Tag Archives: period pieces

Black Death: The Medieval Wicker Man

In a movie undeservedly put under the radar, it came as a surprise to me after watching Black Death that it wasn’t a more well liked and well known film. Among a handful of other medival pieces on Netflix (such as Ironclad, and Season of the Witch – review coming soon) this one, I would say, stood out as the #1 spot on the leaderboard. I mean, come on, you got Sean Bean as the lead. He puts his own amazingly remarkable mark on any and all medieval period pieces he does (Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones). So its time to delve into those boils and see what’s good.

This movie starts (and focuses) around the account of a young monk in training. All around him, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) sees the pestilence of the plague as a blight from God himself. As the movie begins, we even discover that he himself was being tested to see if he caught the plague. As a devastating disease that just took hold of his Church by the throat, Osmund finds himself in turmoil. His new found love Averill

Ulric and his gang at a witch burning. Monty Python style.

(Kimberley Nixon), something the Church wouldn’t approve of, must leave the confines of the monastery and find safety in a forest village far from the reaches of the plague. She promises to go, but will only wait for Osmund for 7 days.

With this separation between human love and the love of God, Osmund must make a choice to choice (although it would be frowned upon if he left the Church at all). Upon praying to God for some sort of sign on which way to go, Ulric and his band of merry men roll up hard to the Church to find a guide.

There are repenters in every one...

There is talk of a necromancer in a swamp somewhere near where Osmund is familiar with. Double whammy for him? He can meet his wench on the way. Overjoyed at the excuse to peace out (deuces style), he volunteers to lead Ulric. After some minor preparation, they head on out.

Here’s where things get sticky. Some people die, some people may (or may not) have the plague, and this village they find in the swamp, hasn’t been touched by the plague. So Sean Bean and his boys suspect witchcraft. And they’ve brought some deadly torture devices to get some confessions and drag home one witches corpse. Utterly decieved, Osmund has no choice but to go on this miniquest for God and his way of life.

The travelling troupe.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the ending, but think The Wicker Man. it doesn’t matter which version (Cage or no Cage) but watch that first and prepare for the medieval version afterwards. It’s not all that uncommon, I’m sure, for a movie to be inspired by another, and I found this version of a society that’s not what it seems to be quite unnerving. Upon looking into this movie, I got worried they’d introduce some B.S. magical element into the story. And I wasn’t having that from a movie that came from a very real place. (Speaking of real, we’ll have to talk about the realness that is Season of the Witch.)

Sean Bean. Witch hunting.

Luckily, I was spared and the movie satisfied me like a goat-wrapped Snickers. And you wanna know who stole the show? It wasn’t Sean Bean. He gave his great performance as his stock Boromir character. It was good, no doubt, no doubt. The real ingenious lay in the true to life performance from Eddie Redmayne. A relatively young actor I’ve not heard much from (other than the big works he’s done that I haven’t seen yet) has been doing period pieces like its his job. I mean, My Week with Marilyn? Who but the Redmayne is lucky enough to do that? But what I really felt about his acting is that he wasn’t faking. He looks like a normal person (of the time period) and I felt his true anguish and terror. Nothing felt forced. It was a spot on acting job.

But I do give Sean Bean his credit. I know that every time I watch a Sean Bean

The evil wench, Carice van Houten.

film, I’m getting a true to life, Shakespearean performance. He cuts no corners when it comes to true acting. On some other levels I found John Lynch’s role as Wolfstan to be riveting. As the older and wiser 2nd in command, Wolfstan tries to protect all that he can and do so with kindess. That kind of heartfelt performance comes from some attention to detail. A little nod to Andy Nyman, a pretty funny guy who applied some dark comedy to Black Death. This was a big turnaround role for me last seeing him as the portly and spunky friend of a friend in Death at a Funeral (the real one). I mistook Johnny Harris, the big old badass with twinblades for Eddie Marsan, and if you’re familiar, you may understand my mistake. Both bald, both bearded, both decent actors.

Will love find a way in such dark times?

As with most adventure movies like this (not exactly adventure, I guess I mean questing), you get to know all the characters in the travelling party a little bit. But not enough to really care whether some of them live or die. I mean… Griff and the mute guy Ivo in this movie? One had boils and one couldn’t talk. Not much was lost when they were killed. Not to say their characters weren’t important, it’s just with movies like this, you can tell the expendables from the not so. So when it comes down to the last guys, then you feel the heartache.

And with this classic film form in mind, the storyline bloodily zips along to its conclusion. Some twists and turns and some witches who burn, the transformation of Osmund is the final result of this film. Told in an almost brutal, Gerard Butler in Beowulf kind of way, a bit of magic never hurts to mix in. This movie delivers how its supposed to and makes for a fine period piece. I’ll give it an 8.1 out of 10.

