Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Over, Man: The Worst Films of 2011

Your Master of Ceremonies
It’s that time of the year again! With the end of 2011 approaching, I’m happy to say that I'm ready to commemorate the worst Hollywood had to offer us these past twelve months. Whether a title has been sunk by bad direction, a horrible screenplay, horrid acting or plot holes the size of blue whales, these films represent the worst habits that mainstream cinema can unleash. Many have paid for their transgressions with box office failure, but many were unexplainable successes, and you can bet Hollywood will make those same mistakes, as nobody ever calls them out on insulting their audience’s intelligence.

First, a couple of rules:

1) The list of the year's worst movies is generated by those films I’ve actually seen. I admit that as bad as these are, there’s a good chance the stuff I actually refused to see is worse. However, I’m not going to sass a film I didn’t go out of my way to watch, and despite what I’m sure will be assurances that films like The Smurfs, Jack and Jill, The Roommate, Dream House, Breaking Dawn Pt 1 and Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star should be here on the list, I can’t responsibly condemn them. I CAN condemn them as being thoroughly uninteresting to me and unworthy of my time, but that doesn’t get them attention here.

2) It’s easy to come down hard on indie films with limited budgets and no real chance at connecting with a wider audience. Therefore I’m only putting titles on this list which were given wide release, whether they be action, romance or drama. These were the people who should have known better.

So without further ado, here are Mr. Anderson’s Worst Films of 2011:

10) Drive Angry 3D

I really wanted to like this throwback to seventies exploitation films featuring fast cars and loose women. Instead Nicholas Cage puts in one of his driest, most lifeless performances to date, and even the substantial talents of co-stars William Fichtner and Amber Heard cannot overcome the mediocre special effects, stupid story, and insipid dialogue. Oh, and of course the inimitable Cage himself. Proud owner of the worst opening ever for a wide-released 3D film. You’re welcome, America.

9) Priest

Sure, it’s not as bad as director Scott Stewart’s 2010 entry Legion, but that’s like saying that SARS isn't quite as bad as the Ebola Virus. Based on an obscure Korean comic series and spending far more money on special effects than in making sure the script is of some quality, this is another film that grossly misuses its talent, especially stars Paul Bettany and the perennially under-appreciated Karl Urban. Stewart is probably the least talented director in Hollywood right now, and I can only hope someone comes to their senses and stops giving him paying jobs.

8) Something Borrowed

How about a film that encourages you to cheat with your best friend’s fiance? Oh, it’s okay because you’re MEANT to be together. Proof that so-called “Chick Lit” is another method of keeping women down in the dirt, this adaptation is the worst kind of stupid popcorn film: one that tries to convince you that screwing people over is okay if you don't do it too often. Ignore the disaster that is Kate Hudson; it truly hurts to see The Office’s John Krasinski slumming it as the best part of this awful film.

7) The Green Hornet

Somewhat less obscure than Priest’s source material, The Green Hornet COULD have been an interesting movie, one based on a fictional crimefighter who in pop culture history has actually been around longer than Batman. Instead, Seth Rogen stole the show and what could have been a decent action flick is instead permanently scarred by “The Seth Rogen Experience”, featuring all that is loathsome about the actor's public persona. Rogen tried to make up for this mess with amazing turns in Paul and 50/50, but there was no excuse for this particular piece of refuse. After you figure an over-reaching Cameron Diaz and lousy 3D special effects into the mix, it’s a wonder this title didn’t reach farther down the list.

6) The Eagle

What’s worse: that Channing Tatum has no business trying to be in more “serious” cinematic fare, or that the far superior Centurion came out less than a year prior to fewer theaters, less attention and minuscule domestic gross? Jamie Bell tries to drag Tatum, director Kevin Macdonald and the rest of this film to respectability, but a violence-laden R rating would have given this film the cachet it needed to be a legitimate Roman epic. Instead you've got a PG-13 film that doesn't appeal to teens OR adults, and just gets sillier the further along it goes. Easy to avoid, difficult to forget.

5) Sucker Punch

It’s obvious now that Zack Snyder is no feminist. At the very least, the Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen director prescribes to the idea that great special effects, celebrity spots, a wicked soundtrack and tons of barely-legal cleavage will make up for a complete lack of story, banal over-the-top acting, and daring to say you’re making a film that empowers women while doing no such thing. Snyder could have a real career making music videos, but its obvious now that he has leaped from his career peak without a parachute, and those eagerly awaiting his Man of Steel Superman film can consider themselves officially warned.

4) Abduction

Yeah, Twilight’s Taylor Lautner is not ready yet. A stupid, by-the-book action film that wants Lautner to be a teenage Jason Bourne, but comes to the table with some of the worst, most cliched dialogue and plot this side of the Mason-Dixon line. Add in veteran actors Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs and Michael Nyqvist making total mockeries of themselves, and the systematic destruction of the souls of the audience is complete. Lautner himself was laughable, with all his dialogue delivered in the most asinine, unbelievably dull tone by a professional actor in a big budget movie. It's clear he doesn't have the marketability by himself that has already been achieved by Twilight co-stars Robert Pattinson and to a lesser extent, Kristen Stewart. Soon he'll have to stop trying to be the lead that nobody but his agent wants him to be. Until then, we wait.

3) Your Highness

Even James Franco's career didn't deserve this. I'm all for stoner flicks, but this one set in a medieval fantasy universe forgot to include humor in the script, making total misuse of actresses Natalie Portman and Zoey Deschanel, and even the usually-entertaining Danny McBride can do little to make this pus-ridden wound worth scratching. Okay, that was a little TOO evocative. Suffice it to say, this was a film that did NOT need to be made, and seriously makes me wonder as to the future of stoner films. Whatever the verdict, this particular attempt was a step in the wrong direction, complete with booby-traps.

2) Red Riding Hood

I want to propose something now: Catherine Hardwicke should be banned from making any more films featuring either teens or supernatural elements, or preferably both. Her Twilight-esque attempt to retell the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood is an orgy of awful, with only lead Amanda Seyfried allowed anywhere above the cringe-worthy level. If you're going to make a werewolf film (and so many people try), it wouldn't hurt to TRY and take a different approach than the well-trodden vampire flicks that we're already intimately familiar with. When you just copy/paste your plots, everybody sees just how poor a filmmaker you really are.

