In Revue: It's Witching Season, Apparently
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In Revue: It’s Witching Season, Apparently

Because Toronto’s more movie-obsessed than a Quentin Tarantino screenplay (yuk yuk), Torontoist brings you In Revue, a weekly roundup of new releases.

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It’s the same Nic Cage as before. But he’s got a new wig! Illustration by Chloe Cushman/Torontoist.


This week in theatres we have a handful of releases courtesy of our pals at Alliance. And while Alliance did bring us The Fighter and The King’s Speech late last year, well, they can’t all be bangers. This week sees sometimes genre hack Nic Cage teaming up again with certified genre hack Dominic Sena (Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish) to go on a good ol’ fashioned witch hunt. Meanwhile, Sofia Coppola’s style languishes in Somewhere, while Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams make sparks fly, booze spill, and tears flow in the excellent Blue Valentine.

Season of the Witch

Directed by Dominic Sena
2 STARS


First things first: Season of the Witch is neither a remake of the 1972 George Romero film of the same name, nor the witchcraft-themed Halloween sequel Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Nor does it have anything to do with the Donovan song. It’s just a movie and it’s called Season of the Witch, and it’s superficially about witchcraft, and it has Nic Cage in a wig swinging a big sword. In fact, Nic Cage in a Wig Swinging a Big Sword would have been the more honest and marketable title.
Cage plays Behmen, a fourteenth-century Crusader who deserts the military after accidentally driving a sword through some innocent’s gut. Ron Perlman plays his bosom buddy brother-in-arms who tags along because, hey, that’s what best friends do, right? Their itinerant expeditions lead them to a city ravaged by the Black Plague, apparently caused by the arrival of a young girl (Claire Foy) accused of making a pact with Lucifer. After being recognized as defectors, Cage and Perlman are enlisted to deliver the girl to a neighbouring kingdom where she will get the sort of “fair trial” commonly associated with the medieval justice system.
It’s not that Season of the Witch is dumb—would we expect anything else?—it’s that its dumbness is completely unremarkable. The plotting and production design plop it somewhere between Witchfinder General and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with sets and dialogue salvaged from a direct-to-video Beastmaster sequel. After blowing his proverbial wad with a bunch of large-scale battle scenes in the film’s first reel, Sena prods Witch through a series of limp, rehashed set pieces (wolf attack, rickety rope bridge that collapses at the last second, etc.) shot with a correspondingly workmanlike competence. Swords flash, beasts fall, that’s it. The film is sustained in places by Cage and Perlman’s fraternal banter. But their hammy mugs are too distinct, and their interplay leaves us wondering more about what it’d be like to clink flagons of ale with them in real life, and less about the fates of their characters.
Season of the Witch opens Friday, January 7 in wide release. Click here for showtimes.

Blue Valentine

Directed by Derek Cianfrance
4 STARS


Don’t let the trailer—in which Ryan Gosling strums a ukulele and “sings goofy” for a sheepishly tap dancing Michelle Williams—deceive you. Blue Valentine isn’t some twee pitch and toss of a cutesy, epochal, romantic comedy. The title is itself evocative, suggesting Josef von Sternberg’s Blue Angel, a film similarly consumed with love’s nastier tendencies.
Skipping back and forth between the failing marriage of Gosling’s Dean (a general labourer with no ambitions beyond paternal duty to his family) and Williams’ Cindy (an overworked nurse angling for a promotion) and the sweetie-pie courtship from which it came, Blue Valentine is an unblinking exercise in the various indignities that befall relationships built on starry-eyed notions of romance instead of less dreamy pragmatics like compatibility. Williams and Gosling, both contemporary icons of kind-of counter-cultural cinema (if we forgive them Dawson’s Creek and The Notebook, respectively) offer convincing, frequently wrenching performances as stand-ins for a generation of twenty- and thirty-somethings whose relationships have been tainted by a toxic intermingling of interpersonal discord and fatalism.
The film has attracted controversy, including a since-dropped NC-17 rating, for a sex scene of extraordinary intensity. And while this smear hangs over the film (you’ll wring your hands in anxious anticipation of the scene, just as you would one of exceptional gore while watching a horror film), it’s also bound to lure a few asses into the seats. All the better. Because couching the film’s most penetrating (sorry) scenes of barefaced passion are those that colour them in gradients ranging from the blue to the grey to the sickly pink of a dozen wilting roses presented as repentance. Gosling may lay on his hang-dog dreamer schtick a little thick at times, and the permeating Grizzly Bear soundtrack practically begs for hipster cred, but besides all this, Blue Valentine may prove to be as seminal for a legion of lovelorn depressives as Annie Hall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were for generations past.
Blue Valentine opens Friday, January 7 in select cinemas. Click here for showtimes.

Somewhere

Directed by Sofia Coppola
2 ½ STARS


Sofia Coppola’s latest opens with a race car lapping around a closed desert course. Again and again. And again. For something like three minutes. Then it brakes and out steps Stephen Dorff, dishevelled in a five o’clock shadow, frumpy T-shirt, and clunky work boots. In its tedium, Coppola’s opening composition sets the tone for Somewhere, a film built on boredom, repetition, and barely distinguished variations on a theme. Also: Stephen Dorff. You know, from Blade?
Dorff plays Johnny Marco, a Hollywood actor marooned in the Chateau Marmont Hotel, the Hollywood halfway house that has hosted everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerlad to Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, James Dean, and John Belushi. There, he drinks, smokes cigarettes, watches two twin dancers twist costumed around extendable stripper poles, and eventually comes to barely mend his relationship with his estranged daughter (Elle Fanning). Dorff’s Hollywood-handsome ruggedness renders him credible as a Hollywood superstar, even if the role does seem a coy (and overly flattering) comment on his own celebrity. He also shares genuine moments of sweetness with Fanning, who proves that having the last name “Fanning” isn’t a categorical warning sign for a child actor.
The problem is Coppola, who confuses restraint for self-discipline, then further confuses that for art. Somewhere approximates the austerity of someone like Jim Jarmusch, an American filmmaker who status atop the pantheon of legitimate independents seems more legitimate. It’s not the accusations of Hollywood nepotism (ever the elephant in the room) that stymie her filmmaking, it’s her lack of imagination, her own monotonous repetition of themes, and her self-conscious attempts at cinematic validity that bog down her films. As a cinematic symphonic poem, Somewhere is tone deaf. But even if it doesn’t confirm Sofia Coppola as a legitimate filmmaker, it comes close to proving Stephen Dorff a legitimate actor, more than just a well-scruffed pretty face. And that’s something.
Somewhere opens Friday, January 7 in select cinemas. Click here for showtimes.

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