On the surface, The Last Witch Hunter feels like Vin Diesel playing Vin Diesel in a Vin Diesel film, produced by Vin Diesel. And you may very well come away with that perspective, once you’re through. But if my writing program have taught me anything, it’s that the story takes precedence and it’s your job to tell the story to the best of your ability.
The premise of the story is something I hadn’t seen before. The Last Witch Hunter is based on Vin’s Dungeons & Dragons character that he has played nearly all his life. I wonder what stats he earned doing this movie.
The story begins over 800 years ago. Led by an elder named Dolan, Vin’s character Kaulder and the remaining men in his village (a generic Viking community that is never named) are charged with hunting down the Witch Queen. She’s only known by her title; she’s never given a name but is given all of the formality of the title by her kinsmen. In my writing program, someone would say, “why doesn’t she have a name? Boo!”
I think it was fascinating to know her only by her name. When you name something – like Rumplestiltskin – shit’s about to go down. I think it was a craft choice to know her only by her title. She is incredibly powerful and completely threatened by the presence of humanity. She has brought a plague down on them and laid waste to Kaulder’s wife Helena and their daughter Elizabeth. Obviously, when deciding to join the hunting party, Kaulder has nothing to lose. Kaulder kills her but she curses him with immortality.
There’s a voiceover by Michael Caine which sums up where we are in the story when we are brought to the present day. Dolan has become a hereditary title and they have been charged with keeping Kaulder on the straight and narrow through their secret society, the Axe and the Cross, with its heavy Christian imagery. Michael Caine’s character is the 36th Dolan. Kaulder has been entrusted with a mission to help keep the human world separate from the witch world, due to a pact that was forged sometime after Kaulder became immortal.
So in terms of story, it wasn’t anything new. Isn’t it always some savior character who has to save humanity from itself, or a dark power that has been sleeping for ages? I was kind of hoping they would twist the conventions of witches in pop culture as we know them a little bit. However, the filmmakers don’t paint witchcraft as black and white.
There is an uneasy peace between Kaulder and the witches. He wears a bracelet with the symbol of the Axe and Cross, and they all know who he is even if they have never met each other before. He only punishes those who flaunt their presence because that would break the truce between humanity and the witches.
The introduction of Rose Leslie’s Chloe is nothing new. She is a witch who owns a bar and Kaulder goes to her for assistance. She doesn’t willingly give it but joins his mission when she has no other place to go. Chloe is a dream walker, which is considered a power for dark witches only. However, throughout the film, Chloe proves that she isn’t a dark witch, even though she was born with those powers. Witchcraft is shown as evil but how the witch practices it, depends on each individual.
Looking back, every ounce of me believed Chloe was going to assert her allegiance to witchcraft and bow before the Witch Queen. The person who does end up betraying Kaulder because you can’t have a fantasy popcorn flick without betrayal against the hero was kind of like, “duh, I should’ve seen that coming.” I spent the whole time so focused on Chloe that I didn’t think the betrayer would do that. That was my fault. I turned my critical eye to the wrong person.
The action was excellent. The jump scares were needed for a bit of levity, in terms of the heaviness of the mythology that they throw at you. You really have to hold onto the mythology as you go. We’ve discussed that in writing workshops. As a writer, the mythology of your story is yours to do with as you see fit, but as long as you establish it early and stick to it, no one will be able to fault you. Now, how clearly fleshed out that mythology is and if it works is in the hands of the reader is a different beast.
Another thing that came up in my head as I was watching was “Why now?” Why are we following Kaulder at this point in time after 800 years of him doing this thing that he does? Why didn’t we meet him earlier in his journey? I don’t know if I bought the film’s reasons why by the end of the story, although within the mythology it makes perfect sense.
I’m also unsure if I bought the chemistry between Kaulder and Chloe. You’ve spent 800 years policing witches and this one is the one that cracked your veneer? Maybe that’s because I don’t see Vin as a sexual being. All the action movies I’ve seen him in making him out to be sexy without the act of having sex if that makes sense. Seeing him with a woman onscreen is somehow off-putting to me. Which is funny because I grew up in the era of action films where the hero always wins the woman.
I hear there is a sequel brewing, but like all things in life, subject to change.
My mother gave birth to me when she was sixteen. She said she was so taken by the stars in my eyes that she named me Stella. Mother attended an all-girls’ Catholic school, paid for by my wealthy grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Clermont.