1) Bad Teacher

I thought long and hard about what the absolute worst film I'd seen this past year was. In 2010, Legion was so bad a film that despite having a list of ten films present, nine of them were nowhere near as awful as Scott Stewart's first full-length feature. This year was different, as honestly at least half of this list was fighting for this #1 spot. Ever since I saw it back in March, I've had Red Riding Hood steadfastly in that place of honor in my film rankings chart, but as I more closely studied my options, I realized that there was indeed one that beat it. The worst kind of film I can imagine is one that has no redeeming characters or failing that, a terrible message. Bad Teacher has both, with lead Cameron Diaz playing a gold-digging no-morals public servant who all but ignores her students until doing so benefits her directly. Toss in abhorred acting from her and co-star Justin Timberlake, a surprisingly complete lack of any and all funny, and wasted potential by casting genuinely talented performers as Jason Segel, Eric Stonestreet and Thomas Lennon, and you have yourself a disservice to educators everywhere. That's what truly makes it the worst film of 2011.

Anything I missed? I'm sure I missed some baddies, so why not tell me and everyone else what you think were the worst films of this past twelve months? Next week and next year I'll be back with new reviews, as we prepare for the Hello Mr Anderson Awards to be posted on January 27'th. I'll be catching up with the requisite nominated films until then, so from all of me at Hello Mr. Anderson, I wish you a happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Animation Nation

Well, hey, if Martin Scorcese can make an excellent family film on his first go around, who's to say that Steven Spielberg can't make an equally great animated film in his first attempt? December has proven to be a big name for the iconic director, whose live-action War Horse has already been nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Picture and will surely be have been considered when the Academy Award nominations roll around. Beyond that, he released his first animated film (alongside another epic filmmaker, Peter Jackson) The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, which has received a Best Animated Film nomination and will likely be the pick for what has become the Academy's annual nomination of an animated feature to the Best Picture category. Based on the classic comic book series by Belgian artist George Remi (or as he's more popularly known, Herge), Spielberg has owned the rights to make Tintin since shortly after Remi's death in 1983. For one reason or another - whether due to unacceptable scripts or other responsibilities - Tintin did not make it to the big screen, and we would never see a live-action version of this international sensation in movie theaters. Enter Peter Jackson, who had used motion capture technology in creating amazingly lifelike nonhuman characters for films King Kong and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Suggesting that Tintin could be made into an animated film using motion capture equipment, he and Spielberg set out to do something never before accomplished, and for the most part they got it right.

A Library? Don't you know all good adventures start in a tavern??
When renowned Belgian reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a beautiful three-masted ship model at an outdoor market, he doesn't think anything of it. He doesn't know that simply purchasing  the ship may present him with the story of a lifetime. He certainly doesn't expect that it will set him on a globetrotting mission to uncover the secrets of a lost treasure, restore the legacy of a cursed family tree, and suffer through disasters on land, sea, and air to survive by the skin of his teeth every time. Escorted and aided everywhere by his white fox terrier Snowy and new friend Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin is in a race against time to find a sunken treasure before criminal mastermind Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig) can steal it to fund his nefarious deeds.

Yes! Saved from a life of glorious adventure!
The stills I've compiled don't do enough to show how brilliantly animated this film is. The Adventures of Tintin possesses the most realistic depictions of human characters I've ever seen in a non-live action film, and anyone who's seen what bad human characters look like know how big a deal that is. Never has Uncanny Valley been so conspicuously absent, and several scenes are so realistic they look as if they were shot with live actors instead of their digital counterparts. This is especially true of the main character, whose likeness to actor Jaime Bell helps connect him to the viewers, but who also must be believable in every scene. And since he's in just about EVERY scene there is... well, what's important is that the animation not only doesn't detract from the adventurous aspect of the film, it actually assists in making it more engaging to the audience. In fact, I'd say that should Spielberg become interested in doing a line of films in this vein, it would make for a natural progression of the Indiana Jones series, which shares many similarities with his variation of Tintin. After all, there's nothing that could cleanse the palette of Crystal Skull better than to reboot the franchise with computer animation, in my opinion.

No, really! I always do the crossword in the blood of my enemies!
Another step in the right direction is the breadth of characters made open to us, thanks especially to Spielberg's faithfulness to the source material. Though we learn little about Tintin himself (a byproduct of Herge, who developed all his secondary characters more than he did his hero), his visual demeanor and Jamie Bell's reading of the role make him instantly likable, as Bell gives Tintin a youthful exuberance in which you can't help but get caught. Also a lot of fun is Andy Serkis as Tintin's friend Haddock, an alcoholic and self-proclaimed failure who rediscovers his sense of adventure and self-respect of the course of the film. Playing the role of crowd favorite, it's the most fun I've had seeing a Serkis performance since he played Gollum in Lord of the Rings and even that thirty seconds of awesome that was Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Daniel Craig rises above his so-so no-Bond 2011 with his best performance of the year, and that's mainly because it's the only one in which you're not sure it's him until the final credits. As the film's main villain, Craig comes off as devious, cruel and completely lacking in compassion, which is exactly what was needed. A nice addition to the cast are the comedic duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thomson and Thompson (yes, two different spellings) as identical policemen who are allies with Tintin. While not deeply ingrained to the main story, their sporadic appearances do provide quite a bit of levity to the story, which occasionally needs it when gunfire is present at regular intervals. Finally, one of the film's better roles might be for a non-speaking part, as Spielberg takes his love of furry animals to the ultimate level with the rendering of Snowy, who is as fleshed out a character as can be, despite the dubious distinction of walking on four feet.

Aye, he's an angry Scotsman

If there's one problem with Tintin, it's that it's directed by, well, Steven Spielberg. Don't get me wrong; in his early years, Spielberg was a genius director for whom the sky was the limit. However, he hit that sky more than a decade ago, and these days seems to settle his business quickly and efficiently, resulting in some underwhelming and overrated titles that survive mainly due to his name and the talent he attracts to his side. One major problem with his work is that the message of the film or even a single scene is placed out there in the open, and he can't help but constantly point to it and figuratively say "See? See? Aren't I clever?" It's less present in Tintin, but still present a bit too often; Spielberg must have heard the moviemaking manta "show, don't tell", but if he has it has no presence in his work, with characters espousing plot devices and any important information instead of letting us work it out for ourselves. That's what makes him such a mediocre (and ironically, popular) director; his films these days rarely make you actually think, allowing you to turn off your brain and not ponder what you see or hear. Most people like that, but as a regular film-goer, I prefer subtlety and intelligence to rule the day.

