Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hansel and Gretel - Witch Hunters in 3D

Dinner and a Movie

Hansel and Gretel Get Flat Ironed or Witch is Which?

By Steve Herte

Once again, it’s time for another adventure in theater and dining after a busy day at work. It's great to laugh. Enjoy!

Hansel and Gretel – Witch Hunters in 3D (Paramount, 2013) - Director: Tommy Wirkola. Cast: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Famke Janssen, Peter Stormare, Cedric Eich, Alea Sophia Boudodimos, Thomas Scharff, Monique Ganderton, Rainer Bock, Ingrid Berdal, Joanna Kulig, Thomas Mann, and Pihla Viitala. 88 minutes.

“Me and my sister? We have a past.” - Hansel

When I saw the trailers for this bizarre film, which was actually made a year ago (they were waiting for an appropriate time to release it), I knew it would be a hoot. All I could think was Hansel and Gretel were abused by a witch as children, and now they’re really pissed off and hitting back hard. And do they ever!

The movie starts with 3D flames and pop-up book style representations of people, villages, forests and witches being killed all to the tune of a glorious victory orchestration. It’s very effective and fun to watch. Then we get the background story. As children, Hansel (Eich) and Gretel (Boudodimos) are taken by their father (Scharff) into the woods and told firmly to stay there as he leaves and blows out his lantern. Believing he would return, the two obey for a while, but you know kids; they have to explore. They find a cottage made entirely of candy. (And it looks yummy: the circular door has a peppermint spiral and is surrounded by colorful disks that are stacked like Necco Wafers, with the peaked roof dripping sweet icing.) When they bang on the door nothing happens. But when they realize the cottage is edible, the door swings open and they are sucked in. The hideous witch (Ganderton) speaks only occasionally and mostly makes greasy creaking noises, but she locks Hansel in a cage and sets Gretel to work starting up the oven. Threatening to kill Gretel she forces Hansel to eat lots of candy to fatten him up. From there you know the story – the witch winds up in the oven and the two children are changed forever.

They are now adults (played by Renner and Arterton) and are requested by Mayor Engleman (Bock) to return to the village of Augsberg as heroes. They dress in black leather and have an arsenal of incredibly ornate and versatile weapons (Gretel’s crossbow shoots multiple arrows and can swivel to both sides sending arrows in two directions at once) to continue killing witches. Sheriff Berringer (Stormare) is not happy about the duo usurping his power and does everything in his power to discredit them, especially when they thwart his plans to have Mina (Viitala) burned as a witch. We find out at this point that Hansel is obviously diabetic from all the candy he ate as a child and has to inject himself in the leg regularly using an antique syringe. (The last time I saw one of these was in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia – I wouldn’t want to be jabbed by it.)

The story reveals that 11 children have been swiped from the town by three witches, Muriel (Janssen), and her two cohorts (Berdal and Kulig) with the assistance of their troll, Edward. (I would have thought a troll might have a more exotic name.) Edward is huge and mostly computer generated and bears a strange resemblance to Ed Asner. Two actors are required to play him: Derek Mears and Robin Atkin Downes (voice only). Anyway, in three days there will be an eclipse of the moon (the Blood Moon) and 12 children born in different months are needed by a crowd of witches at a Sabbath at midnight to perform a ceremony that will make them immune to fire. The only other ingredient needed is the heart of a White Witch.

Throughout the movie Gretel wonders about their parents, but Hansel doesn’t want to discuss them. She gets a big clue when the sheriff and his men ambush her and Edward saves her from them in an unbelievably gory battle (he stomps the sheriff’s head flat among other dismemberments). He then takes her to a place to dress her wounds and responds to her inquiry of “why” with, “Trolls serve witches.”

Hansel and Gretel learn the truth when they confront Muriel at their former home after learning the basement has a witch grotto. Muriel tells them that their mother was a White Witch and the townspeople found out about it. Their father brought them to the relative safety of the forest as their mother was being burned at the stake. Upon his return he was hanged in front of her. Their genetic heritage is why witches’ spells do not work on them. Muriel, though, needs Gretel’s heart for her ceremony of the Blood Moon and makes off with her.

Meanwhile Hansel has his own battles with witches and is helped by Mina (who, by the way, is a White Witch) with whom he falls in love. She teams with him and Ben (Mann), a local boy who is the biggest fan of the witch-killing duo, to thwart the Blood Moon ceremony and rescue the children. Muriel manages to escape and they track her down to, of all places, the Candy Cottage where Hansel tells Ben, “Whatever you do, don’t eat the “f”in’ candy.” There is a final battle, Muriel is beheaded, and all is well.

