Monday, November 4, 2013

REVIEW: Season of the Witch (2011)

“Hey, I just got inspired to make a movie!”

“How did that happen?”

“I went to a Renaissance fair, got drunk off my ass and then vomited it all up outside while a bunch of lecherous hobos watched!”

“…how would that inspire you to create anything?”


Director: Dominic Sena
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman

(This review co-written with my friend, Michelle Lewis.)

Yes, Season of the Witch. In honor of this month being the four-year anniversary of this blog, I was contemplating what to do in celebration. To do so, I had to take into account a couple of things – all sorts of very technical elements such as, what would yield the funniest jokes? What would be something that would catch peoples’ eyes?

Then I decided to just be lazy, and throw all of that in the garbage and review the one movie that has both Nicolas Cage AND Ron Perlman at the same time – this one. How much balls do you have to have to put those two guys in a movie together? The universe might as well explode. Oh boy; I just can’t wait to see what kinds of shenanigans this movie has put together to exploit the (perhaps, sometimes unintentional) comedic talents of these two men. Let’s get started.

We start off with this subtitle informing us that the makers of the movie went back to 1235 A.D. to the City of Villach to shoot the first scene. That’s some dedication right there!

Then we get the greatest period of feminism ever – when women got accused of being witches for basically no reason at all and then got hauled into the river by an angry mob. We see exactly how fair this is when you have two normal looking girls pleading for their lives on one end and then this old crone with a glass eye damning everyone to hell.

Now, now, she might not be a witch. Don't discriminate! She just looks, acts, talks and probably smells like one, but still. We live in a PC world, goddammit! RIGHTS FOR THE WITCHES!

Kind of poisoning the well there! I mean, you could make a forty year old balding male accountant look like a witch just by putting him NEXT to that lady! It’s like showing a crime scene lineup full of regular guys except for the one known serial killer who admitted to murdering seven people in cold blood for no reason. Doesn’t exactly do wonders for the public confidence in everyone in the vicinity.

But enough of that. We have some fun crusades with Nic Cage and Ron Perlman to sit through! In case you didn’t know, medieval crusaders in the days of the black plague often made wisecracks about buying each other drinks after the battle ended, showing no fear or regard for the terrible casualties about to ensue. I’d say this is just how guys act, but really it just comes off like both of them are huge jackasses. Or rather, the writers were being huge jackasses, because this is about as historically accurate as The Washingtonians. At least that movie had cannibalistic George Washington imitators. This movie has, what, shitty special effects and costumes borrowed from the retirement home production of The Seventh Seal? Please.

"Hey, do you think this is rock bottom yet?"
"Nah, I was in The Last Winter a few years ago."

So they go through God knows how many battles (quite literally) until this one time when Cage accidentally stabs an innocent woman. This prompts them to question their religion and what they’re fighting for, going off on their super holistic leader guy about how hypocritical it is to kill in God’s name.

Uh, yeah…nice sentiment, guys, but there’s one little problem. Pardon me if I’m stepping on the toes of the battle-weary when I say this, but, WHERE THE FUCK WAS THIS WHEN YOU WERE STABBING AND MURDERING HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE IN THE PREVIOUS BATTLES? So what, you can ram your sword through droves of other guys, but when ONE WOMAN accidentally steps in front of your sword, THAT’S when you suddenly cry bullshit? I’m sorry, that’s just too stupid to let pass.

"Hey, it's okay. I punched a bunch of women in one of my other recent movies! And then I was dressed as a bear for some reason! Ha ha ha...what I'm saying is, don't hold it against me."

I mean, yeah, I get it – they’re starting to become disillusioned with the crusades and whatnot. That’s fine. But the way this movie is handling that very delicate subject matter is just off. We see them fighting battles without protest throughout over three years’ time, and then suddenly they’re against it because one innocent person died? Not that they’re wrong to be upset about that, but it’s just poor writing. Maybe if we had gotten more dialogue and seen them slowly changing their minds, it would have worked – but I guess a 90 minute movie just has no space for petty things like character development, right? Pfft, who needs it?

So Perlman and Cage say they’re leaving. The higher-up general guy threatens to stop them, and I imagine there’s probably some sort of rule in their military about deserting, but the whole army just sits there and watches them go, not bothering to follow them, restrain them or anything. Best army ever? I think it is.

Perlman and Cage go wandering through the world with no clear motive or destination in mind. They eventually come across a city where the black plague has taken effect, rendering everyone into extremely expensive Halloween store makeup. I mean, this stuff must have been at least $30 to buy, and for multiple people? Totally cleared out the director’s rich girlfriend’s parent’s credit card. They get exposition from some random guy about the plague and then end up getting arrested.

So after talking to the world’s oldest haunted house prop...

That's Christopher Lee, so the "oldest haunted house prop" bit isn't entirely farcicial.

...and declaring that they no longer follow the Church, they get thrown in jail for about five seconds before getting charged with the task of hauling some girl to some other town where she’ll apparently be tried for the charge of witchcraft in bringing the plague to the town. Perlman cracks some jokes about how mortified the priest looked when Cage said he didn’t believe in the church – yeah, scenes like this really make me so invested in the drama going on. I bet The Seventh Seal’s dramatic moments would have been way better if the characters were cracking unfunny jokes throughout all of them, right?

So then they start their journey. They need a guide though, and so they of course make the most logical choice – some guy who’s been arrested and put in one of those head-lock things for fraud. Isn’t that what most sensible people would do? I know I would. It’s just like the time I was searching for a navigator for my pirate ship and then decided on a blind guy. Best choice I ever made!