Hey, don't you know it's impolite to eavesdrop??
Despite this, The Adventures of Tintin is an exciting, fun film for the whole family that is a modern miracle in human engineering. I was not bored one moment throughout the film, and while some quiet moments would have been welcomed, I can't help but feel this is a more trivial quibble than a real critique. Some moments, such as an amazing chase through the streets of Bagghar, Morocco, count among the greatest feats of cinema in 2011, and it's that visual spectacle alongside some real human heart that rates this title so highly in my eyes. It's no Arthur Christmas in terms of overall film quality, but Tintin is still one of the best animated films I've seen recent years, and it's lack of inclusion in the Top 10 is by no means meant as a snub. A very good film that you should see in the theater, this is by far my favorite Spielberg film this decade. With an attempt to try something different on your part, it could be yours too.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Men (Directors) Who Hate (Don't Really Understand) Women

Welcome back to Hello Mr. Anderson. I have two things I wanted to say to my faithful readers today One: I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and will have a happy New Year. Two: you don't need to spend your well-earned money and see David Fincher's adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Why not? Wasn't this one of my more anticipated film releases, as it had been for thousands of fans of the literary trilogy by Stieg Larsson? Well, I guess you can say that I feel as though I've been spoiled. The Millennium Trilogy of books, consisting of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, have become international bestsellers, and it was back in 2008 that I read the first in the series and understood why. Though one could argue that Larsson was not perhaps the best fiction writer on the planet, his ugly look behind the scenes of Swedish society and his obvious vocal activism against violence against women made him a one of the more unique authors of the modern age. The success of his novels was followed in 2009 by the Swedish film adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Neils Arden Oplev. The film was not only a near-perfect retelling of the novel, but it was also one of the best movies of 2010 when it came to the United States in limited release. It made superstars of Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist in the leading roles, and both have been seen in American cinema thanks to their starring turns in that trilogy. Between the great read and the excellent movie, there was really little reason to think David Fincher could bring anything new to the table in his quickly-made follow up to his overrated-but-still-good The Social Network that could really surprise me. He does, but perhaps not in the way that was best for reintroducing the series to an American audience.

Sure, she's a little odd, but she's a freakin' genius
Michael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is in trouble. The co-owner and also a writer for Millennium Magazine in Stockholm, Sweden, has just been found guilty of libel after being tricked into reporting with falsified evidence, most likely planted by the company he was trying to expose in the first place. Losing his life's savings and scandalized in the press, Blomkvist has no choice but to go into hiding while he tries to figure out what to do next. That is answered quickly, as the estate of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) hires Blomkvist to delve into a forty-year-old murder mystery. Henrik's great niece Harriet disappeared from the island home of the Vanger clan while just about every member of the family was in attendance. Sure that she could not have simply run away (an accident had rendered traffic to and from the island impossible that day), Henrik wants Blomkvist to dig deep and discover which of his unsavory brood is responsible for her murder. In return, he will provide evidence proving that the company Blomkvist had been investigating was indeed corrupt. As Blomkvist delves into the history of the Vanger family however, he realizes that he needs help. And so he is introduced to a fierce, strong-willed and brilliant researcher named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara)...

As James Bond triggers the trap... oh, right...
Obviously, the biggest challenge for this film was to take a character so iconic as Lisbeth Salander (and in such a short period of time, too) and match her with a performer worthy of that level. Don't be surprised if you're not familiar with Rooney Mara, whose biggest roles to date have been in 2009's Youth in Revolt, and 2010's Nightmare on Elm Street reboot and The Social Network. Don't remember her, or don't recognize her in the photos here of Lisbeth? That's because Rooney Mara looks in real life like she's about twelve years old; thirteen at most. Besides the major aesthetic transformation turning Mara into the dark, tattooed super-heroine, Mara had to get to an emotional understanding of Lisbeth in order to convincingly BE her, and the actress does a fantastic job in pulling it off. It's impossible to describe exactly what she does in becoming this character, but when Lisbeth Salander walks into a room, all eyes are immediately drawn to her presence. This allows Mara to steal just about every scene in which she appears. She's certainly deserving of the Golden Globe nomination she just received, though time will tell whether she'll be able to completely avoid comparisons to Noomi Rapace's 2009 Salander.

There it is, folks
Besides Mara's casting, Finch's version of the film does do a few good things right. The rest of the cast were mostly well-picked, most notably Plummer and Stellan Skarsgard as the major players in the Vanger family. Robin Wright also appears briefly as Erika Berger, Millennium's co-owner and Blomkvist's main love interest. The problem is that most of these minor characters get little face time outside of introduction scenes. If they're important, they'll come back. If not, well... Craig himself seems slightly out of sync as Blomkvist, as while the character's serious investigative nature is obviously playing to Craig's strengths as a performer, his charisma is not to the level I would have liked for the role he played. Fincher also tries his hardest to get in every last major detail from the novels, and with only minor trimming he churns out a still-long 158 minute film that doesn't lack for the information you need to understand exactly what is happening. The clues are parceled out evenly, and even if you have memorized the book cover to cover there are a few surprises waiting to make your acquaintance. And don't worry, people; I'm not forgetting the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch. To say it's awe-inspiring would be an insult to sunsets and rainbows, but it's a damned great collection of music that perfectly captures the mood of the story.

