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Saturday, Oct 6, 2007


After humans split the atom, praised their prowess, and started dropping nukes on each other, the effects of radiation merged with a brand new set of Cold War fears to reinvigorate the horror genre. While man vs. a monstrous nature had always been a well used cinematic subject, a new mutant scheme was introduced into the dynamic. It was fear of the unknown merged with mutually assured destruction. The results typically centered on oversized varmints destroying villagers or undermining metropolises. As the years progressed, the serious became schlocky, and by the ‘70s, ecology ruled the movie macabre. Films like Day of the Animals and Food of the Gods maintained the malformed mammal ideal, but they were often couched in a cautionary browbeating about abusing mother Earth. Since then, the premise has passed into joke, and then legend.


Leave it to first time filmmaker – and certified Kiwi – Jonathan King to create a throwback to the days when our four legged friends turned fiends with the brilliant Black Sheep, new to DVD from Genius Products and Dimension Extreme. A New Zealand style splatterfest dealing directly with the nation’s major industry (there are 40 million of the title wooly beasts vs. 4 million human beings), this clever, gore-soaked wonder must be seen to be believed. Thanks to the input of Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop – responsible for the Oscar winning F/X work on Lord of the Rings – and an imagination bursting with all manner of horror homages, what we end up with is one of those far out freak shows, a geek love movie making up a whole new set of grue rules as it motors merrily along. With shout outs to fan favorites like a certain auteur’s Dead Alive, American shape shifting epics like The Howling, and every zombie stomp out there, we get a nimble and knowing knock off.

When he was a youth, Henry Oldfield experienced a pair of unexpected tragedies. His father died chasing an errant ewe off a seaside cliff, and his horrid brother Angus slaughtered his pet sheep. Fast forward 15 years and our hero is still a mess. He can barely interact with the livestock laden countryside without phoning his on-call therapist. Upon returning to the family farm, he discovers Angus has been experimenting with genetic engineering. The older sibling hopes to create a super-sheep that will lead them to untold riches. Unfortunately, three things are working against this business model. First, a pair of PETA-lite animal activists named Grant and Experience break into the compound and steal a sample of the sinister science. Second, Dr. April Rush’s research ethics are questionable at best. And finally, a fudged up sheep fetus is accidentally released into the population. Soon, the rams are ravenous, feasting on flesh and killing everyone and everything in sight. But the dead don’t stay that way for long. Seems such differing DNA likes to recombine with anything available – included rotting human remains.


Upon an initial viewing, audiences may start to suspect that Black Sheep will take forever to get to the body piercing. As character is established and circumstances are explained, the languid set up will seem like much ado about mutton. We keep waiting for the moment when these emblems of sleeplessness start bringing on the dirt naps. But there is a method to King’s mildness, a rational for taking it nice and easy. Even in a shortened cinematic running time, gore can grow repetitive very quickly. Unless you have a Troma level of gag invention, or simply feel the need to pour on more and more excremental excess, a 10th beheading will lack the punch of the first. So King decides to moderate his mania and make a real movie instead, using behind the scenes drama, icky experimentation, and long standing sibling rivalries to deliver us from the slice and dice doldrums. He even goes so far as to toss in a little romance, and some pro-critter political pronouncements as well.


During this down time, fans can enjoy some of the movie’s more subtle elements. It’s impossible to discuss Black Sheep without referencing New Zealand’s amazing landscape. It’s a literal dream come true, a patch of pure heaven accented with an incredible mountainous majesty and stunning country vistas. Like a travelogue for tourists who enjoy a smattering of splatter, King creates a real sense of place. Equally effective are the performances. Some of the players are new to Kiwi cinema (Nathan Meister as Henry, Danielle Mason as Experience) while others (Peter Feeny, Tammy Davis) are slightly more seasoned pros. Since the script is loaded with satiric swipes – mostly at the expense of genre standards – the acting really elevates such farce. Even better, we come to know and care for these individuals, wanting vengeance to be metered out to anyone – or anything – that does them wrong.


