Thursday, June 24, 2010


Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Year 2009

Agora is a poignant and stirring opus, displaying the harsh consequences when the clashing of faiths drive mankind to madness and turmoil against one another. This masterfully executed film hits the senses like a freight truck as it tackles some pretty weighty subjects and religious beliefs, all the while maintaining a cohesive and contemplative story that never fails to peak the viewer's interest.

The director of this film, Alejandro Amenabar, has crafted something very special between these beautiful set pieces and authentically reconstructed Egyptian landscapes. This is a far fetch from his previous films where he dabbled in science fiction with Abre los ojos, then with the haunting ghost tale The Others, and with his emotionally driven drama The Sea Inside. With Agora, he tackles a film that's steep in historical imagery and abundantly epic in scale with its purely engaging narrative elements.

Got it made, got it made, got it made! I'm hot for the atheist teacher!

The film takes place in 4th century Egypt in the city of Alexandria, now under the control of the waning Roman Empire. Cultural unrest has ignited among the people, inciting Atheists, Jews, Pagans, and Christians to clash over the right to claim religious supremacy. The atmosphere of this tempered and volatile time is captured superbly by Alejandro and company. The tension lies thick in the air as open disputes boil over to full out war between the various factions. Never has these ancient civilizations felt so real and brimming with life. I must say that the filmmakers have done a tremendous job in bringing this all into the realm of believability, with great use of lavish sets and subtle CGI work for the expansive vistas. This is one beautiful movie, that aches for someone to view it in all its eye catching splendor.

Hypatia and her father stroll past their favorite giant sculpture.
A statue of a man on the crapper.

The centerpiece of this story and the main balance point that keeps all of these chaotic proceedings chained to a streamlined narrative, is the character of Hypatia, played by the always beautiful and enchanting Rachel Weisz. Hypatia is a teacher, philosopher, and atheist, in a time where to not have a god is equal to death. Her beliefs and stubborn pursuit of scientific facts and truth, lay a conflicting path across the over encumbering beliefs of a rising force in the world, Christianity. These world changing events that are taking place at this time are shadowed by the intimate encounters between Hypatia and her students.

The most important of these interactions are between her slave Davus, played by the passive yet intense Max Minghella, and one of her top students, the ambitiously driven Orestes, played by a conflicted yet cocky Oscar Isaac. Both men give a great deal of range throughout the film and provide the depth that is needed to bridge the span of this lengthy film that stretches over several years of the Christians rise and inherent takeover. Without a doubt, the acting in this film is above and beyond anything that has come out in recent years.

Old man Peabody used to own all this land.
He had a strange obsession about breeding pine trees.

The tension that the filmmakers have been able to capture for this film is insanely palpable, throwing us right in the thick of this tremendously bloody and frighteningly savage battle between two opposing religious beliefs. The raw nature of these events are splashed up onto the screen for all to see, never holding back and never shying away from the horrible realities of what occurred during these turbulent times.

To believe that mankind could be so cruel to each other over something as silly as a personal belief in something, is quite disturbing and insanely warped, yet in all the years since, we still haven't learned a damn thing. It's easy to get worked up over this narrative and find a sympathetic thread to relate to from our own society, where bigotry, prejudice, and racism, still thrive. The filmmakers wisely bring this concept to our attention and hopefully in their bold presentation of this hot fire topic, shed some much needed light on this cyclical problem that keeps rearing its ugly head within the human race. In Alejandro Amenabar's epic masterpiece, Agora, he makes a bold statement to all of mankind, wake up.

Wave your hands in the air, and wave them like you just don't care!

There are some enchanting and haunting moments in Agora. Moments that make you step back from the film and all that is going on with it, and really reflect on the ethereal moment being displayed on the screen. The perfect example of these contemplative occasions, is when we are treated to some birds eye view shots from high above the city, looking down towards the throngs of people as they fight amongst themselves far below.

Whether you're religious or not, you get a great sense from these striking shots, that there is a greater being out there, watching over all that is playing out over his or her name. You almost get a sense that you are a god yourself, spectating over your creation as it slowly destroys itself. It's a high handed, yet a truly intimate moment that really propels this film into a whole other echelon of filmmaking.

Wow! I can see my house being ransacked from here!

Another moment of greatness comes when the Roman Empire has decreed that the Christians get full control of the Library of Alexandria, forcing out the Pagans and leading to the destruction of thousands of priceless writings and ideas collected over centuries of study. Alejandro depicts this catastrophic event with a bit of flavor and stylistic flare, by slowly flipping the frame of the shot so that it finally rests upside down, mimicking the way that the world has now been flipped on its head and all the teachings have been thrown out the window in pursuit of an at the time narrow and singularly driven belief in Christianity. I love this scene and commend Alejandro for making such a strikingly visual exclamation on such a pivotal event that greatly changed the evolution and mental development of all of mankind.

