The Witch (2016): Turning Hansel and Gretel On Its Head (Review)

Anya Taylor Joy as Thomasin

Several things stand out in The Witch. Right off the bat, there is that heavy Yorkshire accent combined with the “Olde English” phraseology. Granted there is not one “Eee by gum” to be heard but writer director Robert Eggers’ decision to have his protagonists come from “God’s Country” was a sly bit of irony considering the circumstances of the plot and the players in it.

Another is the emphasis on the bleakness of the setting.  The downright dourness of all the early settlers who faced a new world with God in their heart and a blunderbuss at their side. Pundits today who work overtime to take the humor from this modern day world would have fit right in. Eggers’ pilgrims have no sense of humor at all.

Of course the main theme here is the simplicity of the people who believed that God almighty was to be found everywhere if they only kept him in their heart. Eggers took this belief system and infused it with a twisted version of Hansel and Gretel, with a touch of “Little Red Riding Hood,” where the witch is not vanquished at all.

Considering the dire reviews that some gave The Witch when it came out, it seems that that Yorkshire accent and all those thy’s and thee’s and come hither’s may have put American audiences off. But “by ‘eck that were how they talked” back then.

(Thick Yorkshire accents are best understood by those who come from “God’s Country.” The rest of the human race have to really work at picking out about half of what is said.)

The film does offer something else in spades though; above and beyond the woodcutter link to a Grimm’s Fairy Tale or two.

The Witch has atmosphere and a sense of foreboding so powerful it practically leaps off the screen.  Watching the film is an exercise in tension. There is also  a feeling that Eggers may well be telling his version of Job in the new world. (One of the characters actually references that particular parable.)

The moment the family are banished from the “plantation” we know this is going to end badly for William (Ralph Ineson), Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their family. Sure enough, not long after relocating Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) is out playing peek-a-boo with the youngest family member when the baby boy is stolen between glances. 

Eggers throws a lot into the mix. He includes the hysteria from the Salem Witch Trials and the two smallest children of the family, after the theft of the baby, sound nothing like their parents or older siblings. The duo are thick as thieves and sound years older than they actually are.

The youngest children, after the baby is stolen, are damned creepy and disturbing.

The two  throw fits and mimic the gyrations of the young girls who were responsible for so many being punished for witchery in Massachusetts. This adds to the suspense and overall sense of foreboding that rules the film.

(There is a bit where a hand flies up to cradle young Caleb’s head, played brilliantly by Harvey Scrimshaw, and the very sight of the hand is enough to make the keyed up viewer gasp and jerk away from the screen.)

Most agree that Anya Taylor-Joy nails it in this film. Clearly this young actress is one to watch and she will be the next big thing in the acting world for a long time to come.

However, this was not a one person show. All the actors knocked it out of the park. Ineson with that deep resonant Yorkshire voice of authority, Dickie ringing the changes on her emotional toil and inner strength, Scrimshaw and his change after that meeting in the woods and the youngest actors: Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson were just brilliant.

Anyone watching this film may never want to go near a black goat again…ever. (Black Phillip was damned creepy full stop.) It may also go a long way toward explaining just how well the mixture of religious fervor and old fashioned superstition combined to create such an atmosphere of sheer dread.

It is interesting to note that one of the plot devices entailed Katherine rounding on Thomasin and making the girl’s life a misery. Since she has “come into womanhood” the mother insists that it is time for the child to leave.

This appears to be an British cultural issue and is even alluded to, in jest, in the John Ford film The Quiet Man. In the 1952 film, the conspiracy against Squire Danaher is that two grown women cannot live under the same roof. (It holds true to this day as this writer can firmly attest.)

The Witch may not be the scariest film made in 2015, it had some pretty decent competition, it is, however,  undoubtably the most unsettling and atmospheric horror film of the year.

Cinematographer Jarin Blashchke does a brilliant job in terms of lighting and each frame is nigh on perfect.  The sound is spot on while the sets and  the costumes feel authentic  right down to the smallest detail.

Fans appeared to be split in their reactions to the film. Most seeming to want or expect jump scares every two seconds. There are, at least a couple of these popcorn hurling moments in The Witch and they are far enough apart that each come as a surprise.

For those who appreciate a nuanced horror film that takes its time to set up the finale, The Witch is a 4.5 star film. It loses a half star for that, at times, impenetrable Yorkshire accent.

The film  is on Amazon Prime at the moment as well as other streaming and On-Demand platforms and available on DVD. Fans of horror films will want to check it out if they have not already. It is worth watching.

KFC: Having Your Cup and Eating It

Edible cups Seattle's Best Coffee picture

Quite tickled to read about KFC, the fast food chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken, putting edible coffee cups on sale in the United Kingdom. Two articles made it into the Entertainment section of Google News this morning each telling the world, oh so briefly, about this new phenomenon.

