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Season of the Witch (Blu-ray / DVD)

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Season of the Witch on Blu-ray and DVDStarring Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Claire Foy, Stephen Graham, Stephen Campbell Moore, Christopher Lee

Directed by Dominic Sena

Distributed by 20th Century Fox


Nicolas “Blame the Tax Man” Cage is Behmen. Ron “Will Chew Scenery for Food” Perlman is Felson. They’re the baddest Crusaders in the 14th Century. But they’re not in it for the Holy War. No – they’re in it for the absolution. Help the Church save the holy land by killing Muslims by the metric ton and the Pope will grant you absolution for your sins. That’s good for Behmen and Felson because they love to get drunk, tell tales of their battlefield heroics, and fornicate, fornicate, fornicate. Slayin’ Moors and screwin’ whores is the life for them.

Their worldview changes after they realize the men of god they’re fighting for are every bit as bloodthirsty and genocidal as the enemy they’ve been slaughtering for over a decade. The two go AWOL, immediately making them deserters, a crime punishable by death.

That’s the fate that would have awaited them upon being captured in a plague-ridden medieval European city had they not been given one last chance at redemption if they agree to lead a party transporting a nameless young woman (Claire Foy, no relation) accused of being the witch responsible for the lethal epidemic to a remote monastery where she will be most fatally judged for the crimes she claims to be innocent of.

The bishop that gives them this option is played by the great Christopher Lee; his face buried beneath so much latex I wasn’t sure if his character was supposed to be afflicted with bubonic plague or the Toxic Avenger’s grandpa.

I don’t think I’m spoiling anything to tell you that this girl does indeed have evil intentions. The movie squanders any chance for is she or isn’t she intrigue before letting it be known she most certainly is.

The journey is treacherous, the witch is a trickster trying to escape, and lives will be lost along the way. And when they finally reach the monastery and all is revealed, anyone watching that stops for two seconds to think about it should quickly realize that almost everything they just spent the previous hour watching was unnecessary and all the manipulation and supernatural shenanigans the witch pulled to make the trip more dangerous even to herself was really counterproductive. This witch is one of those characters right up there with the demon from The Unborn in that she would have gotten exactly what she wanted if she’d just kept her head down and not stirred up trouble that was as much an impediment to her agenda as it was the people transporting her.

That’s the problem with pure evil – no self control, no forward thinking. It’s always about instant gratification.

Season of the Witch on Blu-ray and DVDWhatever self control the movie has goes completely out of the window during the goofball finale when a Bruce Campbell appearance is the only thing preventing it from becoming Army of Darkness 2. Wall-crawling deadite monks drop from the ceiling like ninjas and the devil himself appears in the form of a gimpy gargoyle with a voice that carries all the menace of an Eighties’ cartoon villain’s incompetent henchman.

If the rest of Season of the Witch was as rousingly silly as the final fifteen minutes it would be a future cult classic. Neither the actors nor the screenwriter nor director Dominic Sena are capable of committing to a tone and sticking with it. The result is an uneven mishmash of 1960’s Hammer horror aesthetics and 1980’s Cannon action adventure sensibilities. Not good, but a barely passable timewaster, assuming you don’t give up during the drudgery of the movie’s middling and ultimately pointless midsection.

Ah, let’s just be honest here. Season of the Witch is probably as good as any movie could ever be that miscasts Nic Cage as a disillusioned knightly Crusader, has actors having just survived a demon attack sayings things like “We’re going to need more holy water” with a straight face, and includes a scene in which Ron Perlman – in a non-Hellboy role, mind you – repeatedly headbutts Satan.

The Blu-ray was not available at press time, but do we really need to tell you that the movie looks and sounds better in high definition? That’s pretty much a given by now. Moving on …

The DVD and Blu-ray extras are exactly the same in both packages and they include a commentary track, the theatrical trailer and a pair of short subjects showcasing the make-up, special effects work, and battle choreography. A couple deleted scenes give you a good idea why they were left on the cutting room floor, although one appeared to indicate that the movie originally introduced Cage and Perlman’s characters in an entirely different manner minus the battlefield crusading shown at the outset.

It wouldn’t be too surprising to find out the movie’s beginning was the product of reshoots when you watch the alternate ending that truly is alternate. Zombie monks attack but do not defy gravity and that digital devil with a goofy cartoon voice is nowhere to be seen. Roughly the same turn of events except this time with Claire Foy in spider vein make-up speaking in an Exorcist voice in place of the CGI Satan. I can kind of see why they felt this wasn’t inspired enough visually, though I’m not sure what possessed them to change it to something so preposterous. Regardless, without those preposterous moments, the season of this witch would be much gloomier.