You spin me right round baby right round,
like a Roman baby right round, round, round.

All of these events swarm around the main characters of this film as they interact with each other and weave a more intricately and intimate story of their own that reflects the bigger picture of religious upheaval and unrest. Rachel Weisz and Oscar Isaac's portrayal of Hypatia and Orestes and their complicated love is rather intriguing and we're never given the typical hollywood romance that many historical epics fall into and in the end mistakenly focus on. Instead we are given a very humanized and real depiction of two people who rely on each other's wisdom and friendship to help guide each other through very trying times. We are never really given the distinct realization that they are an official couple or married or anything like that. It's compelling in its simplistic presentation and one that seems rather unique. The ambiguity of their relationship is quite refreshing and for me it felt that much more real.

Memories, of the way we were.

On the flip side of this happy couple, we have the slave Davus, who once rejected by Hypatia in a heated moment of confusion, grief, and anger, rejects his shackles of slavery and embraces the appealing teachings of the Christians. He sets out on an entirely different life that casts both Hypatia and himself hurtling into totally different worlds in both religious beliefs and moral encounters. Max Minghella plays Davus with such a diverse range, from his humble and passive life as a slave to his matured and contemplative inner struggle as a Christian that doubts his own religion. There's so many layers to his character and there's such a depth to the religious seesaw that his character goes through, that it really makes for compelling viewing.

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.

Even without the semi-love triangle story, Hypatia's character is both intriguing and inspirational as she tries desperately to uncover the mysteries of the universe. She is determined to explain the rotation of the earth around the sun and to uncover the universal function of ellipses to a world that believes any talk of such things to be heresy and witchcraft. Hypatia is a brilliant and inquisitive mind in a world where questions are answered by faith and nothing more. The explanation of solving the cosmos pales in comparison to the impending events unraveling between the strong beliefs over religion. Weisz is absolutely spellbinding in her performance of a woman who was far ahead of her time.

This comes to no surprise because she has never faltered for a moment in the various roles that she has undertaken. Her portrayal of the terminally ill Izzi Creo in Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, is one of the most outstanding performances that I've seen in recent years and it's one that shows just how capable of an actress she is. In Agora, she stays true to her tremendous reputation in delivery momentous performances that really tug at your soul and leave you wanting more.

I brought you all here to ask if I look fat in this robe. Well?

The brutality of this film is quite blunt and viscously portrayed, giving us a great sense of how it might have been during this dangerous time of change. We are shown decapitations, bloody stonings, and massive mobs of blood thirsty zealots as they slaughter anyone in their path that is not of their religion. It's a savage film to say the least, and presenting it in this manner greatly helps us believe that what we are seeing is as close to reality as we can get, unless we had a time machine.

The violence that we see in Agora is in your face, but it's not for show or shock value. The natural escalation of violence that inhibits the screen is always shown to help move the plot along and progress the ever expanding control that the Christian movement had over Alexandria in this moment in time. It's a very telling story of how so much blood was spilled in order for a single religious faction to exist, one that was supposedly formed to promote peace and love under one god. It's a mad, mad world.

It's rush hour in the city of Alexandria.

Agora is a film that has so many things to say yet brilliantly it lets us come up with much of the inner dialogue. It allows us to look inside ourselves and question what we are seeing on the screen. Whether we're Christian, Jewish, or whatever religion you practice, it's safe to say that we all have our own way of looking at the world and our own personal way of believing in something other then ourselves. This film revels in that unique and diverse notion that lies in all of us and presents us with a grand plot that touches on so many sensitive subjects, yet lets us decide on what is right and wrong.

From the cast, the sets, the direction, and the stupendous acting, the world of 4th century Alexandria has sprung to life giving us a story that is so compelling and filled with such drama, that it holds itself high among the filmmaking elite. Never has a film been so poignant in both its inner message and exterior presentation. I strongly recommend this film to anyone that loves period dramas on an epic scale and films that have a message that everyone must witness.

4 out of 5 stars   An Epic Film Showing the Clashing of Religions

Friday, June 18, 2010


Director: Ivan Engler & Ralph Etter
Year 2009

Cargo is a surprisingly epic and intriguing science fiction film from Switzerland that really excels above and beyond its restrained budget to bring a new and refreshing take that still feels at home among the sci-fi greats like the Aliens series, Solaris, and the newer and equally entertaining, Pandorum. Directed by two unknowns, Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter, who both collaborated together for their first feature film in Cargo, bring a huge sense of realism and a weighty visual splendor that makes us believe in this fantastic and tangible future world. I had heard so many good things about this film prior to watching it myself and I'm so happy to find that everything that I heard was wonderfully backed up and solidified by these two stupendous directors and their undeniable skills in making a palpable universe that feels legit.

Laura takes a minute to soak in the depressing scenery.

