Monthly Archives: January 2011

Review – Season of the Witch (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 1.5/5

When one goes to see films like Solomon Kane, The Kingdom of Heaven or Eragon, one invariably goes with low expectations: the lower the expectations, the less chance of disappointment (even if you enjoy the genre). Season of the Witch very much comes into this bracket of poor films wherein one has to aim low in order for it to be remotely worth watching.

Felson (Ron Perlman) and Behmen (Nicholas Cage) as knights of the Church telling a fellow crusader of their intention to quit the fight against the Muslims.

The movie is set between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Europe, during the time of the Crusades. Behmen (Nicolas Cage – Face/Off, Con Air, Joe) and Felson (Ron Perlman – Hellboy I & II, Conan The Barbarian) are knights fighting for Christ and God against the Muslims until they become disillusioned with the Church. Subsequently, they desert and go back to Austria. But on their return, they find the towns and villages ravaged by bubonic plague. It is said that a witch (Claire Foy – Little Dorrit) has brought this affliction upon the land; for wherever she goes, so does the contagious disease.

It is decided by the local cleric that the witch must be taken to another town to be tried by the most learned priests in the country. The cleric believes that by charging her with witchcraft, God will end the plague. Thus, it is up to Behmen and Felson to take her to this town. A handful of others join them. But the road is dangerous and few have ever ridden it. (Fewer still have returned to tell the tale.) And with the witch travelling with them, unforeseen problems will arise.

The plot is probably a little more entertaining than that. But whether the storyline is the basis for the film’s entertainment is doubtful. The special effects (if one can call them that) throughout Season of the Witch are appalling. Likewise is the acting and the dialogue. Arguably, the thick American accents of Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, despite being in medieval Europe, epitomise the pathetic and comic nature of the film’s production.

Despite these, there are aspects of Season of the Witch that give the film amateurish respectability. The sarcastic humour/banter between Behmen and Felson makes for some amusement; especially, when their wry remarks are aimed at the corruption of the Church. Similarly, the witch’s devilish smile keeps one guessing whether she is actually a witch or a mere victim of a medieval witch-hunt.

The witch (Claire Foy) is caged up as she is transported to her trial. There are few who doubt that she’s not guilty of spreading the epidemic to wherever she turns up.

The historical features of the film are also quite accurate. Whilst Behmen and Felson are undoubtedly fictional characters, the battles they fought in are not. Additionally, the director, Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish), has shown medieval villages and towns for what they really were: crap-holes. Very often, Hollywood glosses over these details by making towns and villages appear relatively clean, and by making the inhabitants of such places look happy. In Season of the Witch, there is none of this. Sewage, smoke, rubbish, mud, dirt, rats, plague and misery are part of everyday life for the folks here (just like it was for our ancestors) and are well detailed. Indeed, after seeing some of these scenes, one can understand why the Black Death used to spread like wildfire until hygiene became the general consensus.

Over-all, one can put together a long list of reasons for why not to see Season of the Witch. The film has very little saving grace. For those who don’t like the genre, one may struggle to justify finishing the movie. For those who do enjoy the genre, one is left to laugh at how poorly it has been produced. However, that and very low expectations are what saves Season of the Witch from total disaster.

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Review – 127 Hours (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

‘Caught between a rock and a hard place’ – we’ve all heard the metaphor at some point in our lives. Usually, it is adopted at a moment of indecisiveness or prevarication. For some of people, the phrase may even define their personality. But in July 2003, Aron Ralston discovered its literal meaning and 127 Hours brings to light his remarkable story in great detail.

Aron, played by James Franco, enjoying a stroll in the Grand Canyon. Little does he know that a slight loss of balance is going to change his life forever.

In the summer heat, Aron Ralston (James Franco – Spiderman I, II & III, Your Highness) goes for a cycle and a hike in the Grand Canyon. Since Aron is a guide, he knows the terrain well. He climbs, jumps and walks around as if he owns the place until a small slip sends him tumbling several metres down a narrow gap in the ground. Worse, a boulder falls with Aron and virtually cements his arm between it and the rocky wall. Aron is stuck and very-much alone. He has little food and water, and no means of contacting the outside world. For one hundred and twenty-seven hours (over five days), Aron remains there until the fear of death forces him to make the painful sacrifice of cutting off his trapped arm with a mere pen-knife (and no anaesthetic!) so as to carry on living.