Special Features

  • Feature commentary
  • Deleted scenes
  • Becoming the Demon featurette
  • On a Crusade featurette
  • Alternate ending
  • Theatrical trailer

    Film

    2 1/2 out of 5

    Special Features

    3 out of 5

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    Edge of Isolation Review – A Movie with a Simple Message: Don’t Trust Anyone

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    Starring Michael Marcel, Marem Hassler, Alexandra Peters

    Directed by Jeff Houkal


    Sometimes, relying on the kindness of strangers is the thing that’ll do your gullible asses in – kindness? Strangers? Come on – think about it! Even further proof of said warning comes in the form of director Jeff Houkal’s brutally blatant film, Edge Of Isolation – won’t you come inside and grab a seat? You see! You fell right into another trap – jeezus, people…don’t trust just anyone, will ya?

    Set up in a simplistic format, we’ve got a traveling couple (Lance and Kendra) whose Jeep, conveniently enough decides to shit the bed along a desolate stretch of roadway, leaving them at the mercy of the Polifer family, a slightly odd bunch of backwoods residents. This particular clan isn’t exactly wrapped too tightly, and they’re not afraid to let their freak flags fly, that’s for sure. You see, the family has been deeply-rooted in these here woods, and their “hospitality” has kept them fed for quite some time, and with a fresh supply of unsuspecting commuters stopping in at varying spells, their stomachs never truly seem to growl out of sustained hunger…oh, that kindness will bite you in the ass every single waking moment.

    As I mentioned earlier, the film is constructed fairly simple, yet effective in its barbarism, and those who dig survivalist-horror will be wringing their mitts in anticipation for this one. While some editing does look a bit hokey, the practical effects more than make up for an at-times bit of strewn-about plot navigation, but who’s keeping score? Certainly not me, that’s for sure. I absolutely revel in low-budgeted films that don’t necessarily have the looks and feels of such, and Edge Of Isolation is one of those presentations that is certainly worth its weight in blood and guts – do yourself a solid and give this one a look when it becomes available to the masses, and for f**k’s sake, don’t take up anyone’s offer to chill at their place when your ride breaks down – get AAA and save your life (the previous statement was in no way affiliated or endorsed by the Triple A Automotive group – just sayin’).

    • Film
    3.5

    Summary

    Edge Of Isolation doesn’t need a full-blown allocation to keep future stranded motorists from losing their heads – all they have to do is push “play.”

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    Threads Blu-ray Review – The Horror of Nuclear War Hits Home Video

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    Starring Death, Destruction, Famine, Unimaginable Suffering

    Directed by Mick Jackson

    Distributed by Severin Films


    Although not quite reaching the tense heights felt during the Cold War, talk of nuclear annihilation has nonetheless been on the tips of tongues following a recent public spat between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. The difference being that unlike the decades-long stalemate between America and Russia, this kerfuffle feels more like two boys breaking out the ruler to measure package size. Regardless, the truth remains that as long as nuclear weapons are held by any country the risk of a catastrophic event is always on the table – and their use should never be used as a casual threat. The world has seen firsthand the level of devastation that can be wrought with their use; a reminder none want to endure again. This seems as fitting a time as any for Severin Films to breathe new life on home video into Threads (1984), a frightening portrayal of what could happen in the U.K. following nuclear war. Similar in concept to America’s The Day After (1983), Threads is a chilling, bleak vision that showcases the breakdown of society prior to, and after, the detonation of nuclear weaponry. Nothing is glamorized; there are no heroics. By the time the credits roll viewers will be left chilled to the core, having witnessed so much destruction that should never be allowed to occur in a modern society.

    The action is centered in Sheffield, U.K. where we follow the lives of a few distinct families and citizens who represent different sectors of the populace. The events leading up to nuclear war are depicted via television and radio broadcasts, with anchors reporting on increasing tensions in Iran following a coup allegedly backed by the U.S. In response, the Soviet Union moves troops into northern Iran to protect their own interests. The standoff becomes increasingly strained when the U.S. reports the submarine USS Los Angeles has gone missing in the Persian Gulf. Soon after, a collision between Soviet and American battle cruisers forces the U.S. President to issue a warning to the Soviets that any further action may lead to armed confrontation.