The world of Cargo is a dangerous and desolate one, filled with plague, famine, and terrorism. It's a place where hope is all but lost, that is unless you are one of the lucky ones to earn a place on the paradise planet of Rhea. We are first introduced to this concept by a video clip that loops over and over on a large satellite screen that revolves around a giant floating city that orbits the now uninhabitable Earth. The immense space station is packed with throngs of barely surviving earthlings as they fight off sickness and hope for their chance to earn enough money to acquire themselves a place on Rhea. The society that Cargo introduces us to in this film is so interesting and wildly foreign to our current lifestyles, that it would seem highly improbable and abundantly impossible to our jaded eyes. Fortunately the filmmakers bring us into this world with a subtle push that makes the shocking realizations of this harsh life that more believable and acceptable as truth. We gracefully float up to the grand city and close in on one of the large portal windows to be graced with the unpleasant sight of a crowded and rundown part of the complex, filled with the sounds of the sick and dying as they moan and cry out in a huddle mass of despair.

It's not a pleasant sight and contrasting these overly crowded close quarters with the expansive openness of space in the beginning of the film, hammers home the anxiety and desperation that human kind is being encumbered with in these trying times that the film is placed in. You can feel the urgency that many of these citizens feel as they watch the glowing and inviting video screens as they project the warm images of planet Rhea. The images almost seem to hypnotize them and you can see right off the bat, that this dream of making it to this heaven like planet is at the heart of all human kind and embedded in this futuristic society.

A sprawling space city, in space no less.

The main premise of this outstanding film focuses on our main character Dr. Laura Portmann, played by a mysterious and strangely intriguing Anna-Katharina Schwabroh, as she embarks on an eight year long trip aboard the freighter ship Kassandra. Like many surviving humans, Laura longs to save up enough money to finally leave this desolate life behind and spend the rest of her life on planet Rhea, where her sister and niece and nephew now live. In order for her dreams to come true though, she needs to take one last job as a medic aboard the Kassandra, and then she will have enough to leave her old life behind and embrace all that Rhea has to offer.

I really love the premise and overall concept of Cargo, because it focuses primarily on the human aspects of space travel and the extreme conditions of life among the stars. The idea of mankind's journey out from our comfortable surrounds on Earth and stretching our influence throughout the universe is such an engaging idea that it really interests me when I see a new story being told, especially when it looks as beautiful and well done as this film. Both Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter did an outstanding job with this film, focusing first and foremost on the realizations that Laura's character is experiencing and delving into her inner struggle of reuniting with her sister. The human story in Cargo is both captivating in its representation of two parallel civilizations cast apart by a huge span of distance while also enchanting us in its mysterious set up of this mythical planet that seems heaven sent for the lowly souls living among the dark void of the contained space station to long for.

Laura makes the best of her space flight by sexting a perfect stranger. Pervert.

The assignment that Laura has signed up for is, as I mentioned already, an eight year long tour, but luckily Laura will only be awake for eight and a half months of the entire duration. Her crew must take shifts in a sort of cryostasis inducing tub of goo that sustains their vital signs as they endure the long trek across the galaxy, while one person essentially plays security guard for the rest of the ship. It is during Laura's watch, that something strange begins to happen and this is where the real mystery of the film starts to unravel.

The filmmakers do an excellent job in conveying the isolation that Laura's character goes through as she finds random things to do to help pass the time during her long and lonely shift. These moments of solitude rely heavily on the quiet and ever looping cycles of Laura going through her daily routine. The sequences are highly effective, helping to build up the tension when Laura comes to the realization that she isn't the only one that is awake onboard the ship. The story jumps off the rails as Laura's paranoia and suspicions begin to quickly present us with one mystery after another, until we come to the stark realization that we don't know if anyone can be trusted onboard the massive cargo ship.

They even have sweet flat screens in the future.

Anna-Katharina's portrayal of the character Laura is extremely well done and tremendously sympathetic. From the start of the film, we are placed into her shoes and we share the same viewpoint as her character by almost coming into the world as an outsider. Even though Laura has lived within this world her whole life, we get the feeling that she is experiencing everything, like we are, for the very first time. She stares in wonder as ships leave port at the main capitol city, she marvels at the expansive vistas from her ships rectangular window, and she reacts to the suffering of the masses of civilians on the space station as if she's just been introduced to their horrific lifestyle. It's a strange disconnection that we perceive between Laura and this world that she inhabits, but it's that unfamiliar conveyance that helps us the viewer relate to Laura and the situations that she encounters. Whether this was the intention of the filmmakers or not, it's a nice touch that allows us to gently get to know the world around our main character and possibly enter it hand in hand as we delve deeper into this otherworldly culture. Anna does a marvelous job and I think her presence in the film allows us to better understand and sympathize with the rich plot elements that begin to unfold as she unravels a mystery that goes beyond anyones comprehension within the film.

