Review: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane was released in the U.K. (and the rest of the world, apparently) back in 2009 and 2010. But for whatever reason, the U.S. got dicked out of a release. Until now. Solomon Kane hit VOD over the weekend (it still should have gotten a major theatrical release, but at this point, I’ll take what I can get), and I had to watch it right away. This film was written and directed by Michael J. Basset, and if you haven’t seen some of his earlier work (Deathwatch and Wilderness, in particular), you definitely need to check it out.

Solomon Kane is based on a series of pulp stories written by Robert E. Howard (the dude who wrote Conan) back in the ‘30’s. Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is a badass. And an evil man. He has fought in many wars and battles, and delights in the kill. At the opening of the film, he is confronted by the Devil’s Reaper, who informs him that the Devil owns his evil soul, and that he is damned. Kane gives this concept a great big “fuck you” and escapes, though not unscathed. Fearful of the hold the Devil has on him, he vows to live the life of a good man in the hopes of somehow redeeming his past evils. Fate, however, is cruel, and Kane’s vow of peace is ultimately put to the test, as he is confronted by an evil force that threatens those he holds dear.

The thing I loved about this movie is that it was fantastic without slipping into cheesy. Evil, demons and sorcery abound, but Basset plays it completely straight. And it is that straight tone that really elevates the film. My brain sort of categorizes Solomon Kane in the same file as lesser-known comic and genre properties such as Constantine, Dylan Dog, and Van Helsing (you know – the ones that always manage to get optioned and screwed up). Except Solomon Kane is way WAY better. It steers clear of the trappings and pitfalls that those other films fall victim to. It doesn’t go for laughs and it doesn’t rely on only the FX budget to try to tell its story. It allows the story and the characters to be the centerpiece, rather than the CGI, and everyone involved seemed to understand that this was a story worth telling.

The performances were great. Purefoy is fantastic as Kane. He really sells this reluctant hero trying to keep his dark side in check so that he might redeem himself and lead the life of a good man. While he didn’t get a ton of screentime, Jason Flemyng is very effective in the role of the sorcerer, Malachi.  Pete Postlethwaite is great (as always) as the Puritan family man bound for the New World who offers Kane a new life and a chance at redemption. If there is a silver lining to this film being delayed in the States as long as it has, it’s that the universe gave me one more Pete Postlethwaite role. This man was great in everything that he did, no matter the part, and I really really miss him.

My only real complaint (and it’s a minor one – certainly didn’t ruin the overall takeaway) is that I wish Kane would have been a bit more badass. He wasn’t a wuss by any means, and all of the action sequences were well-choreographed and well-shot. And they even looked realistic. We didn’t have Purefoy draw his sword and then suddenly see a CGI Kane fly through the air, beheading all of the bad guys at the speed of craptastic light. I just wish they had gone a little further into showing us that not only was Kane a badass, but he was the ultimate badass. That he is a preternaturally gifted fighter and most of his enemies don’t stand a fraction of a chance. I just didn’t get that vibe.

But again, that little gripe didn’t ruin anything. It’s an enjoyable film in a subgenre that doesn’t typically enjoy this level of storytelling. Definitely worth your time.

Review: ParaNorman

This weekend, the animation gods gave us a gift. A great gift. The gift of ParaNorman. Instead of doing the obvious and giving us the standard, run-of-the-mill, CGI-crazed, fart-joke-laden, drowning in zaney celebrity voices, boring-ass animated films the studios have been so happy to churn out as of late, ParaNorman offers a heartfelt, character-driven story delivered by some fantastic, beautiful hand-animated stop-motion work, rich in love and admiration for the horror genre. The result is wonderful.

Norman is your typical, abnormal kid. He loves horror movies, is obsessed with zombies, monsters and the macabre. Shy, awkward, he is misunderstood by just about everyone around him – family, kids at school, and just about anyone who recognizes him wandering around town. Why? you might ask? Because Norman can see and speak to the dead. Nobody believes him, of course – to them, he is just the town’s next aspiring weirdo.

Norman lives in Blithe Hollow; the town’s claim to fame is the execution of a witch by seven locals back in the pilgrim days. According to legend, the witch placed a curse on her accusers. The town now celebrates the historical event and seems to play it up as some sort of tourist draw. Upon the death of his Uncle (the town’s resident weirdo), Norman learns that there is more to the story, as he inherits the responsibility of keeping the witch at bay and preventing her from carrying out her revenge on the town.

This film will be enjoyed by many, but will be particularly fun for horror fans. Small nods are given to various genre elements and classic horror films throughout. But even if that’s not your thing and you’re not picking up on them, it is still an enjoyable experience. That aspect is there if you want to tune into it, but there is enough going on that it is not required of the viewer. Ultimately, ParaNorman is a journey to acceptance, and learning that you cannot take everything at face value.

The thing I loved the most about this film is that at its core, it is a horror story. Not only did the writers pay tribute to horror genre, but actually set about creating a story steeped in the horror tradition. Yes, it’s animated, yes it’s family-friendly, and yes, it’s also very comedic. But if you strip all of the modern elements, and up the scare level, this story would be very much at home in Hammer’s catalogue.  At its heart, it’s got a lot of classic gothic story elements holding the story together. It’s really awesome.

If you get the chance, you should definitely make time for this one. It’s funny, it’s sweet, the animation is incredible, and it’s got a lot of heart.

