MOVIES - Hansel & Gretel, Stoker, Arbitrage, Broken City, Safe Haven

HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (15) Cheesy action fantasy that's wisely played tongue in cheek

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FOR some reason we've had any number of fairytale reimaginings lately, to varying degrees of success.

This time around the classic Brothers Grimm story of brother and sister Hansel and Gretel gets a demented action twist added, and proves to be reasonable value for the undemanding.

We first meet Hansel and Gretel as children, when they are taken at night by their father deep into the woods, where they discover a house made of candy.

Instead of falling prey to the witch inside, they destroy her, setting in motion their careers as witch hunters extraordinaire.

Many years later, as adults played by Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, they're heroes who travel around the country sorting out witch problems wherever they find them.

They arrive at a town where children have been going missing, soon discovering that the local witch (Famke Janssen) has been snatching them, and she's up to no good with some mumbo-jumbo about becoming all-powerful at the blood moon.

Wisely played tongue in cheek – otherwise it would collapse under its own stupidity – Hansel and Gretel is a cheesy and passably entertaining action fantasy.

It's not really concerned with anything other than witch-fighting action, which the armed-to-the-teeth siblings engage in frequently.

These scenes are frantically edited and initially quite samey, but the high level of blood and gore makes for good clean Friday night fun.

Thanks to a $50m budget, production values are high, which can help immensely with this sort of thing – there's nothing worse than a ridiculous film that looks ugly at the same time.

And the special effects are really pretty tidy, particularly a troll who comes to have quite a bearing on the story.

In the leads, Renner and Arterton display little personality, but as the only Americans in the village, their swearing and modern sensibilities in what one supposes is the 19th century offers the chance for a few nice gags.

Events proceed without much care or sense from one barney to the next, but if you're willing to accept the utter absurdity of the set-up, there are a whole lot worse examples of this brand of goofy fantasy action out there.

Director: Tommy Wirkola

Running time: 88 mins

STOKER (18) Over-egged gothic melodrama is absolute hooey

EIGHTEEN-year-old India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) can see and hear things others can't.

After her father dies, his brother (Matthew Goode) comes, bringing all sorts of threat with him, to the house she shares with her mother (Nicole Kidman), one that seems permanently stuck in the 1950s even though the film is set in the present day.

A moody, deliberately paced, over-egged gothic melodrama, Stoker is a sensory overload, all visual insistence and tricksy editing amounting to a lot of self-conscious frippery that becomes very irritating very quickly.

A scene can't go by without an artful shot or unnecessary camera move in a film in which no attempt is made at a grounded narrative, making it suffocatingly weird, yet also rather dull and ultimately absolute hooey.

Director:

Chan-wook Park

Running time: 99 mins

ARBITRAGE (15) Topical, multi-layered and hugely entertaining

THIS riveting drama stars Richard Gere as a super-rich business mogul, married to Susan Sarandon and hitting 60, who wants to sell his company.

But his empire is a house of cards which has left him with a $400m hole if a merger doesn't go through, before a plot development that's best left unspoiled sends his life in another direction entirely and leaves him trying to juggle financial meltdown and a police investigation.

This twisted morality tale is the complete package, working as both a polished thriller and a savage indictment of the abuse of power of the rich and privileged.

As the lies spiral and it grips firmly, Arbitrage is topical, multi-layered and hugely entertaining. Tim Roth adds sly support as a dogged cop, but it's Gere's show, and in his polished malevolence he has quite simply never been better.

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Running time: 107 mins

BROKEN CITY (15) A Bogart movie without the sharp dialogue or wit

A COP (Mark Wahlberg) kills a suspect in what may or may not have been a legal shooting, but the mayor (Russell Crowe) makes it go away.

Seven years later the mayor is looking for the favour to be returned, hiring Wahlberg as a private investigator to find out if his wife (Catherine Zeta Jones) is having an affair.

With the dumb private eye embroiled in a conspiracy much bigger than him, it's the plot of a Bogart movie without the sharp dialogue or wit to back it up. It's initially fairly involving, but goes catastrophically off the rails around the halfway mark before managing to recover some traction with its developments and plot twists, while powerful actors in Crowe and Wahlberg lend it credibility as a morality tale.

Director: Allen Hughes

Running time: 109 mins

SAFE HAVEN (12A) Romance with a jaw-droppingly bad ending

THE latest from the Nicholas Sparks production line stars Julianne Hough as a young woman, on the run for reasons unknown, who escapes on a bus and ends up in a small Carolina coastal town.

Following the Sparks blueprint to the letter, we get the newcomer with a secret in a picturesque town, a love interest (Josh Duhamel's hunky widower), golden photography and a late surge into melodrama.

It's a gentle romance populated by solid enough actors that neither raises the pulse nor truly annoys, but there's only so many times we can swallow the same pudding.

But what marks Safe Haven out from the bunch, and what could see it reinvent itself as a cult classic, is a late twist so risible that it leaves simply being bad far behind, and approaches jaw-dropping.

Director: Lasse Hallström

Running time: 115 mins

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