Rental Pick: LOVING VINCENT (2017)

In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist’s final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.

Billed as the world’s first fully painted animation feature, naturally each scene is worth framing. It’s a gorgeous film that leaves my mouth agape as I kept wondering ‘how did they do THAT?’ Well, per IMDb trivia, each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh himself, created by a team of 100 painters. It’s fitting then that title is Loving Vincent as his art was treated with such care.

Now, the story itself surprised me. I didn’t know much about Van Gogh but the ‘fact’ that he killed himself in his 30s was well-known. But did he actually commit suicide? The film traced the last days of Vincent’s life through the eyes of a young man (Douglas Booth), who happens to be the son of Vincent’s postman. The film’s filled with plenty of familiar faces (at least to me as I’m into British shows/films) portraying people in Vincent’s life (Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson and her Poldark‘s co-star Aidan Turner).

Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it’s really quite an endeavor and astonishing to behold. It’s not the strongest film in terms of narrative however, but still it’s an incredible feat to accomplish. It’s quite something to want to tell an artist’s story through his painting, to actually do it–and done it well–is astounding. Well-deserved of its Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, I was also rooting for it to win an Oscar in Best Animated Feature category. It’s definitely a must-see for art fans or really anyone up for something you’ve never seen before.

Loving Vincent left me in awe of Van Gogh’s talents but also saddened by his troubled life. I think most artistic genius are tortured souls and he’s definitely one of them.


Have you seen Loving Vincent? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Congress (2013)

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An aging, out-of-work actress accepts one last job, though the consequences of her decision affect her in ways she didn’t consider.

I’ve been wanting to check this movie out of sheer curiosity. The idea of mixing animation with live-action is tricky, and I always wonder how a filmmaker would pull this off. This is from the same filmmaker who brought the Oscar-nominated Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, and I must say The Congress is an ambitious and absolutely bizarre film. Whether or not the film works for you depends on how much the eccentricities bothers you, plus the structure of the film is also not straightforward to make it digestible. But the way I see it, I’m glad I saw it and the thing with certain art form is, one can still appreciate it even if we don’t fully comprehend it.

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The story is loosely based on Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel The Futurological Congress. In the film, Robin Wright plays a fictionalized version of herself as an aging actress and single mother of two, and her son’s hearing and eyesight are slowly deteriorating. A Hollywood mogul from Miramount (Miramax & Paramount) offered to buy the film rights of her digital image so in the future studios could make films using only CGI versions of her, provided that she’d never act again anywhere.

It’s twenty years later when her contract’s about to expire that the animated adventure came alive. At the entrance of Abrahama City, where Robin is to attend Miramount’s “Futurological Congress,” she’s given a chemical so she transform into an avatar of herself in order to enter the strict animated zone. Trippy is the word I would use here and I can’t even begin to explain what the plot is about.

TheCongressStill3In fact, when the movie’s over, I thought ‘what the heck was it that I just watched??’ Part of the film seems to be a commentary or satire on the mercenary nature of Hollywood, but other times it’s a mother-son story, and then there’s a love story between Robin and Dylan (voiced by Jon Hamm), who claims to be her animator. It’s hard to tell what it’s about, it’s really quite discombobulating as things get more colorful and more surreal. You’ll notice a bunch of famous people in the animated world, from deity, famous entertainers, sports figures, etc.

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The fact that the film somehow still retains my interest is Wright’s heartfelt performance, even in her animated format she’s always engaging and sympathetic. The supporting cast are excellent too, Harvey Keitel as Robin’s agent, Kodi Smit-McPhee as her son, and Danny Huston as the studio mogul. The most emotionally engaging moments are between Robin and Paul Giamatti who plays the kind doctor who treats her son.