Truly symbolic.

 

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Bunraku: Paper Punishing Dolls

Suck it, R.T...

Alright, first off, death to Rotten Tomatoes. I’m not really sure where this website gets off giving this film 16% (why the hell a percent?) “approval” rating or however they go about rating all films. I’m just assuming at this point that they shit all over action films and take no account of the true purpose of an action film. Action. That’s what the damn genre is called and that’s what I expect. So this critique websites that don’t really go too hard into giving the least bit of credit where credit is due, need to re-evaluate what’s going on. Maybe I should rename my blog “Reviews from the Silver Lining,” cause there’s rarely a film I can’t take something away from and appreciate it for that fact. Even if it’s horrible, there are a lot of people whose blood, sweat, and tears went into that film. And they deserve at least a worthwhile evaluation of, I would suppose, a life’s pursuit. Come off it.

And I found a damn lot right with this movie. The title of the film coming from the Japanese art of paper doll plays, this movie created a landscape in which the actions and scenarios displayed on film could be believed. From one

The Drifter (Hartnett) and Yoshi (Gackt). A dynamic duo.

direction of town comes The Drifter (Josh Hartnett). The other, a Samurai named Yoshi (not Nintendo related) without a sword or honor. In a world without guns, an all out brawler and sword expert come together to absolutely Tech Deck wreck a bunch of foolish thugs.

And why do they come to this town? They come to kill the Woodcutter, Nicola (Ron Pearlman). With a debt to repay and a talisman to recover, these two must join forces in order to conquer the evil

Word Ron Pearlman. Choke a Demi.

that has taken of the East. Without a specific location, this movie took on a whole new post-apocalyptic world in which, finally, sissy-ass guns have been laid to rest. The only movies I ever want to see guns in are The Matrix and Equilibrium. Enough said. Upon this landscape of raised paper houses, anything and all can happen when you can swing like a prizefighter and run house like Kurosawa.

For a half arthouse, half action packed punch, this movie brings out the action side with a lot of action stars. From Pearl Harbor, Black Hawk Down, and

I gotta say Hartnett worked shit in this one.

Lucky Number Slevin comes Josh Hartnett. His no talk, just rape (in whatever sick and twisted good way you can talk about utter destruction) this guy lays waste to those who would doubt him. Next up, and most notably, is Gackt, Japanese singing sensation and all around beautiful face. Among other talents, Gackt can speak English far more fluently and clearly than say, Ken Wantanabe in Inception (what happened between Last Samurai and that?). His sword skills are a bit jumpy at parts, but who wouldn’t expect that from a pretty boy singing prodigy? He is in his late 30’s…

Kevin McKidd as Assassin #2. What a character.

Throw in Ron Pearlman, face of Hellboy and a handful of other well known action films. There could have never been another soul alive who could have played Hellboy half as well as he did. And he wasn’t the worst at Nicola either. Give another little toss to Woody Harrelson of Natural Born Killers and more recently Zombieland. Not a big fan, but he did his part as The Bartender. He just never really stands out to me… Demi Moore for the old woman looks, and here’s the surprise. Kevin McKidd. This Scottish bastard had a cocky, yet strange way about him in this film that I found almost endearing. In quite a few period pieces and my favorite, Hannibal Rising, this is the first movie I think… (other than Trainspotting) that I knew this guy was from Scotland. A little bravo your way, McKidd.

Lovin' that background layout right there.

So we got the cast, the setting, and the situation. It’s all coming together. And what ties it up in a neat little bow? It for sure wasn’t the 2 hours this movie was allotted. It felt more like 3… It was the special effects. provided by Snoot FX, the locations and shooting styles felt action-y (?) and the fluidity of the fight scenes and the transitions (especially Hartnett’s fight scene in breaking out Yoshi from prison) was just top notch. It just gave such an interesting and non-retarded Sin City feel to it that I was hooked.

As Dennis Harvey of Varietysaid of the film about its fake flower feel, all color and no substance/life, I’d have to say he missed the point of the film. He was definitely batting from the ballpark of critical art film acclaim, when he should have been coming from what the essence of a Samurai/Western would be. Include the feeling of a theatrical Japanese paper doll show, and you have Bunraku. Not something tacky, but a whole new way to tell a story that I truly appreciate. That was its best part. A solid 7.6 out of 10.

Could it get better?


Sucker Punch: Everything You Want From Zack Snyder

There is only one word that can completely encompass what this movie truly is.

Incredible.

Sucker Punch. Yes.

Plain and simply incredible. When I went with a crew to watch this movie, some didn’t know what to expect. Others were excited. Even few others, me and my roommate/best friend Ian were just about ready to cause some mayhem up in that theater because of pure joy. This movie, as of this year, is my favorite movie of 2011. Heck, best of the past two years, let’s just throw 2010 in there. I thought, hey, The Fighter will clinch my favorite and do okay at the Oscars. Granted. Now… If only Sucker Punch had come out in 2010. It would have blown The Fighter out of the water. This movie was some ridiculous shit. Hands down.