Cue the sad bastard montage music.

Now many people have compared this film to Ridley Scott's Alien franchise, but I'd have to strongly disagree with that statement, well to a point. This film doesn't rely on the monster or alien premise, but stays on a simpler and more human focused path. Now I'll agree that the atmosphere and the look of the film strongly resembles the visuals that saturated the Alien films and you can tell that the filmmakers respect Ridley Scott's vision of a worn out future, but plot wise Cargo relies on its human characters to provide the mystery and horror that propel the story forward. 

There are many elements that provide that horror spark that could categorize this film in that genre, like the opening of the gigantic cargo bay doors that could house an unwanted intruder or the darkened hallways of the spaceship itself, lined with halo rimmed florescent lights, but all of these elements seem to blend within the science fiction counterparts and run inherently heavy in this isolated tale of a crew in the middle of nowhere threatened by an unseen enemy. The filmmakers use these tried and true conventions of the science fiction world and morph them with the fundamental aspects of a thriller story, where no one can be trusted and the true nature of the unseen enemy is not quite clear and concise. Through this approach, we are given a film that compiles an overbearing sense of paranoia that never seems to let up, all the while unveiling new twists and turns throughout the narrative.

Nothing good can come from walking into a dark and creepy room.

We're also given these moments between Laura and her sister, that really help to flesh out Laura's personality and to embrace that ever growing urge for her to finally meet up with her sibling again. These moments are provided by a clever device in the form of hand held video diaries. Now the distance between Laura's current location and the planet of Rhea are light years apart, so the entries in the diary take days to reach their intended destinations giving us random moments when Laura checks her video deck to view her sister's latest entry. These sequences help to break up the dark moments throughout the film and bring us back to the heart of this film and the underlying reason why Laura is on this perilous journey.

The video diaries also bring to light one of the most compelling mysteries that spring up in this film. As the Kassandra's eight year long journey moves onward and the years dwindle down, Laura notices that her sister is answering her video diary entries with more rapid succession as the days go on. This is confusing because their cargo route doesn't take them anywhere near the planet Rhea, but the fact that her sister is answering so quickly must mean that they are either going in the wrong direction or that someone has been lying to them from the start and their mission is something else entirely. This is just one example of many, where Laura begins to question the intentions of her superiors and wonder if something sinister is in fact going on. I commend the filmmakers for making such a rich story that has layers upon layers in which to work with.

Laura shares some nice Hallmark moments with her sister. How sweet.

As the mystery of what is truly going on begins to spiral out of control and people begin to be killed off by an unseen attacker, Laura struggles with who she can trust and starts to doubt her newfound friendships onboard the ship. You can really feel the tension between characters as they second guess each other's intentions. What is interesting is that we're mainly focused on Laura's character throughout the story and the filmmakers are intent on making her the main focal point on which to solve the unanswered questions, but we get a great sense of the same paranoia and confusion from the rest of the crew. It seems that no one truly knows what is going on and that everyone is in the same predicament as Laura.

The simple fact that everyone seems to be equals in the same harrowing situation only helps to make the end results that much more impactful when we finally are revealed to each individual characters intentions and to their true understandings of the situation at hand. I won't give away the big reveals in this film, but I like the overall conspiracy that they present and I feel that it was quite satisfying and well set up from the very beginning of the film. The world that they have created in this film is based on one simple ideal that could come crashing down once revealed to the masses. It's interesting as hell and it's something that works rather well within the confines of this space thriller.

I can't operate with you watching me back there.

The visual aspect of this film is an achievement in itself. There are so many colors that splash across the screen that you don't really get a clear picture of how diverse the color palette is in this film until you look at the progression of stills from beginning to end. We start out with a very sterile look to the environment. One that clings to the metallic shades of the surrounding walls of the aged capitol city and the inner structure of the spaceship Kassandra. Then as the film progresses and the plot begins to unravel into its roller coaster of a ride, the range of colors begin to enhance until we are left with some very harsh reds and some primary flashes of vibrant and abstract concoctions. You could almost relate this choice of color progression to a dream or nightmare that begins to move so out of control, casting you deeper into a world where nothing is as it seems. It's fantastic to see progress and I believe it helps greatly in the conception of the paranoiac trappings that has guided the narrative on to this point.

It all works so well and it surprisingly succeeds on a more subtle scale then what you would first think. While I was watching the film, I appreciated the abundance of color, but I never once thought of how it had intensified as the film progressed. I just felt the ever growing sense of despair and paranoia from the many mysteries and character reveals that occurred. Looking back, I now can see that the color choices greatly effected me in enhancing all that was going on and helped bring that sense of emotional instability front and center.

Things get a little hot and heavy in this red light special moment.

