Dueling Centurions: The Conclusion

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After much anticipation…seriously, what seemed like years of anticipation, and in fact, the first post I did about it was 24 August 2009, I finally saw The Eagle (of the Ninth).

Meh.

I wish I could leave it there. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else still planning to see it and everyone should be allowed to make their own judgments, but I need to get this out and move on.

I’m disappointed on a number of levels, not the least of which is the amount of screen time given to Mark Strong. When production began on the film and details started to be released, it was revealed that Strong would be a ‘good guy’, in and of itself enough to cause a flutter of excitement given his recent spate of villains. But by the time he actually shows up in this film, I had forgotten he was in it. He has one good scene, albeit with an American accent, and then disappears. (I’ll say no more on that score.) All I can think is “what a waste”. 

Seriously, why cast an actor of Strong’s caliber if you aren’t going to give him anything to do? (Sorry, climbing out of the mist looking menacing is not enough.) Director Kevin Macdonald might as well have cast Dimitar Berbatov*. I have to wonder if the rest of Guern (Strong’s character) didn’t end up on the cutting room floor, along with the rest of the source material’s title.

Another actor I was looking forward to seeing was Douglas Henshall. I completely forgot about him until I saw the credits. Where the hell was he? Supposedly he was someone called “Cradoc”, but I’ll be damned if I know what that was and I certainly didn’t recognize him. (Oh well, I’ll have to wait for dvd to find him, since I’m not spending another $11.50 to do it.)

I still don’t get Channing Tatum’s appeal. I do realize that I’m not his target audience, which seems to consist of the teenage girls who swooned over him in GI Joe and Dear John, and who will no doubt be the core group of The Eagle’s ticket buyers. He’s not the worst actor I’ve ever had to endure, he’s just kind of…meh. What’s worse, is that he brought down Jamie Bell, who is a good actor, to his level. (And was it just me or were their matching ears a little disconcerting?)

Okay, now that I’ve gotten all of that bitching out of my system, I can, hopefully, discuss the film in a somewhat intelligent manner.

In the context of comparing the two recent films dealing with the infamous “lost legion” of the Roman army in ancient Britain, there is, JMHO, no comparison.

Both films take place in 2nd century Britain, north of Hadrian’s Wall in what is now Scotland. Both films make great use of the natural landscape and have moments of stunningly beautiful cinematography.  While Centurion managed to make sweeping vistas of the snow covered highlands breathtaking, The Eagle made the country look exceedingly stark and harsh. One thing, though, that I do not understand, is the propensity of film-makers to make one of the most gorgeous places on earth (Scotland)  seem so bleak, like it exists in perpetual winter. 

Both are tales of natives vs invaders, much like American cowboys and Indians westerns. In Centurion, the invaders were the underdogs trapped behind enemy lines, ostensibly trying to rescue their captured leader, but who ultimately just wanted to get out and get home.  In The Eagle, the invaders purposefully crossed over into enemy territory, this time to get back a captured symbol of not just leadership, but the superiority of Rome and her army. Again, the tension supposedly supplied by the question of whether they would make it back alive.

Herein lies the rub. In both cases we are asked to root for the Romans as “the good guys” and care about their mission and their survival, just as we do for the cowboys. The difference is that I did buy into that in Centurion, I did not in The Eagle. I didn’t feel any of it. I blame most of that on the lead’s lack of charisma (probably not fair to compare him with Michael Fassbender in this or any context) and his seeming inability to generate empathy, not to mention the fact that I did not perceive any chemistry between Tatum’s Marcus Aquila and Jamie Bell’s Esca. Unfortunately, the entire movie hangs upon this relationship.

By trying to tell the story of what may have happened to the lost Eagle of the 9th Legion while at the same time creating a ‘buddy’ picture, director Kevin Macdonald fails to do justice to either one.  We’re meant to believe that Esca would feel so honor bound by one simple act on the part 0f Marcus that he would forget about not only all of the atrocities and horrors committed on his people as a whole, but his own family in particular.  I didn’t buy it for a second and could see no reason why Bell’s character wouldn’t kill Tatum’s in his sleep and wear his skull for a hat.

And without revealing too much, I just have to say that that “21st century bromance” ending would have jerked me out of the moment…had I been in it in the first place.

In fact, the only characters I did believe were Donald Sutherland’s Aquila, Ned Dennehy’s Seal Chief and Tahar Rahim’s Seal Prince. The latter was able to do more in his few scenes, with just his dark eyes burning out of his mud covered face, than Tatum did with an entire movie revolving around his finely chiseled features.

