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Wednesday, January 12, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: Season of the Witch

Like I just said, there’s really nothing out right now that I still want to see, but Trash all but drafted me into going to Season of the Witch. And the reason she picked that movie was because, as usual, she was staying home.

I went in knowing almost nothing about it, except that it was Nicolas Cage in some medieval adventure. Two reasons to skip it, as far as I was concerned. It's been a very long time since Nicolas Cage was the best thing in a movie, although he came close in Kick-Ass, largely by being the anti-Nicolas Cage.

Here he goes in another direction, undertaking the ambitious actorly task of phoning in a performance in a movie set before the invention of phones. Cage plays a disillusioned Crusader who, along with his sidekick played by the usually awesome Ron Perlman, gets roped into transporting a suspected witch across the undifferentiated European countryside during the 14th century. This is done by means of a horse-drawn jail cell on wheels. Alas, this means that not only is Nicolas Cage not the best actor in the movie, he's not even the best cage in the movie.

At some point early on, I started to wonder if Sam Raimi had anything to do with this film. And I’d have to say he did, but only indirectly. As we know, Raimi got his start making cheap rip-offs of horror movies. Well, in a lot of ways, this is a cheap rip-off of a Sam Raimi cheap rip-off. There's lots of BOO! moments, bullshit scares, gratuitous gross-outs, and swords that make a lot of noise even when they aren't touching anything. There's even a character who looks like Sam Raimi, for God's sake (although he turns out to be Al Capone from Boardwalk Empire, so I'm sure I'm not the first person to notice the resemblance).

And that's just the filmmaking tics. It's Raimi-lite plotwise as well, from the shaky geo-historical setting populated by wisecracking Americans to the reverse-Necronomicon that both the prologue and climax hinge on. Unfortunately, it's all fake-Raimi, like biting into a big chewy chocolate-chip cookie that turns out to be a manhole cover packed with raisins instead.

Plus, Sam Raimi would never be so clumsy as to set up a central question like "Is she or isn't she a witch?" and then tip his hand so early. He'd rather replace that hand with a chainsaw.

I wish I could tell you how Cage and Perlman acquit themselves as action heroes, but as seems to so often be the case lately, any and all fight scenes are shot with so much quick-cutting that trying to actually follow the action is futile; all you can do is wait for it to be over. There was one scene in which I actually experienced something like suspense, but it was during a slow-moving scene of a bridge crossing. And even that was filled with editing cheats: "Whoa, how's he going to get around that big hole -- oh, never mind, he's already done it."

Speaking of cheating, this movie needs to make up its mind about the 14th-Century Church. We first meet our sympathetic heroes as a pair of jovial veterans, making mordantly world-weary quips as they cheerfully go about their genocide. Then Cage loses his faith and peace of mind as a result of the one atrocity he commits (totes by accident!) in years of Crusading. Then we spend a lot of time dwelling on the hypocrisy and superstition of the Church, only to find out at the end that it Kind Of Has A Point, when it comes to the really scary shit.

I did, however, enjoy the end credits. The names of the crew members were so scattered with umlauts and diacriticals that it looked like someone threw a bucket of road salt on them. Whatever else all those foreign names may signify, I hope they mean that wherever this film was made has a good exchange rate, so that Nicolas Cage could get the most from the paycheck he clearly made this movie for.

posted by M. Giant 11:09 AM 0 comments


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