Black Death


Winter is here.

Winter is here.

(2010) Medieval Horror (Magnet) Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, Carice van Houten, John Lynch, Jamie Ballard, Andy Nyman, Johnny Harris, Emun Elliott, Tygo Gernandt, David Warner, Kimberley Nixon, Tobias Kasimirowicz, Keith Dunphy, Tim McInnerny, Marianne Graffam. Directed by Chris Smith

Back in the Dark Ages, the bubonic plague must have seemed like the end of the world. A pandemic that seemed to spare nobody, there was only rudimentary medical science and literally no protection against its ravages. Entire villages and even districts were wiped out by it.

So when a village seemed to be emerging unscathed from the horrors of the plague, the Church was suspicious. Witchcraft must be involved. Ulrich (Bean), a no-nonsense knight if ever there was one, is dispatched to the town to discover the truth and if necessary, put a stop to it. He enlists Osmund (Redmayne), a monk who knows the area well.

Osmund is pious but no saint. His girlfriend (Nixon) has been sent ahead into the forest to escape the plague. Osmund had plans to meet her there before being drafted. He joins (albeit reluctantly) Ulrich’s troop which includes a gleeful torturer (Nyman), a grim warrior (Lynch) and a mute killer (Gernandt). The group has issues, including being forced to strike down one of their own (Ballard) who is stricken by the plague, as well as having to take on bandits.

Eventually they reach the village which is seemingly controlled by two individuals – Hob (McInnerny) and Langiva (van Houten). During dinner, the me are drugged and put into a water-filled cage in the swamp while Osmund is given a horrible decision regarding his girlfriend whom he’d feared was dead. And the fears of the Church may not be entirely unfounded when it seems that there is a necromancer in the village who is powerful enough to raise the dead…

Smith is best known in this country for Severance but has actually directed several nifty little horror films in Britain. He is known for some fairly gritty films, but this might be the grittiest. This is not a Sword in the Stone England where everything is clean and healthy but what it really was like; foul, filthy and full of pestilence.

Good thing he’s got Sean Bean. Bean, who has of late made his medieval mark on Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and the first season of Game of Thrones on HBO is just as great here. He is strong, a great fighter, an inspiring leader but not without faults. His belief in the Church is staunch and unwavering but his unquestioning faith leads him to do acts that are most certainly unholy.

Redmayne is perfectly suited for the role of the pious Osmund. Osmund is terribly conflicted; on the one hand there are the vows to the church but on the other his forbidden love. Redmayne captures this division nicely and Osmund’s terrible dilemma is made very relatable. Van Houten, one of the best actresses in the Netherlands (if you haven’t seen Black Book by all means go out and rent it) plays the femme fatale to the hilt, and gives Langiva a very sensuous edge. The veteran character actor McInnerny also has a deliciously bad side to him.

The two sides – the Church and the pagans – don’t distinguish themselves here which makes it tough to have a rooting interest (it’s Osmund by default). That makes for a pretty grim fairy tale and that can get taken to extremes. The battle scenes are pretty violent and there’s nothing clean about them. There are no Errol Flynn acrobatics, no Lord of the Rings legerdemain, just a bunch of guys hacking away at each other with pointy things which was pretty much what medieval warfare was all about.

You may wonder what point there is to the movie with the ending which is, like the rest of the movie, pretty much a downer. I’m not sure you really need to look for one. This is a pretty strong movie that has overtones of horror, action and fantasy. However, don’t look here if you’re looking for the feel-good movie of the year. Then again, if you’re looking in the feel-good movie of the year it’s unlikely you’d be in the horror section anyway.

WHY RENT THIS: Spot-on re-creation of medieval England. Strong performances by Bean, Redmayne and van Houten.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Occasionally overly brutal in the violence. Ending seems a bit pointless. Might be a bit too unrelentingly grim for some.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence can be pretty intense in places. There are also a few bad words scattered about.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rupert Friend was originally cast as Osmund but was eventually replaced by Redmayne.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is some behind-the-scenes footage (separate from the standard making-of featurette) and some interviews with the filmmakers.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $265,318 on an unreported production budget; I think it unlikely that the film was profitable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Centurion

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Meek’s Cutoff

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Eye of the Hurricane


 

Eye of the Hurricane

Grant Collins' Popeye impression never fails to get a laugh.

