Steve Zahn’s return to prominence via The Dallas Buyers Club is reason enough to exhume one of the sweeter films in the Minnesota- born actor’s resume. Zahn brings his easy charm to his role as Wayne Wayne Wayne Jr, an escaped convict who teams up with Harry (Jeremy Northam) who go under-cover as a gay couple in the small town of Happy Texas, where they become involved in a beauty pageant that tests their abilities to conceal their true orientation. Mark Illsley’s whimsical comedy is an amiable, good humoured affair, with support from William H Macy, Illeanna Douglas and Ron Perlman, and it’s a cheerful precursor to indie hits Little Miss Sunshine and Sunshine Cleaning.
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.
The Last Supper is a rare black comedy that really works. In Stacy Title’s film, Cameron Diaz is one of the idealistic liberal group who get a surprise dinner guest in the form of Zachery Cody (Bill Paxton). When no-one notices when the hosts bump him off, they decide to make a regular dinner date for murder, offing those who offend them and burying them under a cherry tree. But guest Norman Arbuthnot is wise to their plan, and attempts to turn the tables on their murderous enterprise. The Last Supper has fun satirizing both sides of the political debate, and the use of the Lover’s Concerto as hold-music on a telephone call is part of a hugely tense finale. Diaz is good, but the standout turns are Perlman and Paxton, both having fun as repulsive yet oddly human characters. Screenplay by Dan Rosen.
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.