ParaNorman – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 25

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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ParaNorman (2012)

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Christopher Mintz-Plasse

Synopsis: Norman is an 11-year-old boy who lives in the Salem-analogue town of Blithe Hollow, which which has made an industry of its’ own witch hunting history. Norman is obsessed with zombies and the dead, largely because he can see and talk them. Unfortunately, this also makes him an outcast and no one understands, not even his own family. He meets one boy, Neil, who insists on being his friend even though Norman tries to reject his invitations. One day, after Norman has experienced even stranger than usual visions, a crazed old man comes up to him and tells Norman he’s his uncle, and that Norman will have to follow in his footsteps by performing a ritual every yeah on the anniversary of the famed Blithe Hollow witch’s death to keep her from rising and destroying the town. Shortly thereafter, Norman’s uncle dies. Norman reluctantly retrieves the book (which turns out to be fairy tales) and goes to the graveyard to read it as instructed, but is interrupted by the school bully before he can finish. The men and women who sentenced the witch so long ago rise from their graves as zombies, and the spirit of the witch begins to grow and exert power over the town, causing a huge lightning storm. Norman ends up teaming up with his sister, Neil, Neil’s older brother Mitch, and the bully to try and escape the zombies and find out what to do next. After a lot of chasing and the town getting up in arms over the threat, they find out that the zombies only wanted to talk to Norman to make sure he was going to perform the ritual correctly, because they were sorry for what they had done to the witch and didn’t want to make it any worse. It turns out the witch was just a little girl with strange powers named Agatha Penderghast, a distant relative of Norman’s. She was killed by the town council because they were afraid of her, and the ritual each year was to read her a bedtime story so she would stay asleep and not take vengeance on the town. Norman seeks out her grave and talks to her angry ghost, explaning that he understands what it’s like to have people afraid of you, but it’s not okay to hurt others just because you were hurt. He helps her to think about her mother who loved her, and she finds peace. She releases her hold on the town and sleeps, and the zombies return to their graves as well. In the end, Norman’s family accepts his abilities and they all hang out together – with his dead grandmother.

tumblr_mperbq8QZp1rhbco5o1_500ParaNorman, from the makers of Coraline, is one hell of a sweet movie, particular given that it’s all about death and dead people, and faces some historical ugliness head-on (although the reality is that far more of the witches killed in the 1600s were old women than young girls). Aside from being an incredible feat of stop motion and CGI animation with fun character designs and a well-realized mythology, it’s is just bursting with humor and the exact kinds of messages both kids and adults need to hear. It doesn’t shy away from some of the more gruesome aspects of its plot, nor does it try to sanitize them. Although it does make death less scary – there’s even a scene where Norman has to pry the book out of the rigor mortised hands of his dead uncle which is both funny and disturbing.

tumblr_mh4kx9lu3x1qctv6lo2_500The notion that a parent might be afraid for their child, and that this might cause them to take it out on the kid, is not one that is often addressed in kids movies so directly, but one I feel is hugely beneficial. I think it’s great for kids to see examples of loving parents who get it wrong, because they all do at some point, and to try to see things from their parents perspective. When you’re young, you don’t quite get that your parents are just people. Norman’s relationship with his parents is imperfect, and they may never totally understand him, but by the end they’ve moved to a place of mutual acceptance and love, which all any of us can hope for from our families, really.

Continue reading “ParaNorman – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 25”

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Hocus Pocus – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 12

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Hocus Pocus (1993)

Starring: Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker and some kids.

Synopsis: In 1693 a coven of ugly, evil witch sisters (Winifred, Sarah, and Mary) in Salem, MA capture a young girl and use their magic to kill her and restore their own youth and beauty. The girl’s brother, Thackery Binx, tries to stop them but they turn him into a cat and doom him to immortality in that form before they are captured by the villagers and hanged. But they promise to return. Binx stands guard over their cottage for 300 years to prevent this, but on Halloween night 1993, a boy named Max, his sister, and their friend Allison break into the house to explore. Max unwittingly brings about the return of the witches, who chase the kids and sic a zombie on them. The kids escape with Binx, who explains the situation, and run to find their parents to tell them the witches  have returned. The witches have until dawn to suck some juicy life forces out of as many children as possible and restore themselves completely, or they will be turned to dust and vanish forever. They venture out, confused by the modern era and the number of people in costumes but aided by the fact that everyone they meet just thinks they have really excellent Sanderson Sisters costumes. The kids find their parents at a party at town hall, but no one believes them, especially when the witches come out and do a musical number, charming the town. The kids take matters into their own hands and lure the witches into the kiln at the school, burning them alive. Unfortunately, the spell is still active and the witches return, luring all the children of the town to their cottage before the kids and Binx, with the help of Billy the now-friendly zombie, defeat them and the dawn turns them to dust. Binx is killed, but his spirit is reunited with his sister and Billy returns to his grave.

