Film Review: Solomon Kane

Publicity for Solomon Kane focussed heavily on the fact that the character was created by Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame. Presumably, marketing executives hoped this association would help snare sword and sorcery devotees. And though Solomon Kane and the Conan films have very different settings, there are many parallels between both the stories and the characters.

Kane is a former captain, and as the opening sequence shows, he is one that is not averse to looting and brutality. It is only after the devil comes to claim his soul that Kane sees the error of his ways, vowing to renounce violence. This does not last long, however, as Kane has a quest to rescue a young girl, after making a promise to her father. Like Conan, it is only under duress that Kane will fight – be it to defend innocents or to defend himself.

Visually, the film functions successfully in creating a fantastic sphere – the historically setting is decidedly otherworldly in the presence of the supernatural. The narrative, however, leaves much to be desired. Solomon Kane is standard, by numbers, sword and sorcery fare that lacks originality. Even the twists are predictable – most audience members will see certain revelations a mile off.

The end of the film points to a likelihood of one or more sequels. Given the film’s lacklustre box office performance however, a Solomon Kane franchise possibly isn’t the surest bet.

Film Review: Ponyo

Ponyo tells the enchanted tale of Sosuke and his goldfish Ponyo, who longs to be human. Through the power of magic, Ponyo gets her wish, but it is only Sosuke who can make her dream permanent.

The animation  is fluid and lively, what one has come to expect from Studio Ghibli. Unlike such fare as Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo appears, at first glance, expressly aimed at a younger audience. Along with the young protagonists, there is a lack of any real menace or villain per se.

The story, though simple, contains themes universal enough that a wide demographic can relate. Ponyo is a story about friendship, and the very innocent love between a boy and a girl. Furthermore, Sosuke’s mother Lisa has a pivotal role to play. In the exploration of her disappointment at her husband’s frequent absences, Lisa appears a natural and identifiable character for older audience members.

Overall, Ponyo is a charming film, which wisely errs on the sweet side, rather than straying into saccharine territory.

Film Review: A Single Man

Ford’s directorial debut is an aural and visual feast. Centering on a day in the life of George, a college professor bereaved from the loss of his long-term partner, this is a film about the minor, seemingly inconsequential moments in life rather than the obviously momentous events.

Set in the early 1960s, A Single Man exposes attitudes to homosexuality at the time, although Ford’s focus is on a character in despair; his sexuality is almost incidental. The story is carefully crafted; the effect that the other characters have on the protagonist is palpable.

Firth is exceptional as George, his sincere performance makes him a worthy Oscar contender. Moore is both believable and immensely watchable as Charley, the old English friend with more than just a soft spot for George. Hoult is engaging as the keen student, his youthful enthusiasm works well as an antidote to Firth’s melancholy.

Cinematography, art direction and editing are all first class. Some of the flashback sequences in particular are beautifully shot, giving real feeling to scenes with little dialogue. The saturation of colour in incidences when George is “brought back” is a nice touch, much of the emotion in the film can be garnered from the visual cues.

A Single Man has been considered by some as being a product of style over substance. Whilst the film is visually stunning, there is also a heartfelt story to be told. Anyone who has ever felt the searing pang of grief or depression will be able to identify with George’s mantra: “Just get through the goddamn day”.

Film Review: Precious

Precious is almost unrelentingly sombre in the issues the film addresses. The lighter spots are saved for the title character’s daydreams, and the relationship she builds with her classmates and teacher. These lighthearted moments are not only what save the teenage protagonist, but also the film itself. Without these, Precious offers a grim tale of abuse and disadvantage.

Through her relationship with her teacher, nurse and friends, Precious finds the strength to overcome obstacles so afflicting they would extinguish a lesser soul. But don’t be under the misapprehension that this is a heart-warming tale; the seriousness of the abuse exposed makes for morose and sometimes uncomfortable viewing.

Newcomer Sidibe offers an earnest portrayal of the downtrodden youth; she is engaging and elicits befitting sympathy. Mo’Nique excels as abusive mother Mary; her recent Bafta success is well-deserved. In her small but notable role as the welfare advisor, Carey is believable and gives a credible performance, surprising considering her much-maligned previous cinematic foray in Glitter.

Daniels’ direction is focussed, concentrating firmly on the protagonist’s trials and tribulations. It is clear that this is a personal story, and not a social commentary. Production design and cinematography are solid; the grimy, dole apartment is suitably contrasted with Precious’ brightly-lit daydreams.

Whilst Precious is a story about overcoming adversity, its bleakness will not leave cinemagoers reaffirmed. That is not to say that the film takes on a preachy tone, however the continual torment faced by Precious does not make the film enjoyable either.

Film Review: The Wolfman

“Even a man who is pure in heart”, the remake begins, instantly impressing the weight of the original on this new version of the lycanthropic tale. In the current climate of the modern gothic in films such as Twilight and television series’ like True Blood, it is refreshing to see a Victorian-set gothic horror. Comparisons will be made to the recent Sherlock Holmes, of course, although The Wolfman feels distinctly unmodern.

Johnston’s film presents a highly stylised vision of late nineteenth-century Britain; all brooding mansions and London fogs. Much of the exterior London footage in CGI, however this does not detract from the fantastic realm that the audience is plunged into. The effect is heightened by the carefully controlled palette, contrasting the monochrome of the Talbot residence with the colour of the gypsies.

The story is inevitably predictable. There are no clever twists or shocks to surprise viewers. The film, however, does function as a gothic horror (as opposed to just gothic a la Bram Stoker’s Dracula), providing a handful of cheap frights that will easily unnerve jittery audience members. The transformation sequences fall on the side of grotesque rather than chilling, paying debt to the 1941 original.

Although the dialogue is at times grating in its attempt at the grandiose, Del Toro’s portrayal of Talbot is successful insomuch as it provokes sympathy. As the tragic gothic protagonist, Talbot struggles with the most seminal of the genre’s preoccupations: duality. The Wolfman invokes that traditional Victorian depiction of reservedness, which is most prevalent through the relationship between Talbot and Gwen. Despite their obvious love and affection for one another, the pair share a single kiss in the film; Talbot stares longingly at Gwen’s neckline rather than any further south.

The Wolfman is perfect as a slice of Victorian gothic escapism. But those searching for an intricate plot or a vein of originality are better off looking elsewhere.