Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Solomon Kane; Alice in Wonderland

Solomon Kane

From the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane seems a surprisingly interesting character compared to the black-souled Hercules. A captain in the English army who have pushed on to North Africa after battle in Spain at the dawn of the 17th century, we see Solomon adept at slaying all before him whether with a pair of swords or flintlock pistols. After storming a castle and butchering the wounded survivors  Solomon’s men are picked off by Djinn living in ominous mirrors. He is trapped in the throne room with spirits who manifest as a demon replete with a sword encrusted with glowing runes; it seems he has been sent by the devil to claim Kane’s soul, but Solomon manages to defeat the creature and returns home to England, exiling himself to a monastery while he renounces violence and earnestly attempts to live at peace.

However, one day the monks send him forth as God has other plans for him and he sets out to travel 17th century England, a land of mud and plague with puritans fleeing to the new world, but it is also a land of witches, sorcery and a disease which turns strong mens eyes black as it does with their souls, they in turn killing or enslaving the weak at the bidding of the sorcerer Malachai. Thus it’s Solomon’s destiny to defeat the evil blighting England, spurned on by an innocent girl and her kindly family; his ability to defeat said evil is directly related to him re-embracing his violent side and tolchocking anything vaguely sinister.
Max Von Sydow reprises his English noble with strangely Scandinavian accent from Robin Hood, James Purefoy does a good job of convincingly marrying up a bit of inner turmoil and a bit of joy at hitting many people with intent, all the while carrying off a passable West country twang. Pete Postelthwaite turns up in a reliable, solid manner, and Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is as mercifully brief as Jason Flemying’s.

As fantasy films go Solomon Kane has a nice grounding in some semblance of reality, or gritty medieval action adventure it has a nice line in the supernatural. Not a masterpiece by any means but for a sword and sorcery gorefest it has more than enough to keep you with it.


Alice in Wonderland

Tim Burton’s name as some sort of stamp of authority has long been tarnished, ever since the awkward remake of Planet of the Apes. I’m mildly pleased to say then, that whilst Alice isn’t a return to form - it’s not as good as the Burton-lite of Sleepy Hollow, for example - it’s a step back in the right direction.

The idea of picking up the Alice story years down the road (like Hook) is a good way of avoiding criticism for choices made in an adaptation while still being able to use the characters and settings that have become so recognisable. The storyline itself melds Carroll’s Jabberwocky to the world of Alice, the Red Queen having used the eponymous beast and the Bandersnatch to oppress all and sundry. The basic plot of a bad nasty oppressing a world of fantastical characters who are joined and championed by an outsider is a childrens fantasy staple, and the recycling of age old material isn’t confined to the storyline.
Numerous scenes bring to mind snippets of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy with both a hilltop ruin and a crumbling stone staircase used in the same scene, Alice clad in armour reminiscent of Prince Caspian. Casting choices also cause some problems, the distinctive tones of Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman divorcing them somewhat from the characters they play (though admittedly this will only affect those in the audience who know them as household names) and the inevitable Johnny Depp no entirely convincing as the Mad Hatter, his get-up of contacts, make up and mess of hair and eyebrows a little too overwhelming, whilst his delivery feels more like a patchwork of voices and ticks that he enjoys using rather than an actual character (though his moody recitals of snippets of the Jabberwocky in a Scottish accent are more satisfying). Anne Hathaway is stuck in Burton limbo as the White Queen in goth make up and squeamish tics similar to Ichabod Crane, but Matt Lucas as Tweedles Dum and Dee is okay, whilst Bonhams-Carter’s Red Queen, though channeling Liz from Blackadder, is an enjoyable performance.
Despite a number of little niggles Alice in Wonderland is pretty good and a definite improvement on Burton’s more recent productions. It’s probably too much too hope for a return to the likes of Ed Wood, but perhaps he hasn’t yet completely lost the magic.


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