of psychological discovery doesn’t lend itself to a film that can be defined as Natural Born Killers (1994) meets Witches (1990) meets World War Z (2013).  

Personally I would have liked to see the story reversed. What if the kids were terrible brats born into a culture of cruelty? They tie up their nanny and run away to find new horrific fun torturing animals in the wood. After a few hours, they get bored and lost. After spending a night scared and alone, the children stumble upon the home of a lonely crone who, long ago, escaped to this reclusive life far from the treacheries of an amoral, self-indulgent, gluttonous society. In the freedom of isolation, she adorns her cottage with whimsical color and “candy” in order to feed the forest animals. The little house is a bright spot in a dark and hateful world. When the selfish little children finally arrive at her door, they immediately begin to consume its beauty and treasures like selfish little beasts they are. After awhile the witch catches them and beckons them inside to teach a lesson….

How it is written from there depends on who’s making the movie. Does the witch win? Do the kids change and live with the witch forever? Or do the kids win and burn the crone? The answer lies in whether the movie is a dark social commentary or a hopeful one?

Hansel & Gretal: Witch Killers is worth watching if you’d like to see what not to do as a filmmaker. In order to know what’s good, you must see what is bad.  You also better see it before Paramount releases the sequel sometime in the next year.

 

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)
Day #23: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty
Day #24: Excalibur (Guest Reviewer: Virginia Chandler)
Day #25: Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

31 Days of Witch Movies #25: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

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The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) is a fascinating study, both as a film and beyond. Why? Because C.S. Lewis’ book was originally conceived as a Christian allegory…

Or so I’m told.

Many years ago, I read this book as a child.  I grew up with absolutely no religious education so all I saw was a fantasy tale in which a group of children pass into a magical world through a wardrobe.  That is what it was for me and that is all it took to win me over.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of my most cherished stories. I would imagine that my own closet had a secret passage – one that could take me from the congested, smoggy, brick-encrusted city to a natural land of enchantment, faeries and magic.

Ironically The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was one of the narratives that lead me to Wicca. I didn’t find out it was a Christian allegory until I was in film school or maybe later.  To be quite honest, I still don’t get it.  Even with all the years of pulling meaning out of the collective as… underbelly of narrative storytelling, I still do not understand the Christian iconography in this film.

I’m sure that I could if I tried…but why bother.  I’m not Christian and the story has a depth for me that I do not wish to disturb.

Now onto the movie.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is extremely well-done as an expression of the original C.S. Lewis book. From the acting, to the CGI, from the music to the Cinematography the film is well integrated and no element overpowers another.  Why? The story was paramount and everything else served it.

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As for the White Witch, she appears when Edmond first enters Narnia. Although she is nice to him, there are visual cues that indicate that she is the so-called “witch.”  These clues are mostly visual.  She has dark, pupil-less eyes and pale bloodless skin.  There is an inhumanity in her human body. She is almost vampiric.

In subsequent appearances, her tightly drawn-up hair gives way to dreadlocks which eventually suggest snakes. Interestingly, this imagery recalls the mythological Medusa – a theme which is reinforced by the White Witch’s ability to kill creatures by turning them to stone.  In the end, she is draped in fur and colors of a wild beast.  She is the untamed wild woman.

I also found it interesting to mark which mythological beasts are noted as “good” and which are “bad.”  Around the witch, there are the expected feared creatures such as tigers, wolves and bats.  She is also accompanied by the Minotaur, trolls, and a cyclops – among others.  The good guys have cheetahs, gryphons, unicorns, lions, centaurs and satyrs.

I have enjoyed this movie every time that I saw it.  Because it has stood the test of time, the book and movie appeal to both those that enjoy and celebrate the Christian aspects as well as those that enjoy the pure fantasy.

 

 

 

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #24 Excalibur

[My guest reviewer today is Virginia Chandler, a friend and fellow writer. She has released her most recent book, The Devil's Treasure. Before Virginia wrote about the pirate world, she spent many years reading, studying, watching and enjoying Arthurian legends. If anyone should be reviewing Excalibur, it is her.]