It seems that in honor of KFC being in the UK for 50 years, these experimental edibles are being offered as a celebratory “gift” to customers. Made of cookie, coated in sugar paper, which can be eaten, with a white chocolate lining inside (heat protection) and scented, the cups are made by The Robin Collective.

This “environmentally” friendly drinking utensil will offer the smell of freshly-cut grass, wild flowers and coconut sun cream.

What…The…Fudge?

Pardon my French but who wants to drink coffee that smells like sun cream, coconut or otherwise. This has got to be a gag, aka a punk, aka a practical joke. As any coffee connoisseur will gladly tell you, smell is an important part of drinking the stuff. Starbucks, for example, teach their Baristas what flavors and scents go with what coffees.

No one will want to eat a coffee cup that reeks of used coffee and grass unless they stand on four legs and give milk. The sun cream bit could be seen as sort of “yummy” but not with coffee. After reading about the olfactory descriptions I went over to The Robin Collective’s web site and found a blank page.

Still, my Internet is a bit dodgy so readers can mosey over and have a look for themselves. But…I still think something smells in the UK KFC news items. (You see what I did there?) And not of wild flowers either. The pictures on offer, from all two of these articles, show Seattle’s Best Coffee cups.

Would not the company started by the “colonel” want to have cups with his logo on it? Granted, there may not be any cups with the KFC stamp on them just yet, but that blank company page seems awfully suspicious.

On the other side of the coin, one article states that the press release references the “scents” and states that these will make the UK customers think of better weather and sunny skies. In a country where rain, fog, clouds and lack of sunshine are the norm, this does make a certain amount of sense.

This not so hidden dig at English weather also makes this seem like a practical joke in the making. But what if it is not? If KFC are really having edible cups made for their 50th, what scents do you think would trump the smells on offer?

Personally, I think they should be scented with Dutch Koekje. Nothing, in my honest opinion, beats the small cookies that were served up with a cup of coffee in Holland. Just the idea of the smell of these small delicacies is enough to bring out the Homer Simpson in me.

26 February 2015

The World Versus the USA

Still from Casino Royale

Sitting here in my temporary abode watching Daniel Craig in his first outing as 007, a film I first saw with a young inmate from the prison where I was working who was out on his first community visit, I had a brief thought about traveling done recently and realized that the world, in terms of travel versus the USA, are two very different experiences.

Despite the fact that quite a number of people in these modern times are accomplished world travelers, many having visited more exotic places than I ever have, there is still a large portion of the average man or woman who haven’t bothered to traverse the borders of their home country, indeed, some have never left their home state, or county.

Cruising the Internet, one can find any number of jobs that advertise for writers who want to travel. Presumably these men and women can provide information for Joe or Jane Average who may want to visit Guadalajara or some third world destination not yet on everyone’s tongue. A golden opportunity for those who wish to explore this rapidly shrinking globe and not too bothered about the pay packet being overly generous.

The part of the film that triggered this random observation was at the beginning. Bond is chasing the parkour specializing villain across a number of different film sets and the baddie is finally caught, and dispatched, at a foreign embassy of some African nation. This brought South Africa to mind, as I’d been there in 2013, hunting down several sources that informed the publication I worked for in those days that the great Nelson Mandela had died back in June. The world believed that Madiba was still fighting for life on a number of support systems and the man was not “allowed” to die until December that year.

South Africa Nelson Mandela House
Author at Nelson Mandela House Soweto 2013.

All this travel and adrenaline pulsing investigative journalism was very heady for an aged beginner. I met a few people who had very interesting stories to tell and one lady, a television news broadcaster, invited me back to speak with her as well as the chance to meet her husband who was a bright man rising pretty rapidly in the same political party as Mandela.

The trip had been scheduled for four days and there were still people I needed to meet. The ability to extend the ticket, and my stay, was not overly expensive, but enough that the publisher refused to borrow any more funds to allow the publication to continue questioning other sources.

Still, despite the shortness of the journey, much was learned. While not all of it was about the former world leader’s dying, or death, all facts gleaned were fascinating and not a little disturbing. For instance; there are a lot of Chinese in South Africa. Not just private citizens either. In the peninsula as well as Johannesburg and surrounding areas, there are military troops, weapons, vehicles and at least one, if not two, army bases that the Chinese out rightly own.

Other interesting facts included that many, as well as the government, believed that when Mandela was declared dead, massive civil war would break out and officials were prepared to turn the entire country into a police state and instigate martial law. This information was received from a very interesting source who was prepared to react to the prophecies of a Boer named Van Rensburg.