But once the wildlife goes goofy, Black Sheep piles on the putrescence and wallows in boatloads of blood. During a spectacular sequence where an outdoor presentation, loaded with international VIPS, is overrun by a stampede of killer creatures, faces are bitten off, limbs severed, necks garroted, and torsos torn asunder. Played for both giggles and gruesomeness, it’s a standout moment in a movie filled with them. Another amazing make-up tour de force comes when farm manager Tucker starts turning into a were-sheep. During the course of the conversion, something happens to stop the progress. We then get an outstanding physical rewind, highly reminiscent of Rob Bottin’s influence work in Joe Dante’s Innerspace. Indeed, much of the magic in this guts and glory goof is inspired directly by the man who helmed The Howling, and offered equally nasty prosthetics for John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Fincher’s sickening Se7en.


As part of the plentiful added content provided in this excellent digital package, King gets a chance to explain himself via a funny and very friendly full length audio commentary. Joined by actor Meister, both are ready to riff on everything that went wrong (and right) about this wooly magnum opus. It’s a nice, slightly nutty, narrative romp. The selection of deleted scenes (with additional director discussion) shows how clever King really was, and the blooper reel provides mandatory muffs. While an Early Morning Sunrise Scene (“shot specifically for DVD”, or so the cover art says) is rather dopey, the 30 minute Making-Of documentary is a delight. It gives us insight into the production process, including all the make-up and F/X work. It’s an outstanding explanation of how a small movie like this achieves a larger than life, big screen blockbuster look.


Movies like this aren’t flawless. Things do get corny once in a while, what with the need for mandatory variety meat quips, agricultural puns, and the occasional slip into man/mutton bestiality. And the ending does feel like an attempt at irony gone slightly pear-shaped. But for the most part, Black Sheep is stellar. It doesn’t redefine or deconstruct the genre so much as embrace it with an adolescent’s passionate appreciation, taking everything that made the grade-Z category into a post-modern prize. It bodes extremely well for King’s cinematic future that this first film feels so accomplished. Though it’s clearly limited in budget, it never once feels amateurish or addled. Instead, this movie reestablishes a horror fans love of all things furry, ferocious, and foul. Gut munching farm animals may seem like a stretch, but if Bert I. Gordon can make mealworms evil, why can’t a native knock on his nation. When the results are as endearing as this, there’s no reason to complain.


 


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Friday, Oct 5, 2007


The glorious sight of arterial spray. The delicious ‘splunk’ of wet organs hitting pavement. The sound of knives carving through flesh. The red rum color of blood – primary in its life leeching patina. These are the reasons fright fans love splatter. Call it a craven desire to wallow in excess, or a sickening fascination with death at its most frenzied, but hardcore macabre mavens can’t get enough of that awful offal. The need for noxious slice and dice, heads and other less necessary limbs rolling for the sake of a shiver, has come a long way since Herschell Gordon Lewis ripped a sheep’s tongue out of a model’s head for his gore classic Blood Feast. One need look no further than Jake West’s wacky (and wonderful) sluice spectacular Evil Aliens to understand the distances dismemberment has crossed.


Our tale takes place on an isolated Welsh atoll. When reality TV show Weird Worlde discovers that a local lass is claiming alien abduction, and even better, that she was impregnating by the extraterrestrial visitors, hostess Michelle Fox smells a scoop. She gets her ratings hungry boss to sign off on an expedition, and together with a crew of actors, technicians, and a nerdy UFO expert, a massive media event is planned. When they arrive on the secluded island – only accessible at low tide – they meet the woolly Williams family. Dad and his sons run the liquid manure plant, powering their farm with crap-conceived energy. But it’s Cat who has the problem. After one week post-contact, she’s as big as a house and ready to pop. Soon, cows are being mutilated, strange spaceships are hovering overhead, and a mob of menacing spacemen are tearing people limb from limb. They don’t appear to have a meaningful motive. They’re just evil interstellar mofos, that’s all.


