Oh, and the priest named De Balzak...pretty hysterical name.
Season of the Witch (2011)
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Oh, and the priest named De Balzak...pretty hysterical name.
I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the usual "Hollywoodisms" were absent (dirt, toothless peasants, etc.). People were just normal, as you'd currently find in any remote place nowadays. Costumes, weaponry and armour were reasonable for the period. As was the character's attitude.
However what I really liked about the film wasn't so much the settings, or the fact that we get to wonder whether the girl is a witch or not, or the special effects or whatever, it was the fact that the story was told from the point of view of the "legend". Whatever happened to the people who went to the monastery, only one came back. And this is his tale. And this is pretty much how tales ended up being told at the time (at least after a few tellings). And we get to experience it in the first person, just like they were told. Except with our modern gadgets. See it that way and this film is a complete success (ok, the accents are wrong, but whatever).
So just imagine you're a wide eyed child in 1400, sitting by the fire, and an old guy is going to tell you a tale that he swears is true, for he knows a guy, who actually met someone who heard it from the very knight it happened to...
I heard from a unenthusiastic review (one of numerous scathing reviews out there, as anyone with the internet can tell) about the on screen shenanigans with Nick Cage and Ron Perlman were so enjoyable that it made the rest of the movie bearable. Going in with that anticipation, I found myself not only pulled into their characters' fun and convincing friendship but also into an intense and yes even edge-of-your-seat suspenseful movie. I forgot about my troubles for the day and enjoyed a good adventure.
It was inspired, yes, by DnD, video games, and a number of other swords and sorcery books and movies that preceded it, but it is its own story. In a market saturated with sequels, prequels, reboots, comicbook diarrhea, etc... it's nice to see a story that is it's own, however simple.
Yes it plays by the numbers. You know guys will die. Hell, you probably know who and in what order, if you've seen movies of it's ilk. You know there is a supernatural bad guy. And you know there will be one liners, oh are there ever one-liners! But the characters are fun to watch, even a little engaging. You may not want to see them die. I didn't. They weren't a group of scum with a bullseye for heraldry. The enemy was threatening and tricky, a real danger to our protagonists. And the one liners were, gasp, funny! Yes, even Nicholas Cage is worth the price of admission here. If this was "just another paycheck" role for him, he looked like he was having a lot of fun with this roll. And I don't know about you, but I like to see my actors have fun in a movie that costs me 9-12 bucks to see..
It looses some points with me for the CGI. obvious CGI is obvious. But honestly the crispy gray CGI contrasting against a darker, colorful, moody lighting STILL didn't detract from the encounters or the climax. If you come to the movies to have CGI convince you that magic and demons are real, you come to the movies for jaded and asinine reasons. If you wanna see pretty visuals with a meandering pointless story, go see Tron.
But if you wanna see a fun yet dark heroic adventure, go see Season of the Witch!
Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman play buddies Behman and Felson respectively, knights of the Crusade who make a reputation of being fearsome warriors fighting for a higher cause, only to desert their army and turning their backs from continuing onto Jerusalem after realizing that they are nothing but fighting pawns for the whims of man. Their services get called for by a town inflicted by a plague because of a curse by a girl (Claire Foy) whom they deem a witch, and the agreement forged was for them to escort her to a monastery for a group of monks to decide on the authenticity of the claim, and if so, decide and inflict punishment.
Gathering Priest Debelzag (Stephen Campbell Moore), guide Hegamar (Stephen Graham), one of the remaining fighting fit soldiers of the town with Eckhart (Ulrich Thomsen) and a priest in training Kay (Robert Sheehan) whom the party picked up early in their journey, the group has to band together if they are to get to their destination in one piece, with the accused girl being locked up in a cage but always seem to be drawing undue attention to herself, raising questions about her innocence as we get to see her demonstrate abilities and superhuman strength even, while putting on a saccharine sweet face. Now while all these may point to certain plot loopholes and irrational human behaviour, I'm willing to overlook these flaws since they do get addressed in the final reveal, so all's not totally lost in Bragi F. Schut's story.
Battle sequence design was a little sleepy, and although the introductory big battle scenes involving soldiers of the Crusade were plentiful, it didn't go beyond the usual slash-parry- stab-wash-rinse-repeat cycle coupled with cheesy dialogue exchange between Behman and Felson that try to pass off as comedy. There's an awfully long and painfully executed crossing of a creaky bridge that doesn't seem to want to end, but otherwise passable CG was employed in an attack of wolves, and the money shot in the final battle where all hell breaks loose in the monastery with grotesque looking winged beasts and the expected big boss to fight in an all out melee done arcade style.
Some will probably find the themes here quite objectionable, especially since it sets its sights squarely on how religion gets manipulated by the few, and made suggestive queries what if the Crusade wasn't a calling made by god as claimed by the messengers, but of more negative forces since it involves the killing of innocents. What more, this was played out in quite direct fashion when the final act made that cross-reference in point blank fashion. It's bold in its statement and association, which otherwise the story here lacks any selling points to make an audience sit up and take notice
I'm not sure what Ron Perlman is doing here - the billing on the poster doesn't seem to give him much respect, preferring to marquee Cage alone instead, so while there are inside nods to Hell and the devil and demons here, I'm hoping that we'll get to see another installment of Hellboy instead. Under Dominic Sena's vision, you'd know what to expect when you scan through his resume, being responsible for flicks like Whiteout, Swordfish, and yet another Nicolas Cage starrer in Gone in Sixty Seconds. They're no more than Guilt Trips with potential not lived up to, so don't expect a classic or a masterpiece, but at best entertainment that will struggle to satisfy jaded audiences.