Centurion was a naturalistic hard R, while The Eagle was like a bloodless Howard Hawks western that worked hard at maintaining its PG-13. Somewhat understandable given the target audience of the source material and the one the makers were hoping to cultivate with the film, but basically it boils down to how much fun I had watching Centurion and how badly I just wanted The Eagle to be over.

Meh. JMHO

(out of 5)

*Mark Strong is often said to resemble either actor Andy Garcia or Manchester United forward Dimitar Berbatov

Dueling Centurions- pt 2

With the US release still scheduled for February 11, we are finally starting to get clips and pics from The Eagle (of the Ninth*)

Courtesy of Yahoo Movies comes a pretty good "Behind-the-Scenes" clip.

Despite the fact that I am ambivalent at best about the lead, I’d probably see this even without the prospect of watching Mark Strong play a "good guy." (And at least it sounds like Mark Strong in the above clip. For some reason (which I cannot figure out and have been able to find no reference to) he sounds like he’s been dubbed in the trailer.

Listen for yourself (trailer from Focus Features):

As I posted when discussing Centurion, it remains to be seen which of the two is a better take on the story of the lost 9th Legion of Rome. Centurion was not well received by critics, although I enjoyed it for what it was…plus you know, Fassbender. Hopefully, with the release of The Eagle, those who still haven’t seen it will be tempted to pick up Centurion on dvd.

“Obligatory End of Year Movie List” Post

Well, I can’t bring myself to call it a "Top 10"… or a "Best of"… Just seems rather presumptuous on my part, to weed ten films out from the thousands that were released this year and call them the "top" or the "best." According to whom? Me? And why does it have to be 10? Because David Letterman made the "Top 10 List" a part of the cultural vernacular? Maybe I’ll do eleven. Or nine…just to be contrary.

I sound cranky already, don’t I? I don’t mean to. I love talking about movies. It’s the main reason I started this blog, so that I’d have someplace to do it without boring my friends to tears. It’s just that the idea of doing a list like this is intimidating, for many reasons, not the least of which is that everyone with a movie-related blog (and his brother,) has already done one, so it almost seems like not only an exercise in futility, but just a great big conceit.

Okay, okay, enough of the whining. I think I’ll consider this "my list of my favorite movies that I saw in 2010." So, without further ado…

In order of US release:

Shutter Island
How to Train Your Dragon
The Ghost Writer
The Square
Kick-Ass
Inception
Animal Kingdom
The American
The Town
The Fighter
True Grit
The King’s Speech

(Ha! That’s 12 and I didn’t even plan it.)

Of course I saw more than twelve movies this year, and I liked most of them for one reason or another. I’m no Armand White, but I generally try to find something likeable in anything I’ve bothered to devote two hours of my time to. I had no desire to see Eat Pray Love, but I saw it with my mother and Javier Bardem was, as usual, sex-on-a-stick, so I can’t hate it.
Morning Glory
is another one I wouldn’t have chosen, but that I saw with my mother (we got to spend more time together this year than usual) and, while it was fluff, it was smart and entertaining fluff and perfectly suited to its star, Rachel McAdams.
I enjoyed The Bounty Hunter and I won’t apologize for it. There are scenes in that movie that are well worth the price of admission AND dvd and I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks. Even Jonah Hex had Michael Fassbender using his own Killarney accent going for it. Granted, not nearly enough of him to save the thing, but mercifully the movie was short anyway.

Robin Hood
narrowly missed being included, but I had to stop somewhere. (See that’s why these things are so difficult. I have an irrational fear of offending "someone" by not including "them".) There’s too much there for me to like: the cast, the director, the genre, the production values, the costumes, the score… *sigh* The same could be said of Centurion. It was just plain visceral fun. (And again…Fassbender.)

Then there are films that I’m aware of and have seen, that are well-made and for one reason or another will be remembered during awards season and hence, be given some sort of significance in the annals of film history. (I feel like I’d be remiss in not mentioning them, but they can’t be considered "favorites" for reasons that will hopefully become clear.) Winter’s Bone, for example. Without the fierce and star-making performance of Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, this might as well have been a Barbara Kopple documentary*. It was bleak and gritty and real, and completely joyless. I feel no need to see it again.

The Kids Are Alright almost made the list as well. It’s a critical darling and may very well earn Annette Bening her first Oscar. (Julianne Moore also deserves a nomination. Any other year I’d say, so does Mark Ruffalo, but there are only five slots in the acting categories.) The film is well-written, well-acted and well-directed, but it’s also so perfectly "in the moment," so completely of the time in which it was produced, that I can see it being considered dated in a few years. It may belong in a time capsule, but it doesn’t belong on my dvd shelf for future viewings.