Actually, Mara had to change for everything else she's done; in GWTDT, she just plays herself
It's those few right things that make the rest of the film's missteps all the more painful. The limited CGI use is extremely fake-looking, and Fincher's continued insistence on its use can easily be described as a gross irresponsibility on his part. But the worst mistake the film makes is the depiction of the developing relationship between Salander and Blomkvist. I remember reading the book and thinking that when these two characters got together, great things happen. That was most of the book's second half, and it's a feat Stieg Larsson never really recaptured in the subsequent novels. Unfortunately, Fincher seems to have missed that idea, as the film does its best to keep these two characters apart, only bringing them together for truly kinky sex scenes. And of course, the lack of character interaction between the two means that said sexual relations have no basis in reality. It's almost as if it was a vehicle designed to film Mara topless as much as possible. There are also some character inaccuracies, most notably one (SPOILER!) in which Salander asks Blomkvist's permission to kill the bad guy, an act the literary character would never abide. Even when Salander warmed up to Blomkvist, she would never ask for permission from ANYONE to do whatever she thought was necessary. (SPOILER END). The film's end is also over-long, as what should have taken no more than five minutes is instead spread out over the course of about three times that many. It's a poor finale to a relatively exciting main story, and when the final credits roll you'll be shaking your head and asking what happened.

And that's where the crazy girl makes the incision...
It's not that I think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a bad movie. I don't; It's a perfectly okay movie, with the slick visuals that Fincher is known for and an excellent acting lead in Rooney Mara. There however exist about a dozen errors between her and what could have been an excellent film. It's even a relatively faithful adaptation, right down to the visceral sexual assault scenes, which I wasn't sure I could expect from this director. Unfortunately, there's just too much wrong for me to tell you that this is a "must-see" film, when the "must-see" adaptation of this film was available to you just last year. Considering that the original Swedish film is available on Netflix as we speak, you'd be much better off paying 8 bucks a month to see that and others than paying four bucks more to see the newer interpretation on the big screen. Of course, the story isn't the only reason I've heard people are interested in seeing this title. Yes, I'll say again that the soundtrack is amazing. So buy or download the soundtrack, skip the film, and I promise you; you're not missing much.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Trite Valley High

Award nominations are a funny thing, right? Despite the fact that Young Adult, the latest film written and directed by the Juno pair of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman, didn't look all that interesting in my eyes, it did have one major thing going for it: Charlize Theron's nomination for a Best Actress Golden Globe. That isn't to say that Young Adult looked BAD, just that it didn't look all that special when compared to the many movies out there vying for cinema dollars right now. However, I eventually had to get back to these nominated films, right? With the end of the year fast approaching, and with new releases Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Adventures of Tintin still unavailable (They both came out this week but I haven't had opportunity to see either just yet), it was the right time to see what the fuss was about. I absolutely loved Cody's freshman effort Juno, and felt that despite the inability of Young Adult's trailer to convey more than a one-note feeling about the story and plot there was a real chance that the film could really be the adult version of Juno. On top of that, The Opinioness had a glowing review on her site, and despite the two of us not always agreeing on what makes a good movie, we usually agree when it comes to the small-budget character films like this one.

You know she's immature because she actually wears Hello Kitty
Mavis Gary (Theron) is in a rut. A writer of young adult series Waverly Prep (think Sweet Valley High knockoff), she live alone with her Minneapolis apartment after her divorce, and doesn't exactly feel her life has stepped up since moving away from small town Mercury. One day, she receives an e-mail from her former high-school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). It's a mass e-mail sent to announce the birth of his new baby girl. Mavis transfixes on this idea and decides that the only way she can be happy is by traveling back to Mercury and stealing Buddy away from his (obviously) miserable future as a loyal husband and father in a small town. I mean REALLY.

Hint: he's not smiling because of her
Obviously, I don't think much of Mavis Gray, or people like her. Truthfully, I know I'm not meant to. She's the high school prom queen who made your life miserable if she wasn't completely ignoring you. She always believed she was better than the rest, and had no issue ditching whatever she though held her back. If she was ever your best friend at some time, you bet your ass she got something out of it. Some people grow out of this phase, realizing what a horrid person they had been. Not Mavis, though. Unapologetic in her voice and actions despite not really having a moral leg to stand on, Mavis has been emotionally stunted by too many years of sycophants telling her she was so great growing up. She wakes up to a television playing E! television shows like Kendra and Keeping up with the Kardashians. She named her dog (a cute Pomeranian who nearly stole several scenes) Dolce, after the fashion designer. She doesn't seem to ever keep up on current events or maintain any semblance of learning. And of course she can't seem to let go of her past and glory days, which is of course the point of the whole film.

Never work with animals or babies... EVER
With all these negative character traits you'd better have quite the actress in order to make Mavis even remotely sympathetic. Enter Charlize Theron, and thank God for that, or there might be no real reason to see this film on a cinema screen. Somehow Theron makes this emotional train wreck not only watchable, but surprisingly endearing as she tries to openly commit adultery with Buddy. Theron does the nearly-impossible: making Mavis a tragic character that we sympathize with and wish to get better, as obviously there are underpinning issues that have hurt her in the past (and are effectively and shockingly made known in the final act's baby naming celebration). It's easy to see why Theron is getting so much attention for her performance, as most other actresses would have likely turned Mavis into purely a bitch for no reason. Theron brings Young Adult full circle, and we actually want Mavis to learn how not only to let go of the past, but be happy with her own accomplishments as well.

Little known fact: this bar was entirely filled with rednecks. True story
It's a shame that Theron has so little to occupy her overly sufficient talents in the people acting across her. Wilson, a normally talented performer, doesn't do much besides play a normal guy, not surprising since I'm fairly certain that's all his character description called for. Both Buddy and his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser) are simple characters, lacking any real depth beyond bland normalcy. The same is true for most of Mercury's fictional citizens, and while that is a patent example of how the script shows small town life to be unimportant and worth escaping, it also makes most of the characters extremely DULL, making you tune out half the time. The only real exception is a surprising Patton Oswalt as Matt Freehauf, a nobody who knew Mavis in high school and was known only because he was the victim of a hate crime; a group of jocks beat the tar out of him when it was surmised that he was in fact a homosexual. Throughout the course of the film, he acts as the voice of reason, and yet like our erstwhile heroine Matt is likewise trapped in his own past. This makes him a highly likable and infectious character, and his scenes with Theron are easily the most entertaining in the entire movie.

"Drunk stalking" was the obvious next step
Unfortunately, what really derailed the film for me wasn't any lack of secondary characters, but in fact the path the main one leads to the end of the rainbow. After the aforementioned excellent soul-bearing moment in the film's final act, the film goes on a bit longer to a baffling character realization, and what good was thought to be gained from such a powerful scene is lost as Mavis has the same kind of self-promoting realization that could have been gained (as another character suggests) from a good therapy session. In the end, we don't feel as though Mavis has really even healed, only gone from one extreme to another. You might agree with it, but it makes for a strangely unsatisfying ending.

