Monday, January 10, 2011

January Cages

by James Hansen

In what has become an annual January tradition, movie studios bestow their leftover turds upon various multiplexes and audiences across the country – movies too inconsequential, half-baked, and economically unviable to be gloriously sacrificed among spring comedies, summer blockbusters, fall horrors, and winter “prestige pictures.” January brings with it a super-sized tinge of laziness. (Notably, the same hasn’t been true for foreign film or art houses – two of my favorites of 2010 opened in early January – and many of the Best Movies of 2010 are still working their way to secondary and tertiary markets. Out 1's belated Best of 2010 lists are still in the works. Fashionably late). Alas, the true scent of January is in the air with Dominic Sena’s Nicolas Cage-vehicle Season of the Witch.

So, a long time, there were some witch hunts. And then the Crusades happened. Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) pretty much kicked ass and took names, quipping about single-handedly killing entire armies of men. What a jolly good time! But lo, what treachery is this!? Behmen and Felson are sent into a Church full of infidels, only to realize they are slaughtering women and children. (Cue the repeated smash cut to woman getting stabbed). Pissed at The Church's evil deeds but following their vows to God, Behmen and Felson abandon their army and happen upon a plague stricken town. Discovered to be deserters, Behmen and Felson meet plague stricken Jabba the Hut priest who sends them on a mission from God to take a supposed witch to a faraway town where monks can try her for witchcraft and provide heavenly help to rid their land of the plague.

After collecting a band of hilariously named misfits (a pleasant surprise was Eckhart, played by great Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen), Behmen and Felson wander out into a journey of which they don’t really want to be a part. Neither does the audience. Never quite sure if it’s a sweeping fantasy adventure, an action comedy, or a sci-fi witch thriller, Season of the Witch plods through its running time with constant shifts in tone, a completely transparent plot, and few of the oddly fascinating bursts of unexpected energy typical of Cage. Sena’s blandly dutiful, obligatory storytelling (someone insults witch, witch summons an attack, attack happens, on we go) shreds his actors of their most unique attributes. And despite Sena’s choice to contain the actors and his narrative, Season of the Witch still manages to become resolutely slipshod. With sloppy CGI and non-stop overly descriptive dialogue, mass confusion abounds over what this movie is supposed to be. Sera surely doesn’t know, but he also doesn’t let his actors doing any of the work for him. Instead, Season of the Witch is left to drown in its own ineptitude.

The long-awaited final sequence – a strange riff on Saving Private Ryan with Nicolas Cage being repeatedly stabbed in the back by a demon – provides life support amidst the dreadfully boring slog, but it barely resuscitates it into mild enjoyment. Luckily, shortly after, Season of the Witch ungracefully puts itself down with an overwrought coda (of sorts) among the hills of Calvary dominated by an inexplicable voiceover that is as slack-jawed as it is form fitting. Just because we expect dallying, half-hearted distractions in January doesn’t make them any better.


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