Toy Story 3 has, upon further reflection, lost some of its luster for me. I know that I enjoyed it immensely when I saw it, but not only do I not feel the need to see it again, I can’t remember what it "felt" like the first time. I seem to recall that the emotional heart of the story was a footnote to what became nothing more than an animated action adventure film. (I may be alone in my thinking on this one, wouldn’t be the first time.)

I would have liked to have included Carlos on this list, but because it was first shown in this country on The Sundance Channel it didn’t seem right. Edgar Ramirez’s performance in the title role is nothing short of mesmerizing and I will end up watching this one again and again. All five and a half hours of it.

There are also films that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see, that probably would have made this list. I’m more enchanted with the idea of Blue Valentine every time I see the trailer. Hopefully, I will be able to see it prior to the Oscar nominations coming out because from what I’ve read (and the little I’ve seen) both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams will be among them.

I feel like a fraud because I failed to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I even had a free pass to a sneak preview, but I didn’t go. The rest of the blogosphere may think it’s brilliant, (and it may be… Director Edgar Wright is full of potential. I loved Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz,) I just couldn’t do it. Michael Cera was easy to take in small doses on the small screen in "Arrested Development," but I can’t take him for 2 hours, 7 ft high and in Dolby surround sound. I also still have not seenThe Social Network. Again, a conscious decision, (I had a pass for this one, too) and one I would not regret were it not for the fact that it’s made so many lists of so many critics whose opinions I respect. It’s out on dvd in a couple of weeks. I’ll rectify the situation then. If I have to amend my list, I will. (One mustn’t be rigid in one’s thinking, but I’m betting this is another that will belong in a time capsule.)

Now, as I pointed out, the films that do appear on my list are in order of their US release and not in order of preference. I chose my list primarily by looking at my ticket stubs for the year and thinking about which of these that: A. I would want to watch more than once (if I haven’t already), B. which are worth owning on dvd for that purpose? (For the record I already own 8 of the 12 on the above list, 4 aren’t out yet.), and C. which ones have "stuck with me" the most? Which ones can I not stop thinking about? I don’t mean constantly, but even better — which ones have enough resonance that perhaps little snippets of dialogue or an image will come to me at random moments or have situations or characters that I recognize in daily life? etc. etc.

Most of these films aren’t perfect, in fact quite a few are deeply flawed. They might have made my list because they are excellent examples of my favorite genre, like The Square, or because of a performance by a favorite actor, like Kick-Ass.

Shutter Island is a film that, if it had been released in November 2009 as was originally scheduled, probably would have been on the awards/critics favorite lists for that year. I loved the book by Dennis Lehane and, while I’m aware that movie and film are two separate entities, I was eagerly awaiting the adaptation from the moment it was announced. Martin Scorsese again directing Leonardo DiCaprio? I’m there. I wasn’t disappointed either. In addition to DiCaprio, the whole thing was peppered with great performances from Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley, et al. Scorsese handled the twists and turns of the dark plot so deftly that, even though I KNEW the secret, I was so caught up that it came as a surprise to me as well as the rest of the audience. It’s also one of those films that reveals a little bit more each time one sees it and so definitely bears repeat viewings. I read somewhere a review that called this Scorsese’s homage to Hitchcock. Not a bad description, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with one master paying tribute to another.

My love for How to Train Your Dragon has been well-documented and I’m not sure I can add anything here that I haven’t already said. It’s a simple story beautifully told. Visually stunning, aurally stimulating, heart-warming and just plain fun. It’s the kind of movie about which one could have said, "they don’t make ’em like that anymore". Except they did.

The Ghost Writer is a well-written, well-acted little thriller that took me completely by surprise. It is essentially about a writer hired to "ghost" a politician’s memoirs, even as the politician seems to be torn as to whether he actually wants them told, and who uncovers layers and layers of secrets. It’s another film that begs for repeat viewings both to catch all the little clues you missed the last time and just because the performances are so good, particularly Pierce Brosnan and Ewan MacGregor.

