Monday, January 10, 2011

Man on Film: Season of the Witch

You take the good,
You take the bad,
You take 'em both,
And there you have
The joys of Nouveau Cage
There are some valuable things to be taken from Dominic Sena's new 'film' Season of the Witch; lessons, if you will.  In honor of the screenplay by Threshold show-runner Bragi F. Schut, I will forgo any and all attempts at constructing a coherent entry here, instead opting to write the bulk of this entry in bullet-points.

  • The central point of this film is casting Nicolas Cage as Jesus.  His character Behman's origins are unknown, having no home or family to go back to.  Hinting at immaculate conception?  I think so.
  • Christ Behman sees the atrocities being committed in the name of his father and walks away from organized religion.  In this case, it is the Catholic Church.  This seems to imply that Nic Cage Christ does not approve of the ways in which his Father's words are being misconstrued to serve the Church's own ends--at least within the construct of this film--that are not in line with His Message.
  • Dominic Sena has cited Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal as the primary source of influence (Andrew O'Hehir covers this with aplomb at Salon) for Season of the Witch.  Stopping there would be selling Sena & Co. short, though.  The film clearly owes plenty to Henri-Georges Clouzot's Wages of Fear and Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  All three are all-time great directors.  Dominic Sena directed Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish, Kalifornia, and Whiteout.  While the temporal spacing of his releases could lead one to draw comparisons to deliberate contemporaries like Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell, or even Terrence Malick, the fact that there is so much time that passes between their respective releases does not actually equate to a similar level of artistry in Sena's films.  
  • The reality of this Nouveau Cage World we live in is that sometimes the films he does are crafted by artisans who are out of their depth.  I can see what made Nic Cage want to make this film.  With the Bangkok Dangerous remake, he had clearly been a fan of the original; Next, of the Philip K. Dick short story; this, The Seventh Seal.  I've long defended Cage's choices of the past decade, as I know he is simply doing the films he wants to do.  Unfortunately, the other talent involved isn't always up to the task.  I am sure Cage enjoyed working with Sena on Gone in 60 Seconds.  Directing an ADHD car thief movie doesn't necessarily qualify a director to helm a medieval homage to an Ingmar Bergman film.  
  • Wolf- and witch-punching abounds.
  • One has to wonder what the film was like before the reshoots.  From all accounts (and this interview with Cage), it seems as though the studio wanted a wide scope.  I'd imagine most of the stylistically disparate Crusade battle scenes in the first act were added via reshoot.  While they frame the conscientious objection of Behman and Felson, it was probably unnecessary, and perhaps spelled things out too clearly.
  • This probably doesn't matter as the dialogue is, um...  sometimes not so good.
  • Fortunately, as with any Cage movie, there is something that you can take from it.  Here?  Uh, Nic Cage is a knight.  AND JESUS.  He saves the fucking world from the plague.  
  • Season of the Witch also takes the standpoint that more witches should have been burned.  While Andrew O'Hehir in the aforementioned Salon column took issue with that, I embrace it.  This is like anti-Spielberg.  Oh, there is no getting up on the soapbox and preaching about some cause--in this case the burning of witches.  Not here.  If more witches had been burned, they may have gotten to the root of the bubonic plague.
  • And the root of that plague?  Not a witch.  Hell no.  The Devil (more or less).  So, in short, Jesus hates organized religion for co-opting the message of his Father to kill innocent women and children, is imprisoned as a deserter by the Church, is coerced into transporting an alleged witch to trial by monk jurists, and then defeats Satan, driving the plague from humanity and saving the possessed girl.
  • Some jaded dicks may point to accents in the film.  For the most part, Cage affects a vaguely British accent.  The slow-reading priest who accompanies them on their journey is British.  Ron Perlman basically talks like Ron Perlman.  The only thing that really sticks out is the weird accent that Stephen Graham is speaking in.  It is almost as if he was still in character from playing Al Capone in Boardwalk Empire, but I assume that it is a slightly more Jewish/Yiddish take on things, which is weird and possibly racist.  The only reason I labeled accent hawks as jaded dicks is that at a certain point I think pinpointing people for accent work in medieval-and-earlier films is absurd.  The standard accent for such fare is a broad British accent, but why? Whose brilliant idea was it to decide that everyone who lived in the whole of Europe except for the French spoke with a British accent before the turn of the 17th century.  That's how they spoke in Ancient Rome?  Of course...  Maybe there is a rationale to this that I am not aware of, but I kind of doubt it.  Explanations are welcome in the comments section.
  • The ultimate question in regards to this film is this: How do you feel about seeing Nic Cage as Sir Jesus in a pro-witch-burning movie?  I'd say for this guy, that's still a movie I'd have to see.
This is the trailer from a year ago, pre-reshoots.  Honestly, I think the studio fucked this film over to at least a small degree.

Even if this isn't a great film, Cage fans still only have to wait until next month from the surer bet to be awesome Drive Angry.  It's the film that Cage seems to have done for fear that Ghost Rider 2 wasn't going to happen, only it is just as much a trashy exploitation film in all the best ways (and has the beautiful Amber Heard).


      ATSchwitters said...

      I would like to point out that philosophy of Season Of the Witch has more in common with Bogomillian Heresy (the religion, not this guy)than it does with Christian doctrine. This is interesting when you consider the religio-political context the film is supposed to be set it (a world wracked by plague, plagued by Muslims, and generally coming apart at the seams). Real world Europe really experienced these problems at the dawn of the second millenium, and many Europeans turned to gnostic religions, only to eventually be put to the sword by the leaders of the Church.

      Also, jaded dicks like myself noticed that Cage's accent changed during the course of the film, and Ron Perlman's dialogue was so out of place for the film (and for the 12th century) that it was distracting.

      Still, any film that advocates witch burning has my support. I hope they get to bloodletting and leeches in the sequel.

      Old Man Duggan said...

      Ahem. Don't you mean the squeakquel?

      We welcome your comments.

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