From My DVD Shelf – The Whisperer in the Darkness

Today is H. P. Lovecraft’s Birthday. I am celebrating by bringing you a write-up of the 2011 release, The Whisperer in the Darkness (which you should all go out and immediately buy).

A quick word to the uninitiated: H.P Lovecraft is one of the most important influences of modern horror and science fiction. His work has been studied, adored and replicated for decades. You are familiar with his work, though you may not even know it – that is how deeply-rooted in the genre it is. His influences are seen everywhere, and modern genre would not be where it is today without him.

I first saw The Whisperer in the Darkness last summer at the Seattle International Film Festival. The timing was perfect, in fact. I had just gotten into Lovecraft a few months prior, and had finished reading a collection of his stories (Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft –  highly recommended). “The Whisperer in the Darkness” was among my favorites, and, while I admit that I didn’t have incredibly high hopes for this adaptation, I was excited to give it a shot and to see what it had to offer.

My doubts were laid to rest as soon as the title screen appeared. This film is brilliant. It is an adaptation of the story in the style of the classic monster movie era of the 1930’s. It is shot in black and white and is rich in subtle elements that harken back to another time. Director Sean Branney used a mixture of classic and modern techniques to create something truly special in this film – something made with the luxury of today’s technology, yet when watching it, you can’t help but feel that it is much older. Keep an eye out for the character Charlie Tower (Stephen Blakehart) – I don’t know how the hell this actor functions in the 21st century. Jesus-Tapdancing-Christ, is this guy awesome! I think Branney built a time machine just so he could go back and pick up this dude to come and do a couple of scenes in his Lovecraft movie.

This is an incredible adaptation of the source material, and that owes a lot to the dedication of Branney and co-writer Andrew Lehman. These guys clearly have a great deal of love and respect for Lovecraft and his work, and were dedicated to bringing his story to the screen as completely as possible. That is what is so cool about Whisperer  – It’s not inspired by Lovecraft, it’s not influenced by Lovecraft…it IS Lovecraft. It is a straight, true adaptation of the story. “The Whisperer in the Darkness” brought to the silver screen. There have been a lot of Lovecraft adaptations and Lovecraftian films over the years, and I am certainly not knocking those – some of them have even been classics, but this stands on its own as being a film that holds itself as close to the original text as you can imagine.

Additionally, when changes had to be made (or, additions, rather – if you are familiar with the story, then you will recall that it doesn’t really have a film-arc third act), they were dedicated to keeping these changes as close to the Lovecraftian tradition as possible, and to make additions that they felt the author would have approved of. This level of respect absolutely shows in the finished product.

There are a series of double-bill screenings of The Whisperer in the Darkness and Call of Cthulhu (also from Lehman and Branney) happening over the next couple of months. Check out the schedule here, and get the DVD or Blu-ray. This is so worth your time. And if you aren’t terribly familiar with Lovecraft, it’s a great place to start – this film will give you a good sense of what his work is about.

Review: REC 3

[REC] 3: Genesis appeared on the various VOD platforms a couple of weeks ago. I had heard mixed reactions out of the various festival screenings, so I was kind of curious as to how this one would play out. I’m not one for spoilers (and defining the following information as a “spoiler” is kind of debatable), but I do feel like having this info ahead of time does contribute to the enjoyment of the film. Knowing what to expect from this film definitely made it more enjoyable for me, anyway.Your call.

[REC] 3 was written and directed by Paco Plaza – half of the team that introduced us to the series back in 2007. The tone of [REC] 3 is drastically different from the first two films. Instead of a straight up shit-your-pants-horror film, Plaza decided to go with a more fun, gory, crazy film more in the vein of Evil Dead 2 (though not quite as zany). But he definitely doesn’t play this for straight scares. Lots of humor, goofy moments and tons of blood. Additionally, they abandon the whole found footage angle (one of the defining elements of the series) pretty quickly. After the first act, it’s more of a traditional narrative.

[REC] 3 takes place at the wedding of Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martín). The happy couple’s big day couldn’t be more beautiful until a family member starts the blood-drenched outbreak that zombiefies most of the guests, and leaves the remaining few struggling to escape. [REC] 3 is sort of, kind of a sequel to the other films. Loosely. I guess. In that it sort of deals with the same premise, but not continuing the established story at all, really revealing anything new, or connecting anything directly, other than the whole zombie thing. But enough visual clues are dropped to let you know that we are playing in the same world, though not really as part of the same storyline.

So how did all of this play out? Kind of mixed. I certainly enjoyed the film. It was a good time, there were crazy zombies, and some really awesome comedic moments. But it wasn’t a [REC] film. Changing the tone and dropping the found footage aspect really distanced it from the previous films, and it felt like something very different. Still fun. Still enjoyable. But different. I guess my biggest question is why did they feel it necessary to depart from the story and style, yet still make another [REC] film? With a couple of minor changes, this movie could totally fly solo and be great. So why connect it to the [REC] series at all? Why didn’t Plaza just opt to make a fun, crazy-ass zombie movie all on its own?

That being said, it didn’t ruin anything. I had fun watching it, and definitely recommend it for zombie fans, fans of the [REC] series…whoever. I am curious to see if this tonal shift carries over to [REC] Apocalypse, the forthcoming final film, to be directed by Jaume Balagueró. Time will tell, but for now, you can enjoy the latest [REC] installment on your favorite VOD service.