The altered sense of realism is to be expected in a live-action/animation hybrid format, but messy structure of the film highlights the narrative problems. I kind of knew going in this film would not be an easy watch however, but still it can be frustrating. I think some people would have serious issues with the film, much like they would with say, Holy Motors, and I can’t say I blame them. But there are some enjoyable and funny moments, I always appreciate originality even if it’s a little on the bizarre side. I’d love to connect more with it and the characters, but overall it’s got enough going for it to warrant a recommendation from me.

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Have you seen this film? Well, what do you think?

Rental Pick: John Singleton’s SHAFT (2000)

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New York City police detective John Shaft (nephew of the original 1970s detective) goes on a personal mission to make sure the son of a real estate tycoon is brought to justice after a racially-motivated murder.

I’ve been curious about this movie for some time but I forgot that it’s available on Netflix streaming. As my hubby and I were in the mood for an action flick, this was a good a time as any to finally check it out. One thing I noticed right away was how young Samuel L. Jackson looked here, though this was made only a decade and a half ago. He’s basically playing the same tough guy character as Nick Fury and a bunch of other action roles – same snarky attitude and that cocky swagger.

It’s interesting to see him go after some rich SOB Walter Wade Jr. played by Christian Bale, the same year he also plays another rich psychopath in American Psycho and 5 years before he plays an even richer guy Bruce Wayne, but at least he uses his privilege for good in those Batman films. He’s quite convincing as some racist bastard, you really wants to punch his smug face every time he’s on screen. But he’s actually not the most memorable villain in this flick, that’d be Jeffrey Wright who plays a ghetto drug kingpin Peoples Hernandez. It’s amusing to see an African American actor playing a Hispanic man, he’s definitely the movie’s scene stealer here.

The rest of the supporting cast was pretty good. Toni Collette is quite memorable here too as the witness Shaft’s trying to convince to testify and rapper Busta Rhymes provides comic relief as Shaft’s frantic driver. I haven’t seen the original Shaft films, but I’m familiar with Richard Roundtree who had a supporting role as Shaft’s uncle. I also like the fact that they didn’t make the beautiful Vanessa Williams to be just the eye candy factor or damsel in distress, in fact she actually saved Shaft in one key scene.

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The movie itself was pretty entertaining – good pacing, interesting characters and dynamic action scenes. Yet it wasn’t just all about car chases and shootouts, as the story was pretty involving but not overly complicated. John Singleton definitely had style and some of the camera work was pretty cool to watch. It’s also quite violent and there are as many F-bombs flying out as there are bullets, I read on IMDb that there were F-word was used 165 times in this movie, wow! At least the violence wasn’t too gratuitous. The finale also still manages to surprise me, and I remember not having recovered yet from the tense scene between Shaft and Hernandez. Not a bad rental and I’m glad I finally saw this one. I’m actually surprised there isn’t a sequel to this, I’d think that it might’ve been a hit back then.

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Have you seen SHAFT? Well, what did you think?

Rental Pick: The Guest (2014)

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I always enjoy seeing actors reinvent themselves and one of such actors who did a pretty phenomenal job recently is Dan Stevens. Most of you probably knew him from as Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey, but I first saw the British actor in another period drama, BBC’s Sense & Sensibility. Well, gone is his chubby cheeks and floppy hair. Here he’s sporting a lean, sinewy bod with slicked-back hair AND a Southern drawl. He’s still got those dreamy baby blues though, which he uses to great effect to portray one of the creepiest characters ever.

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The story is a simple one. A mysterious stranger, David, suddenly shows up at the door saying that he’s a good friend of the the family’s deceased soldier son. Without bothering to check for his ID, the lady of the house just lets him inside AND invites him to stay the night. Despite initial hesitation (well, barely) the entire family pretty much just welcomes him with open arms and of course things slowly unravels until it completely gets off the rails.

Just like most horror/thriller movies, The Guest is filled with obtuse characters who make a series of glaring mistakes, but that’s sort of part of the fun. The movie isn’t exactly unpredictable as you’d know from the start there is something really off about *David* and that he is not who he says he is. But yet you’re in for the ride to discover just who the heck he is, and the film moves at a swiftly pace that it never overstays his welcome.

