Monthly Archives: January 2011

Season of the Witch – Demons, Camp, and Nicolas Cage

As anyone who knows me is well aware, I’m a self-professed masochist; if there’s an opportunity for me to experience something excruciating, I jump at it (keep that in mind, ladies). Obviously, when I saw that Season of the Witch had an abysmal 4% on Rotten Tomatoes, I simply couldn’t resist. I quickly found out, however, that I was sort of in the minority on this one (who knew?!)—after petitioning all of my friends, only one was intrepid enough to brave the theaters with me. We planned the trip for early Friday morning, our mounting excitement making Thursday’s sleep an ephemeral affair. I awoke that day to an act of God. In his infinite wisdom, he had bestowed upon me a migraine most malicious in an effort to prevent one of his flock from the even greater pain of watching Nicolas Cage play a disillusioned Knight in a fantasy movie.

But I am not a God-fearing man, and so, despite the advice of my friends, despite the admonitions of the critics, despite the wind and the cold and the rain, despite even the divine hand of God himself, I rose from the beanbag chair that was my bed and journeyed forth toward almost certain disappointment. After all, if The Last Airbender, a memory better left forgotten, had received a 7%, what hope did Season of the Witch have? I met Dphil, the intrepid friend, at the gates and handed my ticket to the clerk, who, with his snarling remarks, unkempt hair, and bared teeth, could have (save for the two missing heads) passed for the guardian Cerberus. My companion and I took our seats and surveyed the scene. I have to be honest with you here. It’s a little disconcerting when the only other people in the theater are an old man by himself, a huge lady in a squeaky wheelchair being led by a group of friends, and someone who probably rides the short bus and kept babbling and mumbling incoherently. I mean no offense. It was simply an odd crowd.

Season of the Witch is set in England during the Crusadin’ times. After a quick intro that proves witches to be all too real, we get a montage of battles in which the knights Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) kill many non-innocents, then finally, after ten years, kill some innocents. Ten years before the first undeserved death? Very impressive. Disillusioned, Behmen and Felson desert the army only to end up in a town ravaged by the plague, which is apparently caused by a hot young vixen who’s got this sexy witch vibe goin’ on. Setup complete, our two warrior heroes join forces with an elderly knight and the priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), ready to transport the sorceress. At this point, my buddy turns to me and says, “I can’t believe they don’t have a rogue in their party!” Seconds later, Nicolas Cage goes, “We need a guide!” and of course the only person who can guide them is the lock-picking ne’er-do-well swindler, Hagamar (Stephen Graham). Dungeons and Dragons team assembled, they set out for an ancient monastery, for only there can the monks cast out the witch and end the plague.

One of the better aspects of Season of the Witch is the way it keeps you guessing. It utilizes the tried-and-true “Is she a witch or isn’t she” method to keep the audience interested, though I don’t understand why the characters never thought to simply compare the girl’s weight to that of a duck. Anyway, partway through, it simply tells you the answer. I’ve tried to craft this review in a similar style. Is Season of the Witch good, or is it not? I guess I’ve probably been leaning a little too obviously toward the “not” side, but the movie has a surprisingly good twist, and so do I. Season of the Witch was actually good! Maybe it was just because anything was better than the pain of a migraine, maybe it was because I was delirious from lack of sleep, or maybe it’s because I just can’t resist Nicolas Cage’s entertainingly unemotional acting, but I enjoyed the hell out of this movie (like how those monks exorcised the hell out of that girl! Get it?).

Sure, it was a little bit predictable in parts, but that just made it more surprising when it caught me off guard. Yes, there was the obligatory bridge-crossing scene, with boards cracking and plummeting below the characters’ feet as ropes twisted and frayed, but it was reasonably well done, and, more importantly, it wasn’t there just for the sake of unnecessary suspense—the girl saves one of the characters from falling to his death, casting further doubt on her motivations. Yes, witch girl ostensibly summons a bunch of wolves to kill our heroes, but you find out later that there was more at play than you’d ever imagined. The fight scenes were pretty entertaining, I was constantly creeped out by how I was both creeped out by and attracted to the main girl, and unlike stupid The Last Airbender, the movie was surprisingly well paced. Plus, the final battle was pretty awesome. I mean seriously, what’s cooler than fighting a horde of cloaked, plague-ridden, undead monks who have boils all over their faces and battle with fearsome hooks in a room that’s on fire and filled with shelves of scrolls that go flying whenever someone’s thrown into them? All this while a priest epically incants an unnerving Latin ritual in the background, hoping to slay the giant winged demon that seeks to end all human life.

