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    >My new video "A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT," in which I don chain mail to find glory, donuts and spare change for my quest. BIGGER SCREEN ON YOU TUBE

    CLASSIC BOOK trailer! [bigger screen on YouTube]

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    Entries in movies (14)


    We're gonna need more holy water

    Sure, the Crusades are morally reprehensible—but when it comes to battling evil, out come the holy water, sacred texts, and "in the name of the father" pronouncements. 

    a review of Season of the Witch

    by Ethan Gilsdorf

    What ever happened to the risky Nicolas Cage who took on meaty roles like Adapation? Or, at least, the one who played sincere characters like Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas? Or, for that matter, the comic and goofy Nic of Raising Arizona?

    Rather, and sadly, the actor of late has imprisoned himself within a cage lackluster supernatural action vehicles like Ghost Rider, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, The Wicker Man, Next, and Knowing. In each, Cage possesses some awesome power, prognosticates some doomed secret, or stumbles across a malevolence force. Cue the time portals, fiery circles, demonic possessions, pagan rituals and creepy flash-forwards of knowledge mere mortals ought not to know.

    In Season of the Witch, the hangdog-faced Cage (now with greasy, shoulder-length locks) confronts another paranormal conundrum, this time set in medieval Europe. Disenchanted by his time in the armed services, aka the Crusades, Behmen (Cage) deserts the war with his longtime fighting, boozing and whoring buddy Felson, played by the primitive-looking Ron Perlman (Hellboy, Hellboy II). "You call this glories? Murdering women and children?" is Behmen's anti-war epiphany moment, after he takes part in a massacre at the fortified city Smyrna. The two pals wander back home from the Holy War and are captured for going AWOL.

    Meanwhile, Europe has been engulfed by the Black Plague. A dying Cardinal (Christopher Lee, ghastly enough without makeup but here unrecognizable behind icky prosthetics of festering boils and tumors) offers them clemency if they agree to transport a suspected witch, a girl played by newcomer Claire Foy, who is blamed for causing the plague. Get she to a monastery. The monks there will know what to do. Right.

    Ergo, the quest commences.

    An A team is assembled: our two heroes, a monk named Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore, from The Bank Job), a stoic knight (Ulrich Thomsen), an elfin altar boy who craves adventure (Robert Sheehan, from Cherrybomb) and Hagamar, a convicted thief (Stephen Graham from "Boardwalk Empire") who is freed because he knows the way and because he can provide comic relief.

    The journey takes the party through craggy mountains, barren plains and haunted forests. Much of the scenery is appropriately Dark Agedly forlorn. The film was shot in Hungary, Austria, Croatia, and that other European location known for its Old World charm, Shreveport, Louisiana, and the Eastern European film crew, who also handled much of the special effects, is chock with Istváns and Zoltáns.

    Season of the Witch film borrows more than a few tricks from that other quest epic you may of heard of, The Lord of the Rings. The kinetic camera may as well have been controlled via remote control by Peter Jackson. It sweeps across CG landscapes melded with the real scenery and filtered with that bluish, gauzy light (likely added in post-production color grading), a look-and-feel we now associate with films set in days of yore. The score, composed by Icelander Atli Örvarsson ("Law and Order," "The Fourth Kind") includes more than its share of Howard Shore-esque brass fanfares and haunting choruses. And yes, one of the nasty forests they must cross, patrolled by wolf packs, is called ... not Mirkwood ... not Fangorn ... but Wormwood.

    The Tolkien echoes don't end there. Behmen and Felson's friendly rivalry—"Whoever slays the most men, drinks for free"—recalls Legolas and Gimli's battlefield body-count contest, minus 99 percent of the chemistry. Likewise, Felson's "What madness is this?" line regurgitates Boromir's "What is this new devilry?" moment when the Fellowship first faces the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. To Perlmans's query, Cage replies: "This be a curse from hell."

    No one attempts an English accent, which is probably for the best, for already Cage as heroic knight is hard to swallow. But director Dominic Sena (Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish) makes no attempt to establish any sort of linguistic consistency. One moment, Hagamar, who speaks like he wandered off the set of "Jersey Shore," spouts lines like "Don't be deceived. She sees the weakness that lies in our hearts"; then he's all "Let's kill the bitch!" Likewise, early on our monk Debelzaq intones, "There is a whisper throughout the land, that the hour of our judgment is on us." Later, in the climactic battle, he exclaims, "We're gonna to need more holy water." Debelzaq may as well be channeling Roy "We're going to need a bigger boat" Scheider from Jaws.