Yeah, that's how I felt afterwards
In the end, Young Adult is an interesting character study with some good acting thrown in, but nowhere near the potential set by creators who have done far greater in the past. Cody and Reitman should be commended for some outside-the-box thinking when it came to this film, but their efforts fail to amuse, an unfortunate side effect of unusually dull material. I would wait for the DVD release if you really want to see it, but if you need to watch an Oscar-worthy performance this winter, you can do far worse than one of Charlize Theron's best performances to date.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Tom Cruise Horror Story

The search for last minute additions to 2011's "Worst Of" list continues. Today's contender is the latest in Tom Cruise's popular Mission Impossible films, code-named Ghost Protocol. It's relative easy to write off Tom Cruise these days. Ever since he decided he was going to act all bat-shit crazy, his box office performance went from "sure thing" to "meh" in a heartbeat and although he's still a profitable actor, he's nowhere near the superstar he was a decade ago. Thankfully for his agent, there's still one franchise that is completely under his control, and that's the Mission Impossible series. With both his sexuality and religion constantly under fire, it must be nice to be able to make an escapist film with zero elements of realism and earn a ton of cash doing so. In this latest installment, Cruise upped the ante by bringing in such talented performers as Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Michael Nyqvist, not to mention director Brad Bird in his live action film debut. So will this latest entry have the same draw as the series' earlier titles? I'd be content knowing whether or not it was any good.

Tom Cruise: rugged and loving it
After his IMF unit breaks him out of a Russian prison, super-spy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tasked with the mission of breaking into the Kremlin to extract sensitive nuclear launch information before it can be appropriated by a fanatic intent on starting a worldwide nuclear holocaust. When they fail and the Kremlin is bombed in a related attack, Hunt and his team are blamed, forcing the US President to declare "Ghost Protocol" in effect, disavowing the IMF completely. Now this small group must stop terrorist Kurt Hendricks (Nyqvist) from successfully launching a nuclear warhead, and they must do it without backup, support or any allies to fall back on. Win or lose, they must do it on the fly and with whatever materials they can scrounge up, from Moscow to India and home again.

Yes, Simon Pegg is here... I'm not sure why, exactly, but there you are
As in all the previous Mission Impossible titles, you have to keep a very high measure of disbelief in your system throughout most of your viewing. There is so much that happens, and the heroes (especially Cruise) are banged up so much over the course of the film that it's a shock they can still stand through most of it. Adrenaline and sheer willpower can only take you so far, after all. Still, Ghost Protocol does have some truly exciting sequences, and spread throughout the film to boot. There's no one moment that stands out as best from the others, though sufferers of Acrophobia will probably find it impossible to watch Ethan Hunt scale a portion of Dubai's Burj Kalifa without a safety harness. It's a difficult scene to watch even without the ever-present sense of vertigo setting in. Other standouts include Hunt chasing a target through a sandstorm and Agent Brandt (Renner) diving into a tunnel to get "caught" before he can impact with a giant turbine. The special effects are consistent throughout, with only a few moments looking obviously tweaked beyond the realistic. Bird's live-action directorial debut obviously could have benefited with a step further from the animation that he's used to working with, but to be honest the difference would have been negligible at best.

I'm guessing they can't hear him now. Good.
The acting, like the SFX, is if nothing else consistent. This is the type of film where most actors can get by on their charm, and for most of the people here, that is true. It's certainly the case for Cruise, who (ahem) cruises through everything that happens with a cool face of detachment, except for the few moments in the script that call for mild frustration. Despite his relative career downturn, Cruise hasn't needed to act in almost a decade, and when all he apparently does these days is action films, that's understandable. Less understandable is when a talented performer such as Paula Patton falls in that trap, an actress who has nowhere near the career cachet to justify oozing with charm without bringing more to the table. There's plenty of opportunity for her character to grow, but sadly that never really seems to happen. Simon Pegg is the comedic sidekick and he knows it, but apparently the script didn't, and Pegg does more than you might expect, though it was nice to see him bring a levity among the critically serious characters around him. Veteran actors Tom Wilkinson and Anil Kapoor also do little, with Wilkinson playing his small role as dry as the Sahara, and Kapoor doing just the opposite, playing up on the charm he exuded in 2008's Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire.

The best deterrent against catcalls
But there are still a few actors who defy the shallowness of their roles. It's a shame to see that this year Michael Nyqvist has followed up arguably his most successful heroic role (that of Mikael Blomkvist in the Swedish adaptation of the Millennium series) with two cliched villain parts, first in the stinker Abduction and now this. He's a far more talented actor than he's being given a chance to be in Hollywood, and I wonder how long the good will is to last for him on the big screen in the good ol' USA. Still, he does do menacing well, and his final battle with Ethan Hunt at the film's finale is nothing if not believable. Lea Seydoux also stands out as a French assassin for hire, though she only appears in a few scenes of note. Finally, Jeremy Renner plays the only member of the four-person IMF team given real character development, and he is the only one who actually acts his way through the entirety of the movie. Renner is quickly becoming a true superstar, and I'm happy to see him rise to such heights from the relative success of 2009's The Hurt Locker.