anigif_enhanced-10107-1444497959-9This was another kids movie of my era that I didn’t see until I was older. In the past twenty years it’s reached cult status, for pretty much one reason: the witches. Hocus Pocus isn’t a good movie. Nor is it terrible enough to reach the bad-movie heights of Plan 9 from Outer Space or The Evil Dead. It would just be another bland Disney live action money-grab if it weren’t for Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker. The plot is trite and predictable, despite some cute touches like everyone thinking the witches are in costume, and the kids are not good actors. Thora Birch is better than the others and very cute, but hasn’t yet come into her talent. The dialogue is awkward and exposition heavy and the interactions between Max and Allison, his crush, are pretty cringeworthy.

anigif_enhanced-25119-1441390846-2But the witches, they make it all worth it. They lean into their villainous dialogue with campy, Three Stooges-inspired performances. They are ridiculous and over the top and chew so much scenery it’s a wonder there’s any of historic Salem left standing. Kathy Najimy’s Mary is a slightly feral matronly figure with a nose – and hunger – for children. Sarah is delightfully dumb, slutty, and sadistic. But Bette Mildler’s Winifred, the brains of the operation, pulls it all together. She is operatic in her evilness. She manages profound and expansive line deliveries from behind what is perhaps the most awkward tooth prosthesis in history. And her performance of “I Put a Spell On You” at the Halloween party, backed up by the other witches and a skeletal band, is what makes the movie.

tumblr_mbcd23HNq11rnr4rko1_500I won’t say I was rooting for the witches, but watching as an adult, I really didn’t care about the kids. It’s Disney, so presumably they come out okay. But I hung on every moment the Sanderson sisters were on screen. From the over-dramatic monologing to the slapstick humor, Hocus Pocus is worth it just for them. If you loved it as a kid, you may be more attached to the children-in-danger aspect of it, but coming to it now it’s all about the villains. Disney’s always had better villains than heroes, and this movie is no exception.

Quality: 4 Binxes out of 10 because witches. And the plot isn’t completely nonsensical.

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Enjoyability: 7 slutty Sarahs out of 10 – more if you’re drunk.

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 2

October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.

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Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

Starring: Hawkeye, Strawberry Fields, and Jean Grey going full Dark Phoenix.

Synopsis: Framed as the aftermath of Hansel and Gretel famously killing and baking the witch in the candy house, the movie begins with a retelling of the fairy tale in which the witch wins an award for Least Subtle Crone Ever and Gretel is the one who saves the day (and Hansel) and kills the witch. We are shown that the pair then go on to be famous witch hunters, killing scores of witches all across the land.  The main action of the movie truly begins in a town where nearly a dozen children have gone missing and the siblings have been called in to do something about it. They save a woman who has been (sort of) false accused of witchcraft and then go on to battle a massive coven led by Famke Janssen in what might as well be a sequel to her role in X-Men: The Last Stand. The witches have plans to use the children plus the power of a blood moon plus Gretel’s heart (as it’s been revealed her mother was a white witch who actually sent the children into the woods to protect them and therefore her heart has special good magic) to create a potion that will make the witches immune to the usual witch-killing methods. Massive amounts of bloodshed ensue, Hansel and Gretel pick up some friends, and the coven is defeated.

I have very mixed feeling about this movie. I mentioned in my last movie review the download (2)inherent problems with Bad Witch stories (which, more here) and this movie exemplifies those problems ad nauseum. Continue reading “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – 31 Days of Halloween, Day 2”

Think of It as Leaving Early to Avoid the Rush

What I’m doing tonight

Today is a bittersweet day, because today I got the very last ever Discworld novel. Sir Terry’s writings have entertained me, inspired me, and deeply influenced how I see the world ever since a dear friend gifted me Interesting Times almost fourteen years ago. My only regret is that I didn’t discover them sooner. Particularly Good Omens, which I feel would probably hastened my journey away from the strict conservatism in which I was raised.
My husband and I got into the habit of reading the books out loud to each other (and by that I mean, he reads them aloud to me like a human audiobook), so we’re going to continue the tradition tonight. He’s going to try and get through as much of the book as possible and I’m going to try and can as much salsa as possible.

I’m so happy the last book is a Tiffany Aching book and that her story is getting a proper finale. I really think the Tiffany Aching series is one of the best young adult series for anyone out there, but especially for young girls. Even though I came to it as an adult, she still taught me a thing or two about listening to my Third Thoughts. I’m sad that there will be no more new Discworld novels, but one of the marks of a great author is that they’ve created a universe so vivid and complex that you’re left with the feeling that it’s continuing on somewhere, all on it’s own, whether or not anyone is reading or writing about it at the moment.

The Discworld is a place that will truly live on forever, and while Terry Pratchett was taken from this world far too soon, I’m so grateful he left us with so many wonderful ways to visit it any time we want.