    Like in many action movies, the creaky script by Bragi Schut, Jr. (who wrote and directed the CBS sci-fi series "Threshold") tries to ride that knife edge: sober and serene so we'll buy the premise, yet giving the heroes a wide berth for wisecracks. Perhaps because Season of the Witch is meant to be taken as a period picture—OK, a supernatural thriller set in the 14th century—this familiar Hollywood cocktail of lofty prose and battlefield quips feels especially strained. Amazingly, Schut's screenplay won a major writing competition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences's Nicholl Fellowship. Which does not instill much confidence in the Academy's ability to recognize good screenplays.

    Schut's other problem is story. Much is made of whether the ragged girl is, in fact, a witch. Cage's character suspects she might be wrongly accused. You're not like the others—you're kind, the girl says. But the audience knows whether or not the innocent gal possesses supernatural powers long before the characters do; despite evidence that should alert our clueless heroes, they're unnecessarily dense. The unexpected wrinkle of exactly how the evil forces takes form partly redeems this plotting mishap, but not before the film's credibility has been battered.

    A more serious shortcoming is the film's contradictory message. Early on, showing a rather a modern and enlightened perspective, Cage and Perlman defect from the Crusading army to protest the unjust and brutal wars. Killing soldiers and innocent women and children in the service of a Christian God is offensive, our heroes intuit. Yet Season of the Witch reveals its odd logic in the final reel. Sure, the Crusades are morally reprehensible—but when it comes to battling evil, out come the holy water, sacred texts, and "in the name of the father" pronouncements. Schut, our screenwriter, can't have it both ways—implicating the Church for atrocities that shoved Christianity down the throats of infidel Muslims, while suggesting that only Christian mojo can save the day.

    Despite the drawbacks—the cumbersome script, the flat performances by Cage and Perlman—genre fans with their bars set low will find this junk food fun. The effects are decent. The production design's medieval grittiness is convincing. The scenery is moody and sometime staggering. (Attention Hungarian Tourist Board: begin your Season of the Witch movie location bus trips now.)

    (Before I go, other gripe: Am I the only one dislikes that flickery, ever-so-slightly sped up combat photography so in fashion now? It's like you're viewing the fighting through an old-timey projector. Ridley Scott recently used this technique in Robin Hood. I find the jerkiness distracting.)

    Ignoring Sena's cheap horror and suspense tricks, overall the action sequences are rousing, with plenty of mass-scale sword-clangings, torch-bearing through dark passages, and effortless beheadings. If you like your swords-and-sorcery mind-candy a campy blend of Tolkien and The Exorcist, and you don't mind a few groaners, Season of the Witch might, heroically, do the trick.


    Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of the award-winning, travel memoir/pop culture investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms (now in paperback). Follow his adventures at



    You must see Marwencol

    [For more information on Marwencol, see ]

    Like all accomplished war photographers, Mark Hogancamp puts himself at risk.

    He shoots fugitive moments of violence, anguish, and bravery. But Hogancamp’s work differs from others’ in one key respect: The combat zones he enters don’t entirely exist in the real world. It’s the battlefield of his emotions that he’s trying to capture on film.

    Marwencol is a remarkable documentary about this peculiar man and the fictitious, painstakingly-detailed, 1/6-scale town he built in his yard. Set in Belgium during World War II and populated with dozens of buildings, military vehicles, and more than 100 foot-high, poseable action figures, Hogancamp’s simulacrum is called Marwencol.

    “Everything’s real,’’ Hogancamp gushes at one point in the film, demonstrating how a tiny pistol in one soldier’s hands has a working hammer and replaceable clip. “That all adds to my ferocity of getting into the story. I know what’s inside every satchel,’’ he says.

    Those contents include a stamp-size deed proving that Captain “Hogie’’ Hogancamp, the real man’s 12-inch alter ego, owns the doll-house-size, make-believe bar in this make-believe realm.

    The fine line separating real from imagined is the focus of this poignant and provocative documentary, winner of the Jury Award for best documentary at the SXSW Film Festival. [Marwencol opens at selected theaters in more than 40 cities nationwide, starting in November and continuing into December and January. More info on theater dates here:]

    Read the rest of the post here


    Not dead yet: Zombie movies are unalive and well

    Not dead yet: Zombie movies are unalive and well

    George Romero and Ethan GilsdorfGeorge Romero thinks the zombie genre is here to stay.