Yup, nobody else they could have had to be this guy. Instead of just spending an extra five minutes asking door-to-door, they had to pick the guy locked up for criminal activity - genius.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about the stupidly stupid adventures of Cage, Perlman, two priests with sticks up their asses, generic criminal guy with no personality and helpless girl in a cage. My what a jolly motley crew they make! It’s about as fun as going to a funeral.

We get tons of scenes of them just wandering around in the woods. Sometimes there are attempts made at drama between the characters, but they fall about as flat as the North Dakota plainslands. Mostly this is because the writers clearly just didn’t give a shit – every choice they make comes off as goofy, but you can tell they’re pretty much deadpan serious about all of it. There’s really no sense of fun or self-awareness with these scenes, both of which might have helped the film. Nobody likes a silly movie trying to be serious.

The thing is, most of these scenes just have no purpose. Like really – what relevance does the scene where they meet that altar boy have?

Look at that face. That is the face all young men have when staring down Ron Perlman.

Yeah, so they come across this altar boy with a sword who wants to join their team mostly because the script says so – Lord knows I’d have second thoughts about forming an alliance with Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage, but I guess back in the days of the plague they didn’t have the Internet to know who these two guys are. We get a drawn out sword fight between Perlman and the kid, which pretty much just leads up to the kid joining their party anyway. I guess the swordfight isn’t too bad or anything, but c’mon, why even bother? Don’t they have a job to do? Why waste time with this?

How about another scene later where they have to push their cart across a rickety old bridge? Cage girl offers her help and says the whole thing would be lighter if they let her out – how? It’s a giant wooden piece of shit! You probably weigh like 90 pounds! They don’t let her out and spend a lot of time nearly getting killed on the bridge. You may be asking why they don’t even attempt to find some other way around. Well, the answer to that is simple – they don’t have time. They do have time for pointless sword fights, but not for trying to find alternatives to plunging to a certain death. Priorities: they’re not just for the sane anymore!

So they get across the bridge finally. We get an overly long scene where the girl escapes from her cage and runs away, only for one of the two priest guys to get killed off in a cave by accidentally running into the altar boy’s sword. He doesn’t seem to see the altar boy at all, instead seeing a woman in front of him instead. Which seems strange enough for Cage to start wearing an expression on his face that’s supposed to be either contemplative or constipated. I can’t really tell.

Let's just compromise and say 'confused.'

In between all of these scenes we get some of them all sitting around at night. They talk about how wrong it is to believe that the girl is a witch and how close-minded the church can be. It’s interesting to hear this kind of dialogue, and it could potentially have some relevance and make the film more substantial. However, all of this will become entirely moot by the film’s ludicrous conclusion. I won’t spoil it yet, but trust me on that.

In the meantime, we get scenes like this, where a bunch of werewolves tear that criminal guy apart in the woods:

And I don’t mean werewolves like the normal sense; no…I mean literal werewolves. Wolves that change into, well, more demonic wolves. Isn’t that kind of weird? Why not just have regular demonic wolves? Is there a point to them changing their already scary wolf-faces into even scarier, deader looking wolf-faces? I dunno. I guess I just don’t have the necessary genius to understand the clearly brilliant mythology of this world. Is it a straight historical crusades story? Is it a supernatural tale of witchcraft? Who knows?! Not even the movie, apparently.

It may seem like I’m just complaining about nothing here. That is because the movie is incredibly fucking boring. It’s about as interesting as watching a monkey pick its nose.

So, sigh, I guess they get to wherever they were going, some church or something. They go in and find a bunch of priests who thought it would be an awesome idea to get the black plague. Guess you didn’t pray hard enough, guys!

Well, to be fair, they didn't catch his good side with this picture.

After some more bullshit exposition, they realize the girl tricked them into coming because she wanted to go to the church all along. Why? Well, because for some reason the church is the only place she has the power to turn into one of the worst special effects you’ll ever see:

Seriously, look at that shit. That was the best you could do? Movies from 30 years ago had better effects than that! It’s hideous looking! Using that kind of CGI is tantamount to just admitting you have nothing worthwhile to contribute creatively. Did the special effects guys just think it would be funny to fuck with the movie? I mean, I get it; Lord knows I’d be bored enough too if I had to sit and watch this crap for that long just to edit in the effects. But the least they could have done was go all the way with it. Why not just put this in the movie and really screw with it?

So they have some big, stupid Hollywood style battle and Nic Cage and Ron Perlman both die. We get a partial ass shot of the now-cured girl and then a phoned-in monologue about how she and the altar boy will remember Cage and Perlman forever.

It’s all just so contrived. Why bother having all that bullshit about doubting the church and the accusations of witchcraft if you were just going to end with a big goofy monster fight at the end? While they potentially had some interesting cultural and religious subtext with the talk about how hypocritical and fear-mongering the church was, ALL OF THAT is ruined when they just throw in the vomited-up spawn of mid-90s dollar-store computer-game Satan at the end. How are we supposed to take this seriously at all with that in the film? It’d be like making a provocative film about the Great Depression only to reveal at the end that, in the movie’s universe, the Great Depression was caused by aliens from outer space.

And hey, you know what was entirely missing from this review? Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage jokes! What the hell? Shouldn’t a film with both of them together be absolutely loaded with opportunities to make ridiculous jokes and riff on their performances? But no, they’re actually not too bad in this. The one thing that could have saved this movie was totally ridiculous, hammy performances by these two, and the film is so shitty, it couldn’t even grant me that one small pleasure. And I think that’s the final straw. This movie sucks! I for one am glad to be done with this brain sodomy forever. Avoid at all costs!

Eh, fuck it. Just have a beer and celebrate the four-year anniversary of Cinema Freaks! I’ll start you off.

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