Reminiscent of the great gross-out masterworks of the genre – Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead being two excellent examples – Evil Aliens is the kind of fetid fun that the entire post J-horror scarefest has long since failed to embrace. Shameless in its bloodshed and gonzo in its grinding, it’s a tasty throwback to the days of the motion picture double dare. Before it was embraced by jaded generations, splatter used to be a macho moviegoers game. Lover of Lucio Fulci and his Mediterranean brethren spent their days pouring over issues of Fangoria, hoping to gain the inside track on the latest vile vivisecting surprise. Weekends mandated traveling from one Mom and Pop video store to the next, the desire to find these elusive titles driving many away from acknowledged normalcy. Once found, cinematic constitution was challenged. Friends used the plentiful grue as a test of each other’s fandom. As eyes were gouged out and entrails exploded, relationships were forged and reputations made.


But thanks in part to those claret killjoys in the MPAA, this kind of film had to hide for most of the ‘90s. Film violence was blamed for everything from school shootings to increased gang activity. When DVD hit, it allowed the nasties to come out and play. Independent producers, unattached to the studio system, created no holds barred sluice fests, the more disgusting and nauseating flesh feasting, the better. Evil Aliens is clearly molded from that dangerous DIY delirium. It’s Shaun of the Dead without a conscience, an amplified zombie flick where death is celebrated in torrents of pus and the tell tale trail of people chunks. Writer/director Jake West cut his teeth on several fright film efforts, mostly as an editor. Prior to Evil Aliens, he helmed the well received Razor Blade Smile, and it’s clear that the man has a knack for moviemaking. This horror hoot is overloaded with invention and sly referential riffs. It frequently plays like Trainspotting with more eyeball eating.


Better yet, this film is very, very funny. Humor has long played a part in the fear formula, the better they say to maximize fright. But here, West works to make the laughs just as viable as the body butchering. The character of Michelle Fox is a manipulative little tart, the kind of career climbing fame whore who’ll do anything for a story. As played perfectly by Emily Booth, she’s the slutty stereotype you love to hate. Equally endearing, in a completely different manner, is unintelligible patriarch Llyr Williams. Mangling anything remotely close to the English (or in this case, Welsh) language and staring through the world with one cataracted peeper, actor Christopher Adamson gives the oddball hero a wonderful presence. Others of note include Jamie Honeybourne as decidedly dorky Gavin Gorman and Jodie Shaw as empowered female butt kicker Candy Vixen. Red Dwarf fans will also find reason to rejoice when Norman “Holly” Lovett appears for a clever cameo.


The real stars, however, remain the special effects. From relatively realistic CGI to utterly repugnant blood work, the madmen behind the prosthetics really outdo themselves here. Making decent looking aliens is always difficult, and relying on the humanoid archetype tends to put off purists. But these fiends feel real, even if they are nothing more than extras running around with gray skin and glorified gas masks. More impressive is the individual looks given to the Welsh family. Cat goes from coy to absolutely disgusting during her ‘birthing’ sequence, and the men all have their equally upsetting run ins with the evil ETs. This is the kind of movie that liberally involves a chainsaw, a weed whacker, a series of machetes, and a lethal bow and arrow to create its carnage, and gallons of the good stuff are freely utilized. It’s not just the quantity of gore that’s impressive. There’s an inventiveness to the gags, and a novelty to the storyline that really elevates the entire effort. It takes what could have been a mere collection of cruelties and turns it into a rib ripping (and tickling) riot.


