Monday, 27 September 2010

Solomon Caine, blowing the medieval bloody doors off

Abel Iscariot.
Eve Jezebel.
Jesus Moses.
Goliath Sodom.

Ok, so the last two don't work so well, but generally speaking, if you slap a couple of biblical proper nouns together you begat a pretty tasty name for a moody hero. Enter Solomon Kane, galloping out of the dead mind of Conan-creator Robert E Howard, off a short theatrical run, and finally to rest perchance to dream at £3.00 a pop on dvd.

Solomon begins the film as a hirsute bad man, a medieval soldier-cum-treasure hunter looking to fillet some heathens in a foreign land and steal their filthy lucre. He doesn't give a crap about you, and will happily let his men get skewered and burnt and assaulted by goblins so long as he gets his gold. That is, until he gets a scare from Satan's bogeyman. Having mightily shat his pantaloons Solomon vows to be nice From Now On, because if he isn't, apparently he shows up on the devil's radar and hell goons will stuff him into a tennis ball and bounce him at Cerberus for all eternity.

Duly chastened, Solomon tries to lay low in a monastery back in wintry England, where he presumably indulges in monkish activities like writing out bibles, tending cabbages and the untrammelled abuse of the young. Unfortunately his colourful past and hairy ways cause disquiet amongst the bald brethren and he is sent packing. Here begineth the film.

Solomon is played by James Purefoy and he is good. Sometimes the lead actor in this type of low-to-mid budget film is no good, so they set the dial to cheesy, in which case you get vommed on with brie for 2 hours. Or they're too good, and you can see them retching out their lines, consumed with self-disgust as they soil their muse for that claw-foot bath with the free hoes, and you feel used, with no hope of scrubbing away the memories in hot soapy water, surrounded by period detail and whores. Mr Purefoy doesn't annoy, and appears to be taking the gig seriously. Or does a good enough job that you can't tell.

And it's a serious business, because all is not mud and frost in England. Soon after hooking up with Pete Postlethwaite (looking marvellously like a tramp carved by Easter Islanders) and his missionary family for a cross-country pilgrimage, a whole shower of evil supernatural poop hits the fan, drenching Solomon and all those about him. Will Solomon swallow the beatings, murdering of innocents and humiliating name-calling without breaking his code of peace? Or will he risk damnation and spit it out for truth, justice and the puritan way? The latter.

The production designer coats everything in either rags or manure, then adds snow, an extra shot of manure, and sprinkles on some bristles. The director then shoots it through a filter made of soil, so we are in no doubt of the grim poverty through which Solomon and his co-peasants toil.

Yea, and this is also good. Too many film worlds are unrealistically clean and pretty. I just wish Solomon had remained more heavily bearded, and that the love interest had been lame and scarred, with eyes smeared in mud, and no shoes.

There are two things that are lacking in the film:

1. A gloss of inventiveness to the story to raise it above sub-Lord of the Rings fare.

2. A hex on the cgi baddy at the end. A Balrog rendered on an Amiga and coated in LavaEffect does not a climax make. Someone clone sfx guru Rob Bottin 6th Day-style, so he pops out lightly skinned and power-mad, insisting on doing special effects on every film and arranging for "accidents" to befall the cretinous studio executives and servile pc-jockeys who commission and churn out this cg junk. With the practical effects of yore the evil things were tangible. They came lathered in grease and saliva. The computers suck the body and menace out of the screen. I can't suspend disbelief for pixels, they intrude too obviously, especially in this olde worlde setting which makes a point of verisimilitudinous grime. We need real monsters, not Mario waving a chain.

Then it endeth. Not as good as The Book of Eli or Constantine, but better than Prophecy 2 and organised religion.

Like Solomon, Ed opposed his brother. Unlike Solomon, Ed is a character from Big Train's staring contest.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Dear diary

Randy. Went to Tesco. Bought carton of orange juice. Check-out guy asked if I needed a bag! Of course I did. Got home. Bag barely went up to calf. Too small. And my foot went through it. Had some orange juice. Tasty.

