New films: Sister, Parker, and Hansel & Gretel
More January-esque Film Openings
The January pattern of film openings I was discussing last week continues this week with an award season drama, a straightforward action film that feels at home at this time of year, and a flashier popcorn actioner that feels like a refugee from the summer. There’s also the opening of “Movie 43” which wasn’t made available for press review – and you can draw your own conclusions on that.
“Sister” and “Parker”
Interestingly, while very different, two of the new films share a Robin Hood-like sentiment towards stealing.
In “Sister,” Switzerland’s official entry in the foreign language category for the Academy Awards, a young boy lives in the town at the base of a mountain that’s home to a high-priced ski resort. He’s often left alone and there’s not much other help in terms of income, and so he puts food on the table by stealing and selling ski equipment from the tourists. Each day he dresses up as though he’s a skier himself and rides the crowded gondola to the top of the mountain, where he grabs assorted flashy items and then rides back down in an empty gondola with his haul. There’s a definite sentiment expressed that it’s OK, or at least relatively OK, to steal from rich people who won’t notice the loss – and it’s not just young Simon who seems to feel this way, given that the things he steals are sometimes based on “pre-orders” from the neighborhood kids.
He’s an enterprising kid and, despite what one might think regarding the morality of his chosen profession, he also exhibits a serious work ethic and survival instinct for one so young, having also learned by observation how to service and repair damaged skis prior to re-sale.
In “Parker,” the latest film in which Jason Statham plays a Jason Statham character, we’re given a crook whose immorality is somehow supposed to be moral because he follows his own set of rules – and he has little time or patience for those who don’t. First up is that he never steals from somebody who can’t afford it, followed by never hurting somebody who doesn’t deserve it (that judgment obviously being subjective). He will do everything he says he will do and expects the same from those around him. The end result being, for example, that we’re supposed to be on his side at all times because he’s the kind of guy who will shoot somebody in the leg when they go for their gun and justify it based on having said something along the lines of “I’ll shoot you in the leg if you go for your gun.”
Of course, neither are quite like Robin Hood as, for the most part, there’s no great redistribution of wealth going on here – both are in it for their own gain, albeit that Simon probably has fewer alternative options than Parker. But just as Simon is surrounded by others who seem comfortable with what he’s doing, Parker also seems to find others who are equally comfortable with his actions, and not just those who are invested in the criminal code.
There’s not a great deal to be learned from “Parker” other than little nuggets like a handgun clip also being useful as a neck-stabbing device without the blood affecting operations when put back into service in the gun. And there’s much to be annoyed by – like a story that would only really make sense if Palm Beach, Florida had only one real estate agency with perfect, intimate knowledge of every transaction that occurs. But it does deliver on its premise of Jason Statham doing Jason Stathamy things in Jason Stathamy ways, albeit it light on Jason Stathamy fast driving.
In comparison, “Sister” actually contains a considerable amount of social commentary and could, for example, make a solid starting point for a discussion in a tourism class. There’s a clear have/have not divide in Simon’s town between the “townies” and the tourists or, as the tourism literature sometime describes, the hosts and guests. The children’s choices and desire for the best and most expensive ski equipment is a manifestation of a “demonstration effect” associated with the constant exposure to the wealth and possessions of the rich folks who pass by them on a daily basis.
The film also exhibits a similar socio-economic divide between the tourists and seasonal workers who staff the resort, toiling behind the scenes in sweaty kitchens and living in cramped dormitories. On the last day of the season, while the rich empty their chalets to return to designer lofts and mansions and plans for their next exotic excursions, the multi-national workforce pack their meager belongings and move on to wherever the next few months of work can be found. Both are migratory and many will end up in the same locations, but only one group is moving by choice.
There’s more than this to “Sister,” with much of the film focused on Simon’s home life as the title of the film might suggest, but that’s a tough area to delve into while reviewing the film without undermining the story. But it’s worth remembering the old adage about not choosing family members.
There’s not much to say in evaluating “Parker” other than to say that it’s exactly what it sounds like – a story about in-fighting and revenge among crooks, with the protagonist being the least antagonistic of the bunch. “Sister” is a neat, smaller film about family dynamics and youthful opportunism that could easily form the basis of dinner conversation or classroom discussions (see note at the bottom of the column).
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”
The third film is the one that feels like a failed attempt at something flashier and more successful. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is to witches what a Van Helsing or Buffy tale is to vampires. The basic idea is that the two young children of candy-house story fame escape their captor by killing her and grow up to become celebrated, witch-killing mercenaries. And it’s a spellbinding mess.
There are so many problems that it’s hard to know where to start but, perhaps, one of the most structural issues is that there’s a whole backstory as to why the two of them seem invulnerable when it comes to witchcraft and they’ve somehow managed to reach adulthood, through dozens of prior hunts, without this ever becoming a major topic of conversation or inquiry. This despite being zapped and pulverized on a routine basis, without being slowed by little inconveniences, like death.
The whole enterprise is very tongue in cheek, with steampunk weaponry and gadgets, and fighting scenes that are excuses for a plethora of exploding heads and flying limbs. All of which ought to keep that question of invulnerability at the forefront because they never seem to have an especially clear advantage and yet their own heads and limbs are remarkably intact.
The opening credits show a long sequence of encounters and killings perpetrated by Hansel and Gretel as children and then teenagers, and there’s a character in the film who’s essentially the internal geeky fanboy, who has kept a scrapbook of their prior successes which is clearly quite thick and exhaustive. This is problematic because it’s easy to imagine that those earlier stories might actually have been more appealing to watch. For every example of running and slugging it out between adult witches and adult witch hunters, one can’t help but feel that the level of inventiveness would have had to have been greater when they had a much greater size disadvantage and less strength. And all that elaborate weaponry had to have been developed over time, which would make for a more interesting story than one in which they all appear, as if by magic (!), from some propmaster’s workshop.
The violence is cartoonlike and, at times, laugh out loud funny – but the laughter here is more at the movie than with it. Although there is one enjoyable scene in which a recurring troll character steals the movie in much the same way that Hulk steals “Avengers” when tossing Loki around like a ragdoll. But the rest of the film is the kind of mess that will haunt the leads in future career retrospective montages and potentially serve as a useful low point in discussing other movies this year. January strikes again.
Note: The 7:30pm screening of “Sister” at the Crest Theatre on opening night (Friday, January 25) will be hosted by the Sacramento French Film Festival and there will be a Q&A after the film, led by Professor Kevin Elstob of the SFFF and the Foreign Languages Dept. at Sacramento State.