During her winter holiday from St. Augustine’s, she met the boy who would give me half of my DNA. His name is inconsequential as he died from a drug overdose when I was two years old. He was that kind of man. The wrong side of the tracks, he did every exotic drug under the sun, slept with anything that moved. If the circumstances of my birth hadn’t ended up in misery, I’m sure it would’ve made a lovely story to tell the grandkids.
Filoli is a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and one of the finest remaining country estates of the early 20th century. It’s 30 miles south of the City (San Francisco), and built to resemble an English country estate.
Like I told my pal A, it felt like walking into a Jane Austen novel, all without putting a stamp in my passport. Someday soon though! If the place looks familiar, it’s been used many times in movies and TV. I told A it was used in Dynasty and Joy Luck Club, but a LOT more than I could list here.
There’s a security guard but I think his only job is to tell people to pay their entrance fee at the visitors’ center. I got a student discount ($10) and took the self-guided tour.
There are docent-led tours, but they were all full by the time I got there. There were docents dotted throughout the self-guided tour to answer questions, and professional signage and roped off areas, so I didn’t get lost. The house was built with a traverse hallway, which connected every location in the house. It was very easy to do it on my own. I much preferred that anyway.
I took a lot of great pictures with my Nikon D-40. Here are a few of my favorites…
If you ever have the opportunity to go, I would highly recommend it. It’s too beautiful not to go. Parking is ample, and the staff is great. There’s a cute little gift shop there as well.
The movie takes place in the midst of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the filmmakers embraced The Coldest City graphic novel source material full force. They played it close to its comic book roots rather than relying on true reality. I was six when it came down, but I legit remember when and where I was when the Wall fell. But the way Charlize filled every frame, the way James McAvoy chewed the scenery, the way it was lit… it had the aroma of a comic book panel. Every frame a painting. I really liked that.
The sets they used for the late 80s Berlin felt so fake, but they made that world work in a good way. So, props to the filmmakers for embracing that. A lot of movies based on graphic novels (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World nailed that comic book-y world too) take the cinematic elements of the source material and try to put it in the real world. The filmmakers didn’t do that with this movie, and it worked really well. I was impressed. You never once forgot that you were watching a real-life comic book.
The fight training was heavily grounded in reality though because Charlize said during the press tour that she never full-on punches anybody. She uses objects to take the brunt of her power. If she were to full force sock it to somebody, she risked shattering her whole hand. It was comical the way she used some of the objects. You’ll never use your car keys the same way again.
As far as the writing goes, I enjoyed the subversion of the spy trope. It’s always spy vs. spy when it comes to stories in that world, but it’s spy vs. spy vs. spy vs. spy. But it’s not in a straight line, someone is playing someone else, who’s playing the first person, but then there’s this dude disguised as another dude. I loved it.
The director of John Wick: Chapter I bowed out of Chapter 2 to develop this picture. Keanu ended up training for Chapter 2 alongside Charlize, since they were filming concurrently, and they go way back. There were rumors that they were going to try for a crossover with John Wick, and I thought that was a great idea because I love Keanu and Charlize’s chemistry.
But after seeing Atomic Blonde, it doesn’t make logistical sense. They don’t even take place at the same time unless they introduce some time travel plot device, and I will scream bloody murder if they try. They both work in their own respective, stand-alone worlds. What is up with pop culture where everything has to crossover nowadays? This is coming from a Marvel fan who wants the film series to acknowledge the TV series in some way.
Now to my complaints. I’m probably the only person this affected, but music is a huge part of the movie-going experience. It should enhance the movie, not take people out of it. You hear the Funeral March of a Marionette, and you immediately think of Alfred Hitchcock. That’s just how it is.
I wish they would’ve called me to help with the soundtrack because they did what Watchmen did. They relied on songs reminiscent of the time rather than actual charted songs from the year the movie takes place: November 1989.
1981’s Under Pressure by David Bowie
1981’s Der Kommissar (though I think this was a cover because it wasn’t Falco singing, and not the ATF version either)
1983’s Blue Monday by New Order
1983’s 99 Luftballons by Nena
1985’s Voices Carry
were the ones I recognized that I can recall. I’m fairly sure I heard a Clash song but I could be projecting. 1988’s Father Figure by George Michael gets a pass, only because it’s marginally close to the date. But, I went back to check Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1989, and aesthetically, none of these songs would have worked for the era of the movie. So, they get a pass for the marginally accurate soundtrack. But, not much.
Rating: PG-13. Category: Drama/Verbal Abuse. Summary: Lucius loathes the day he came face to face with Angel. Timeline: “Deleted scene” of episode 17. Disclaimer: Harry Potter and related characters belong to JK Rowling and related entities. Buffy and Angel belong to Joss Whedon and Co. Sarky poo belongs to Jabrams and company. Made-ups are mine and mine alone.