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John Boorman’s 1981 film, Excalibur, was an enormous and ambitious undertaking wherein Boorman attempted to adapt Thomas Malory’s massive compilation of Arthurian tales, La Morte D’Arthur, into a movie “for the masses”.

I saw the film on the “big” screen back in 1981, and like most, was mesmerized. In fact, Alex Thomson was nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography, and Bob Ringwood was nominated for a BAFTA for his costume designs.  It is indeed a gorgeous, sexy film with provocative costumes.

It’s not perfect, of course, so let’s just get the “ack” stuff out of the way:

  • Yes, the hair of just about every character is out of control and wacky: Guinivere almost has a ‘fro, Merlin is wearing a silver something that substitutes for a groovy, wizard hairdo, and with the exception of Lancelot and Morgana, everyone else’s hair just seems unkempt.
  • Igraine’s “seduction” dance scene is just a wee bit on the weird side.  Okay, more than a little weird, but as long as Uther finds it sexy, it’s all good.
  • Igraine and Uther’s initial sexual encounter is both brutal and somehow quite sexy.  Her lack of clothing contrasted with his full armor plus little Morgana looking on is unsettling.
  • The laugh of boy Mordred is annoying and makes you want to slap his mouth shut.  Every time you see it.

Despite the “ack” elements, there is PLENTY to savor, even for an old Arthurian Purist like myself.  Nicol Williamson’s Merlin is endearing, funny, and tragic.  His feathered cloak is totally awesome as is his *ahem* somewhat ridiculous silver headgear, and when he gets his staff to belch smoke along with his glowing, red eyes, it just makes one want to squeal with delight. Seriously.

Nigel Terry’s Arthur is also quite funny, sweetly awkward, and yet, so very sincere in his doomed efforts to be everything that Merlin wishes him to be.  He tries, dangit, and he tries hard.  He learns most of his lessons the VERY hard way and, in the end, he can only be redeemed in the tragic embrace of death with his one and only son (born from incest and trickery, no less). The poor fellow really never had a chance.

Paul Geoffrey’s Percival is bright and shining as the Grail Winner, while Nicholas Clay’s Lancelot is tortured, mad, and (like Arthur) doomed. Doomed. Doomed. It’s fun to see a very young Liam Neeson play Gawain, even if Gawain is portrayed as easily influenced and an ass. Gabriel Byrne (also very young) is an Uther that you just love to hate, (I still enjoy watching him get shanked), and when he selfishly slams Excalibur into the infamous Stone, (like the young Mordred), you just want to slap him.

Then…there’s the magic that we, the Pagan hordes of dragon fanatics and Arthurian geeks, just LOVE! Who doesn’t know the “Charm of Making”? Who doesn’t LOVE to say it? Who doesn’t get chills when your best buddy Pagans join in?

nál nathrach,
orth’ bháis’s bethad,
do chél dénmha

If you didn’t know, translated it means:

Serpent’s breath,
charm of death and life,
thy omen of making

But, you knew that, didn’t you, you lovable Pagan geeks! Of course you did!

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And, sure, a lot of neo Pagans prefer Arthur’s sister as Morgaine from Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, (and admittedly, Julianna Marguile’s film portrayal of Morgaine is pretty sweet), but a sexy, SEXY Helen Mirren as Morgana in Excalibur is to be savored. Mirren’s Morgana is delicious to watch, and when she speaks, when she breathes, all eyes are drawn to her.  She might be a “bad” girl in Boorman’s film, and she was pretty gnarly in the Malory compilation, but admit it, when you watch her in action, you TOO want to know the Charm of Making, and you can hardly blame her for being pissed off at Merlin and later, Arthur, for all of the muck that was thrown her way in those early years of her life.   She gets her revenge, too, and since you know it’s coming, you may as well enjoy the brilliance of it.  Boorman doesn’t dwell too much on Merlin’s fabled desire for Morgana, but it’s obvious that Merin is intrigued by her and on some deep, dark level, he admires her raw, Witchy talents.  Why else would he finally reveal the Charm to her?   Besides, Merlin will get her back with a clever twist on the Charm before it’s all said and done, but in the meantime, Morgana will rule as the “Queen of Bad”:  She will orchestrate the downfall of “noble” Lancelot and send him off to the forest as a mad “monk”; she will seduce her half brother; she will give birth (in a nifty lightning shrouded birthing chamber) to a “god”; she will destroy the Round Table with a wicked mocking of the Grail Quest; and, she will raise her nephew-son to be a rather pretty and quite formidable warrior who wears some really groovy armor.