I honestly don’t see how this movie got so many negative reviews. The dialogue was a little campy, especially the lines delivered by Hagamar, like “This damn fog is like a veil before my eyes,” or directly after, “I can’t see my hand in front of my face.” As cliché as some of it might have been, Season of the Witch had enough new ideas that, when coupled with a hot girl, some twists and scares, and a general sense of fun, it ended up being well worth the price of a matinee ticket.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. I have proof that this was a “great” film. You see, I was so totally engaged that I didn’t even notice that, by the end of the film, everyone else had walked out! If that’s not hard evidence, I don’t know what is. The credits rolled and I looked around, extremely pleased that I’d decided to see such a fine film, only to find that there was literally no one in the theater. Had they ever even been there? How could I not hear someone get creakily wheeled out of the room? How could I not notice the babbling babbler leave the theater? Where did the old man go?! I was sure a witch had cursed me. Like I said, it must have been a damn good movie! I’d been looking forward to being able to tear this film apart, but I walked out of the theater perplexed: How was I supposed to write an entertaining review now? Just then, Dphil turned to me, and, as if he could see into my soul, said, “Russ, you’re just going to have to use nuance.” And, as you, the reader, are my witness, this is a review so nuanced that it knows no equal. I braved the wrath of God and more to bring it to you and returned from my quest unharmed (which, for a masochist, is rather disappointing). Someday, I hope to craft a movie of my own with as much nuance and subtlety as Season of the Witch, but until then, I must simply award it:


Alignment: Spectacular Crap

Honestly, the worst thing about this movie was the way the sound kept cutting in and out. Perhaps it was another attempt by God to intervene, but I brazenly ignored him, sitting through what seemed like the worst dubbing ever because, dammit, I paid good money for this!

Written by Russ Nickel

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The Green Hornet – Cameron Diaz Attempts to Act

In an effort to battle the exorbitant cost of 3D movies (especially the ones that undergo 3D conversion post-production), I went to the Sunday matinee showing of The Green Hornet. I don’t know if that’s really the optimal environment for a superhero movie, but I do know that I felt super awesome seeing a movie by myself in a theater lightly sprinkled with moms. What made me even more awesome was my flirtation with the cute ticket taker and cashier, only to have them realize that I was friendless at the movies and therefore genetically undesirable for the production of offspring. But hey, free parking downtown on Sundays! Which makes me wonder…how many of those moms were actually angry San Luis Obispo meter maids?

As my stylish RealD glasses weighed down on my nose (which, by the end of the movie, was acting rather affronted), the previews drew to a close, and what followed was a moderately entertaining film. By no means a perfect creation, The Green Hornet lived up to its Buzz with charm enough to overcome the fact that it was little more than a souped-up, buddy-cop movie. While its generic overarching plot had a bit of originality Nested here and there, what really kept things aloft was Seth Rogen’s light-hearted tone and performance. Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) and Kato (Jay Chou) were fun characters to watch and had pretty good chemistry. I believed their friendship, their obligatory fallout, and their eventual reconciliation, and I laughed out loud at lines like “Do some of that Ben Hur shit!” Sadly, I was the only one who laughed during the entire movie. Man, those parking enforcement officers really don’t have souls.

As always, Cameron Diaz was totally useless. She is the Queen of inane, managing to evoke a sense of lifelessness in every role. She Bumbles through her character, Droning on and basically adding nothing. At least it was a new take on the love interest. She wasn’t really interested, and neither was she interesting. In fact, I feel like she was almost more objectified this way. Rather than either of the main characters forming a connection with her, she simply served as a vehicle for Britt and Kato’s argument. I guess that’s what they get for trying to stick their Proboscises where they don’t belong.

Speaking of vehicles, the Black Beauty was one of the most badass cars ever. The sheer number of weapons and gadgets made it the coolest thing since MIB’s red button. What wasn’t particularly badass was the bad guy. In an attempt at humor, the villain constantly worried about his image and his hard-to-pronounce name, and he was right to. He just wasn’t intimidating. I never felt the Sting of real fear or the sweet Nectar of joy at any point during the film.

One of the more interesting stylistic choices comes partway through the movie when the villain puts a bounty on the Green Hornet’s head. The shot then enters an ever-expanding split screen as word of the reward spreads through all the different circles of evil, from the Thorax of malcontent to the Mandibles of hate. Watching the sheer number of thugs on the screen grow as they receive their mission really does add a sense of dread to an otherwise threat-free story. More and more split-screens kept showing up until I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t keep track of them anymore. I waited for the repercussions of this onslaught, only to watch as the group of villains murdered a ton of innocent people wearing green and then never reappeared. And just like that, the sense of dread was gone.