Lucius Malfoy simmered in his son’s Italian villa. Why he had allowed Julian Sark to stop him from performing the Avada Kedavra curse on Angelus, or to stake the bloody git, was beyond him. His heart ached. He yearned to get one back for his family.
In an effort to try and get back to square one, I took myself on an Artist’s Date into the city. My Artist’s Dates have always been going to museums, not sure why. They’re not particularly creative but they do satisfy my wanderlust. I went to The Beat Museum and City Lights.
If you don’t know me, the Beat writers have been a heavy influence on my life, particularly Jack Kerouac. There’s an inkling in me that wants to shed my privileged life and run off into the wild blue yonder but I couldn’t do that. I live vicariously through their writing. “On the Road” changed my life. I don’t want to say it propelled me to be a writer because I’m one of those people who believe they were born to be a writer. I’ve always felt an affinity for their beliefs as a literary movement.
The Beat Museum was sparse, all things considered. It was educational, for sure. It had two levels. One part was 3/4 of the first floor, which included the movie theater that showed a lovely documentary on Jack. The second level is where all the goodies were at. They told the story of the Beats through presentations and all that, although that felt kind of haphazardly put together. It didn’t flow.
It could have easily been done by the year or by the author, but I felt like everything was set up to maximize the space. I didn’t know where one section started and another began. I’d be reading one sign and then it would jump to another author. They had a very small section on the females in the movement. All in all, it could have been better. But then again, what can you really have in a museum about a literary movement? It’s not something you visit, it’s something you read and soak into your veins like water.
I felt like their main draw was the gift shop, which was cool. It took up most of the first floor. It screamed hipster. Vinyl records, vintage Playboys, and a small selection of new and used books, as well as bags and t-shirts. If you look at the gallery below, you’ll see three postcards. I got the one with Kerouac’s face on it a poster as well. I can’t wait to hang it up in my room in Vegas! The typewriter t-shirt ached hipster, so I had to buy it. The gentleman that rang me up said they sell a lot of them. I’m buying it ironically, of course. I would never dream of typing on a typewriter in this day and age!
You don’t go to City Lights for the first time and not buy something, so I bought “Howl” by Ginsberg, the Penguin Classics version of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and a fascinating book on Locke. I’ve been meaning to write a story that takes place in Locke so I think it will help my research. I wasn’t even looking for it but that’s the best thing about bookstores, am I right? The right book falls into your hands when you least expect it.
Being in City Lights reminded me of when I worked at the Reading Room. That musty book smell, the cramped space filled to the brim with books, trying not to step on people as you’re both looking at titles on the same shelf, the staff picks. That is one past life of mine that I miss a ton. Independent bookstores are a dying breed. There are some fighters out there. Plus there are heavyweights like City Lights that won’t ever go away as long as humanity survives.
It had to look real. Bruise had to be shaped just so. Lampshade swayed like Newton's law. Equal but opposite. It was the only heavy object within reach. Timed carefully. The neighbors would hear. They would see his car in the driveway. The wound would be temporary, Band-Aid. This house; a prison, An expensive gilded cage.
Mystere was amazing. It was a dress rehearsal, but there weren’t any accidents or anything during the show. There was so much going on that I didn’t know what to focus on. The comic relief was seamless, and clearly there to help fill the time in changing sets.
There was one performer that I called la Bebe, which means “the baby” in French, but her actual character name is Bebe Francois. So I was pretty close. She had the baby thing down pat, down to the little laugh and movements.
Then there was sort of a caricature of a clown without makeup, wearing a messy suit and wearing black Converse. If the website is correct (and they say information changes constantly), his character’s name is Brian le Petit. He warmed up the audience and had his own act during the show. Very funny!!
The music was live too. They were set up on either side of the stage. Mostly new age, but it definitely helped the story along. I miss that in live theatre! Spamalot had a fake band in their pit. I felt cheated, haha. And we were too far up at Mamma Mia to see if there was a live band or not.
There was a scene where two guys in green pants did a scene called “Hand to Hand.” They were really bendy and the shapes they created with their two bodies were mind-boggling.
Loads of audience participation too. Baby Francois chose a woman in the audience early in the show to play with her big ball and called her Mama. Then there was a part where la Bebe stole a golf cart thing and whisked her “mama” away. La Bebe and her “mama” appeared during one of the scenes, later on, riding in the golf cart, and her “mama” was dressed like a clownish version of la Bebe!