    “I don’t think it will ever die,’’ said Romero, director of six zombie-themed films, including his latest, “Survival of the Dead,’’ which opens Friday. He was in Boston earlier this month to promote the film.

    Of course, Romero is more than a little biased. Over the past 40-plus years, the director has brought us the landmark “Night of the Living Dead’’ (1968), “Dawn of the Dead’’ (1978), and “Day of the Dead’’ (1985), as well as “Creepshow’’ (1982). But ask the man why re-animated, flesh-starved corpses are stumbling and lumbering back into pop culture, hungry for our brains, and he draws a blank.

    “Why zombie movies? In Budapest, 3,000 people dress up as zombies. What is that about? I don’t know,’’ said the gangly, avuncular, 70-year-old filmmaker who wears a gray ponytail and white beard. “I half expect a zombie to show up and hang out with the Count on ‘Sesame Street.’ ’’

    Like other horror categories — vampire, werewolf, psycho-killer, demon — the zombie film once lay dormant in its grave. But the genre has made a significant comeback, and the uptick of zombie mania has benefited a host of filmmakers, authors, comic book artists, and video-game developers. Romero, who had to wait 20 years between making “Day’’ and 2005’s “Land of the Dead,’’ has churned out three zombie films in five years. (“Diary of the Dead’’ came out in 2007.)

    Among the spate of zombie-themed books, there’s The New York Times bestseller “Zombie Survival Guide’’ and “World War Z,’’ and the recent “U.S. Army Zombie Combat Skills,’’ which teaches the techniques needed to take on armies of the undead. Naturally, the Jane Austen-zombie mash-up novel “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’’ also helped drive the resurgence, as have impromptu flash-mob zombie walks, and hit video games like Resident Evil (“Zombies are good targets for first-person shooters,’’ Romero noted).

    Last year’s “Zombieland’’ was a hit. With “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’’ now in development as an A-list movie starring Natalie Portman, and with “E’gad, Zombies!,’’ a film short about 19th-century zombies premiering at Cannes this year (starring Ian McKellen, with plans to expand to feature length), perhaps the genre has finally come of age and gained mass respectability — albeit a tongue-through-cheek one. There’s even a new Ford Fiesta ad touting how the vehicle’s keyless door opener and push-button starter enable a hasty getaway from a zombie attack.

    Romero finds the fascination both “ridiculous’’ and “unbelievable.’’ Too many zombies, even for Romero? Perhaps there’s a tinge of jealousy in his voice. After all, it was Romero who toiled for years in the indie movie trenches, struggled to get his projects financed, and more or less single-handedly reinvented the genre. He also tolerated remakes of his movies, like 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead,’’ which was made without his participation.

    Romero deserves respect. After all, he codified the rules of the game. Namely, that to kill zombies, “You have to deactivate the brain: shoot it, stab it, stomp it, whatever you got — in the head,’’ said Romero’s working partner and “Survival of the Dead’’ producer Peter Grunwald. It was also Romero who rescued the undead from their quainter origins in such classics as 1932’s “White Zombie,’’ considered to be the first zombie movie. Bela Lugosi plays a voodoo priest who transforms a young woman into a zombie.

    In those days, zombies were more like hypnotized puppets than flesh-eating ghouls. “The zombie was born out of Haitian zombie lore,’’ said Glenn Kay, author of “Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide,’’ in a telephone interview. “There was a huge element in the early movies of all these potions and powders, with a zombie master. It’s not so magical any more.’’

    Later, in movies like “Plan 9 From Outer Space’’ (1959), zombies served as “muscle for the aliens,’’ Kay said; in “Invisible Invaders’’ (also released in 1959), they were alien occupiers of bodies of the recently deceased. But they had no personalities. “It was hard for filmmakers to figure out what to do with them.’’

    That all changed in 1968 — a year of social upheaval on many fronts — with the black-and-white, bargain-basement “Night of the Living Dead.’’ Here radioactive contamination reanimates corpses, and Romero remade zombies — no longer mind-controlled dummies, but autonomous beings with a motivation to feast on flesh. That upped the genre’s dramatic ante. Since Romero, various filmmakers have offered zombie-like plots. “Re-Animator’’ (1985) is more like Frankenstein than Romero, but still features the walking dead. In “28 Days Later’’ (2002), a virus fills people with murderous rage. Fancy a zombie apocalypse comedy? See 2004’s “Shaun of the Dead.’’