You really will be unprepared.

Let me try to explain this without giving anything away. Not much to give away though, it’s really all just about the experience. Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is a supposed mental patient accused of killing her sister and almost murdering her father. She became deranged after her mother’s death and couldn’t take it any longer. Her father takes her to a mental asylum in Vermont and she is held there until she’ll be lobotomized in a week.

Parallel to this runs Baby Doll’s inner fantasy of being taken to a bordello in which the girls dance for their clients. Baby Doll, being that unattainable virgin, is being withheld for the high roller (Jon Hamm) that is set to come in five days. Baby Doll plans on escaping before that day and enlists the help of four other girls at the bordello. Sweet Pea (Abby Cornish), Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and Amber (Jamie Chung). With their help, Baby Doll further escapes from reality into her mind as she dances to obtain the four items she needs to stage an escape. And that’s basically it.

Let me just start off by saying that Emily Browning was amazing in this movie. She’s beautiful, talented, and really come into her own in her early twenties.

Emily Browning. New Favorite Actress.

I’ve seen all her movies since 2000, major and minor roles (Ghost Ship, Darkness Falls, Lemony Snicket’s, The Uninvited, now Sucker Punch) and enjoyed every one of them. As she’s grown up, she has taken on a wide array of movies, from horror to children’s to action and the occasional drama. If I had to pick a favorite actress that I’m going to watch from now on, I’m going to place my bid on Emily Browning.

And that’s not to demean the rest of the girls in this film. I really enjoyed the Abby Cornish/Jena Malone combo. Acting as sisters who followed one another to the bordello, these two really did feel like sisters. I’ve found Jena Malone great since Donnie Darko with her alternative look and quirky acting, and now I’ve got a new actress to look out for. Abby Cornish, a new up and

Sweet Pea & Rocket

comer from Australia, was quite the actress, and I didn’t even know she was from there! In other movies she’s done (Bright Star, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) she stuck to her roots and did more period pieces. But I find now that she’s broken more into action and other forms of drama, I feel we’ll be seeing a lot more of Abby Cornish.

Blondie & Amber. They're okay.

And then there’s Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung. Let me put it this way. Vanessa Hudgens is attractive. She may be talented in the way of singing and Disney Channel acting. But the part as a supporting cast member in Sucker Punch was about the only thing she could play. She was more for show than for play if you catch my drift. Jamie Chung on the other hand was a bit better. Playing as the fragile transporter bordello girl in this movie was not a stretch for a girl I’ve only seen in Sorority Row (not bad, I must say, even though most critics wouldn’t agree. It was brutal, at least.) Oh, AND SHE WAS IN DRAGONBALL: EVOLUTION. Enough said.

Who I have to give it up to in this movie is Oscar Isaac. That man can act. As Blue, the bordello boss and mental asylum orderly, he switched between roles flawlessly at the end and kept up that “don’t mess with me, I have a short fuse” type of acting style. Although he may seem not that strong or menacing, he pulled it off with his voice and actions throughout the entire film. The first thing I’d seen him in was Pu-239 (great film) and I remember him distinctly in

Oscar Isaacs, Prince John. Better in Sucker Punch

Robin Hood as Prince John, quite the effeminate, yet brutal character. I guess if I had to compare him in acting to anyone, I would say Joaquin Phoenix (like in Gladiator).

Now, let’s talk about the special effects. I’ve heard people liken this movie to a two hour Final Fantasy cutscene. Yes. I agree. But about 1,000 times better. This movie was insane when it came to special effects. No need to see this in 3-D, this movie was just as badass in 2-D. This movie has everything (probably why they called it Fantasy, Sci-fi, Suspense, Thriller, Action… etc.) There are zombie WWI German soldiers, Orcs, Dragons, killer robots, you name it, this movie has got it. And it’s not cliche. It gives an authentic feeling to the old classics that every man in the world has imagined battling. And then it does it. Zack Snyder directive attention to the details of the small things, example, the texture of bullets and shell casings, the way glass looks when it is rained on, the inner workings of a functioning robot. All present and accounted for, slowed down, and shown in detail. That’s what I call devotion to the art of art direction.

All in all, this movie is hands down the best movie I’ve seen in a year. But what else do you expect from Zack Snyder. Let’s recap, shall we? 300, Watchmen, Guardians of Ga’hoole, Sucker Punch. That beginning of a laundry list of badass movies is what I like to call ridiculous. Zack Snyder is fastly becoming one of my favorite directors. 11 out of 10. Yes. 11.

Oh, and the SOUNDTRACK. Check it out, it’s quite amazing.