Much like my other favorite 2009 science fiction film, Moon, we are given sets that seem ripped straight from some of the best sci-fi films of the 70's. From marveling over the visuals, I got a great sense of the architectural wonder of the space station in Sean Connery's Outland. The calm and reflective moments in the environmental loving film Silent Running, seemed catered to the general concepts that later come into play in this film about the Earth and its possible rebirth for inhabiting life. There's even some great zero gravity sequences where our main characters are scaling the outside of the spaceship that play close attention and great respect to the many space walks that are so inherently abundant in this genre.

In fact the entire film had a nostalgic presence and patient pacing that came so naturally to the science fiction films of that time. There's a certain grace to the proceedings of this film, mimicking the slow elegant movements of an astronaut as he hurtles through the cosmos. It's wonderful to see a movie in this day and age that can bring that same aesthetic back into play and make it seem viable again.

Samuel, played by Martin Rapold, as he takes
his fancy banana space suit out for a test drive.

With all of this talk about visuals and nostalgic appeal, I've left out one of the most impressive aspects of this film, the soundtrack. Early on in the film, I was taken aback by how beautiful and ambient the soundtrack was. As the camera swoons across the expansive landscape of the space city we are treated to an abstractly peaceful piece of music that seems augmented from Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack. These tracks are so spiritual in their nature and expressive in their ethereal stride that it perfectly replicates the motions of the camera and the feeling of soaring among the stars. This also comes into play during the isolated portions of the film, where Laura is attending to her eight month shift aboard the Kassandra. The soundtrack brings the film to life and births it in a place and time, one that sets itself apart from other movies of its kind yet seems strangely familiar all the same.

Also the effects of this film are of that same high caliber. You would have never thought that they made this film for a measly five million Swiss francs, which roughly comes to four and a half million US dollars. Everything in this film seems epic and beyond belief, yet it's created and portrayed in such a creative way that it provides a believable structure to the film and its counterparts. The decision to provide a large portion of the films effects to the beginning opening sequence of the gigantic space city, helped plunge us into the world and forced us to believe that from this point on we are inhabiting a living, breathing, and substantial world. From that moment and well after, we never question the authenticity of the spaceship Kassandra or the perilous encounters that Laura finds herself in, but we buy it hook line and sinker because of the well presented opening to this glorious world that the filmmakers have manifested for us. This is one film where from beginning to end, you are never taken out of the moment, not for one second. The immersion that they were able to accomplish with this film is unprecedented and is a great achievement for such a minimally budgeted film.

You got something in your eye man.

Though the film is outstanding in its own right, with amazing visuals, intriguing story, and impressive scope, it might be an acquired taste for some viewers. The pace of this film could be too slow and cumbersome for some people to be able to make it through, but in my mind the revelations that occur in the final portions of this film make it all worth while. We are given a harsh realization on how this society is able to function and we come to find that the fragile stability of this broken world has been built on lies and deception. The fabric that is holding this entire culture in place is the belief in something that doesn't truly exist and is something of a fantasy, much like an atheist would say about religion. Now I'm not saying that the film is as deep as the belief of religion and its metaphorical hold on keeping everyone morally in check, but I believe that the big reveal resembles shades of that spiritual argument and it inherently borrows aspects of that belief. 

Whatever the reasons for the filmmakers choice of building this society from this idea, I love them for it. It works within the walls of this structured narrative and bridges the gaps in providing this world with enough believable reasons for having things the way they are. I recommend watching this film a second time and you'll come to see just how cohesive the story is and you'll notice that everything is set up from the very beginning of the film. The filmmakers have done a tremendous job in providing a tangible realm that seems to work in every aspect and facet of its complicated workings.

Peek a boo you fuck you!

Cargo is a glorious film to behold and one that will have you reminiscing on the great epic science fiction films of years long gone. It's always great to see a film bring back the aesthetics that make stories of this caliber so fascinating and timeless and to be able to accomplish such a feat with such a small budget is commendable at best. From the lush visuals, to the wondrous effects work, to the painstaking efforts that it took to make this film a possibility, you really can't go wrong with this film. It has the heart, the emotional pull, and the abundance of mystery to make it one of the most engaging science fiction films to come out in recent years. If you love your science fiction with layers upon layers of intriguing concepts then I suggest you find a way to view this film as soon as possible. This is science fiction with a soul.

4 out of 5 stars      A Science Fiction Marvel From the Swiss!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

REVIEW: Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane
Director: Michael J. Bassett
Year 2009

Solomon Kane is the perfect throwback to the fun days when fantasy films and sword and sorcerer flicks ran rampant and supreme in theaters and at the video store. This brilliant movie transports you into a world of high adventure and perilous quests during the 17th century, as we follow a complicated man by the name of Solomon Kane, who is both sinister and benevolent. The character of Solomon Kane is played by the charismatic and wholly entertaining James Purefoy, who really brings this interesting and conflicted character to life. His mannerisms and unabashed efforts to flesh out this larger then life character, is quite commendable and through his great efforts, has created a hero worthy of its cult status.