    As all of this is occurring the citizens of Sheffield are attempting to go about their normal lives… until a melee involving nuclear-tipped weaponry prompts the government to assemble emergency operations groups. With the U.K. now completely gripped by fear, the threads of society begin to rapidly unspool, with citizens divided over local government response while runs on grocery stores and looting become widespread. Finally, in the early morning a few weeks after this skirmish began air raid sirens are sounded and within minutes a nuclear warhead is detonated over the North Sea, emitting an EMP and knocking out all communication in the country. The attack wreaks havoc, decimating the country and wiping out millions of lives in one swift blow. Those are the lucky ones.

    Those who survive the initial blast are met with highly-radioactive fallout, disease, famine, radiation sickness, crumbling infrastructure and streets littered with rotting corpses. Society has suffered a complete breakdown. Money no longer holds any value. Nuclear winter brings about a dearth of crops and a massive drop in temperatures. Food is the only commodity with any value – and it is long before any can be produced. Population levels reach those of the medieval times. Even a decade after the blast, the areas devastated by nuclear war have only rebuilt to a level on par with the Industrial Revolution. Children are still born. Language is limited, due to the lack of proper schooling. Little hope looms on the horizon as those left alive scrounge and scavenge, eking out a miserable existence.

    Director Mick Jackson made a smart decision by shooting Threads using a neorealist lens, employing unknowns in place of familiar faces. This gives the picture a documentarian feel while also scuttling the notion of seeing famous faces either survive the catastrophe or become heroes. There is no silver lining to be found. The initial blast rocks the U.K. on a grand scale, brought to visceral life by Jackson’s use of miniatures and montage to convey a massive scale of destruction. Fires rage, Sheffield is in ruins, charred corpses line the streets, and radiation poisoning leaves survivors roiling in pain and vomiting endlessly. The brutal verisimilitude is gut-wrenching; Jackson ensures every bit of pain and perseverance is palpable.

    Threads should be mandatory viewing, serving as a warning of the very real potential outcome should civilized nations resort to using nuclear weaponry on a global scale. No good can come of mutually assured destruction. All of the posturing and battling between the U.S. and Russia pales in comparison to the annihilation of millions of lives and decades of industry, all wiped out in the blink of an eye. This is true horror.

    Given its low budget and television roots, it should come as no surprise that Threads looks on a rougher side of HD. Severin touts the 1.33:1 1080p image as being a “new 2K remaster”, though the provenance of the elements used is not mentioned. Truthfully, the grainy, rough-hewn picture is a perfect complement to the gritty imagery seen throughout and anything more polished might have lessened the impact. The film was shot on 16mm and blown-up to 35mm; again, a smart aesthetic decision given the documentarian feel Jackson wanted. The cinematography reminded me of Harlan County U.S.A. (1976), an American documentary on coal workers. Damage can be seen throughout, as well as plenty of flecks and debris but, again, none of this was particularly irksome because it feels organic to this decaying world.

    Audio comes in the form of a simple English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. First off, I highly recommend turning on the subtitles because the English accents are thick and plenty of U.K.-specific colloquialisms are used; it helps – a lot. This is a thin track without much direction, employing a workmanlike sound design to get the point across. Explosions have a bit of roar and oomph, but the biggest impact is made by a scene of total silence post-attack. Dialogue is clean and well set within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.

    An audio commentary track is included, featuring director Mick Jackson, moderated by film writer Kier La Janisse & Severin Films’ David Gregory.

    “Audition for the Apocalypse” is an interview with actress Karen Meagher.

    “Shooting the Annihilation” is an interview with director of photography Andrew Dunn.

    “Destruction Designer” is an interview with production designer Christopher Robilliard.

    “Stephen Thrower on THREADS” finds the author and film historian discussing the production history and impact of the film.

    A “U.S. trailer” as well as a “Re-release trailer” are included.

    Special Features:

    • NEW 2K REMASTER of the film prepared for this release
    • Audio Commentary with Director Mick Jackson, Moderated by Film Writer Kier–La Janisse and Severin Films’ David Gregory
    • Audition For the Apocalypse: Interview with Actress, Karen Meagher
    • Shooting the Annihilation: Interview with Director of Photography, Andrew Dunn
    • Destruction Designer: Interview with Production Designer, Christopher Robilliard
    • Interview with Film Writer, Stephen Thrower
    • U.S. Trailer
    • Threads
    • Special Features
    3.5

    Summary

    Brutal and unflinching in its desire to convey a story true to reality, Threads is a difficult and necessary viewing experience that shows firsthand the level of terror wrought by man’s hand.

