The Little Hours 2017 ****

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Aubrey Plaza’s role in Park and Recreation could have set her up in a rut; her dour demeanour and caustic attitude inspired countless memes, but ran the risk of making Plaza something on a one-trick pony. Thankfully her film work has established that she’s anything but. Films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Ingrid Goes West show a diverse range, but her role as producer and star in writer/director Jeff Baene’s The Little Hours suggests there’s more to come. Based on The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, it’s a medieval comedy which covers some of the same ground as Pasolini’s celebrated film, and has a similarly improvised style. The Little Hours features naughty nuns, randy mutes, and all sorts getting into amorous and sexual escapades in the Italian countryside. Plaza seems to have brought her client book from her Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre days, with comic icons Nick Offerman, Dave Franco, John C Reilly, Molly Shannon and Paul Reiser amongst a very recognisable cast. The results are generally charming and occasionally hilarious; Reilly has a great scene discussing sin, and Fred Armisen has a brilliant cameo as a scolding Bishop.

The Reckoning 2002 ***

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Adapted from a novel called Morality Play by Barry Unsworth, Paul McGuigan;’s 2002 takes its central notion from Hamlet; after a murder, a staged reconstruction of the crime by actors is used to figure out who the killer is. Set in 14th century England, Paul Bettany stars as a priest who ducks his vows and goes on the run with a dubious troupe of actors, led by the eternally sinister Willem Dafoe. The Reckoning is a metaphysical murder mystery, a medieval movie with brains as well as an unusual setting and one which would make a good double-bill with The Name of the Rose. It’s directed with his customary flair by McGuigan. and featuring a remarkable supporting cast including Simon Pegg, Tom Hardy and Brian Cox.

http://www.vudu.com/movies/#!overview/41751/The-Reckoning

Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter 1974 ***

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Long before it even crossed Abraham Lincoln’s mind, Captain Kronos was the go-to guy for Vampire Hunting. In 1974, Hammer was seeking to reinvigorate its flagging box-office, so Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee took a back seat and writer/director Brian Clements (The Avengers) was given the chance to create a fresh new franchise. It didn’t pan out, but there’s enough flash and fun is this rather jolly horror film to make that regrettable. The monogramed K on his clothes ‘stands for Kronos, Captain Kronos, vampire Hunter’ on of the characters explains; played by blonde-haired Horst Janson, he’s a swashbuckling type, riding a black horse with flesh coloured-trousers on, powering his way across the countryside followed by hunchbacked assistant Professor Grost (John Cater) and his carriage, drawn by two white horses. Add Caroline Munro as a woman rescued from the stocks by Kronos, angered by her punishment for ‘dancing on Sunday’ and  Clements has quite a team to play with. The vampires are also originally rendered; they drain the youth rather than the blood from their victims. There’s great remake potential here, but for now, Captain Kronos is well worth hunting out.

Season of the Witch 2011 ***

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Even in the context of the seemingly endless canon of shonky Nicolas Cage vehicles, 2011’s Season of the Witch is an odd bird. A medieval buddy movie with a supernatural theme, Season of the Witch reunites cage with Dominic Sena, who helmed the awful Gone in 60 Seconds remake. Cage plays Behmen von Bleibruk, a conscientious objector to the crusades who knocks about the Holy Land with his pal Felson (Ron Perlman). They’re sent on a dangerous mission by plague-ravaged Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee); to transport a witch (Clair Foy) to a far-off monastery. Season of the Witch has a good premise; it’s kept in doubt what powers the witch has, if any, but it’s soon apparent that something is using the memories and the feat of Behmen’s troop against them. The climax is CGI-nonsense, but there’s plenty of weirdness to savour in this daft romp.

Immoral Tales 1974 ***

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Poland’s Walerian Borowcyck was originally hailed as an art-house auteur, but his 1970’s output had a commercial success that was more in keeping with the idea that he was a master of erotica. Somewhere between Goto, Island of Love and The Beast comes 1974’s Immoral Tales, a quartet of short stories from the pen of André Pieyre de Mandiargues. The openers, The Tide and Therese Philosophe, are the weakest, although the former has a poetic sense of time and a modern-day setting. The concluding two, Erzsebet Bathory and Lucrezia Borgia are both visually stunning, the first dealing with the classic story of the countess who bathed in the blood, and the final a tale of religious debauchery. If you can accept the degree of sexual detail involved, Erzsebet Bathothy’s sumptuous locations and music are worth seeing in their own right; the mood and historical content are enough to give soft-core cinema a good name.

The Name of the Rose 1986 ****

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Umberto Eco’s novel about a group of medieval monks who find themselves picket off my a murderer in a remote abbey was by no-means an obvious conversion job for cinema; Jean Jacques Annaud’s 1986 version has to jettison some of the religious and philosophical ruminations while keeping to the bones of the plot. Sean Connery’s William of Baskerville and Christian Slater’s novice Adso arrive at the Eberbach abbey to initial suspicion, but prove to have the chops for an investigation that leads to the discovery of a book with the power to kill. Rival monks include Ron Perlman and Michael Lonsdale, and their lively performances keep this metaphysical who-dunnit going until the fiery climax. A flop in the US, The Name of The Rose found a big audience in Europe, and the labyrinthine plotting stands up well today.

The Secret of Kells 2009 ***

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Co-directors Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey picked an unusual approach for their animated version of the famed text of the Book of Kells. Using 2D pictures to tell the story, The Secret of Kells looks like a tapestry strung to life as it details how Young Brendan (Evan McGuire) embarks on a quest into the fairy realm and falls under the spell of wolf-girl Aisling (Christen Mooney). Brendan Gleeson adds extra charm as the worldly Abbott Cellach, and there’s a unique feeling for how the good-vs-evil plotting can be resolved in a quaintly traditional way. Satisfying both for children and for adults, The Secret of Kells’ visual splendour fully deserved its Oscar nomination, and marks an original use for modern animation in service of ancient stylings.