The silly season ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The silly season

Season of the Witch
My rating:

Ah, Nicolas Cage. There is an extremely interesting retrospective article to be written of his acting career, and this ain't gonna be it. (This is not a bad attempt though.) It's hard to imagine that he was once a serious actor known for quirky and intense roles, when he's now more famous for stuff like The Sorcerer's Apprentice, Ghost Rider and the National Treasure movies. (At least in Malaysia, which didn't get Adaptation or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans on our cinema screens.) And then there's stuff like this to remind us that no matter how many big-budget blockbuster-wannabes he makes, there is always something off different about him than the average Hollywood action hero. No, I'm not gonna try to encapsulate what makes Cage Cage; I'm just reviewing his latest movie.

I'm mentioning all this because, judging by his latest movie, Cage might not be Cage for much longer.

It is the 14th century. Two Knights of the Crusades, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman), have deserted the endless fighting after Behmen suffers a crisis of conscience upon learning that he has been slaughtering women and children. They return home only to find a plague sweeping the land - and a young girl (Claire Foy) accused of being a witch and causing the deadly epidemic. The church enlists them to escort her to a distant monastery where she will be placed on trial, and have a ritual performed on her that can end the plague - if she is found guilty of witchcraft. Accompanying Behmen and Felson will be the priest Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), another knight named Eckhardt (Ulrich Thomsen), convicted swindler Hagamar (Stephen Graham) who acts as their guide, and a young man named Kay (Robert Sheehan) who wishes to become a knight himself.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. How did a movie like this get made? Wikipedia says it started with a bidding war for Bragi Schut's spec script; incidentally, a spec script is an original work written by a screenwriter, which is not the way a movie project usually starts out in Hollywood. Far from it - most films start as assignments by a producer to a writer to adapt previous source material, whether an older film or novel or comicbook or videogame or, God forbid, a toy. So you'd think Schut's script ought to be pretty fantastic if producers were fighting each other to buy it. Ohhh dear. It doesn't show. It might have been good in its original form, but then it fell into the hands of the wrong director, the wrong studio, the wrong cast, pretty much the wrong everything.

Where to start with this movie? How about the fact that everyone speaks in American accents, even the British actors. Not that this movie is set in medieval England - in fact, it's suspiciously coy about where exactly it all takes place - but at least it's faux-Shakespearian dialogue wouldn't sound so ridiculous spoken in Cage's Californian drawl. Or that the sets all look like cheap soundstages; or that the entire film has a gloomy, washed-out look, perhaps to hide the crew members and equipment in the background. Or that the entire tone of the film is deadly portentous and foreboding, as if this were meant to be a serious film starring Nicolas Cage as a medieval knight. Director Dominic Sena claims to have been inspired by Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, but it's more reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

And why couldn't it have been proper sword-and-sorcery? The story certainly had all the trappings of it. But if Sena knows a damn thing about the genre, I'll eat a plague-ridden sandwich. The heroes aren't badass like Conan or Solomon Kane - well, Felson might be, but all he gets is a lame (and time-wasting) swordfight with Kay. It wants to be all mysterious as to whether the girl is really a witch, which means we don't get much in the way of monster-fighting scenes - only a dim and confusing skirmish with CGI wolves. Its other big action setpiece is a wagon crossing over a rope bridge, which is exactly as thrilling as it sounds. Even when it's of the dark and grim variety, sword-and-sorcery is always fun - and this movie has no interest in being fun. There's barely even any humour, except unintentionally (e.g. hilariously anachronistic lines like "saving your ass"). Who in the world thought the director of Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish and Whiteout could direct a period film?

Hell, it's amazing how everyone involved in this seemed to be completely wrong for it. Ron Perlman has been garnering the scant bits of critical praise for his performance, but all I can think of is how much he wants to play the snarky sidekick and how the script and plot just won't let him. The aforementioned English actors Stephen Campbell Moore, Stephen Graham and Robert Sheehan - and Ulrich Thomsen, a Dane - are all laughably wooden; call me biased, but I usually have a higher opinion of European actors than Americans. The sole decent performance comes from Claire Foy, who is cute and can switch from innocent to manipulatively evil on a dime, but that may just be my heterosexuality speaking.

But it is Cage whom the joke is on. This may explain the confounding stupidity of his choice of film projects lately (our cinemas are already inundated with trailers for this), and if Season of the Witch is any indication, his star won't be recovering from its nosedive anytime soon. As much as I've been trashing the movie throughout this review, you might be surprised that I'm not giving it 1-½ stars; it's because its sheer badness can still be enjoyable, in an unintentional comedy kinda way. It's a very, very silly movie, and what little entertainment it can offer is most assuredly not the kind that it was aiming for. Don't let the presence of a (supposed) A-list star like Cage fool you. This is what Malaysians charmingly refer to as a B-grade movie, all the way.

NEXT REVIEW: Paranormal Activity 2
Expectations: highly doubt it'll be as good as the first


Oh Me said...

i enjoy the movie...i prefer this than Ngangkung anyway

Dzof said...

Hunted around for the original script, but with no luck.

fadz said...

ure quite wrong, I saw Adaptation in GSC Mid Valley. Of coz its limited release but its still shown here. u just have to look up.