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    Annihilation Review – A Fascinating, Gorgeous New Take on Body Horror

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    Starring Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac

    Written and directed by Alex Garland


    Have you ever walked out of a theater and thought to yourself, “That was more than just a movie. That was an experience!“? It’s only happened to me a handful of times, the last one I remember being Mad Max: Fury Road. Last night that sensation washed over me as the credits for Annihilation began their crawl after a near two-hour runtime. I remained in my seat until every name slipped by before I found it within myself to stand up and leave the theater. All I could think was, “I’ve just witnessed something incredible.

    An adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s first book in his The Southern Reach trilogy, Annihilation follows Lena (Portman), an ex-soldier-turned-biologist professor at Johns Hopkins whose husband, Kane (Isaac), has been missing for a year after leaving on a covert mission about which Lena has been able to get zero information. When Kane mysteriously returns and almost immediately falls gravely ill, Lena finds herself in a secret government facility that is monitoring a strange and potentially cataclysmic phenomenon: a strange shimmering dome that appeared in a remote region after a meteorite landing, a dome that grows larger with each passing day. Realizing that the answer to her husband’s malady may very well lie within that area, Lena joins four other women as they embark on an expedition into what is called “Area X.” However, it’s quickly realized that nothing is quite what it seems to be and that the laws of nature no longer apply.

    The majesty of Annihilation is the time it takes to build the story and to ramp up the tension. While it has no problem with frenetic scenes, the film moves at an almost poetic pace, every moment adding something to the overarching narrative. From showing the relationship between Lena and Kane to the interactions among the five women who venture into “Area X” to the action sequences, every part of the movie feels necessary. This is even seen in the climax of the film, which is a 10-minute scene that features almost zero dialogue and yet feels fraught with danger.

    Visually, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The jungle that takes up most of Area X is lush and beautiful. Crepuscular rays break through the leaves and tease a rainbow iridescence thanks to the “shimmer.” A wide variety of flowers impossibly blossom from the same source, a result of the genetic mutations occurring within the dome. Strange fungal patterns explode across the walls of abandoned buildings, their patterns a tumorous cornucopia of colors and textures. Even when the movie brings gore into the equation, it does so with an artist’s gaze. Without ruining the moment, there is a scene where the team comes across the body of a man from a previous expedition. For as macabre as the visual was, it was equally entrancing, calling to mind the strangely beautiful designs of the “clickers” from The Last of Us.

    Each setting in the story has a visual style that sets it apart from one another but still feels connected. The governmental facility feels cold and sterile while the jungles of Area X are warm and verdant. As the team ventures further into the contaminated zone, we are taken to the beach next to the lighthouse that acts as “ground zero” for the mysterious event. Here we see trees made of crystal and bone-white roots clinging to the nautical beacon. In this third act, we’re taken into the basement of the lighthouse, which can only be described as Giger-esque, with strange ribbed walls that feel like they pulsate with a life of their own.

    The characters of Annihilation feel real, and the exposition given doesn’t feel forced. When Lena is rowing a boat with Cass, the sharing of information feels like camaraderie, not awkward plot reveals. Additionally, no character is without his/her flaws. Even Lena has her own issues that burden her with guilt, making her journey into Area X all the more understandable. As the stress of the mission wears on these women, the seeds of distrust begin germinating into deadly situations that have very real consequences, including the appearance of a bear that would be right at home in the Silent Hill universe. Also, kudos to Garland for writing the film in such a way where the gender roles not only feel natural but are never focused on in a disingenuous manner.

    Musically, Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, who scored Garland’s previous film Ex Machina, create a soundtrack that is atmospheric, haunting, and hypnotizing. The music elevates the dreamy phantasmagoria of the film without overpowering any scene. Meanwhile, cinematographer Rob Hardy, who also worked on Ex Machina, helps create a film where nearly every frame is a work of art.

    Those entering Annihilation expecting a clearly defined sci-fi/horror offering will be disappointed. There is certainly a great deal of both to be had, but the movie doesn’t want to offer something fleeting. Instead, it uses those genres as a foundation to create a film that will stay with viewers long after they leave the theater. When you get to the core of Annihilation, it’s a body horror film that pays homage to the work of David Cronenberg while carving an entirely new path of its own. Just don’t expect it to hold your hand and answer all of its mysteries. Some questions are left for you to see through on your own.

    I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that Alex Garland has offered audiences one of the best genre films in recent years.

    • Annihilation
    5.0

    Summary

    Annihilation is a bold, gorgeous, and stunning melting pot of horror, sci-fi, and drama, culminating in one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen this decade.

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