(2012) Drama (EntertainmentOne) Melanie Lynskey, Brian Doyle-Murray, Nicola Peltz, Campbell Scott, Jose Zuniga, Gregory Cruz, Grant Collins, Wendi Motte, Joyce Guy, Colin Ford, Eddie Bowz, Andrew Wilson Williams, Ben Sabet, Christopher James Forrest, Julie Ann Dinneweth. Directed by Jesse Wolfe

 

What happens during a natural disaster is sometimes not nearly as devastating as what happens in its aftermath. Sometimes the worst part of picking up the pieces is realizing that the pieces will never be reassembled in quite the same way ever again.

A small town in Florida has been hit by a devastating hurricane and stands in ruins. Electricity and water are out and most of the residents live in a tent city. Amelia Kyte (Lynskey) is in a state of shock; her husband, who flies a hurricane hunter for the Air Force, hasn’t returned and she holds vigil at the local base (which itself was severely damaged in the storm) until she gets some news, which isn’t forthcoming. In fact, she isn’t even allowed on the base nor will anyone in charge talk to her about the fate of her husband, or whether he is alive or dead or even missing.

She is far too involved in her own grief to pay much attention to her children; 16-year-old Renee (Peltz) who is forced to fill out forms and watch out for her little brother, 9-year-old Homer (Collins) who lost his eye in the storm. Homer is sure that if they find the missing eye that it can be put back in his head no harm no foul. To this end he enlists Abby Nelson (Motte), his best friend and maybe the toughest girl in town.

A local fisherman, Bill Folsom (Scott), is trying to extract his boat out of the water where it is blocking the ramp, irking other fishermen who know that the ramp is needed for the crane they’ve hired to pull their own boats out of the water as well. Bill is sweet on Amelia and has been for a long time. He keeps watch on Homer as much as he can, but has a tendency to do and say the wrong thing – like telling Homer tales about the Seminole (Cruz), a local figure reputed to have magical powers. Eventually, Homer gets it into his head that the Seminole might be able to use his magic to help find Homer’s eye.

Bill is trying to work some magic of his own, spending nights and what’s left of his cash to repair Amelia’s house and making it livable again so that maybe he could move in there with her sometime down the line. In the meantime, Renee has fallen for a married relief worker (Zuniga) and is frustrated and fed off with her mom who is completely self-absorbed. By the time word finally comes through and Amelia re-joins the land of the living, it may well be too late to repair the rift that has grown between her and her daughter – or to save her son, whose own obsession has led him to attempt something incredibly dangerous.

I really wanted to like this movie; the premise is intriguing and there are some solid performers in the cast. Unfortunately, there are also a whole lot of logical lapses. For one thing, no military base – even one that’s compromised as this one was – is going to allow the wife of one of their own to sit outside their gates wondering if her husband is dead or alive. They would at least give her some information and if not, assign someone to help her family out. They wouldn’t just leave her hanging like that.

And FEMA be damned, the Red Cross wouldn’t have one or two case workers to handle a tent city like that. A place like that would be swarming with personnel and there’d be evidence of electrical workers trying to restore power. Here the town is left pretty much left forgotten and yet it’s possible to drive to Miami where there are lights, bars that are open and serving beer to minors. I’m not sure if the filmmakers knew the legal drinking age here is 21, but they depict beer being served to people clearly identified as 16 years old without being carded. No bar is going to risk their liquor license like that.

Those are just the few off the top of my head but you get the drift. Little things like that annoy me, I have to admit. What’s worse is that the juvenile actors cast in the parts of Abby and Homer don’t come off as being real kids. That might be because the parts weren’t written that way, but they act more like kids on a TV show rather than kids who have been through a major disaster and in Homer’s case, have been injured to the tune of a lost eye. While I can see Homer’s obsession with recovering that eye and of boredom and lack of supervision causing them to get into trouble, there are times that Homer just is too much like Bobby Hill in “King of the Hill;” a little bit too snarky. Same goes for Abby; she was acting like a kid out of a Tyler Perry movie.

