Season of the Witch


Season of the Witch

Oh, those kinky Catholics!

(2011) Supernatural Action (Relativity) Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Campbell Moore, Robert Sheehan, Ulrich Thomsen, Christopher Lee, Stephen Graham, Rory McCann. Directed by Dominic Sena

In a land ruled by fear, decimated by plague and depleted by war, innocence and guilt can be more of a matter of political expedience. Fingers, looking for blame to point at, may choose the most convenient target.

Behmen (Cage) and Felson (Perlman) are medieval knights, pledged to the service of the Church in the Crusades of the 13th century. For a dozen years, they labor in the Lord’s army, smiting down the infidels and butchering the soldiers of God’s enemies. When they are ordered to put an entire city to the sword, butchering innocent women and children, Behmen balks.  He rejects his oath and deserts from the army, his faithful pal Felson walking off with him.

They return to Europe to find it in the grip of the Black Plague, victims rotting in their beds. They ride into a town to purchase horses and supplies but they are recognized – apparently word travels fast in Medieval Europe – and arrested. In order to avoid execution, they agree to transport an accused witch (Foy) to a remote abbey where the last copy of the Key of Solomon, a document containing all the spells meant to exorcise demons and destroy witches, resides.

They will be accompanied by Debalzaq (Moore), a zealous priest and Eckhart (Thomsen), a grieving knight whose entire family (including his beloved daughter Mila) had been taken by the plague. They also recruit Hagamar (Graham), a swindler who is the only one who knows the way to the abbey. Behmen, weary of killing the innocent, agrees to go on the condition the girl gets a fair trial at the abbey and is not just summarily executed.

Along the way they’ll deal with escape attempts, a precarious bridge, a wolf-infested forest and things that go bump in the night. The journey is so perilous and things go wrong so coincidentally that it’s not a coincidence even Behmen wonders if the girl may not actually be a witch. 

This movie was a victim of MGM’s financial difficulties passing from studio to studio, release date to release date. It’s actually been in the can for two years but only just saw the light of day as the first wide release of 2011, which may sound like an honor but is generally bad news for a movie; usually the first weekend of the year is absolute death for a new release, competing against the big releases over the Christmas week.

I think that some of the critics who saw this were predisposed to disliking the film given its checkered past. It’s gotten really horrible reviews and I found some of the criticism unfair. Quite frankly, this is an action movie with horror overtones that’s not meant to be a serious study of life during the Black Plague; it’s supposed to be fun and mindless, and boy does it succeed in that regard.

Nicolas Cage has taken his lumps as an actor of late, and he has taken his lumps for this performance. He underplays the role big time, leaving his over-the-top twitchiness which he often employs at home. Behmen is terse and all business; it’s perfect for what the role requires.

I’ve always liked Ron Perlman. He’s great not only in the Hellboy movies but in virtually every role he assays, going back to his “Beauty and the Beast” days. He has enormous presence and he can take over a movie without thinking about it. Here, he acts as a great foil to Cage and they play nicely off of one another. It’s a bit of a buddy movie in that regard. 

Graham, who was recently seen as Capone in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” is fine in a small role. Foy mostly gets to cower although she has a few moments where she displays her considerable sexuality. However, of all the backing players Moore is the most memorable, walking a fine line of the character’s dogmatic devotion to the Church and his desire to be a caring prelate. Christopher Lee is unrecognizable in a brief cameo as a cardinal stricken by the plague – that’s him on the bed in the photo above.

The action sequences are fairly well-done, although the battle sequences from the Crusades at the movie’s beginning are almost all filmed with hand-held cameras which is annoying as all get-out. There are a number of battles placed back-to-back with minimal differences, which drag on far too long. The point could easily have been made with a single sequence and a few lines of dialogue.