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Director Adam Wingard has mostly done horror films (V/H/S, You’re Next) and this one certainly has that campy horror feel to it. The style and sound is a throwback to 80s/90s action thrillers, nicely mixed with suspense and humor. Stevens seems to be having a blast being a bad ass action antihero here, and he’s proven to be versatile enough to display affable charm one minute to psychotic menace the next. Maika Monroe is quite good as the daughter in the family who’s much more shrewd than meets the eye.

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The finale in a school’s Halloween maze makeshift is cleverly executed and stylishly shot, complete with a chase through a hall of mirrors. The synth (or goth electronica as they’d like to describe it) music by Steve Moore is pure 80s nostalgia that adds a dose of excitement and amusement to the action-packed scene. I’ve featured it on a Music Break here, it’s a great example where the music sets the tone of the movie brilliantly. Glad I finally saw this one, and it lives up to the great reviews this movie’s been getting and it’s surely destined to be a cult classic. Despite some decidedly-cheesy and predictable moments, it’s definitely one of the most entertaining offerings of 2014 and I definitely want to see more of this naughty side of Dan Stevens 😉

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What do you think of The Guest?

 

Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)

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A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

PirateRadioPosterSo I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.

I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.

The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.

PirateRadio_StillsWhilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.

As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.


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Have you seen this movie, well what did you think?

Rental Pick: Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster (2013)

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When I watched Ip Man earlier this Summer, someone recommended that I watch The Grandmaster, but unfortunately Netflix Streaming doesn’t have it. But thanks to my dear friend Michael from It Rains … You Get Wet for kindly lending me the dvd via mail. If you’re curious which version, it’s the Special Edition 2-Disc version in Chinese with English subtitles.

There are three things that appeal to me about The Grandmaster: Tony Leung Chiu Wai as a protagonist, Wong Kar Wai‘s direction and the story of Ip Man itself. Apparently it took the perfectionist director 10 years to bring this film to live, and from what I’ve seen, seems that most of it is spent on perfecting the visuals of the film. Now, I’m not being sarcastic here as the visuals truly is ah-mazing! My hubby said it’s as if every frame of this film is picture-frame worthy, and the opening sequence of Ip Man fighting a bunch of people in the rain is just glorious!

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This is the first film of Wong Kar Wai that I’ve ever seen, as our plan to watch In The Mood For Love for our Movie Night a couple of years back fell through and I never got around to it since. So I later found out from his IMDb page of the Chinese director’s signature style, i.e. his frequent usage of time-lapse photography, quick freeze-frames in the middle of certain scenes, and the way his characters are often shown having a conversation mostly off-screen or with their faces shown in reflective surfaces, etc. The Grandmaster is certainly a VERY stylish film, there’s a meticulous attention paid down to the last detail which I find really fascinating. I mean, the martial arts master is wearing a white Fedora the entire time he’s fighting in the rain, and the gorgeous Ziyi Zhang’s never without a white flower in her hair even as she does her Kung Fu. If you like martial arts films, you’ll surely enjoy the fight scenes! Tony Leung reportedly trained pretty hard for a whole year in preparation for this role and it shows! He’s quite graceful in his moves, but I think that’s largely how the sequences were shot.

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The thing is, as a character study, which is what I would expect here, the film is lacking a focused narrative. I feel that the strong visuals trumps storytelling and that seems as if it’s a deliberate move on the director’s part. I think it’s interesting that the story of Ip Man is intertwined with Gong Er’s (Zhang Ziyi), both in Foshan and later in Hong Kong when the Japanese invaded their city. Their path crossed as Gong Er is seeking vengeance for the death of her father in the hand of her own family member who’s become a Japanese sympathizer. As intriguing as that story is, I struggled to follow the story with the choppy narrative and overwhelming visuals. There is a man named Razor (Chen Chang)that I haven’t got a clue what his relation was to the main characters, despite a fascinating introduction on the train. I had to read about it later to find out who he was. Perhaps this film is intended for people who are already familiar with Ip Man story? I’m not sure but I certainly knew less about the character than what I’ve learned from the 2008 Ip Man film.