    The premise of “Survival of the Dead,’’ like all of Romero’s zombie films, pits a band of survivors against the undead. This time around, Sarge (Alan Van Sprang) and his small platoon (we first meet them in “Diary of the Dead’’) head to an island to escape the zombies, where they stumble into clan warfare between two Irish-American families (and more zombies). One, headed by O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), thinks the only good zombie is a dead zombie. The other, under Muldoon (Richard Fitzpatrick), hopes his zombie beloved might be cured, so he keeps them alive and chained up. Guess which is the better idea?

    This wholesale rise of zombies suggests a metaphorical interpretation. Do they represent our fear of death and disease, or work as a way to accept death (minus the flesh-eating parts)? Are the undead actually proxies for illegal immigrants or terrorists? Or are the undead making fun of our mindless, consumerist, sheep-like tendencies?

    Perhaps we identify with zombies because they’re the monsters we most resemble. “We can imagine ourselves as them,’’ said Grunwald. “They’re not giant CG [computer-generated] beasts. They’re like us, like our family, or loved ones.’’ They are us.

    As Sarge narrates early on in “Survival,’’ “They were easy enough to kill, except when they were your buddies.’’

    Romero refuses to analyze. Actually, he insists his films aren’t about zombies. They’re about the chaos zombies create. In “Survival’’ you will find disgustingly cool new ways to kill a zombie, i.e., fill its head with fire-extinguisher foam, or shoot it with a flare gun then cavalierly light your cigarette off its flaming body. But the subtext of biting social commentary that Romero fans have come to expect is buried not far below the surface.

    “All six of them have always been about people, how they screw up,’’ he said. “How they can’t pull together to address the problem. Or they address the problem stupidly. Or they attack the symptom rather than the disease.’’

    “Lousy times make lousy people,’’ says the teenage protagonist of “Survival.’’ With its “Lord of the Flies’’ scenario, “Survival’’ is really a disaster movie about human nature and another chapter in Romero’s bleak — yet paradoxically goofy — worldview. It’s not for everyone.

    “I think they [his movies] really are an acquired taste,’’ Romero said. “If you have the stamina to acquire the taste.’’

    Or the stomach. Take Romero’s iPhone “App of the Dead,’’ launching later this month. You’ll be able to add zombie makeup to snapshots of your friends, then shoot them in the head.

    “It’s anchovies, baby.’’

    Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms.’’ He can be reached at 


    See Second Skin


    To say that video games, particularly massively multiplayeronline games, are popular is like saying Oprah has decent Nielsen ratings. According to Strategy Analytics, in 2008 they generated $1.5 billion in wolrdwide subscription revenues, a figure that’s expected to balloon to at least $2.5 billion by 2012. Variously abbreviated as MMOs, MMOGs, and MMPOGs (or, if of the roleplaying kind, MMORPGs), these games have become an integral part of our social revolution and evolution, altering how we actand interact. But for good or evil?

    This is the question I ask in my book "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks." And it's one asked by Juan Carlos and Victor Piñeiro Escoriaza, creators of the award-winning documentary Second Skin.

    Every now and again, a film comes around that helps you understand your world a little better. Such is the case with Second Skin, a documentary that focuses on various groups computer gamers "whose lives have been transformed by online virtual worlds" -- be they addicted players, couples who meet and fall in love online; disabled players; or those toiling overseas as "gold farmers" to make digital goodies for richer (and western) players.

    For the documentary "Second Skin," filmmakers took six months searching for subjects obsessed with online role-playing games. Eventually, they settled on four subjects, intercutting between them to explore the appeal of the massively popular "World of Warcraft" and "EverQuest" games.

    Many potential subjects refused to participate, fearful of the geek label, said writer-producer Victor Piñeiro Escoriaza (in an article I wrote about them for the Boston Globe). He had to reassure them that he and his co-filmmakers were sympathetic gamers themselves. "We're emphasizing the human aspect of the people behind the game."


    This month, Second Skin hits the theaters in Somerville (Boston); Austin, LA, and Colorado Springs. Check here for dates and showtimes in your town. In theaters August 7th. On DVD (with Liberation Entertainment) everywhere August 25th.



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