Most of the special effects are practical make-up effects until near the end. The climactic battle is well done, and the shots of plague victims are stomach-churning but in a good way. While the vistas are meant to portray a dying land, the Austrian Alps are far too beautiful to have their majesty hidden by mud for too long. It isn’t what I’d call grand sweeping cinematography but it suffices.

This really isn’t a bad movie at all. There are far worse movies out there wrestling for your entertainment dollar but the horror aspects might be putting off a certain segment of the audience while the medieval fantasy elements put off another. It’s a tough sell, but at the end of the day, it succeeds in entertaining and you can’t really ask for more from a movie than that.

REASONS TO GO: Decent special effects and solid performances by Cage, Perlman and Moore made this a better movie than I expected.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many battle sequences in shaky-cam style and a few action film clichés submarine what could have been a really strong movie.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of violence and some disturbing horror imagery. In addition, there’s some brief nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Key of Solomon is an actual work, a grimoire attributed to the biblical king but more likely first produced during the Italian Renaissance. Several editions exist today.  

HOME OR THEATER: While a few of the scenes are definitely better on a big screen, the movie works just as effectively on the small.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Quarantine

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New Releases for the Week of January 7, 2011


January 7, 2010

Gwynneth Paltrow is a little bit country.

COUNTRY STRONG

(Screen Gems) Gwynneth Paltrow, Tim McGraw, Garrett Hedlund, Leighton Meester, Marshall Chapman, Jeremy Childs, Cinda McCain, Alana Grace, Katie Cook. Directed by Shana Feste

A promising young country singer-songwriter gets involved with a fading superstar who has had some substance abuse problems and embarks on a tour with her (along with a beauty queen turned singer) for one last stab at recapturing her former glory, as organized by her husband slash manager. However, their inner demons, romantic entanglements and egos threaten to derail the tour – and their careers.

See the trailer, promos, interviews, music videos and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content)

Inspector Bellamy

(IFC) Gerard Depardieu, Clovis Cornillac, Jacques Gamblin, Marie Bunel. A respected chief of police chooses to spend his vacation time at the family estate of his wife, despite her desire to take a nice, long, well-deserved cruise. The fact is, he hates to travel and there’s always an excuse not to – as when his alcoholic younger half-brother arrives, followed by a wanted man who shows up demanding Bellamy’s protection. Job…life…job…life…so many decisions!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard,

Genre: Suspense

Rating: NR

Season of the Witch

(Relativity) Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Christopher Lee. A hero from the Crusades is tasked by the church to transport a young girl convicted of witchcraft to a remote abbey where she will be destroyed during an ancient ritual. The hero is unconvinced of her guilt, while others are convinced she’s responsible for the Black Plague. Some people just need a scapegoat.

See the trailer, interviews and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Supernatural Action

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, violence and disturbing content)

Four-Warned: January 2011


January 2011

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either. The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief comment

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE
1. THE GREEN HORNET (1.4)
2. COMPANY MEN (2.0)
3. THE RITE (2.1)
4. SEASON OF THE WITCH (2.3)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)
1. ONG BAK 3 (2.1)
2. THE WAY BACK (2.3)
3. THE HOUSEMAID (2.4)
4. SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (2.5)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JANUARY 1, 2011

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (Giant Flick) Genre: Adventure. Sinbad must travel to dangerous distant lands to rescue the sultan’s daughter. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 If it is as imaginative as the old Ray Harryhausen versions, this could be a winner.

JANUARY 7, 2011

SEASON OF THE WITCH (Relativity) Genre: Supernatural Action. A heroic crusader is charged with transporting a convicted witch to a distant monastery where the monks will perform a ritual to reverse the curse she’s placed on the land. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 Oft-delayed, studio switched and early January release date usually spells disaster but I’m nonetheless intrigued.
THE TIME THAT REMAINS (IFC) Genre: Drama. A look at the creation of the state of Israel from its beginnings in 1948 up through modern times. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 I’m still not quite sure what the point of this movie is.