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That said, I’m still glad I watched it and got to know Kar Wai’s beautiful cinematic style. I love the minimalist dialog to contrast the rich and tremendous visuals. The lack of spoken words are more than made up by the subtle gestures and delicate glances, enhanced by the Zen-like charisma of Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi. I could watch both of these actors all day, they’re so mesmerizing! As I’m not as familiar with martial arts films, I’m afraid the metaphors and underlying messages might be lost on me [my brother who’s more into Kung Fu movies might appreciate this more], but it’s still worth a mention. Lastly, I was hoping to see Bruce Lee as he’s clearly Ip Man’s most famous pupil, but I don’t see a scene with him specifically. He might’ve been one of the students shown towards the end and in this photo but not sure which one he is.

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Overall, The Grandmaster is an intriguing film that warrants a recommendation. Even the lack of focused storytelling still makes this a compelling film and a visual feast. It takes a certain level of sensitivity and patience but I do think it’s worth the effort.

Three and a half stars out of Five
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Thoughts on The Grandmaster? I’d love to hear it!

Rental Pick: Gothic Fantasy SOLOMON KANE starring James Purefoy

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SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Director: Michael J. Bassett
Writers: Michael J. Bassett, Robert E. Howard (character)
Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alice Krige, Mackenzie Crook, Patrick Hurd-Wood, Jason Flemyng
Genre: Action Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Adventures, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rating: R
Run time: 104 minutes

Release dates: World premiere on September 16, 2009 at the Toronto Film Festival. United Kingdom theatrical release was on February 19, 2010. Limited release in US theaters September 2012. US DVD and Netflix streaming released July 2013.

Waiting for Solomon

It took three years for Solomon Kane to appear on a North American movie screen. What took so long? Really, I had this film in my Netflix “Saved” queue for three years, forever it seemed. When I checked my Netflix list last month and saw it moved out of Saved and into my live queue, without the dreaded red type saying “long wait,” it felt like Christmas in July. The fantasy-action genre isn’t usually at the top of my list, but just about everything James Purefoy does (ahem, Rome) draws me in (the major exception is the Fox TV show soon starting its second season, The Following, where JP plays a serial killer. Turns out that’s not something I enjoy viewing, even though JP is at his ‘evil’ best). I was apprehensive at the start of the film, but soon was totally wrapped up. Everything about this film is of the highest quality, even though the budget was a fairly modest $45 million.

Background

JamesPurefoySolomonKaneSolomon Kane is an epic action film based on the pulp magazine character Solomon Kane created in 1928 by Robert E. Howard. Despite optioning the rights in 1997, filming did not begin until January 2008. It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy.

It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy. Reception was generally favorable, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 65% following the UK/US release; the film’s atmosphere and Purefoy’s acting attracted the most acclaim.

Storyline

A once-murderous sea captain – Solomon Kane – is holed up in a monastery in retreat from the devil, whom he fears is coming for his soul. Kane soon learns, however, that the path to redemption lies in defending those who are weak. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer’s murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

Character First

Fans of Robert Howard’s Solomon Kane books won’t recognize this screenplay. In Howard’s books, Solomon Kane is already a fully-formed character. But here, writer Michael Bassett creates a prequel – the character and story are his vision of how Kane changes and grows. He’s successful in laying out Kane’s background and how Kane, his family, and the destructive forces in his life come together.