Solomon Kane was created by pulp-era writer Robert E. Howard, who has also manifested some of the most legendary figures of the fantasy genre including Conan the Barbarian. I've never had the pleasure of reading his Solomon Kane stories prior to viewing this film, so I can't validate director Michael J. Bassett's vision to his original concept of Solomon, but from what I've witnessed up on the screen, Bassett has made quite a spectacle and one that should be treasured as a great achievement in the fantasy genre.

Here comes Solomon Kane, the badass.

The story begins in 1600, when Solomon Kane and his men are raiding a fortress in South Africa only to be abruptly confronted by a life altering experience that changes Kane's viscous nature and transforms him into a pious and god fearing Puritan. After living a lifetime of sin, fueled by his zealous lust for power, Solomon is forced to change his wicked ways and live the straight and narrow path of a righteous man after being confronted by the Devil's Reaper who comes to claim his tortured soul for all the evil that he has wrought in this world. Kane makes a daring escape and is then forced to hide himself from the rest of the world and live the next year of his life in a monastery where the only comfort and protection that he has from the demons that are searching for his soul, is his love of his god and his prayers.

We're just going to take a little bit off the top.

The time that he spends at the monastery has obviously effected him greatly, for when we first see him after the span of time has bridged, we notice that he has a sense of inner piece and he carries himself with a humble aura that mirrors the new man that he is. This is a far stretch from the character that we were presented with in the opening acts of this film, one that was filled with rage and an overabundance of confidence and swagger. James Purefoy conveys all of these changes in both sides of each characters personalities and he does it with a subtle and graceful nature. Even though this abrupt change has occurred in the film, where we miss out on Solomon's year long journey to find himself, Purefoy's acting and skill in his profession, bridge the gap of that span of time and fills in the missing pieces, making us easily believe the metamorphosis that has happened within Solomon Kane.

We are then shown that Solomon must now leave the monastery and find his own way in redeeming his condemned soul, when the monks send him on his way. These sequences where Solomon is journeying across the countryside are truly breathtaking. The composition is bathed in rich fantasy imagery and everything has a certain hazy sheen that gives the visuals the look of a painting that has sprung to life in all its tranquil yet seeded wonder. Michael J. Bassett has done a wonderful job in bringing these masterful images to life and making an absolutely beautiful film.

Solomon Kane will walk 100 miles and he will walk 100 more.

James Purefoy does an amazing and believable job in bringing Solomon Kane to life, but he isn't the only actor who has brought his "A" game to this film, helping to breath some life into the world that Robert E. Howard has created. Veteran character actor, Pete Postlethwaite plays William Crowthorn, a god fearing man who is traveling across the country in order start a new life with his family in the New World. As always he does an amazing job in both bringing a sympathetic and morally just character into the film and with helping move the story along with his heart wrenching tragedy that occurs later on in the story. He brings a great sense of weight and respectability to the film and to his role that only aids to the already stellar foundations that the film lies comfortably on.

Playing William Crowthorn's wife, is the outstanding Alice Krige as Katherine Crowthorn. You might remember her outrageous role in Stephen King's Sleepwalkers as the bat shit crazy mother with a pension for snapping policemen's necks or her excellent portrayal of Rosemary Waldo, the leader of the clan of dinosaur lovers in the TV mini-series Dinotopia. She does a great job in Solomon Kane and offers some rather memorable moments in the brief sequences where she converses and offers some words of wisdom to Kane's character. Both Postlethwaite and Krige's characters ground Solomon and give the audience some precious moments to get to know the Puritan in his new changed state. These moments are calming and refreshing and allow us to appreciate the turmoil that is soon to follow. Though unexpected, these moments of peace really leave an impact on the viewers love of these characters and it enforces the belief that we don't want anything bad to happen to them. Their brief interactions with Solomon are treasured moments and they seem to have a great deal of resemblance to Kane's newfound beliefs and his sympathetic nature for god's creatures. Though their screen time is limited they leave their impression on this film and with great effect.

Pete Postlethwaite asks Mr. Purefoy if he'd like to glance at his horses ass.

We are also given a greater look into what makes Solomon Kane tick, with the help of a few handy and vividly detailed flashbacks during Kane's most influential moments as a child. One of the most telling remembrances, is when Solomon disobeys his father's wishes for him to go into the clergy, forever banishing him from his father's sight and estranging him with his family. The flashback is rather telling and shows us a prime example of Solomon's rebellious nature and at the same time it shows us that his father had intended for him to be a righteous man along the same lines as which he now is. It makes you think that maybe Solomon's path was plotted out long before he was ever born and that he was destined in some way, shape, or form to live a life pure of heart and commit himself to vanquishing evil from the world. His struggles to leave the path laid out for him and pursue his own personal glory had led him on a one way trip to eternal damnation. With all of his rebellion and resistance to accept his fate, he still ended up right were he was supposed to, as the right and justice laden hand of god. There are so many layers to Solomon Kane's character, that he really does make an interesting hero for this film to stand behind.