Of course, those who’ve seen the film in its previous R-rated incarnation will wonder what the subtitle ‘Unrated and Uncut’ really means. Well, this critic can’t comment on the different versions, but he can offer this DVD-related caveat. Whenever a film fidgets with the work they presented to the MPAA, they must resubmit the title or face going forward sans a score. So what most digital distributors do is forego the reapplication and slap on a mere merchandising come-on. Granted, a movie like this one probably has increased its ratio of red, red wine. But even if the addition was just a new conversation about kittens, the lamentable league of decency demands the “Unrated” label. Fans of the film will also love Image’s overall presentation. The movie looks marvelous, and the bonus features include outtakes, deleted scenes, and a behind the scenes peek at the F/X work.


There’s only one issue left unexplained in regards to Evil Aliens’s history – why did it take so long to hit the home video format (it’s been playing festivals since 2005)? Clearly, torture porn – or gorno as some like to call it – has made splatter somewhat more mainstream – as well as more controversial. But it’s not like we’re dealing with any XXX outrage, and outsider companies like Tempe, Wicked Pixel, and Camp Motion Pictures trade in such over the top vein violations all the time. Perhaps it’s merely a matter of finding the proper launch window to maximize interest and raise awareness. And since this is the season of spooks and sinister slice and dice, the moment seems to have arrived. No matter what the rationale, Jake West has cemented his status as an atrocity auteur – and Evil Aliens is quite the craven calling card.


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Thursday, Oct 4, 2007


For the weekend of 5 October, here are the films in focus:


The Heartbreak Kid [rating: 3]


The Heartbreak Kid –- though why it would want to call itself that, seeing as how it slanders the legacy left behind by the Neil Simon/Elaine May original –- is a disaster, an unmitigated humorless horror that never once plays as raunchy or as outrageous as it thinks it is.

It’s time for Ben Stiller to hang it up. Time for him to take his smug self-deprecating smarm and pack it in, along with the pointless pratfalls, the perplexed looks, and the pre-planned pop culture references. None of it works anymore –- as a matter of fact, it hasn’t functioned successfully since he was riffing on Bono and Tom Cruise as part of his failed Fox sketch comedy series. At this point in his superstar status, he’s got enough money to make himself comfortable, and even if he doesn’t, his elderly dad’s F-you cash from Seinfeld and King of Queens will make a nice inheritance. So here’s hoping this normative force in funny business gets the message and moves along. That way, we won’t have to put up with his incredibly awful antics in mindless movies like this latest Farrelly Brothers flop. read full review…


The Seeker: The Dark is Rising [rating: 6]


Though it frequently feels like its missing most of its formative folklore, and trails off into fits of formless meandering about two thirds of the way through, The Seeker is actually a rather good ripping yarn.

Redundancy quickly kills even the most fitting flight of fantasy. Without imagination, or at least some level of innovation, a tale formed by magic/myth feels stale and unoriginal. True, when you boil it down to the basics, what you’re dealing with is the standard good vs. evil paradigm, and one man’s Ewoks are another’s furry footed hobbits. But the key to a successful movie of this type it to avoid the formulaic and cliché to present something new -– or something that, at first glance, appears unanticipated and novel. Such is the case with The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. Based on a series of books by Susan Cooper, this tale of the ages old struggle between The Light and The Dark should feel rote and preordained. But thanks to some interesting performances, a basically believable script, and a fine sense of scope, this kid friendly ersatz take on the Arthurian legend actually works –- at least, for a while. read full review…


Mr. Untouchable [rating: 7]


Potentially undermined by the Ridley Scott/ Denzel Washington/ Russell Crowe drama that’s arriving in theaters this November (American Gangster), Mr. Untouchable is still a compelling, if confused, expose.