The plot may sound uneventful as more than an hour of the film is based round a man stuck in a still, but frightening situation. Yet, that is far from true. One watches with anticipation what Aron will do in an attempt to move the bolder. Indeed, some of the innovations he comes up with are very intelligent. That he does these things without the use of a hand makes them all the more impressive.

However, 127 Hours would not be half as decent if it were not for James Franco. Franco illustrates here that he has matured as an actor since his semi-pitiful displays in the Spiderman movies. In this film, it is almost solely up to him to keep the audience stimulated for over ninety minutes, and he easily achieves this. Franco superbly portrays Aron before and, especially, after the fall. The all-too-real look of horror in his eyes when he initially realises the depth of his predicament is one that few will forget in a hurry. The different stages he goes through, before doing the unthinkable, are also very interesting.

Franco’s performance is utterly realistic and the tribute for giving him this platform must go to the director, Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, The Beach, Trance). One scene in particular, although gory to the point of making one want to vomit (unless one is used to watching the Saw series), is done exceptionally well and with graphic detail.

Aron feeling down and helpess as he can’t move the boulder that has trapped his right arm.

Yet, Boyle also lets himself down a bit. One needs to be brave to make a film like this (especially if he/she wants to make a handsome profit); but, unfortunately, Boyle lacked the courage of Rodrigo Cortés, the director of Buried (which is literally about Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for ninety-odd minutes with a lighter and a mobile phone.) By putting in music and other noises whilst Aron is jammed, Boyle takes away some of the realism in 127 Hours because this would not have happened.

Another criticism of the movie is that one never gets a sense of just how long, boring and lonely it must have been for Aron during those one hundred and twenty-seven hours. One may see the sun rise and fall a few times, or watch Aron gradually run out of water or reminisce over and over again about the mistakes he’s made in his life; but this only captures the length of time he was stuck there for on a superficial level.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws, 127 Hours is entertaining and Franco’s acting fully justifies the nominations that he’s been lined up for. The movie is also truthful and has a nice pseudo-religious dimension to it. Above-all, 127 Hours shows us that, even when caught between a rock and a hard place, mankind’s resilience is extraordinary.

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Review – The Next Three Days (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

I’ve heard that some men will die (or kill) for their woman (metaphorically, at least). However, I’ve never heard anyone say that they’ll study every weakness in the government’s prison system in order to get their lover out of jail. There is probably a reason for it and The Next Three Days illustrates why this might be the case.

John, being a good husband, visits his wife in prison.

Early on in the film, Lara (Elizabeth Banks – Zack and Miri make a Porno, Spiderman IIII), is arrested by the police and sentenced to jail for life for murdering her boss. This leaves John (Russell Crowe – Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Les Misérables), her husband and philosophy teacher/lecturer, to look after their son, Luke. Convinced that his wife is innocent, John seeks the advice of Damon (Liam Neeson – Schindler’s List, Star Wars I, Unknown), a man who has escaped from prison a staggering seven times, to find out a way of getting Lara out illegally. John learns from Damon what he must do to free her and how difficult it will be to beat the counter-measures the state-police have in place to stop escapees from running beyond their reach. For three years, John plans every step and waits for the right moment to strike.

Whilst perhaps a little far-fetched for it to be realistic, the plot makes for The Next Three Days to be full of pulsating tension. Yet, it fails to deliver on this for much of the movie. Part of this is because the fast-beating music is inadequate and, mostly, incorrectly timed. Additionally, the film is too long. There is no need for it to last two hours and twenty minutes. If it would have been half an hour shorter, it would have made for a much better film as only the last forty-five minutes is particularly interesting.

The plans are complete and John, loading up his James Bond-like pistol, is ready to put them into effect to save his wife from a life-time behind bars.

The storyline has its exciting moments; but there are many holes in it. One cannot help but ask oneself why John’s work as a teacher is not affected by his excessive (or, rather, obsessive) workings at day and night? Or why no-one notices his plans to free his wife from prison which are on a wall in a room in his house? Or why John never questions his own sanity? Also, escaping is not an end in of itself. One still has to go with mundane, daily chores after escaping. But, unfortunately, the director, Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale, The Quantum of Solace), does not deal with these issues.