I just saw Quest for Fire. What a difference a script makes! We have a town that is going to judge three witches. Are these villagers going to be punished somehow for their injustice? No, people, witches actually exist. Why this first scene? To prepare the watcher for more cruelty without any sense. We cut to two crusaders under the lead of a murderer, whose only objective is to kill infidels. Well, you say, don't worry, the moral of the story is coming.
They take a girl to trial. For half an hour you expect the film to show how credulity should be despised, because, for the love of Pete, who's going to believe that you should burn a person for witchcraft? In a fantasy film, where characters have a purpose and our hero an objective, well... OK, but what's this? Don't trust on coherence. The sweet girl they see and that is going to be judged for causing a pest, well, yeah, it is actually a monster and it is really causing the disease. So, of course, you can stab, maim and kill without a hint of conscience.
There are too many flaws in the mind of the writer. Styria, part of Austria, becomes the cost of... Syria? I don't know. Jackrabbits exist in the middle ages. The conquest of Jerusalem is a fanatic race to kill the inhabitants. There is a fictitious battle of Edremit, a siege of Tripoli moved from 1102 to 1334, the battle of Imbros, which happened in 1717 is moved to 1337, the battle of Artah is also moved from 1101 to 1339, the Battle of Smyrna beats me... it can be the name of the 1922 Battle of independence of Ataturk... that happened in 1922. The last crusaders were expelled in 1291 in the name of Herodotus soul! These guys are fighting 50 years later. That's how good is the script, made probably with a map in the hand and a LOT of imagination.
Acting is good.
Do not waste your time in this movie, unless you like stories without coherence, nonsense killings, more than regular computer animated characters that say nothing and films where everybody is killed. It's a miracle that the director and cameramen weren't killed in this movie.
The movie's narrative is uncomplicated and relatively straight-forward: in the 14th century, veteran Crusaders Behmen and Felson (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) grow weary of being ordered by the Church to slaughter women and children whose only crime is not being born Christian. Deserting, they set off on the long journey home and eventually reach eastern Europe to find it stricken with plague. The Catholic authorities have found a scapegoat for the spread of the disease: a young woman (Claire Foy) whose 'confession' of being a witch they obtained via torture. Arrested for desertion, Behman and Felson are offered a full pardon if they will transport the girl to a remote monastery, where the resident monks will perform a ritual to strip her of her powers, enabling her to be killed and thus ending the plague.
While nothing about the movie is particularly remarkable or ground-breaking, the cast all acquit themselves as talented professionals and for most of it's running time Season of the Witch is an entertaining and watchable effort. There are a number of well-handled setpieces on the knights' journey that whittle down their travelling companions, such as an attack by ravenous wolves that transform into hellhounds, and a perilous passage over a collapsing bridge. And although the film doesn't dwell on the wide-reaching effects of the plague, the Crusaders encounter some grisly and impressive sights: hundred of crows (carrion eaters, remember) circling over a city; a dying Cardinal (a cameoing Christopher Lee) hideously deformed by the disease; a starving dog - it's body ridden with weeping sores - feasting on a corpse; an apparently lifeless village in which two inhabitants suddenly emerge to silently dump a body in the street, before retreating back inside; and an open mass grave full of liquefying cadavers. The movie also touches upon all the blood that has been shed in God's name and the blinkered arrogance of those who claim to be His representatives. Some of the characters also express doubts: is the girl truly a witch? Is her early escape attempt merely the action of a terrified young woman who - understandably - wants to avoid being executed? And even if she does possess supernatural powers, is she responsible for the plague?
But eventually the travelling party arrive at the monastery... and the film goes horribly wrong. All the moral uncertainties are abandoned and the movie becomes a disappointingly conventional struggle between clearly defined Good and Evil. The all-action climatic setpiece is marred by hectic and muddled editing. But worse of all is what happens to the title character. In the trailer that played in cinemas prior to the film's aborted release in early 2010, there were three shots taken from the movie's climax as it was clearly originally conceived, before the film was substantially reworked: Claire Foy walking straight towards the camera in close up as the caged wagon burns and melts into molten scrap behind her; her then levitating - spinning - through the air, over the heads of her captors; and finally Foy grabbing Nicolas Cage by the throat and slamming him against a wall. All those scenes are still in the film - but Foy is no longer in them. Instead, she's been digitally removed from the footage and replaced by a CGI monster. Yes, that's right - at the movie's conclusion, the witch transforms into an unimpressive seven-foot-tall CGI winged demon that looks as though it's wandered in from the final reel of The Golden Child (1986). Ugh. In my opinion it's unnecessary, misguided and a complete mistake. For example, I thought the 'levitation' shot in the original trailer looked stunning... but in the released film, Foy merely morphs into a dodgy special effect, then blandly flies away. It's hugely disappointing.
Hopefully the original ending, with the heroes battling a demonically-possessed Foy (as opposed to an enemy comprised entirely of pixels), will be included as an extra on the DVD. Even more ideally, I'd like to see a two disc set with the original director's cut on one disc and the theatrically-released version on the other, but it'll never happen.