The sad thing there’s really a movie here. Scott, Lynskey, Zuniga and Peltz all deliver solid performances and while Lynskey’s Amelia was annoying early on as you got to know the situation her motivations became pretty clear and suddenly she was a bit more sympathetic.

It’s really hard sometimes to critique efforts like this; for one thing, we’re not talking big budget Hollywood productions here and I know that the filmmakers want to tell the story the best way they can. Unfortunately, I can’t in all conscience say that I liked this movie and I can’t for the same reason recommend it without a whole lot of caveats.

REASONS TO GO: Scott, Lynskey, Peltz and Zuniga do well.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many lapses in logic. Juvenile actors too inconsistent.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there and some implied sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted on March 15 at the Omaha Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trouble the Water

SWAMP BOAT LOVERS: There are several different types of boats regularly used in Florida swamps and the Everglades on display here, from rowboats to skiffs to power boats.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Girl Model

Creature (2011)


Creature

Sid Haig keeps mementos from his stripping career.

(2010) Horror (The Bubble Factory) Mehcad Brooks, Serinda Swan, Sid Haig, Dillon Casey, Lauren Schneider, Aaron Hill, Amanda Fuller, Wayne Pere, David Jensen, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Daniel Bernhardt, Jennifer Lynn Warren, Rebekah Kennedy. Directed by Fred Andrews

Some movies try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible while other movies go after a very specific audience. This is one of the latter. If you don’t like monster movies of the late 70s and 80s, just move along. You won’t find much to admire here.

A group of friends are taking a road trip to New Orleans and are taking a backwoods route to get there. They stop at a convenience store in the middle of nowhere for a bathroom break and to replenish the beer supply. Oscar (Casey) is intrigued by a little shrine to a local legend, a creature that is half man, half gator named Lockjaw. The establishment’s proprietor Chopper (Haig) explains that the cabin where the creature lived as a human is still around and gives them directions. Of course, you know they’re going to go.

We have a couple of ex-Marines in the group, including  the over-protective brother Randy (Hill) his girlfriend Beth (Fuller), his sister Emily (Swan), her boyfriend (the other ex-Marine) Niles (Brooks) and Oscar’s sister Karen (Schneider). Throw in a trio of redneck trailer trash for good measure and you’ve got a party.

Of course, what’s a party without a monster to crash it? And what’s a monster without a town hiding a secret to support it? And what’s a movie like this without lots of bare breasts, bloodletting and a really bad monster suit?

This is a lot of cheesy good fun. Those who loved movies like Humanoids of the Deep and The Pit are going to love this. It’s not going to win any acting awards, nor is it going to change your life. It’s just about having a good time in a dark theater (or on your couch) without expending a whole lot of brain power.

Most of the women get topless at one time or another (other than Swan) and almost all of them have some sort of sex scene, which is about par for the course. The men are plenty hunky enough and get chewed up and spit out in all sorts of enjoyable ways by the rubber suited predator. Oddly enough, almost nobody gets eaten – except for the prologue.

This isn’t rocket science and it isn’t lobotomy-inducing either. The movie sets out to be a certain kind of movie and it more than achieves its modest goals. For those who wish there were more movies like this out there, be sure and rent it when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray – or better still buy it so you can slo-mo through the bouncing boobies and bloody carnage to your hearts delight.

REASONS TO GO: Sid Haig an B-movie monster goodness.

REASONS TO STAY: Confusing plot and been-there-done-that story. Cheesy monster suit.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of gore and creature violence, some sexuality, a lot of nudity (especially for these PC times), a bit of drug use and of course, lots of cuss words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of two movies that was distributed by Miramax whose release was delayed due to the purchase of the company by Colony Capital. The company eventually made a distribution deal with Focus.

HOME OR THEATER: Mostly gone from theaters now so I’d definitely go the home video route.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: It’s Kind of a Funny Story