It begins with an intriguing premise. In the 1970s, Leroy “Nicky” Barnes ran Harlem’s drug trafficking empire. A slick, savvy street entrepreneur, he created a dynasty rivaled only by those created in fictional Hollywood crime flicks. Along with his crew of dapper associates –- who called themselves The Council –- he used the mostly black community as a basis for a borough wide organization of sale and distribution. Working closely with the Italians, and using as much muscle as necessary to maintain his turf, Barnes flaunted his illegally gained power right in front of the police. Yet no matter how hard they tried, no matter what angle they pursued, they couldn’t take down this urban Don. It earned him a nickname that would eventually lead to his downfall -– Mr. Untouchable. read full review…


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Thursday, Oct 4, 2007


It begins with an intriguing premise. In the 1970s, Leroy “Nicky” Barnes ran Harlem’s drug trafficking empire. A slick, savvy street entrepreneur, he created a dynasty rivaled only by those created in fictional Hollywood crime flicks. Along with his crew of dapper associates – who called themselves The Council – he used the mostly black community as a basis for a borough wide organization of sale and distribution. Working closely with the Italians, and using as much muscle as necessary to maintain his turf, Barnes flaunted his illegally gained power right in front of the police. Yet no matter how hard they tried, no matter what angle they pursued, they couldn’t take down this urban Don. It earned him a nickname that would eventually lead to his downfall – Mr. Untouchable.


And then the mystery deepens. Barnes disappeared in the mid ‘80s for reasons that are unexplained at first. As we ponder the implication of such a vanishing, we hear his accomplices discuss their feelings. Then another voice is heard, and a dark figure is shown sitting in a fancy corporate boardroom. As the conversation continues, we realize what’s happening. After decades, documentary filmmaker Marc Levin (The Protocols of Zion) has managed to track down the elusive thug, and after years outside the limelight, Barnes is ready to reclaim a small, shadowy bit of it. Never shown full on, with only his hands and cuffed shirt sleeves visible, the anonymous figure explains his rise from junkie to ghetto superstar – and the reasons for his current state of anonymity.


Potentially undermined by the Ridley Scott/ Denzel Washington/ Russell Crowe drama that’s arriving in theaters this November (American Gangster), Mr. Untouchable is still a compelling, if confused, expose. It focuses on the often argued place that African American drug dealers have/had on addicting their race to various nefarious narcotics. In Barnes’ case, it was coke and heroin. Yet there was something equally potent that this pusher was selling – the concept of fiscal reliability and communal respect via shady criminal enterprises. Marginalized due to their minority status and left to rot in places white society had long since flown from, the metropolitan maelstrom that Barnes functioned in was ripe for a reconfiguration. And with their chic clothes and bad ass persona, the local racketeer became the new inner city icon.


It’s not hard to see why. During the opening third of this frequently spellbinding doc, we see pimped out players, incredibly hot honeys hanging off their arm like smoking sexual accessories. As the talking head interviews pile up, we get a portrait of Upper East Side New York during the height of its now mythic meltdown. We see ex-addicts discuss Barnes’ generous spirit and his organization’s desire to reach out to the community. While naked women cut cocaine (stripped in order to keep them from stealing) and codes of conduct and ethics are explained, the overall image begins to get blurry. By the time our central subject returns, cloaked persona spewing Machiavellian bon mots about power and perseverance, we understand the decidedly mixed message. On the one hand, Barnes is viewed as a DIY demagogue, an example of ‘by the bootstraps’ survival. But he’s also responsible for the death and/or murder of many in his neighborhood, providing the various poisons that would eventually destroy them all.


It’s a contentious, controversial approach, and for the most part, Levin does little to mitigate it. Similar to Scarface in such American dreaming subtext, Mr. Untouchable wants the charismatic to override the criminal. When convicted money launderer Joseph “Jazz” Hayden speaks his mind, he’s portrayed as philosophical, not felonious. Similarly, “Scrap” Batts lays down the law when in comes to honor and street code. Yet he’s still a part of an illegal enterprise that shattered more lives than it ever benefited – and all that goodness was mostly aimed inward, towards Barnes and his crew. Mr. Untouchable doesn’t glamorize the trade as much as excuse it, showing how isolated individuals can become from the consequences of their actions. Even our subject seems oblivious. When, toward the end, he admits to flooding Harlem with dope, he waves off the implied aftermath as if it was a necessary pitfall of the business plan.