Don't look down don't look down don't look down...
Between the action, special effects, and a liberal dose of humor that doesn't overpower the seriousness of the situations presented in the film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol does a better than average job of entertaining its audience. It's not a very good movie overall, but nobody expects that of franchise action films these days, and this entry is no different from any similar release. That's it's biggest drawback, of course; you could have literally stayed home and rented any other action film (or an earlier Mission Impossible) and gotten exactly the same amount of fun from that than you would from Ghost Protocol. Still, it's nowhere near as poor as you can imagine, and should ensure more entries to the Mission Impossible series before too long. After all, Tom Cruise has to make money SOMEHOW.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Game Afoot

Well, not EVERY December film release aspires to be a major award winner. While studios DO release what they consider to be the best of the best at this time of the year in anticipation for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, SAG awards et al, they still need to make money for their efforts. With so many nominated films being limited released, niche affairs, it only makes sense to put out a few serious moneymakers to distract those who might not have (or don't wish to see) The Artist or Shame playing at a theater near them just yet. That's why I saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows this past weekend. The sequel to the Guy Richie-directed 2009 Sherlock Holmes, this film brings back not only the visually prolific director, but arguably the best duo to have ever played the incomparable Sherlock Holmes and his loyal assistant Dr. John Watson. I'm the first to admit that I didn't think much of the casting choices when they were laid out two years ago, as Robert Downey Jr. had only recently proven his value and drug rehabilitation with 2008's superhero flick Iron Man, and I've tended to dislike Jude Law in whatever film he appeared (a trend that still continues today, mind you). When I did get around to seeing the new interpretation of the master detective, what stuck me most was the ability of the lead actors to play perfectly off of one another, which was more than enough to make up for the film's most acute flaws. This playful character interaction was what made me so excited to see the newly-released A Game of Shadows, as well as the addition of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace to the cast. Rapace made a name for herself playing Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film adaptation of the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson (Rooney Mara, you have a lot to live up to), and I was excited to see what she could bring to her first English language film.

And THAT'S what happens when you cross the streams, Venkman
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows begins not long after the revelations at the end of its predecessor. Sherlock Holmes (Downey Jr) is hunting down proof that renowned Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) is responsible for bombings and murders across Europe, tensing the major nations for a potential war across the continent. Moriarty is very good at covering his tracks however, and Holmes can find no immediate proof to substantiate his claims. Meanwhile, Watson (Law) is preparing to marry his love interest from the first film, Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), and has stepped away from assisting Holmes in his investigations. However, when Moriarty sends his goons to kill the newlyweds as they travel to their Honeymoon, Sherlock whisks them to safety. The legendary mystery solvers pair up for one last mission, alongside a fortune-telling gypsy with a personal stake in the story (Rapace), to take down one of the era's (and classic literature's) most brilliant criminal masterminds.

There's a story here; I just know it
The story behind the film is of course based on the extensive works of Sherlock's creator, the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. More to the point, it is loosely based on his story The Final Problem, as pivotal a Holmes tale as you can have. Much of what made Sherlock Holmes so much fun two years ago is still here: visual appealing direction, properly-distributed spoken humor, gratuitous action sequences that are actually well-thought out; it's this last part that really makes Sherlock Holmes stand out among the glut of brainless action-oriented movies every year. Thanks to Holmes as a character being able to anticipate and adapt to any fighting situation, some of the film's best moments include the precursor to Downy Jr.'s battles, in which we see inside his mind and watch him plot out and choreograph every major moment in the upcoming brawl. From an aesthetic standpoint it's spotless, and the final product is often made all the better by seeing beforehand what will come. Director Guy Ritchie has become an expert on the different visual styles necessary to make these sequences stand out, and under his plan the whole thing feels organic and without error.

Oh, the happy memories...
The film also stands a head over its predecessor by skewing much more closely to its source material, and by sating Holmes' greatest fans' desires by pitting him against his most renowned villain, Professor Moriarty. In the former, several minor characters from Doyle's stories, including retired Colonel Sebastian Moran (Paul Anderson) and Sherlock's own brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry), are brought in to provide more character interaction. Ritchie not only introduces these characters, but presents them in the same or remarkably similar fashion as Doyle intended, a move that seems odd in this day and age of adaptations that barely resemble the material on which they were based. In the latter, bringing Moriarty into the picture could have been disastrous if done incorrectly. Fortunately, the man is in almost every way portrayed as Holmes' equal, and superior in the few moments when he is not. Ruthless, conniving, and altogether just a bad guy, he is infinitely more memorable than the original film's adversary (bonus points for those who can give me his full name and title without looking up on Wikipedia), who was by no means memorable or important in comparison.

Yes, run FROM the explosions!
As before, the witty banter between Holmes and Watson is the main source of enjoyment that the film provides, and thankfully Downey Jr. and Law are still at top form when playing off of one another. As Holmes, Downey Jr. continues to shatter all those old images of the master detective as a stuffy know-it-all. Instead, Downey continues to play him as a stuffy know-it-all who can also throw a punch when needed. In a way, Downey's Sherlock Holmes is like a nineteenth century Batman, self-taught to be the best at everything. Downey also plays for laughs when needed, both as a master of disguise and with his mannerisms and wit. Law plays Watson as the straight man to Downey's madman perfectly, and as I've mentioned this is one of the few roles I've ever liked for him as an actor. His constant frustrations with Holmes are tempered by the respect of Sherlock's skills and their lifelong friendship, and that he can convey it so easily is a point in his favor. While the pair at the top of the cast are of course wonderful, a good core of support characters makes the real difference when it comes to how the tale moves forward. Jared Harris is perfect as the evil genius Moriarty, his piercing gaze and subtle ferocity making him the perfect cerebral enemy for Holmes. He is by far the best addition to the series, and if the franchise continues I would love to see more from his corner. On a more practical villainy front, Paul Anderson is menacing and effective as Moran, Moriarty's sharpshooting second in command. I don't know where Anderson has been all these years, but he gets plenty of chances to shine in this film and doesn't pass on any opportunities. Though Mycroft Holmes is largely played to comedic effect, Stephen Fry is up to the task, and he does a good job when asked to do something other than drop some funny dialogue. The only real disappointment in the cast is Rapace, though this is by no means her fault. While her rendition of a knife-throwing gypsy fortune-teller with a connection to Moriarty's network is well-played, and it was nice to not stick her in a cliched love-interest role, I can't help but feel that she is sorely underutilized. This came as something of a surprise, as the ads and trailers made such a big deal about her involvement, only for her to be moved to the side at most opportunities.