JANUARY 14, 2011

BARNEY’S VERSION (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. An ordinary man who’s lived an extraordinary life tells his version of the events in it. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 2.8 An extraordinary cast (Paul Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman, Minnie Driver) in an ordinary movie that was a festival mainstay this year.
THE DILEMMA (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A man on the eve of the biggest deal of his career sees his best friend and business partner’s wife cheating on him and resolves to tell him about it. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Controversy over the use of the word “gay” in the trailer brought this movie into the public eye initially.
EVERY DAY (Image) Genre: Drama. A man in the throes of a midlife crisis deals with a flirtatious office worker, a crumbling manager and a sick and embittered father-in-law who is force to stay with them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 Liev Schreiber, Helen Hunt, Carla Gugino and Brian Dennehy are an enviable cast; the trailer looked interesting.
THE GREEN HORNET (Columbia) Genre: Superhero Action. With the help of his late father’s confidante, a young ne’er do well determines to succeed his crusading newspaper publisher father as a more direct crimefighter. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.4 I have to admit I wasn’t so sure about casting Seth Rogen as Britt Reid but the trailer looks good.
ONG BAK 3 (Magnet) Genre: Martial Arts Action. The series concludes with an epic conflict between good and demon. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.1 Some of the best martial arts movies of the last decade have been in this series.

JANUARY 21, 2011

THE COMPANY MEN (Weinstein) Genre: Drama. Three laid off executives must re-define their lives as husbands, fathers and men. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.0 Moved forward from October to December to January, not a good sign.
THE HOUSEMAID (IFC) Genre: Thriller. A beautiful young maid for a wealthy family becomes pregnant by the husband, a secret which threatens to explode. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 This is a remake of a 1960 Korean film which is considered to be one of the best movies ever produced from that country.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED (Paramount) Genre: Romantic Comedy. A couple of friends develop a physical relationship but find that they want something more. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman make an attractive couple but the premise sounds a bit empty to me.
THE WAY BACK (Newmarket) Genre: True War Story. The true story of a group of soldiers who escape a Siberian gulag and make a long trek on foot to freedom. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.3 Peter Weir directs an outstanding cast in a film that won great accolades on the European festival circuit.

JANUARY 28, 2011

FROM PRADA TO NADA (Pantelion) Genre: Romantic Comedy. Two sisters living a life of luxury in Beverly Hills are forced to relocate to Boyle Heights after daddy passes away where they learn something of their Latina heritage. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 I think I may have seen this movie before, although not in Spanish.
IP MAN 2: LEGEND OF THE GRANDMASTER (Mandarin) Genre: Martial Arts. Martial Arts master Ip Man escapes the Japanese occupation only to run into the hard line British colonial rule of Hong Kong. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 This has been breaking box office records across Asia.
THE MECHANIC (CBS) Genre: Action. A professional assassin reluctantly takes the son of his mentor under his wing. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.5 A remake of a 1972 Charles Bronson film.
POETRY (Kino International) Genre: Drama. A free-spirited South Korean grandmother discovers she has Alzheimer’s as she is taking a poetry course. Release Strategy: New York City only. RATING: 2.7 Sounds a bit schmaltzy but this could be another Korean cinematic gem.
THE RITE (New Line) Genre: Horror. An unorthodox priest introduces a skeptical novice to the nature of true evil, hidden in one of the holiest places on Earth. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 Hannibal Lecter as an exorcist? The mind boggles.
SECONDS APART (After Dark) Genre: Horror. A pair of murderous twins shares the power of telekinesis between them. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.6 With After Dark shedding their horror festival format this year this is their first release as a distributor.
WHEN WE LEAVE (Olive) Genre: Drama. A Turkish woman flees an abusive relationship, only to have her family attempt to return her son to his abusive father. Release Strategy: New York/Los Angeles. RATING: 3.1 Said to be a meticulously researched look into the Turkish culture.

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

Season of the Witch, The Dilemma, The Green Hornet, The Mechanic, The Rite