The Green Hornet was basically fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s some entertaining action and comedy. In no way does it surpass expectations, however, and many other films are better able to embrace the genre. If you’ve got some extra cash and a bunch of guys are sitting around bored, it might be worth checking this out, but otherwise you should probably just wait until it’s on Netflix.

2.5/5 Stars

Couldn’t work these in: Venom, Insect, Antennae, Hive, Apoidea, Vespa

Written by Russ Nickel

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Tangled – Best Disney Movie in Years, Maybe Ever

Without female companionship, it’s hard to go see Tangled and still maintain an air of manliness and virility. So, abandoning all hope of preserving that façade, I decided to go all the way to the deep end of the lame pool and see it with my parents. And for once, the dearth of self-confidence that inspired me to long ago stop vying for success with the fairer sex paid off, because when the dust settled and the credits rolled, there was only one fact left standing, and it towered above all other thoughts and insecurities: Tangled was AWESOME!

What a cast of characters! Zachary Levi, or Chuck from Chuck (for those of you who watch my favorite television show), is perfectly charming as Flynn Rider, the shallow and selfish thief whose good looks are rivaled only by Narcissus. Immediately likeable despite his negative qualities, Flynn Rider’s journey toward empathy is one which is quickly obvious, and yet it is so flawlessly executed that I found his transformation transfixing at every turn.

As for Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), well, I was pretty much in love with her the moment I saw her. The epitome of innocence, Rapunzel is a drop of sunshine in the darkness. Her unadulterated joy is contagious, infecting even the most jaded and cynical. It was a pleasure to see how people changed when touched by such a fair creature, whether it be a group of thugs singing about their dreams or innumerable citizens breaking out into dance in the streets. Again, Rapunzel’s character arc was rather obvious: from an obedient girl afraid of the world to a real person living her life. And again, it didn’t matter, because that arc was artfully crafted.

Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is an understandable villain. I mean, Rapunzel’s magic hair gives her eternal youth. If that’s not a good reason for keeping your daughter in a tower, I don’t know what is. The two characters of a different genus deserve quite a bit of recognition themselves. Pascal the chameleon makes for an excellent sidekick to Rapunzel. He’s just about the cutest thing ever (right behind How to Train Your Dragon’s Toothless), and his indignant looks are a great counterpoint to Rapunzel’s innocent absurdity. Even Maximus, the head guard’s horse, is an amazing character with a story of his own. He tracks Flynn Rider with brutal determination, but as per usual, ends up joining the team.

Honestly, this movie has the perfect setup. You see, Flynn Rider is a character you can really get behind. Sure, he doesn’t care about other people, but his charm makes him unarguably, well, charming. Oh, and Rapunzel is a character you can really get behind. The opposite of Flynn, she is trusting and cares deeply for everyone, and yet she has much to learn about the world. We love both characters from the beginning, and the traits that make each of them so great directly reflect the other’s flaws, so when fate brings them together, we get to watch an incredible relationship blossom.

Plus, there were a couple of little lines that broke the fourth wall in an amusing way. At one point, Flynn Rider calls Pascal a frog. Rapunzel, offended, points out that it’s a chameleon, to which Flynn responds “Nuance.” Bringing up the cliché of a princess and a frog is especially amusing, since Disney’s last animated film was titled The Princess and the Frog. Also, like I said, Mother Gothel isn’t particularly villainous during the film, just a bit attached to the idea of immortality. Now, when she argues with Rapunzel, she always complains that Rapunzel is “making her the bad guy.” Well, I really wanted her to be the bad guy so I could cheer when she got her comeuppance, and then finally, much to my delight, she snaps, saying “You want me to be the bad guy? Fine. Now I’m the bad guy.” To her, she was harkening back to those old arguments, but to me, she was talking directly to the audience, letting us know that it was ok to root against her.

If I had one complaint, and I do, it would be that the songs didn’t quite live up to my expectations. They were still excellent, but they were a bit more ponderous than some Disney tunes. With the exception of “I’ve Got a Dream,” they were slow, character-heavy numbers that, while still of a high quality, lacked the pizzazz that got the Aladdin soundtrack stuck so firmly in my head.

But the songs certainly didn’t detract from the experience. The dialogue was sharp, the animation was beyond beautiful, and the movie was both touching and hilarious. And as an added bonus, there was a lot of great insight into human nature. I cared for those characters, and the film was able to jerk my emotions around however it wanted. My sides hurt from laughing, my eyes ached from tears. Flynn’s charm and Rapunzel’s joy didn’t just affect the other characters; they reached right out of that screen and touched me too, and because of that, I give Tangled:

5/5 Stars

The only truly sad thing about this movie was that Rapunzel ended up becoming a brunette. Oh, the humanity!

Written by Russ Nickel


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