There is no way you can take any part of this movie seriously. For instance: Grimm’s Fairy Tales were published in 1812 and the Gatling Gun was invented in the 1860s, but Hansel had a very large one nevertheless. The amazingly large shotgun he carried looks like a miniature of Napoleon’s cannons. No one in the movie has a German accent, not even the mayor. The names Hansel and Gretel are consistently pronounced correctly with German vowels, yet Augsberg is always pronounced Awgsburg (very American). The dialoge is common and uninspired to the extent of being hokey. Both Hansel and Gretel get to say, “You’ve got to be “f”in’ kidding me!” when they see they’ve returned to the Candy Cottage. I found myself chuckling to laughing out loud several times.

However, the musical soundtrack is excellent. Without it there would be no white-knuckle moments in the final battle. The special effects department had a carnival with the costume and make-up departments in creating dozens of variously deformed and outlandishly dressed witches. Some even looked like punk rock stars and others like sideshow freaks.

But beware moviegoers! It’s not over. At the end of this very silly flick, Hansel and Gretel, Ben and Edward (sounds like a bad movie title in itself) join up to rid the countryside of any other witches. Ergo, a sequel! (Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.)


31 West 21st Street (Between 5th& 6th) New York

Billing themselves as “an old school bistro in the Flatiron District,” Prandial is just that. When searching for an interesting spot to dine I found them on billed as American cuisine. In my way of thinking, any cuisine that cannot be pigeonholed directly as French, Indian, Italian, German, etc. gets dumped into “American.” The word “prandial” is defined as relating to a meal, and the people who work at this restaurant make every effort to ensure you relate to your meal.

Upon arrival at the Captain’s Station the perky smiling hostess led us to the perfect table in the back of the spacious, airy, white-walled room lit by traditional old New York swags with bare oak flooring and red Persian carpets. There was a short stairway down to the bar from where we sat that revealed the black and white octagonal tiled floor – also, very old New York.

Everyone was smiling and eager to serve. A young man took my drink order and even approved my choice of Beefeater gin in a Cosmopolitan over “tasteless” vodka. Later on, another server noted how much I enjoyed it by suggesting he would try one after his shift.

The one page, two-sided menu features Appetizers, Soup and Salads on one side and Entrees and Sides on the other. It was a good thing I had a wonderful drink to mull things over because there were many interesting choices to be made. The water and the bread plate arrived promptly; the bread being the crusty fluffy kind I can’t resist with a brick of sweet butter. I was also glad that, being between international trips, my lovely dining companion had agreed to join me once again.

Still undecided, I asked for the wine list, which consisted of several three-hole punched pages joined by metal loops. I found the selection, as well as the prices, amazing, which made my decision even more difficult. After several questions asked of Lorella (server number three) however, the Vegetable Soup of the day – a delightful pumpkin colored puree of several vegetables with an enticing aroma of spice – was the first course. The many flavors it evoked were almost mind-boggling. The wine was a personal favorite of mine, a 2009 “Green and Red” Zinfandel from Chiles Vineyards – a nice full-bodied red with a spicy aftertaste. The appetizer was Cockles and Chorizo – an inspired combination of old world and new with the tiny clams garnished with even tinier cubes of spicy sausage in a light creamy white wine, onion and olive oil sauce flanked by toasted bread. It’s nice to look across the table at the look of approval on the choice.

The main course was (coincidentally) Lorella’s favorite: Smoked Berkshire Pork Chop. This incredible piece of meat was fully two inches thick and a hefty portion, well done and juicy inside and caramelized on top. It was surrounded by delicate, crispy spaetzle and grilled Brussels sprout halves, and crowned by a square of pickled watermelon rind. I haven’t had pickled watermelon rind since my teens when a neighbor made it for me. Generally I like my pork on the pink side but I was still amazed at how evenly this filet was cooked, and yet not dry in the least. The spaetzle could have been fluffier (I remember my aunt’s Hungarian version fondly) but it served its purpose.

After all this good food, the decision to combine dessert and drink into one was an excellent idea. The Coffee Parfait capped off the dinner nicely with a satisfyingly creamy experience of both coffee and pudding.

Prandial gave me such pause to think about choices that a return visit is almost mandatory. I definitely want to “relate” to my meal again.

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