Dear diary

Went to Homebase. Browsed. Found attractive rubble sack. Sturdy. Also bought adjustable spanner. Check out girl asked if I needed a bag, for my bag. Why not! Got home. Far too big. Absurd. Not sexy. Homebase carrier bag: also insufficient. Like Tesco all over again. Returned spanner. Rash purchase. Must stay calm.

Dear diary

Woke up dejected. Went out for orange juice. Passed hiking shop. Looked in window. Northface holdall. Went in. V arousing. Too expensive. Must save up.

NB remember key.


The cast of The Expendables
, clockwise from top left:
Johnny Depp, Yul Brynner , Taye Diggs, Madeline Stowe, Jack Palance, Kevin Spacey

There's no getting away from it. Sylvester Stallone's head looks like a water balloon gripped in a fist.

In fact, a lot of the purportedly hard-bitten team of mercenaries sent to blow up an island of South Americans look like they're wearing each other's faces and suffering adverse reactions to the grafts. It's hard to grasp why the normal-looking ones hang around and even follow into battle a zombie Elvis gone mad with plastic surgery (Sly), a blue bruise with a pipe and a wig (Mickey Rourke) and a chipped block of wood in a burnt plastic bag (Dolph Lundgren, the one good performance). Sly doesn't look hard, he looks taut. I waited for a baddy to scratch his high-pressure forehead, triggering a yawning tear and a humiliating retreat, his face billowing out behind him like a trendy scarf. Didn't happen.

Being a macho team of gay-bashers you can only dream of joining, you pussy, they exchange merciless put-downs as a form of bonding. But it doesn't ring true, because no-one goes for the jugular. No-one mentions how ridiculous anyone else looks. If a hunchback's giving me lip I don't call him four-eyes. At least make a dig about Stallone's dyed hair, it looks like a drowned otter the colour of black holes. Ask Bruce Willis why he's been drawn on an egg. It must be a pact. Don't call me hairplug and I won't call you veinhead.

None of them can speak clearly because of cheek botox or strong accents, and, most disastrously, the dialogue just doesn't make sense a lot of the time. One person says something, and the other person responds as if he's in a completely different conversation. So you sit there frowning, trying to follow a bunch of steroidal pensioners with coin-slot mouths missing each other's points. A lot of the problem is that the script aims so hard for macho that it goes too far and lands in closeted. At one point, following a break-up with his girlfriend and seeking counsel, Jason Statham asks best buddy Sly, "Have you ever been rejected by a woman?" Sly replies, "I don't think I want our relationship to go there!" and Jason accepts he's crossed the line with a grimace and a smile. Haha! Zing! Hang on, what? That's not a funny answer. It might be if Jason had asked him to pop a rose in his meatus, but this is pretty standard territory for chums. Sly's disconcerted reaction makes him look one hug away from a wailing, Statham-fondling breakdown.

Everyone enjoys a crack gang of old men slaying foreigners in cold blood, but the (interminable) scenes of their awkward downtime reveal they're just as distant and disconnected sharing a beer as they are attacking a militia. They start to seem vague in the head, which is a shame, because it's not so enjoyable watching a man stab a part-time cocoa farmer through the spine and the eye simultaneously when you suspect that he thinks he's doing the laundry. 40 minutes in I realised I felt sorry for them, when I should want to be alongside them, laughing and brutally killing.

Sly gives himself some big stunts to prove he's still got it, but unfortunately it comes across as a man being taken advantage of by people who should know better, goading the poor man on.

"Oh no Sly (or Meat Bender or Steve Skull or whatever your character's name is), we have to take off now, you're going to have to sprint to catch up to the sea plane. Yes, run! Jump! Haha, great! Now hang on to the door while I fly away. Yes, that's it! Yes, I know, you are still the man!"

He looks like an old dog running after a ball, blissfully unaware that Jason Statham is laughing at his body dysmorphia.

If there's a sequel it should begin with them all falling on each other, the sweat and tears of relief washing off their henna tattoos while the audience sits gob-smacked, and end with Jason taking a happy Sly to the vet, who puts him down, pounds his plasticated carcass into play-do, and pushes him in a tub, labelled Extendable. Or Ex-expendable. Or Extrabendable. And then Jason presses a detonator in it and lobs it at a mall, convinced he's blowing up a fort in North Africa.