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Notes from the Back Row

Fairy tale roots



Go to the library and check out the original Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales and you’ll find dark and twisted worlds full of cunning witches, ravenous monsters, and lots of examples of children being beaten and starved. Quality stuff really, good social criticisms on mankind’s overall lack of courage too.

Now remember back to your youth, when Disney and all the other pansies started retelling the Grimm’s tales with smiling dwarves and lots of singing and happiness instead of brutal revenge and eating children whole. These old stories suddenly had a lot more "fairy" in them than "Grimm." And very little has changed with The Brothers Grimm , a PG-13 kiddies’ version of the classic tales opening Friday at the Village 8.

The film stars Matt Damon as Wilhelm Grimm and Heath Ledger as his brother Jake. The young men are traveling through a bleak Napoleonic-era Germany posing as ghost hunters, ghoul slayers, and story collectors. Actually they’re charlatans – con men who fleece poor serfs and peasants by "defeating" random monsters who are really their assistants dressed in Scooby Doo style costumes and running around on ropes and trap doors. Amidst it all the Grimms are captured by the French and charged with having shitty English accents even though they’re supposed to be German.

Actually the bros are sent to a run-down town called Marbaden, where nine girls have disappeared and the locals blame the token haunted woods and evil witch queen. Wil and Jake are given the option of finding the girls, abolishing the horrors (real this time) or having their heads separated from their shoulders.

Pragmatic bean counter Wil and magic-believing storyteller Jake team up with a sexy wood cutter’s daughter (Lena Headey) and, after a bunch of semi-tense CGI scenes, they’re squaring off against Monica Bellucci, the aging sorceress whose been capturing young maidens in an effort to stay young.

What’s cool about The Brothers Grimm is that it’s directed by Terry Gilliam ( 12 Monkeys, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and while it may be his worst work to date it’s still quirky, weird, and beautiful to look at. Gilliam’s worst is better than most director’s honest efforts.

The slapstick comedy aspects drag it down a bit, and while Damon and Heath are too pretty boy to be true masters of horror, their characters and the script do at least attempt to push a Fantasy vs. Reality theme, which should have been investigated further.

Fans of the original tales will enjoy the many references to red hiding hoods, mirrors on the wall, dropped bread crumbs and magic beans. It’s kind of cool how Gilliam and calculating, by-the-book screenwriter Ehren Kruger ( The Ring) worked the original tales into their post-modern, sometimes nightmarishly surreal, often predictable, could-have-been-better-but-still-cool-thanks-to-Gilliam shout out to two of literature’s most important figures. Really, read their collection of stories. They’re grim, that’s for sure.

What’s not nearly as grim is The Cave , the latest sci-fi/creature/new-species-that-wants-to-kill-us-all movie that’s, you guessed it, PG-13. People always think the best movies come out in the summer but actually that’s when most of the child-pandering garbage comes out. Hollywood is only capable of about three good PG-13 movies a year, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the only one I can remember seeing lately.

But we’re supposed to be talking about The Cave and how "there are places man was never meant to go." Yippee. I saw The Abyss, Species, Anaconda too. Most of us made it that time and I’m sure we’ll survive this one too. Forget the dark holes of Hollywood and go to the library for the Grimm books. They’ve got free DVDs there too.

AT VILLAGE 8 Aug. 26-Sept. 1: The Cave; Brothers Grimm; 40 Year Old Virgin; Wedding Crashers; Dukes of Hazzard; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Red Eye; Valiant; Skeleton Key; March of the Penguins.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Aug. 26-Sept. 1: Land Of The Dead.