And you thought Simon on American Idol was tough.
Try doing it in the Medieval Times! Off with his head!

The world that Robert E. Howard has created within Solomon Kane's realm, is both rich in imagery and deep in medieval overtones. The settings are just wonderful in their wretched despair and mysterious occult surroundings. Michael J. Bassett does an impeccable job in bringing this whole world to life and making it all believable in that decrepit and twisted amalgam of dark fantasy elements. The cinematography is brilliant and relies heavily on bringing out the cold and overbearing nature of the violent surroundings and the otherworldly occurrences that happen daily in this haunting realm. It's a world filled with monsters and magic, but it's strongly rooted in reality and has a tangible substance to it.

 Even though it is out of this world, I still had the sense that this may have occurred in some forgotten time in the unwritten annals of human history. That's a very commendable achievement for a fantasy film and one that all great films of this nature strive to accomplish. Bassett goes above and beyond in this department and it's outstanding that he was able to bring such a complicated tale as this to such vivid life, seeing that he doesn't have many films under his belt. I'm hoping that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we have in store for us in his future endeavors.

What are you nosy motherfuckers looking at?

Along the lines of making the world more believable and fearsome, Bassett courageously never holds back on showing us the real threats the world and its inhabitants have towards our main characters. The director and inherently the original creator of these tales, display some bold plot devices that stricken any feelings of safety the audience has for Solomon and his gang. I won't give away these instances, but you'll know them when you see them. No one is safe from the viscous nature of this world and the creatures that roam it and you'll witness some hair raising moments where you can't believe what has just happened to a crucial member of the cast. It really makes for an exciting ride where you're constantly on edge as Solomon struggles to find redemption for all the wrong he has done, while struggling to be a peaceful and pious man amongst such despicable beings.

In the words of Ash. Yo, she-bitch! Let's go!

Eventually, a moment comes when Solomon realizes that in order to redeem his soul and conquer the devil, he must do what he does best, striking the wicked down and driving them back to the darkness from which they came. He does this in style and feverish abundance as he is finally unleashed to bring evil to its knees only to slash its throat with the jagged edge of his unforgiving scabbard. The action is fierce in this film and goes right for the jugular. Heads role and blood is spilled in tremendous succession showing just how violent this world truly is. Bassett directs the action with a steady hand and patient eye, never giving us too many rapid edits, allowing us to revel in the carnage a bit more then most modern actioneers allow in this day in age of MTV style pulse pounding cuts. It's refreshing and seems to harken back to those fond days where the Sword and Sorcerer epics were king.

I kick ass for the Lord!

The creature designs are phenomenal and there are so many variations of these demented beings throughout this wicked world. We're given witch women with pale faces and jagged teeth, spouting mocking taunts with possessed venomous voices to ravenous hypnotized soldiers with cold curled blood coursing through their veiny facades as they massacre anything in their path in the name of their dark lord. One of my personal favorites are the goblin like demons that inhabit the basement of the burnt ruins of a seemingly deserted church. These white eyed demons are haunting at best when we're first presented with their blank and hungry stares as they wait in the darkened pit, staring up at their intended supper. The shot of their cold eyes looking up from the darkness is chilling and it's a great moment in the film. This is one fantasy film that is laced with traditional horror film elements so well that it could almost be categorized within that genre. The effects for all of these creatures are superb and all feel believable. All, except for the fire demon that comes into play at the end of this film that tends to lean too far into the CGI aspect of creature effects, but other then that small discrepancy, the film is damn near perfect.

Blinded by the light! Revved up like a deuce and kill a goblin in the night!

I haven't focused on James Purefoy's performance as Solomon Kane that much, but he does a tremendous job with this character. He's such a talented actor that hasn't gotten too many chances to shine in his career, but with Solomon Kane, he lets all of his potential come gushing out from the screen. Purefoy gives Kane a quiet and contemplative nature that in normal actors would come off as passive and boring, but with Purefoy's acting chops it gives the character a kinetic and surprisingly real persona that seems poised to burst at any second. His inner struggles with coming to terms with his new found piety and grappling with the mistakes that he's made in the past with the murders and killings and accidents that have torn his family in two, are a joy to watch come to a boil. You can see the mental battle that Solomon Kane is waging and it's all lined upon his face thanks to the subtly expressive acting of Purefoy. He gives the character of Solomon Kane such respect and due affirmation, that it really shows in his performance and translates well on the silver screen. I really can't say enough about the efforts that Purefoy has gone into making Solomon Kane a flesh and blood reality.

Solomon Kane's just hanging around. Yuck. Yuck.

