Tag Archives: season of the witch

Review – Joe (15) [2014]

Joe - title banner2

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • David Gordon Green – George Washington, Pineapple Express, Your Highness, Manglehorn

Cast:

  • Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Season of the Witch, Left Behind
  • Tye Sheridan – The Tree of Life, Mud, Dark Places
  • Gary Poulter
  • Ronnie Gene Blevins – A Beautiful Life, Kiss the Abyss, The Dark Knight Rises, Then There Was
  • Anna Niemtschk

Music Composer:

  • Jeff McIlwain – Snow Angels, The Sitter
  • David Wingo – George Washington, Take Shelter, The Sitter, Mangelhorn

Whatever happened to the acting career of Nicolas Cage? In 1996, he won an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas and in 2003 he was nominated for an Oscar for Adaptation., so Cage clearly can act. But since starring in the reboot of The Wickerman in 2006, Cage seemingly set his career on fire with laughable performances in critic kick-bags, such as Ghost Rider I & II, Knowing, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Season of the Witch and Drive Angry, to name six from the catalogue. Therefore, upon Joe, the question was: could Cage’s career sink any lower or was going to (finally) rise from the ashes?

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe (Nicolas Cage) giving some good, worldly advice to young Gary (Tye Sheridan).

Joe is an indie drama set in the rural, Deep South of America, and is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same title. The film predominantly centres round Joe (Nicolas cage), an ex-convict who runs a business demolishing trees for development sites. One day, Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager new to the area, finds Joe and asks if he and his father, Wade (Gary Poulter), can work for him as they need money. Joe agrees, but soon discovers that Wade is an alcoholic with a dreadful character. Upon realising Wade’s ways, Joe takes on the mantle of a father figure for Gary.

Joe is a very decent raw and grisly film about poverty in the Deep South, and about ruin and redemption in general. In a similar way to Mud (also starring Tye Sheridan, plus the reborn Matthew McConaughey), not a lot happens (and what does happen is a tad predictable). But the dialogue in Joe is fantastic and the acting is superb across the board.

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary's alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Wade (Gary Poulter), Gary’s alcoholic father, looking like the homeless man he was in real life (until it was sadly cut short a few months after filming ended).

Nicolas Cage shows us that he is more than just a mercenary willing to cash in on his name. For once, Cage looks like he actually wanted to get up in the morning for filming, as there is more to him in a role than merely a bland expression, a monotone for a voice, and an occasional half-hearted smile to make him your average, likeable guy (as if anyone was going to believe that Nicolas Cage was your ‘average Joe’). In Joe, Cage’s southern accent is refreshingly real, and his grizzled face reflects a man constantly holding back his pent up rage in order to stay on the right side of the law. Moreover, the way Cage’s character takes Gary under his wing is wonderful to watch and enables viewers to empathise with Joe, despite Joe otherwise being rough-around-the-edges, with a drink-driving habit and a history of violence. (If anything, it would have been nice to learn where this violent streak comes from and to find out more about Joe’s background.)

But it is not just Cage that is wonderful to behold in Joe. Like in Mud, Tye Sheridan again demonstrates that he has a long acting career ahead of him. Here, Sheridan performs magnificently as a teenager willing to work hard to put bread on the table for his family, since his father won’t do it. And, speaking of his father in the film, Gary Poulter’s performance, as the horrible alcoholic family-beater, is brilliant and worryingly realistic. What makes Poulter’s performance even more remarkable is that he was not even an actor by trade: he was a hobo! (The casting of a non-actor is not surprising for a David Gordon Green film as the director regularly picks locals for roles in his movies.)

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

Gary speaking with Willie-Russell (Ronnie Gene Blevins). There is a reason why he has a scar under his right eye and Willie-Russell wants revenge against the man who did it.

However, it is not just the acting and dialogue that is fantastic in Joe, since the cinematography is equally good and fitting. From the broken homes (metaphorically and literally); to the trucks people drive; to the dirtiness and dusty nature of the region, the rural poverty of the Deep South and the type of people who inhabit it are well depicted. No-one in Joe personifies the place and the complexities of living in such a place more than Nicolas Cage’s character.

