Notes From the Back Row 

Witches, and that's about it


The Doldrums are a set of calm seas and unpredictable winds that exist around the equatorial areas of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.  Sail your ship into the Doldrums and you might not be going anywhere for a while.

This week we enter the cinematic Doldrums - it's awards season and until the Oscars get handed out in February we can expect a string of crappy films as the studios dump their stinkers while simultaneously campaigning last years triumphs. Hopefully there will be one or two breaths of fresh air over the next two months, but not this week.

This week, the Village 8 opens Season of the Witch - a B-grade medieval thriller starring Nic Cage and Ron Pearlman as two disenfranchised crusaders who quit the army and take a job leading a nice girl/accused witch to a far-off monastery in order to say some magic words and stave off the bubonic plague (a.k.a. The Black Death).

Director Dominic Sena has a dubious track record ( Swordfish, Gone in 60 Seconds) but he manages a visually interesting film with lots of puss-leaking plague sores, overdone battles and flying zombie monks. The writing is nothing new and it watches like a parody at times, but Nic Cage spouting lines like, "We're gonna need more holy water," makes anything tolerable. D&D fans will dig it.

The Village 8 is still screening the Coen Bros' western-comedy True Grit as well as Mark Walberg and Christian Bale in The Fighter. Both films should make some noise during awards season.

Speaking of awards, Angelina Jolie is up for a Golden Globe for her mystery-woman-in-Venice role alongside Johnny Depp in the critically un-heralded, somewhat lackluster Euro-thriller The Tourist. Sure. The repartee is not quite as witty as I'd hoped but it is refreshing to watch an almost-realistic action movie with no explosions or ridiculously fake stunts. Plus, a fancy-dressed Angelina salvages anything. (She doesn't take her clothes off as much as she used to though, blame it on serial motherhood.) In any case, as a working-holiday project The Tourist doesn't rank as high as the Oceans 11 remake, but in the flat seas of January it's good enough.

Of course the best way to battle the Doldrums is on your couch with a bong and some DVDs. Start off with Dead Calm , the claustrophobic Nicole Kidman (circa 1998 when she was still smoking hot) thriller about a woman trapped on a dead-in-the-water sailboat with a killer. There's no wind, no help and nowhere to hide from Billy Zane's excellent psychopath.

The download of the week is Heavy Metal in Baghdad, available for one buck on iTunes.  "Arrassicauda" is Iraq's only heavy metal band and this documentary, directed by Eddie Moretti of VICE films, follows them from Saddam's fall in 2003 and through the insurgency that tore the country apart. It's a real rock and roll story about perseverance and hope but also a tragic look at what the conflicts in Iraq have meant for the young people (hint - it's f4cking terrible over there).

With 'concert' footage, candid interviews and on-the-ground journalism shots that major North American media outlets couldn't get, Moretti crafts an honest and illuminating film that speaks to the universal awesomeness of Metal but also to horrors of war and the hopes of an entire generation watching their world crumble around them. Watch it.

We have it pretty good here in Whistle-town where the sound of bombs in the hills is a good thing. So be thankful, enjoy yourselves and enjoy your friends. The easiest way to survive the Doldrums is together.


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