Michael says, “If you’re not interested in the character, you’re not interested in the movie,” and “character first, character, character, character.” Yes, Michael Bassett really says “character” three times in a row. See for yourself. Check out this fascinating interview with James Purefoy and Michael Bassett from 2012 ComicCon:

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James Purefoy is the ONLY reason I wanted to see this film. I doubt if it would have even been on my radar at all if it wasn’t for him in the lead. James is simply brilliant in this role. He convincingly morphs from being a ruthless murderer to a quiet penitent in a monastery, from a man of determined nonviolence to, finally, according to James, an “early 17th Century Puritan avenger.” His costumes morph right along with him. Why do I suddenly want the Solomon Kane action figure, complete with wide-brimmed hat and swirling cloak?

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I’ve never been overly intrigued by an action or superhero (sorry Superman, Batman, Spiderman). But thanks to James, I’ve got one now. I’m completely hooked on Kane. What can you expect from the movie? Well, James manages to turn a simple answer to that question into a performance in and of itself. He tells us, in less than two minutes, at 2009 ComicCon:

Author Robert E. Howard

RobertEHowardSolomon Kane is just one of Howard’s creations. He also created Conan the Barbarian, a character whose cultural impact has been compared to such icons as Tarzan, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and James Bond. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard created the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning many imitators and giving him a large influence in the fantasy field. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted. I was very surprised and saddened to find out he committed suicide at only 30 years of age, and his most success with his writing career was only about seven years.

DVD commentary

The commentary turns out to be one of the very best I’ve ever listened to, right behind Roger Ebert’s Citizen Kane (wow, two Kanes!). Writer/director Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy are easy to listen to and are spot on discussing exactly what you’re seeing on the screen, and they let us in on some very interesting details of the film.

One of my favorites is when Solomon rides up to a destroyed and seemingly deserted chapel. Kane dismounts and tethers his horse to a post. James says he gets annoyed when an actor jumps off his horse and drops the reins without making any effort to secure them. He insisted on doing it as part of the scene. I laughed and just about fell off the couch, because I notice that behavior with horses in movies all the time… it’s one of my pet peeves too! Michael starts giving JP a good-natured hard time about it… he jokes that JP just wasted five seconds of screen time. I love it when JP reminds Bassett that those five seconds remain in the film.

Speaking of horses, there is an exciting scene (you’ll see it if you watch the trailer) where two pursuers on horseback in full gallop flank Kane on both his left and right side. As soon as they are all parallel, Solomon raises two pistols, outstretches both arms to full length and blasts both baddies off their horses at exactly the same time. I can’t recall ever seeing a stunt on a horse like that. James is brilliant for having pulled it off (he does almost all his own stunts in this film). In the commentary, he tells how releasing the reins from both hands at the same time so he can shoot, all the while racing through rough, forested terrain is quite an unnerving experience. I would say so!

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The Verdict

I whole-heartedly agree with this comment from IMDb:

Deserves much higher recognition, superb.

As an avid reader of Gothic fantasy I am not easily pleased when it comes to big screen versions of these kinds of stories. After so many disappointments in the past when stories falter or special effects either take over the screen or are shoddy and laughable I always feel as apprehensive as I do interested when I start watching a film like this.

However, I can honestly say that this film is one of the best I have ever seen. I wish I’d seen in it a cinema, but hadn’t heard of it. As soon as the final credits rolled I wanted to watch it all over again, and instantly went online and bought the DVD, something I rarely do.

Everything about this film blew me away, from the atmosphere of gritty cold despair, the incredible (British!!!) cast, to the imagery and beauty of some of the scenes. I could wax lyrical about so many parts of this film that I’d basically be commenting on virtually every scene. I don’t know where I’d start, and once I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Fantastic. Just utterly made of every kind of Win imaginable.

The Solomon Kane DVD quickly became part of my movie collection too. If ever there was a trilogy I’d anxiously look forward to, it would be Solomon Kane. Here’s hoping for two more.

TRAILER:

Check out the trailer below:

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4 out of 5 reels

Special thanks to BECKY K. for this excellent in-depth review!


Hope you enjoy the in-depth review. So what do YOU think of Solomon Kane?