Not only has Purefoy brought the needed mental depth and capacity to convey Solomon in a kind and respective light, but he's also honed in on what makes Kane such an interesting character to watch. The movements and gestures that Purefoy has perfected on, are just wonderful to see in motion. The way that he kicks up his sword before going into battle, gesturing for the dozen of ragged henchmen to step forward and meet their maker, is just entertaining as hell to witness and feels great to cheer on. Purefoy brings the charisma to Solomon Kane and he brings it well. The battle scenes are top notch and the efforts to choreograph the fight scenes in a believable manner have paid off in full. The blood, sweat, and tears are all there as battles wage among the mud and rain drenched battlefield. Purefoy's movements are quick and succinct, making it easy for the audience to be sucked into the realization that Kane's character is a force to be reckoned with. James Purefoy really does do an excellent job in making Solomon Kane the spectacle that he is in this movie, and he really makes him his own.

Solomon Kane, taking a moment to pose for his fans.

Michael J. Bassett gives us some special moments in this movie. You know the ones. It's the ones that make the bad guys look like total bad asses as they enter the fray, poised to take out anything in their path. You've seen it time and time again, like that moment in Star Wars: Phantom Menace, when Darth Maul first meets Obi Wan and Qui-Gon Jinn in the empty ship hanger. Those bay doors open up to reveal that viscously wicked painted face of Maul's as he presents his double bladed lightsaber and stands ready for battle. We get a few similar scenes like that in this film, where you know that this guy can wreck some shit. The guy I'm talking about is the masked enforcer of the main bad guy, Malachi. He enters one of the last battles with a sharp resemblance to Darth Maul's entrance in the Phantom Menace, when two large ornamented doors swing open to reveal his hulking figure as he approaches the battle field. It's pretty wicked and it's a moment that stood out as impressive in my eyes.

Now I wouldn't say that it was terribly original, but I don't often restrict myself to only appreciating exclusively original moments in movies. It's when moments fit the current situation with a near perfect sense of awe, is when I stand up and take notice, and this particular scene is of that ilk. The sequence even goes on to resemble one of my favorite fantasy movies and corresponding battle moments, when Solomon and the masked man slowly work their way towards each other, fighting off attackers as they steadily close the ground between each other. This is almost a shot for shot version of Madmartigan and General Kael's epic clash during the castle siege in Ron Howard's untimely fantasy film, Willow. The momentum that's gained during that sequence as they approach each other for the inevitable clash is outstanding and Solomon Kane relishes in this meeting of steel against steel. It's a moment that I highly appreciate and I love the homage that it pays to, to one of my most beloved films of all time. Way to go Solomon.

Well if it isn't Billy Badass, making his grand entrance.

The inevitable clash between Solomon and his arch nemesis throughout the film, comes to a head at the closing moments of the movie, and it does its job competently enough. I just wish that we would have been presented to some more face time with the main villain, Malachi. He doesn't show up until the closing moments of the film and by that time we really don't know much about him or get to truly know his intentions and somewhat sympathize with his efforts. Malachi is played by the always entertaining Jason Flemyng, and he looks amazing in his full garb and tattooed face, but we hardly get much screen time with this villainous bastard and only get to bask in his presence for a few fleeting moments. Flemyng is an amazing actor and I would have loved to see him just a little bit more.

It's only a small gripe, but I just wish that we would have been given some insight into who he really was instead of just hearing his name here and there throughout the entire run of the film. Other then that, I think the film does a commendable job on the whole and my problems with it are merely a personal preference and doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of this tremendous movie.

The new glam rock band, The Evil Sorcerers.

Solomon Kane is a film that I thought I would never see again in modern cinema. We've been given some amazing fantasy films in recent years with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but none of them had the brutal tendencies and visceral feelings of the Conan the Barbarian films, Beastmaster, The Sword and the Sorcerer, or even a few moments in Willow. What Michael J. Bassett was able to achieve with this film was to make a believable world, filled with magic and wonder, adventure and heartbreak, danger and intrigue, horror and magnificent spectacles, swords and epic battles, and everything in between.

Bassett made a solid film that delves deep into our main characters reason for being. We watch as he struggles with his religious beliefs and his acceptance that he is a good and decent person. We witness him defy the odds and redeem a soul that seemed lost and damned for all time. Most of all we were able to see a film that brings a sense of what filmmaking is all about. It's the ability to be transported to a place in time that exists nowhere else but in the constructs of the silver screen, but within that magical realm, it appears more real then anything you've ever experienced. In all its complexities it comes down to one hell of a fun ride and a throwback to the days when movies were fun and meant to entertain as only the fantasy genre can. This film is highly recommended to anyone who loves well made fantasy films that have respect for the genre and to the fans that love them.

4 out of 5 stars      A Fantasy Cult Classic in the Making!