He'll kill you with kindness... Ha ha, no, he'll just kill you
So what is it I like the most about Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows? Is it the wonderful visual effects? The compelling storytelling that misses no details? The ability to drop hints at the beginning that you completely forget until Holmes reintroduces it in solving his case? The wonderful acting, led by Downey Jr. and Law? The broad mix of humor and adventure? How about the exciting, climactic final battle between Holmes and Moriarty that is both a literal and figurative chess match? Presented with these options, I'm going to have to go with "all of the above", as Sherlock Holmes stands a good head over most movies released this year. It's not good enough for Top 10 status, but it holds place among other highly watchable and enjoyable fare with few flaws, among titles like The Muppets, Footloose and Crazy Stupid Love. Better than the original, and arguably better than any Sherlock Holmes film you can name, I can't recommend this title highly enough. Since The Artist isn't playing anywhere near you, try the next best thing: a smart, funny, highly engrossing title that won't make you feel stupid for having paid full price to see it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Shames Me Not

Quick, what NC-17-rated film has had the highest financial gross since the creation of the rating in 1990? If you guessed the 1995 Paul Verhoeven title Showgirls, give yourself a pat on the back. It doesn't hurt that this particular title was been the only one with that NC-17 rating to get itself a wide release, as often filmmakers whose work get that rating will edit and change their films to try and appeal for a reduction to an R rating instead. R-rated films get to see wide release, more and better advertising and by those means a much larger potential audience, whereas one hampered by an NC-17 rating are often depicted as "niche" titles and play in New York and Los Angeles almost exclusively, with a little indie theatrical action around the country as it prepares for the upcoming awards shows. We're a long way away from 1969, when Midnight Cowboy became the only X-rated (before the porn industry stole that term) film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. These days, anything rated higher than R is considered too big a deal, and many millions of dollars end up being spent in the mad dash to appeal for that relatively more acceptable ceiling. This is why it's so refreshing to see that Shame did not undergo this same process, proudly (and perhaps a little foolhardily) wearing the adult-only patch as what director Steve McQueen called "a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter." Instead of going for leniency from a sometimes shockingly prudish ratings board in an attempt to make a film focused on sex addiction more marketable, McQueen and his crew stood by the content they had produced, confident that their storytelling methods were the only way to properly depict the issues within.

Are scarves for real? Are they a "thing" now?
Shame follows New York businessman Brandon (Michael Fassbender) as he goes through his everyday motions in New York City. From the very beginning we see that Brandon lives his life a little differently than most: between sex with random women, furious masturbation, a truly epic porn collection and even the hiring of prostitutes, Brandon seems to fill every open moment in his life with sexual fervor, and not entirely of his own volition. Obviously not comfortable with his situation, he generally avoids personal contact with others, with only married wannabe-womanizing boss David (James Badge Dale) the closest thing he has to a friend. He also ignores repeated attempts by his sister (Carey Mulligan) to make contact, not wanting to allow family back into his life. When she instead appears on his doorstep and having nowhere else to go, Brandon feels his already fragile life slipping past, and the dirty little secrets he's tried to keep hidden begin to make themselves more present and uncomfortable than they've ever been before.

One of many uncomfortable scenes in this film
Now, admit it: when you read the words "sex addiction" earlier, you chuckled a little bit, even if just on the inside. Today it seems like the word "addiction" is tossed around on a whim, but the truth is that as we learn more and more about how the human brain is wired, sex addiction is just another form of mental instability no different than alcoholism, compulsive overeating or drug addiction. When someone becomes addicted to alcohol, drugs or food (or anything, for that matter), the overriding drive behind them is the search for pleasure. Indulging in these habits causes the brain to feel so good that when those things are NOT in the system, it can cause depression and sadness, causing the afflicted to search out that great feeling once more. However, while people seem more understanding when it comes to alcohol or drug abuse (they probably know someone who suffers from those issues), sex addiction doesn't get the same respect in most circles as an actual illness. It's really no different however, as the human orgasm is among the most pleasurable feelings a person can obtain. It's no less reasonable to be infatuated with that as your emotional high as with other means, but the truth is that the idea just hasn't been around as long as other concepts. For that reason it may still be some time before sex addicts are treated on the same level as other sufferers.

"Cream in your coffee" of course takes on a whole new meaning
My whole reason behind that unexpected sociological ramble was that I was impressed how seriously Shame takes its subject matter. While the film is at times difficult to watch, it's obvious that McQueen and crew took their time making sure every detail was exactly what they wanted to portray, and accurate at that. Sex addiction is no joke, and there is very little to suggest that the cast and crew wished to do anything besides treat this problem as a real and valid issue that people face today. While there are some moments that feel a little forced (Brandon having sex with a woman in an alley underneath where someone has scrawled "fuck" on the wall, for instance), McQueen doesn't do anything without a reason. This has both positives and negatives, especially when he has Mulligan sing a painfully slow rendition of "New York, New York" that successfully transmits to the audience its intention but suffers from forcing the fake audience for whom she's performing to act like it was the greatest thing they had ever seen. There are moments throughout in which the story is a little TOO on point with its message, but thankfully these moments are few and are even balanced by truly great sequences, for instance a single-shot of Brandon running through the streets of New York just to blow off some steam.

This film likely won't get a Best Costume nomination...
If there's one more thing Shame does well, it's cementing Fassbender as one of the industry's rising stars. Fassbender has been around for a while, making his television debut in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, and running through innocuous smaller roles in 300, Inglourious Basterds and Jonah Hex before truly breaking out this year. Teaming up with McQueen for the first time since his acclaimed performance in 2008's Hunger, Fassbender forces himself into discussions as an obvious front runner for the Best Actor award in any award show going forward. Brandon walks that line between normal life and crippling addiction so finely, and I can't imagine any actor besides Fassbender being able to pull off the level of required subtlety to make that believable, let alone the arguably best performance by a male actor this year. Mulligan is perhaps not as inspired, but I believe that is because there wasn't enough of her. Some of the best scenes in the film feature interaction between Mulligan and Fassbender's siblings, but there could have been a few more scenes of that like to flesh out their past relationship. Her character, Cissy, is an emotionally juvenile free-spirit who is going through some issues of her own, not the least of which is an obvious codependency on others. Mulligan carries this nicely, and as I've never seen An Education this is the first instance in which I get why people appreciate her as an actress. While I do think there could have been more connecting these two interesting characters, that they have an obvious history which is not necessarily being shared is acceptable at least.