Over-all, Joe is a solid film that is very realistic representation of the Deep South of America. The movie may have little by way of action and plot-twists. Nevertheless, one can easily engage with the characters in the film, not least due to the dialogue and the vivid performances from the cast. Surprisingly, this includes Nicolas Cage; for in Joe he reminds us that his Oscar win and nomination, all those (many) years ago, were no flukes and that truly he can act. It might be a little early to say that Cage’s renaissance has begun. But maybe, just maybe, Cage will use Joe (as Matthew McConaughey did with The Lincoln Lawyer and Mud) as a springboard to re-launch his career.

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Review – Conan the Barbarian (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Zack Snyder’s 300 was the ultimate guy’s film. The movie, essentially, was a two-hour blood bath, as 300 Spartans defended their ancient homeland against a million-strong Persian army during the Battle of Thermopylae (approximately 494 BC). Although devoid of the (inaccurate) historical elements, Conan the Barbarian should be put into the same category of film.

Conan, a beast of a man, relaxed and waiting for his opponent to make the first move, before he slaughtering him.

Conan the Barbarian is loosely based on the novel by Robert E. Howard, and is a remake of the 1982 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Set in an alternate world called Hyborea (which looks much like Earth in medieval times), the movie centres round Conan, the eponymous character. As a young boy, Conan (Leo Howard – G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Shorts, Logan) is trained in the ways of the Samarian warrior cult by his father, Corin (Ron Perlman – Tangled, Season of the Witch, The Riot).

But not long into the movie, Corin is killed before his young son by Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang – Public Enemies, Avatar, Officer Down), a megalomaniac determined upon conquering all of Hyborea and reviving his dead wife. Khalar Zym will achieve these feats by putting back together all of the lost pieces of the Mask of Acheron. In time, Khalar also realises that he needs to sacrifice the last of the ‘pure blood’ of the sorcerers of Acheron, Tamara (Rachel Nichols – G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Star Trek, The Loop), to unleash the mask’s powers in order to take over the world. The balance of Hyborea rests in the sword-wielding abilities of the fully grown, muscular Conan (Jason Mamoa – Baywatch, Game of Thrones, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), who is hell-bent on punishing those who killed his father.

Despite the strange names, the plot for Conan the Barbarian is not difficult to follow. Its rushed introduction has a Lord of the Rings-like feel to it, while the breaking up of the mask reminds one of Voldemort making Horcruxes of his soul in the Harry Potter series.

The villain, Khalar Zym, played by Stephen Lang, the trigger-happy military commander in Avatar.

Aside from this, the movie flows smoothly, and at just under two hours it is the right length for this type of film. Viewers are unlikely to become bored; after-all, a scene rarely goes by without someone (or a handful of people) being slashed to death by the merciless Conan. Just like in 300, there is no shortage of blood spilt by the heroes or villains. (And just like in 300, it beggars belief that in combat the protagonists do not wear armour and live to tell the tale.)

There is little sophistication in Conan the Barbarian’s storyline. Sometimes the simplicity is even comical. (Since when was child birth as trouble-free as sticking a knife into a womb and pulling out a baby, whilst looking away?) Similarly, the director, Marcus Nispel (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Pacemaker), does not attempt to make the characters anything but two-dimensional (which is not such a bad thing considering the nature of the film). As a result, the acting is far from memorable, and the dialogue is as risible as it was in the virtual disaster movie Season of the Witch.

The acting and the dialogue, though, were never going to be the most noteworthy aspects of Conan the Barbarian. Rather, the movie’s success was also going to lie in the action scenes and the special effects. In both respects, the film does not let the audience down. All the actors look like they were well drilled in swordplay, while imagination and care were certainly put into the CGI.

Marique (Rose McGowan), the witch-daughter of Khalar Zym, who helps her father find the last of the ‘pure blood’ of the sorcerors of Acheron.

Additionally, the music score is not terrible either. Even if it sounds much like a combined take-off from The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, the music aids many of the scenes. In some instances, it gives the film the complexity that the acting, dialogue and plot sorely lack.

On the whole, Conan the Barbarian is as straightforward as its title. Just like with 300, Conan the Barbarian is very much a guy’s film. For it has a hulk of a main character, plenty of action, blood, and well-designed CGI. Yes, it has many noticeable and laughable defects, but viewers are unlikely to be bothered by them and will not go home disappointed.

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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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