Then there is the overall truth of what’s being told. If you believe Mr. Untouchable, Nicky Barnes was the only major drug dealer in Harlem during the period. He was the focus of every DEA agent, all the US attorneys, local law enforcement and the New York media. When supposed rival Frank Lucas is mentioned, he is instantly dismissed as a Southern rube with a dumbbell drawl and a less than effective organization. Oddly enough, it’s the same argument made in American Gangster, except with Barnes replacing Lucas as the unimportant fringe nuisance. It creates a weird dichotomy, aside from figuring which side is right. Naturally, both films are going to focus on their central thesis and minimize the importance of anything outside its own sphere of import. And Mr. Untouchable does give Barnes the last word on almost every subject. But if Lucas was such a lackey, why should anyone make a movie about him?


The answer is fairly obvious – this is Barnes’ tale, and he would never agree to sharing the spot. At times, Mr. Untouchable feels like a promotional tool for the mysterious man’s tell-all tome of the same name. Everything is filtered through his own unique perspective, and even when others contradict or flat out reject the man’s readings, Levin leaves us with Barnes’ interpretations. This doesn’t diminish the documentary’s power. In fact, we get wrapped up in the wonderful soul soundtrack of the era (much of it coming courtesy of the late, great Curtis Mayfield) and enjoy the nostalgic look back at the Big Apple as a city under siege. Though the last two decades of Barnes’ life are skipped over with sly sonic cues – disco to hip hop to new jack swing to gansta rap – the early ‘70s receives a grand cinematic workout. Even when the film flinches, the images don’t.


Still, Mr. Untouchable will always remain a mere part of the overall story. At 90 minutes, Levin barely has time to hit the highlights. And with access to a man many thought dead, or simply financially capable of disappearing, it’s hard to fiddle with your focal point. It’s a coup that both colors and undercuts this narrative, leaving gaps where full disclosure should rule. Yet despite these random miscues, Barnes remains a compelling if oblique, topic and the movie made of his notoriety rises above its inherent inconsistencies to offer a riveting ride through Me Decade drug despair. Landing the elusive man was indeed a cinematic scoop. Failing to force a confrontation may be Mr. Untouchable’s main blunder, but it’s really no surprise. Nicky Barnes has been avoiding responsibility his entire life. Why change now? Obviously, his nickname is well earned.


 


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Thursday, Oct 4, 2007


Redundancy quickly kills even the most fitting flight of fantasy. Without imagination, or at least some level of innovation, a tale formed by magic/myth feels stale and unoriginal. True, when you boil it down to the basics, what you’re dealing with is the standard good vs. evil paradigm, and one man’s Ewoks are another’s furry footed hobbits. But the key to a successful movie of this type it to avoid the formulaic and cliché to present something new – or something that, at first glance, appears unanticipated and novel. Such is the case with The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. Based on a series of books by Susan Cooper, this tale of the ages old struggle between The Light and The Dark should feel rote and preordained. But thanks to some interesting performances, a basically believable script, and a fine sense of scope, this kid friendly ersatz take on the Arthurian legend actually works – at least, for a while.


We are introduced to young Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) as he shuffles out of his UK school. An American by birth, he has recently arrived in England with his extended family - which includes a somber dad, a well meaning mother, five fabulously conceited older brothers, and a beholden little sister. About to turn 14, Will feels disconnected from his kin, lost in a world of private thoughts and personal questions. On Christmas Eve, he is invited to Miss Greythorne’s spectacular manor, where he is approached by her valet, Merriman Lyon (a wonderful Ian McShane). It is then that he learns of his lineage. As the seventh son of a seventh son, Will is the new Seeker, a special envoy of The Light, a bastion for all that is good in the world. With the help of the Old Ones (including Lyon and Greythorne) he will discover the signs that keep The Dark at bay. And good thing to, for evil’s envoy, in the form of the redolent Rider (a creepy Christopher Eccleston) is back after 1000 years to take over the world.