Despite the gaps in the plot, the actors do not do their credentials harm. Indeed, the acting is consistently average throughout the movie: neither especially bad nor great. Nor are they ever tested, which is a bit of a shame because it could have added another dimension (and possibly a realistic element) to the storyline. Instead, we have to watch Russell Crowe kill the dregs of society to give the film some (cheesy) action in a vain attempt for entertainment.

Thus, all in all, The Next Three Days is a disappointment. Whilst, at first glance, the film may look thrilling, if unoriginal (after-all, how many times have we seen a movie about a prison breakout?); it is not as fascinating as it should have been. It might also explain why there is no colloquial expression for someone to free another person from jail. It is far simpler just to say you’ll die (or kill) for them.

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Review – The King’s Speech (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

The term ‘born for greatness’ is one often used to describe the life of king. Nevertheless, it is a vague term: one that does not give a remote hint to the strains and struggles that comes with achieving great feats. The King’s Speech illustrates a form of such a challenge with the brilliance of a masterpiece.

Bertie, played by Colin Firth, gives a speech at Wembley in the mid-1920s that goes awry due to his stammer.

The film centres on Bertie (Colin Firth – Bridget Jones’ Diary, Dorian Gray, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the future King George VI of Britain (1936-52), who has a terrible stammer, and how he must overcome this stammer in order to compete with the other great orators of his era, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. When it becomes clear that his older brother, David (Guy Pearce – Memento, The Hurt Locker, Prometheus), the future King Edward VIII (abdicated in 1936), would rather marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), a twice-divorced American woman, than take up the throne, the necessity for Bertie to speak more eloquently becomes paramount. After-all, he is next in line.

After trying several therapists for years, Bertie turns to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush – Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, Shakespeare In Love) and his unconventional methods to help solve the problem. By taking us through stage-by-stage of Logue’s methods, the director, Tom Hooper (The Damned United, Les Misérables), ensures that we see Bertie’s tremendous struggle to complete a sentence without stuttering (something seemingly so effortless for the majority of us). However, we would not be able to realise just how frustrating and aggravating it must have been for Bertie if it weren’t for the exceptional performance of Colin Firth. Never before has an Adam’s Apple been so over-worked or scrutinised as in The King’s Speech.

Yet, it is not just Bertie’s consistent stammering that makes Firth’s act so memorable, but also how it affects Bertie’s general behaviour. Throughout the movie, the future George VI suffers from chronic diffidence. His speech impediment affects everything from the way he walks, talks and looks at people; to his need for emotional support from his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Harry Potter V, VI, VII(i) & VII(ii), Alice in Wonderland, Les Misérables), the future Queen Elizabeth II’s mother. And this does not even include his bad temper or his fears; most notably, public speaking. In a first-class display, Firth captures Bertie’s dread superbly as well as his character’s comprehension of the responsibilities of a monarch.

Anxiety reigns supreme as Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), George VI and Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) wait for the king to give his big speech not long after Britain declared war on Germany on 3rd September 1939.

Firth is undoubtedly the stand-out performer of the movie. But that is not to say that Geoffrey Rush or Helena Bonham Carter do the film a disservice. On the contrary, they play their roles very well: the former as the tolerant therapist with a wry sense of humour, who understands how best to deal with the king’s stammer; and the latter, as the supportive wife of a man who feels that he must triumph against all odds in order to carry out his duty as king.

Alas, The King’s Speech does not touch upon the gastric problem that Bertie endured throughout his life. It also wrongly portrays the relationship between Bertie and David. (Not to mention the one between Elizabeth and David too.) Since the film is based on real events (as opposed to a book or an urban legend), historical accuracy is important and is slightly lacking in the movie, even if it is regarding a relatively minor part of the story.

This, though, should not take too much away from The King’s Speech. The film is simple, original and outstanding. In addition, it is funny (albeit in a very English way) and engaging. The acting is fitting for Oscar nominations, and Firth’s ability to make us feel the pain that Bertie’s stammer caused him is right up there with the greatest of performances. That there is no fairytale ending to the film gives The King’s Speech greater credit and more than a twinkle of realism: it makes us appreciate how and why King George VI managed to win over the affections of millions across the world.

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