On top of all of THAT, Helen Mirren is just sexy.  She was sexy in 1981 (and you gotta love the “dress” that she wears when she seduces Arthur), and she’s twice as sexy now. She is ageless. She’s sexy. Did I mention that she’s sexy?

If you haven’t seen Excalibur, you really have missed out on one of the most poignant adaptations of the Grail Quest. Get it on Blu Ray and enjoy 140 minutes of Arthurian legend set amidst Boorman’s elegant and striking Arthurian England. If you have seen it, go watch it again.  You know that you want to see Morgana do her wicked deeds, and I didn’t even mention Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance. Ignore the bad hair and strange dancing, and once Helen Mirren appears on screen and “bad” Morgana initiates her plot of revenge, you will be, I am quite sure, intrigued and entertained.

(Read the Interview with Virginia at The Wild Hunt)

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)
Day #23: Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

 

 

31 Days of Witch Movies: #23 Disney’s Sleeping Beauty

Back to Disney for a look at one of the all-time classic American Witches:  Maleficent.

I’ve been planning to do this review for sometime and the timing couldn’t be more perfect with Disney releasing the trailer for the upcoming live-action film that features their iconic villain.

Apparently Disney is taking a similar approach as Gregory Maguire did with Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.  The Studio will tell Maleficent’s backstory.  How she went from innocence and purity to an evil sorceress – or fairy as it were.

Enough about a movie that has yet to be released – even if it stars the legendary Angelina Jolie.  Let’s talk about the original.

In 1959, Disney released Sleeping Beauty, only the third princess film to be made. The movie was meant to follow the success of the beloved Cinderella (1950) but it fell far short. In my own study on Disney Princess films, I noted:

Over the nine years of production, Sleeping Beauty’s budget rapidly increased, eventually totaling 6 million dollars.  Walt claimed, “I sorta got trapped” and, later referred to the picture as “an expensive failure”(Thomas, 104).  In 1959, this was a very apt name.  The film only grossed 7.7 million dollars and was also a critical failure.  However, in subsequent years, the Disney company re-released the film to the theaters and, eventually to video.  From those re-releases, Sleeping Beauty has gone from being “less memorable” to a Disney classic, and Aurora was allowed her place alongside her two predecessors.

Because it was largely considered a failure, Disney didn’t return to the princess film until 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid.

Maleficent and the Wicked Queen are the only major witches in Disney’s early period. Both of these characters stand as the two most iconic villains in the Disney canon.  Both of these witches are deeply terrifying but in very different ways.   Where the Wicked Queen is dark and sinister, Maleficent is dramatic and fierce.  The Wicked Queen becomes a ugly crone and Maleficent becomes a towering dragon.

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What makes the two witches different?  Magic. The Wicked Queen’s power comes from brews and herbs. Maleficient’s comes from an internal power.  She is magic.  Her horns recall a mythology associated with the hunt, darkness and mysticism.  She carries a staff.  A raven rests on her shoulder and her outstretched arms recall a bat’s wings, purple fire or even the raven itself.  Could she be the Morgaine in some form?

Maleficent embodies a dark beauty, a raw power and everything that the insecure, disenfranchised teenage girl isn’t.  She commands her world.

(Okay she does it for evil purposes.  But come-on… she must have a back-story.)

