1. A Single Man
Not to be confused with A Serious Man (which I have also seen, but found very unengaging) or A Simple Man (which isn't a film, but is what I kept accidentally calling A Single Man while at the cinema ticket desk, hem hem). This is the Oscar-nominated one starring Colin Firth as a bereaved gay man in 1962, who is having a very miserable time of it indeed.
It's a film about small-scale events and unfolds at a stately pace: in other words, not much happens, and what does happen happens quite slowly. It's also very beautifully filmed. Everyone looks gorgeous, the clothes are gorgeous, the cars are gorgeous, the furniture is gorgeous, etc, etc. This makes it seem about as realistic as Avatar, but on an emotional level, I thought it was very intimate and involving. I have to admit, I often find Colin Firth deadpan to the point of woodenness (I know - heresy!) and unlike 98% of the female population of the British Isles, he does nothing for my libido (Double heresy! Burn the witch!). But fair play to him, he was extremely good in this, getting the balancing act between big emotions and small expressions of them just right.
Propping up Colin's sterling work, Julianne Moore plays it posh and loopy (albeit not quite as posh and loopy as she was in Savage Grace) as a character who is meant to be annoying without coming across as an annoyance. There are also Whatshisname from Skins essaying a respectable American accent (to my non-expert ears), a thankfully non-blond Ozymandias as Colin's late beloved, and a ridiculously handsome random Spaniard hanging around, so plenty to delight the shallow eye.
So, very good if you like films about longing looks and repressed silences. However, a word of warning here: this is not a film to watch if you are feeling at all miserable, given that it revolves around the topic of suicide, and while I won't give away the ending, plenty of gut-wrenching sadness occurs long before it even gets that far. Still, if I ever find myself turning into a gin-swilling dreg, I will take a leaf from Julianne's book and at least be a glamorous gin-swilling dreg in three tons of eyeliner and Margo Leadbetter-style evening wear.
2. Solomon Kane
Coincidentally, this is another film about a single man with doom-laden thoughts, but there the similarities end rather abruptly, oddly enough.
I confess I was previously unfamiliar with the pulp novels from which the character of Solomon Kane was taken; all I knew was, in the words of Amos Starkadder, that it was "summat about burnin'". And indeed there was burnin' in it, although there was actually much more rainin' and snowin' and rollin' around in acres of mud.
The plot is not massively complex. It is the year 1600, and Solomon Kane is a cut-throat mercenary whose interests including stabbing, hacking, pillaging and sneering through his dodgy facial hair. One day, a minion of the Devil turns up to drag his soul to hell, thus forcing him into a swift rethink of his career options. Out goes the pillaging and facial hair, in comes hanging around monastery vegetable gardens, being humble and taking his shirt off a lot. When the monks eventually throw him out so he can stomp moodily through the mist on his own, he discovers that demonically possessed bandits are roaming the land, doing horrid things to wholesome Puritan folk. So how long will it take Solomon to snap out of pacifist mode and get all righteously Protestant on their asses, despite the ongoing risk to his mortal soul? Clue: not very long.
Sounds silly? You betcha. But I must confess that I enjoyed it immensely. There's nothing properly new here -- I spotted bits of everything from Cape Fear to Blackadder, via Jean-Claude Van Damme's Cyborg and this Levi's advert -- but the overall effect is one of relative originality. The most is made of a non-massive budget with some strikingly bleak landscapes and a nicely grim take on costume drama: in place of rosy-cheeked peasants with clean underwear and NHS dentistry, we get the other extreme, with almost everyone having horrible teeth and being covered in shit, and extensive use of rotting corpses as set decor. The historical accuracy is as dodgy as hell, of course, but the atmospherics are really rather good.
James Purefoy doesn't always float my boat, but he puts in a pretty foxy turn as the titular bit of Puritan rough, despite (or possibly because of) the broad West Country accent he elects to use. He keeps an admirably straight face throughout, and certainly knows how to work a pair of leather trousers in a crisis*. Everybody else follows his lead and refrains from too much larking around with tongues in cheeks, an approach that pays big dividends.
The only slight disappointment was that the start and finish seem to be made of CGI floor sweepings left over from Harry Potter, particularly the extremely silly climax which involves an overweight Pyrovile in a chainmail G-string and Jason Flemyng, looking like he went to a fancy dress party as Michael Sheen's character from Twilight and then came home drunk and fell asleep on a newspaper. But those are minor quibbles, really. Leave your brain at home (or in the pub) and you might have as much fun as I did.
The internet informs me that this is intended to be the first in a trilogy. However, I think that an even better idea would be a Sunday teatime TV series, in which Solomon cuts a grim swath through the minions of Satan every week and then sits down for tea and cake. Lark Rise to Candleford meets Supernatural, anybody? It could run and run...
* Although it's often hard to admire his bottom properly because his cloak gets in the way. Still, the disappointed can always turn to Beau Brummell: This Charming Man, which is the ne plus ultra of James Purefoy's arse on film.