Though it frequently feels like its missing most of its formative folklore, and trails off into fits of formless meandering about two thirds of the way through, The Seeker is actually a rather good ripping yarn. Helmed by untested talent David L. Cunningham, whose resume reads like the opposite career arc for anyone attempting an F/X heavy narrative, and skimming only the barest of bones from Cooper’s complex books, the results are intriguing, if not wholly functional. While entertaining, the movie misses many chances at being downright superb. Part of the problem lies in the hero’s hormonal rages. By changing Will’s age from 11 (as in the books) to 14, and making him a slightly snotty American (vs. a Potter-esque Brit), he may become more identifiable to the intended demographic, but his occasional fits of forced puppy love can be joyless to behold. He’s a kid clearly controlled by the onset of puberty.


In addition, the main catalyst for our story – the fated role of Seeker and his traveling through time to retrieve the so-called signs – is given relatively short shrift, especially for a proposed epic. In some cases, Will hops into the past, performs a perfunctory duty, and toddles off. More time to play sibling rivalries with his far too cloying family, or make cow eyes with plot point Maggie Barnes, one imagines. Indeed, at several instances throughout The Seeker, the viewer recalls the E! Entertainment Executive from Knocked Up with his perennially perky advice to “tighten up”. This is a movie overloaded with filler, sequences that do nothing except establish mood and underline the mystic. While the tired trick used to realize the movement across the continuum reeks of a lack of imagination (the camera swirls around the participants and – WHOOSH! – we’re watching Vikings pillage), the rest of the movie tries its damnedest to amaze.


And we buy it. Mostly the result of the excellent performances and Cunningham’s ability to maintain pace and production value, The Seeker survives its occasional hindrances. Ian McShane, former Deadwood denizen, is wonderful as the mandatory mentor character. His stuffy gruffness helps moderate Will Stanton’s spoiled surliness. Similarly striking is Frances Conroy as the bespeckled Ms. Greythrone and James Cosmo as a big burly bear of an Old One named Dawson. They make a formidable group in aid of their young protégé. As our lead, Alexander Ludwig, is good but not great. He tends to literally act his age, appearing immature and inflexible more than brave and triumphant. His reactions of awe and wonder are well done, and his action adventure mantle is realistic if rather untested. In essence, Ludwig simply has to show up and appear able and the movie can work with it. He manages that conceit rather well.


But for some reason, the movie just can’t maintain all of its formidable forward momentum. Part of the problem is Christopher Eccleston’s lack of villainy. He looks the part, and summons CGI smoke and fowl with the best of them, but he’s never really a formidable challenge or threat. He seems easily outsmarted and never fated to win. Without a danger, he’s only harmless fodder, all talk and no real peril. The set piece scenes where nature is manipulated into portents of terror (killer icicles, fatal floods) work much better. They give us a real sense of danger, and deliver on the film’s fantasy promise with great enthusiasm. It’s just too bad that Cunningham couldn’t cut to the chase more often. The origin-oriented nature of the situation being explained frequently undermines this film’s concept of fun. And when dealing with elements both outrageous and unrealistic, amusement is a necessary nuance.


Still, The Seeker gives much more than it drains away, packing enough visual intrigue and interpersonal suspense to sustain even the most fidgety film fan. Granted, those obsessed with Copper’s books will be baffled by the numerous changes, exclusions, and additions, and as potential foundations for franchises go, this one misses many opportunities to guarantee a sequel. Still, one finds themselves lost in the world created by Cunningham, a place of warm fires, comforting countrysides, and upper crust British attitudes. So what if all the pieces aren’t properly in place. Who cares if our sorcerer in training is more Harry Smith than Potter. Does it really matter if the storyline stumbles while never really building up a decent level of showmanship? The answer is inherent in the ends. The Seeker should slowly submerge and sink under its many mundane facets. Instead, thanks to a little movie magic all its own, if finds a way to win us over.


 


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