 

Day #1: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Day #2: Haxan
Day #3: The Princess and the Frog
Day #4: City of the Dead
Day #5: Beautiful Creatures
Day #6: The Witches
Day #7: Wicked
Day #8: Bell Book & Candle
Day #9: American Horror Story: Coven
Day #10: Black Death (Guest Reviewer:  John W. Morehead)
Day #11: Witches of East End
Day #12: Nightmare Before Christmas
Day #13: Scooby Doo: The Witch’s Ghost
Day #14: Hocus Pocus
Day #15: The Wiz
Day #16: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Day #17: Wicker Man (Guest Reviewer: Link)
Day #18: The Witches of Eastwick
Day #19: Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Day #20: Harry Potter and the 8 Movies
Day #21: So I Married a Witch
Day #22: The Mists of Avalon (Guest Reviewer: Crystal Blanton)

 

Respecting the Journey

As we engage in self-discovery and interact with the world, we find ourselves seeking out and connecting with a community of people of like-minded people. When we find that community, we feel accepted and often thrive in a safe space. Camaraderie breeds comfort and fosters pride.

“Go Team Jesus!”  

“PantheaCon or Bust”  

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This community pride can be a very positive thing. It helps in the development and preservation of cultural nuances, language and “in” jokes.  It strengthens meaning, especially in the case of religious communities.

Unfortunately, this same community pride also contributes to the hardening of the lines between who and what we are and who and what “they” are. It divides the Christians from the Pagans from the Hindus from the Jews and so forth. This is where it gets dangerous. The “Go Team” turns to “Fight Team.” In sports that may work. However, in religion it doesn’t.

I have seen this happen frequently in the Jewish community where there is an inbred and powerful sense of tribal unity. I recall the story of a friend’s mother who had converted to Judaism from Catholicism. After being completely abandoned by her parents, this woman embraced Judaism with unbridled passion. She did everything in excess. To this day you would never believe that she had ever even entered a Catholic church let alone attended CCD.

Such stories of religious struggle are not limited to the Jewish community. This is a very common scenario. People just don’t like it when someone “switches teams.” When that convert is a team leader, an MVP or “fan favorite,” it can be even more jarring.  Fans are baffled, stunned, and shocked. They feel abandoned. “He’s one of them now.”

This may work for sports but not for religion.

Of course I’m referring to Teo Bisop‘s recent announcement on The Wild Hunt in which he openly declared a return to Christianity. Since his announcement, tremors have permeated the Pagan-osphere.  While I’m sure that the majority of Pagans are indifferent, the more vocal among us choose to comment. It seems that most comments are positive. However there has also been some backlash and even anger.  To sum that up:

Teo Bishop was accepted onto our team, taught our secret handshake, given our trust and even lauded by some as a leader. We connected with him on a personal level via his writing. Now he has jumped ship, gone back to the other side – to another team.  

But here’s the thing… that works for sports but not religion.

Religious-affiliation is not a final destination. While we like to think of it as such and often dogma tells us so, it really isn’t. Religious-affiliation is one stop on an expansive spiritual journey. The day that we can allow for the fluid nature of religion and at the same time respect spiritualism as a journey is the day the walls come down between religions. Teo is moving down his own river of experience which has taken him to another port-of-call.  That is all that has happened.  It could happen to any of us.

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Wikipedia CC Daniel Case

Spiritualism is fluid. Not only through one’s journey but through the gathering of experience.  Dogmatic devices often require a complete abandonment of one’s past religious-affiliation. Oaths must be taken and beliefs forsworn.  You can’t be Christian and Pagan and Muslilm at the same time.  You can’t be a Democrat and Republican. You can’t be a Falcons and Saints fan.  Pick one, give up the others and forever hold your peace.

That works for sports (and maybe even politics) but not for religion.

It is impossible to isolate ourselves from our past experience and the impact left behind – good or bad.  We cannot deny our past. We are who we are today because of where  and who we have been. We are formed by the experience and fluidity of life’s journey. As such, we change, grow and live to continue on. We carry pieces of our past religious experience forward which then help shape our perspective. Teo’s understanding of Christianity will be affected by his own negotiation his private Druidic experiences. It will be like that no matter how deeply into that Christian world he gets.

Spiritualism is as creative and fluid as life. Most importantly, it is personal. A heartfelt Bon Voyage to Teo as he sails forth and arrives at his new ports.