There are children’s films and films that are downright childish. Robert Zemeckis’”The witches, ”The second adaptation of Roald DahlThe novel of the same name appears 30 years later Nicolas Roeg directed his own, falls exactly under the latter designation. Instead of a movie to the Children, Zemeckis’ film pander to Children and goes so far overboard that it ends up pandering at the You. Children deserve good films. You deserve good horror films too, especially as the world is getting darker by the day and needs tools to convey the somber context. Horror cannot send the darkness away, but it can at least make it go down more easily. Nothing is more frightening than not understanding why it’s dark in the first place.
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Being a child in 2020 is difficult. The planet looks shabby under the pressures of climate change, and America specifically has spent four years bending over under the weight of the chattering howler monkey. “The Witches” doesn’t care about it or the withering earth. Instead, the film focuses on broader observations about adolescence and growing up, and the painful journey that all children take from childhood to adulthood, which is what young Charlie Hansen (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) starts earlier than it seems fair. Charlie is orphaned after stealing his mother and father in a car accident and moves in with his grandmother Agatha (Octavia Spencer), the archetypal type of hard love. She doesn’t let Charlie wallow in his grief and instead forces him with wisdom, kindness, dance parties, chicken thighs and corn bread.
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Agatha is great. She’s a real character, a commodity that is sorely lacking in the rest of “The Witches” when the plot begins. Charlie stumbles upon a witch in the market, Agatha develops a sudden cold, not from COVID but from a witch’s curse, and she hightail it to a fancy pants hotel where they seek protection from the secret evil woman; Apparently, Agatha had an encounter with a witch as a girl who forever turned her best friend into a chicken, and she is not exactly anxious to expose her grandson to a similar fate. But they pick the wrong hotel and share the floor with the whole coven led by the Grand High Witch, Lilith (Anne Hathaway). Should stay at a Marriott.
Bruno’s guilt and self-confidence combine with Spencer’s well-practiced, hard on the outside, tender on the inside, for unforgettable sweetness. Yours is a good starting point for storytelling for a scary horror story: Agatha brings Charlie straight to the threshold of acceptance, before the cruel fate throws down the clawed fist of the circle and the slowly won reconciliation between grandma and grandson shatters in an instant. But the problem with “The Witches” is who that scratched fist belongs to and how wildly it exaggerates, as if Hathaway had decided to excel her work in “The Witches”.Alice in WonderlandAs the white queen. Hathaway gives Lilith an accent that is well worth it Boris Badenov, without cultural authenticity and a brutal, sulky temperament that is less threatening than spoiled.
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She’s a wretched, annoying thing that is enhanced in its appearance by wretched, annoying digital effects: think it over Pennywise from “It“But rushed and uninspired, like there’s no way to develop her Glasgow smile that splits into a yawning gullet. The gullet on its own is expected to be enough. But Lilith isn’t particularly scary, in part because of the effects not going over the distance and in part because Hathaway has no cap to make a revised caricature of pure evil. Their work lets the rest of the cast down; when they try to respond to Lilith’s face with guided fear, they seem just being slightly confused, as if not sure how to deal with Hathaway’s vaguely Eastern European language or its downright Hamburg-based histrionic. Bruno is not helped by the mouse in this regard as he is forced to do most of the film speaking to a CGI mouse once it has turned into a rodent according to the Dahl book.
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Again, the effects are shady. Mouse Charlie and his two mouse friends – Daisy (Kristen Chenoweth) and Bruno (Codie-Lei Eastick) – badly merge with physical environments. Spencer works overtime and engages in convincing dialogue with animated mice, a task that is made difficult for Daisy and Bruno by Zemeckis’ flat writing. Her main characteristic is that she is a no-frills southern girl – in other words, a Kristen Chenoweth character – and her defining trait is that he is plump and always hungry, so hungry that his hunger will break the gang with more than one in trouble brings opportunity. At some point Bruno almost loses his life because of pieces of cheese; Keyword audience laughing at the fat. The jokes write themselves and Zemeckis should know well enough to write them down, even though his name is next to it in the script Guillermo del Toro and Kenya BarrisPerhaps the sole fault is not his. At some point someone should probably have thrown away the low hanging fruit.
Compare Zemeckis’ film with Roeg’s picture, which plays more or less the same way until the end. Dahl is known to have been linked to Roeg’s sunnier breakup, and if he were alive today he could praise Zemeckis for staying closer to his sides. What sets them apart depends on both the effects and the villain. Hathaway is no Anjelica HustonThough so few of us are, and computer effects are a sloppy substitute for any kind of practical effects, especially dolls and prostheses, that have been made available in recent times Jim HensonWorkshop. The 1990s “The Witches” had imagination and invention that drove them. The treatment of Zemeckis has the blatant lack of either with an excess of youthful humor.
Maybe it’s unfair to stack Roeg’s version against Zemeckis. Perhaps Zemeckis, once an effect pioneer and now with an uncomfortable great past of his heyday, should leave it alone instead of pursuing perfection. “The Witches” serves its niche poorly, treats its core audience as naive and never thinks for a moment that children are more sensitive than adults think they are. The writing misunderstands “childish” as cheap and immature, and the rest of the film follows that misconception. [D]
“The Witches” arrives on HBO Max on October 22nd.