He was not alone in his beliefs, as quite a number of people were/are hoarding food, weapons, medical supplies and ammunition. Even the military were aware that something was happening. An Army major had information about Madiba’s June death and in the end; the man went into hiding after getting death threats. Before dropping out of sight, however, the officer told of how the police and the government were getting ready for civil unrest on a regular and very “low key” basis.

But the point behind this article was not the troubles of South Africa; it is about travel and the freedom of it in a country that still features wide-open spaces. For around 32 years I lived in a civilized yet crowded world. England was, and is, considered part of Europe by the US, although the truth was, and is, far different.

Travelling around Europe changed somewhat after the formalization of the EEC. Eventually there was that common currency, the Euro, which Great Britain never embraced and never will and the promise of border free travel never transpired either. England never agreed to the line of hassle free entry to the country and never will.

The World Versus the USA

Border free travel meant that the showing of passports, travel visas and other documents would become passé. Reality, however, was very different from the envisioned “United States of Europe.” As anyone who worked in the Her Majesty’s Prison Service can attest, illegal aliens flooded into the country with a variety of fake IDs, visas and other falsified documents.

Proof that these forms were still required. Al Qaeda along with 9/11 and other world terror attacks also proved that border constraints were needed, even though these passport control points do not deter terrorists. Other criminals also thumb their noses at these legal obstacles. In the UK, the only smugglers caught on a regular basis with a van full of cheap fags (cigarettes) or booze were the Terry and June couples who wanted to make a bit of side money.

(A side note of explanation: Terry and June was a very popular 1970s British sitcom about a middle-aged couple (Terry Scott and June Whitfield as Terry and June) who were perfectly cast as a comedic Mr. and Mrs. Average and the show was a classic.)

Professionals rarely get caught at the border, even those who specialize in human trafficking, Chinese immigrants along with other nationalities, are never caught unless it is by accident. While working security at a yeast factory near the docks of Felixstowe port in Suffolk, the police stopped by to warn me that around 40 Chinese immigrants had escaped from their cargo container and were roaming the grounds around the harbor.

The Port constable who spoke to me warned that they could be dangerous and not to approach them, but to ring them directly if spotted. He also said that this was not an uncommon occurrence despite an increase of officers around the port.

Felixstowe Port
Port of Felixstowe

Certainly the US has Mexico to the south of the country and apparently there is still an issue of illegal aliens crossing the border. Years ago, Mexico and Canada were the only places where one had to show passports on the same continent. Of course people are still stopped before entering California, but this is in the area of pestilence control, not people monitoring.

In essence, the entire country of the United States can be traversed without one bit of international identification. A driver’s license will suffice, or a driving permit, or other type of ID card will do nicely but none of these are required to pass from one state into the next. In fact if one pulls out an International driver’s license, the individual looking at it will pause and ask, “What’s this?”

Of course one thing that both forms of travel have in common is the difference between people met at different locales. Just as Europe has countries with different customs, ways of speaking and traditions that have been tailor made for that area, so too do states and within those states, various areas.

Just as the American people were divided into the North and South during the Civil War, there are divides between the East and the West as well. Clashes of vernacular, tastes in particular culinary specialties and slang terms for everyday things all vary, sometimes wildly, from town to town as well as state to state.

This is not peculiar to the US alone, in England there were also different terms for similar, if not the same, items. The humble sandwich was known as a “butty” and “sarnie” in various parts of the same country.

Still, this rumination is not about slang terms either. It is about travel and the way the rest of the world do it compared to the American mode of transport and the fact that average people do not need to have a passport to get from one end of the continent to the other.

The USA is really the “land of the car” and anyone who doesn’t believe that has never been without a vehicle for an extended period of time. In England, and Europe, public transport is commonplace. Certainly buses are used to a large degree in bigger towns and cities in the US, but in the UK alone, buses run not just in the cities and towns, but between small villages as well.

The World Versus the USA

In Europe, trains run practically everywhere and British Rail may not have quite the same reputation as, say, Holland whose trains are rarely late, the train service in England does try to reach most areas.

In the US trains are used mainly for movement of cargo and not people. In all honesty, that could have changed over the 32 years I lived overseas, but since my return, I’ve not seen one train station.

Cabs, or taxis, are expensive no matter where you reside.

So there you have it. My thoughts, such as they are, on travel. Nothing earth shattering, but some food for thought. I have realized that over 32 years in England spoiled me. Despite the fact that I, along with every other Brit living on that island, loathed public transport; it was available and pretty easy to figure out. No such system appears to exist outside, say New York or some of the larger metropolis type cities. What do you think? And before you answer, ask yourself this, “When is the last time you had to use your passport?”