Proof that frowns are not a pretty thing
There are a few scenes in the film's late stages in which you might wonder as to how far Brandon's descent will take him, and there's one explicit and extensive sex scene which doesn't FEEL like it's faked. What results is more of the discomfort that you've felt for much of the film's run time, and it's unlikely that the great performances will ever tempt you to revisit this title anytime in the future. Still, Shame keeps hold on its credibility thanks mostly to the level of acting brought to the table by the film's exceptionally talented leads. Perhaps not destined to be one of the year's best, Shame still manages to propel itself near the top, debuting as the #9 film of 2011, just ahead of Fassbender's other 2011 titles X-Men: First Class and Jane Eyre. Michael Fassbender deserves to be a star. Thanks to this body of work on his resume, future years might see just that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Which Witch?

Now, I know what you're thinking: Mr. Anderson is gone on a week-and-a-half-long hiatus and when he comes back it's just with a stupid rental review? Yeah, I agree. But my week removed from film came at a time when the industry as a whole seemed to take time off, sitting back and letting The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn's box office run go unmolested. The few "important" movies out that I hadn't seen (chiefly The Descendants and My Week with Marilyn) were not ones I was terribly excited to watch, and this past weekend's wide releases were also more than a bit underwhelming, as the star-boasting New Years Eve and R-rated comedy The Sitter don't exactly nicely follow in the footsteps of truly great 2011 films like Hugo, Arthur Christmas, or The Muppets. Fortunately, with much anticipated films Shame, the Sherlock Holmes sequel, and others finally making their ways onto the big screen this month, I'll be back to seeing so many new releases that getting around to renting older titles will surely be stopped for the near future.

But enough exposition! Season of the Witch combines a number of bad cinematic elements that at first glance look like an easy contender for the year's (if not decade's) worst film. Star Nicholas Cage's run of surprisingly successful crap shoots finally hit a snag this year when he managed to bomb what should have been a likable effort in Drive Angry, breaking records as the lowest-grossing wide release 3D film to that point. And that was the option most likely to be successful! There really should have been no way that Season of the Witch was going to be any better, as it transplanted Cage's penchant for cheesy dialogue and grim stoicism to a Middle Ages setting, making for a genre that doesn't on paper seem deserving of much attention. And yet those who sit down and watch this particular film might find themselves surprised at the entertainment level of the film, especially if they've also sat through Cage's 3D farce this year.

Nic Cage: the same bed head since 1983
Teutonic knights Behman von Bleibruck (Cage) and Felson (Ron Perlman) return to their home country after years fighting in the Crusades, weary and angry at the church that ordered them to murder innocent women and children in His name. Fearless warriors, they find themselves in yet another war, one in which their sword skills will have no impact. The Black Death has ravaged the land of Styria, and the church leaders blame the arrival of a young woman (Claire Foy) for it, calling her a witch. They want Behman and Felson to escort the accused woman to a monastic church where she can be properly judged as to whether or not she is unholy. And so, with a small group behind them, the duo travel on a holy quest, ironic since neither has much love for religion at all.

"Oh, my God" takes on a whole different meaning
Naturally, it's this conflict of faiths that is the underlying tone of Season of the Witch, and the one taken most seriously by the film's script. In the beginning, Behman was an unquestioning follower of God, glad to do battle against His enemies. When the slaughter of innocents forces Behman to take a close look at what he has done, he rejects God, as he believes no real god would allow these atrocities to befall people. It is this mindset with which he agrees to escort the young woman, practically daring the church to prove their argument. The balance is well-regarded, as each member of the group has their own preconceived notions of what is good and evil as the quest begins, and the survivors learn to change their ideas as they go along. In short, this is one of the better "crisis of faith" plot lines I've seen committed to film in recent years.

Soap: it's what's for dinner
It's a shame then that the story and dialogue surrounding this idea are almost laughable in the face of judgment. Director Dominic Sena, who hasn't seemed to grow as a director since his 1993 debut Kalifonia (and arguably has diminished since then), is utterly unable weave tension into what is supposed to be an action movie. While the film does fine concerning the interactions between characters, this doesn't translate to the precious few action sequences, which are supposed to be the linchpin that brings the whole thing together. There's only so much "is she or isn't she" that we can take before it gets old, but Sena didn't get the memo, and focuses more on that than creating compelling battles. Even Conan the Barbarian did a better job of creating a viable universe of potential battle.

And here's where YOU'LL die...

Doing anything worse than Conan would be unforgivable in itself, but in the film as a whole there isn't a whole lot to appreciate here. Dialogue is delivered in dry, emotionless monotones, or at least it is when done so by Nicolas Cage. Cage actually turns in a decent performance given the material he's saddled with. Cage is no longer the wunderkind he was in his heyday, or even the modestly talented performer who could surprise you with films like 2002's Adaptation. These days his starring roles mainly consist of doing exactly what he does in Season of the Witch: enough. It's easy to see the roles that have been written for him; pithy catchphrases throughout with just enough wit sprinkled in to take advantage of his deadpan stares and straightforward delivery. It's difficult to really criticize him for slacking off on a movie, since I've seen him in worse THIS YEAR. As it is, when he states that "I serve the Church no more", even other characters make fun of him. At least some of the others seem to be having a good time, especially Perlman as Felson, lover of drink and women. Perlman does well in these types of roles, delivering each line of dialogue with an ear-to-ear grin on his face, or an overly dour grimace when the situation calls for it. Stephen Campbell Moore also manages to stand out, and is even given a few choice quips in order to earn a chuckle from the audience. Robert Sheehan, Ulrich Thomsen and Stephen Graham do serviceable jobs, but barely transcend their meager character attributes. Foy however is easily the most talented, the English TV star showing quite a bit of talent in her first Hollywood role. She really makes you wonder whether or not she is a force of evil, and is the most flexible, interesting character in the mix. Not bad when you consider that she spends almost the entirety of the movie locked in a cage.

No, this isn't some "babes behind bars" exploitation flick
Of course, one great performance doesn't make for an amazing movie-going experience, and when you consider the dearth of a special effects budget (which also hampered Sena's last attempt at moviemaking Whiteout) and a ridiculous twist that has to make the most of the aforementioned SFX, there isn't much to recommend Season of the Witch as anything more than an unintentionally funny trash film. If you really, REALLY want to see a historically-inspired "action" film that you will enjoy entirely based on how stoned you are - or if you just want to see any Nic Cage film - then Season of the Witch can be entertaining on that level alone. If however you actually want to see a GOOD film, you should slowly put this title back on the shelf, take a couple of steps back, and search elsewhere.