21 January, 2015

Thanksgiving Tis the Season to Reflect

Thanksgiving

Well hello there! Time has shot by faster than a speeding super train and it is the day after Thanksgiving, or as I like to think of it, “Tis the season to reflect.” Soon enough it will be “Tis the season to be jolly,” but since I really feel I am here on borrowed time, I am a much jollier person all year round.

As I am not out and about today, Black Friday…shudder, I felt that a short visit to my poor neglected blog was in order whilst I put off cleaning my portion of the house. Procrastination added to recovering from Turkey day illness equals blog time…Apparently.

I feel quite guilty really, this whole blogging lark started a few years ago and now that I write full time for a living, Deputy Managing Editor/Senior Entertainment Editor for the Guardian Liberty Voice, I mostly link to articles which I post to the paper, since I do interviews and reviews of both film and television,there is not a lot of time left over for my little friend here.

I do have mates here who stop by and comment on my reviews (And to them I say a hearty, “Thank you!”) I am sure that at some point in the near future I will be spending a bit more time on here, but I cannot really say when.  Dealing day-to-day with getting used to my new life after almost dying is interesting, frustrating, fascinating, and time consuming.

So…where was I?

Oh yes, Thanksgiving and “Tis the Season to Reflect.” This has been my first Thanksgiving in the USA for a very, very long time. I have been back in the land of my birth since January 15 this year. Thankfully, (I need to mention the things I am thankful for, it is that time of year, after all.) my medical needs are met by the Veterans Administration folks and apart from not having a dental plan, as well as contemplating suing the dentist who messed up my mouth when he extracted on particularly painful tooth, health wise everything seems to be okay.

Thanksgiving

I do feel very much like a stranger in a strange land. Nothing is more puzzling and confusing than to have spent the majority of one’s life in another country (And becoming a citizen of said country.) and then returning to your home country to find you don’t particularly fit any longer. Having spent a lifetime learning how everything works in the United Kingdom has left me ill prepared for life in the United States.

Everything has changed, as I have, and even the food tastes different. I have become a supermarket ghost. Wandering aimlessly up and down aisles looking for something tasty, which in my case equates to the Brit food I’ve ingested for over 31 years and not finding any. I am not a noisy wraith while I shop for something that looks appetizing, although I do sometimes mutter under my breath with frustration…

I am counting down the days till I start writing about my time as a Prison Officer for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. I have had to wait as there is a rule that one cannot divulge anything for a two year time period after leaving the Queen’s employ. There is a certain amount of excitement attached to this upcoming project, I had some very interesting and entertaining times working with the juvenile criminals of Britain. I also had to stop working with some very special and dear people.

As yesterday was Thanksgiving, a day that I spent mostly either  dozing in my chair in front of the laptop or sleeping properly in my bed, today tis the day of my personal reflection since I pretty much missed the festivities. I had a lovely meal to attend and had to beg off there apologies all around and a bucket load of guilt was in order. My solo “sickbed” thoughts yesterday were about how odd life is and how diverse the path is to where we are at any particular moment.

Thanksgiving

Most prevalent in my musings was, and is, the thought of just how surreal this whole thing has been. My life recently has been full of dealing, meeting, interacting and writing about people that, until recently, I had no chance of seeing apart from on television or the big screen or the pages of a magazine. Speaking with wildly talented people whom I admire greatly has been a dream come true and funnily enough a dream that was never at the forefront of my mind.

My dreams, apart from wanting to be a writer from age 11 (Which has come true via the auspices of journalism.), have always been to be a professional actor, I have done this infrequently, last year working in a fellow blogger’s first professional film for festivals, but would love to do so more often. I may still get the chance, this is, after all, the land of opportunity (I should know, I was born here.)

At this point in time, I count myself successful, although sad that thousands of mile separate me and my lovely talented daughter and her fella as well as being closer to my son, who is very busy leading his own life so contact with my children is, sadly minimal. I am, however, doing a job I would do for free (“And getting paid!’ he said, cackling wildly) and everyday, I count my blessings and am very thankful that the “Big Guy” decided to keep me around that little bit longer. I missed the old “tis the season to be thankful” chance to have a spot of holiday refection “on the day,”  but since surviving my two close brushes with death in 2012, everyday is Thanksgiving to me.

By Michael Smith

Victoria’s Secret 2 Million Dollar Bras on Show in Las Vegas

Victoria’s Secret 2 Million Dollar Bras on Show in Las Vegas

Victoria’s Secret held their last sneak peak of the two $2 million bras at the Fashion Show Mall in downtown Las Vegas and while a cash amount could be placed on the brassieres, no dollar figure could be placed on the two models who presented the gemstone undergarments. Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio flew into Nevada to be a part of the last chance customers had to see the items live. In a few short weeks the two gorgeous Victoria’s Secret Angels will be wearing these “coveted” Fantasy Bras while strolling down the runway on December 2, 2014.