Made in Australia for next to nothing, directed by Nash Edgerton and written by his brother Joel, who also plays Billy (Gawain in King Arthur, Hugo in Smokin’ Aces, etc.), The Square is a tough and brilliant bare bones neo-noir that reminded me a lot of The Coens’ Blood Simple. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the people reading this have never heard of this movie. It’s a time honored tale of lovers who devise a plan in order to be together — a plan that sounds so simple until everything goes horribly wrong. Watching it unfold, you know nothing is going to go right for these people, but you can’t look away as each domino knocks down the next. I’d already seen it when I got the dvd for Christmas, and I’ve already watched it twice since then. This is one of those movies that some Hollywood mucky-muck with more money than sense is probably already plotting to remake with a bigger budget and a big name cast. See this one first.

Kick-Ass holds a special place for many reasons, not least of which is that it was just plain fun. Also, it featured a brilliant, comedically menacing (or menacingly comedic) performance by Mark Strong. His Frank D’Amico is kind of like Archy’s** angry American cousin (with better fashion sense.) My further thoughts on this film can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/13926.html, in an earlier post.

I’m not sure anything I could say here could influence someone’s choice to see Inception, if they haven’t already done so. Brilliant is too pale of a word to describe it. It’s everything we go to the cinema to see a movie for. Big, stunning visuals. An original and, yes, complicated plot full of interesting, well-formed characters that we care about. Well-written dialogue spoken by talented actors and an ending that had people talking not only as they left the theater, but for weeks and months after.

Animal Kingdom is another Australian film that you may not have heard of (also with Joel Edgerton). I do intend to talk more fully about it when it’s released on dvd next month. It’s a family drama about some low-rent, but extremely dangerous villains. (I know I’ve hooked some of you already.) I mentioned it in passing when comparing Melissa Leo’s character in The Fighter with Jacki Weaver’s in this film. "Smurf" Cody, a combination of Lucretia Borgia and Ma Barker, has to be experienced to be believed. I can’t wait to see this again.

I only saw The American very recently. Two nights ago as a matter of fact. I felt compelled to put it on the list because I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even as I was watching it. I went out and picked up a copy the next day. I can very clearly envision myself popping this in to watch a Renault wind around the stark Abruzzi countryside and listen to Herbert Gronemeyer’s haunting score. (Not to mention watch "Mr. Butterfly" run around sans shirt.) Anton Corbijn, best known for directing music videos (U2, Metallica, Depeche Mode) and Control (a biopic of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis) has made a small 70’s era European art-house film starring one of the world’s biggest movie stars, George Clooney. Clooney is so good as a burned-out hit man that you forget that he is George Clooney. There are no smug smiles or even smugger line deliveries. In fact there are few lines at all, but he’s fascinating to watch. You can’t look away because from the opening sequence you don’t know what he’ll do.

It probably comes as no surprise that The Town has made my list of favorites. Parts of it were filmed at "the cathedral of Boston," Fenway Park, which is about two blocks from my apartment. Running late for work one morning, I took a cab and we drove right through where they were unloading the trucks to set up for the day’s shooting. It’s a small thing, but it makes me feel connected somehow. Charlestown, the neighborhood where most of the movie takes place, is where my stbex lived when we met. I love seeing Boston on screen. It may be a big metropolitan city to the rest of the world, but to those of us who live here it feels like a small town. And regardless of what anyone thinks of his accent in this film, Ben Affleck’s second foray into directing proved that Gone Baby Gone, another of my favorites (and another based on a Dennis Lehane novel), was no fluke.
I’ve always thought Affleck was a better actor than he was given credit for or that his list of credits could attest to. (For proof, I offer Hollywoodland. He’s fantastic as George Reeves. It’s too bad more people didn’t see it.) In any case, if he’s a good actor, he’s an even better director. I’ve read in several places recently the topic of who will succeed Clint Eastwood. Why there has to be a successor I don’t fully appreciate, but of all of the candidates mentioned I can foresee the mantle falling to Ben Affleck. He’s already taken the idea of actors securing control of their projects to a higher level than mere producing can obtain. He’s been writing good parts for himself since Good Will Hunting, which he co-wrote and famously won an Oscar for with Matt Damon, and he co-wrote The Town as well. He wrote Doug McCray with the intention of playing him, but was not always planning to direct. Apparently, Adrian Lyne was Warner Brothers 1st choice. Frankly, I can’t imagine why and am very happy Affleck stepped up. He directed Amy Ryan to an Oscar nomination his first time out of the gate and I predict he’s done it for Jeremy Renner this time. Renner is perfect as James "Gem" Coughlin. Watch his face right before he says "whose car we takin’?" as he works out what Doug has just asked of him. Everything you need to know about his character, his history with Doug, everything, is right there. (There’s a reason that’s the clip that he takes with him to the chat shows.)

The rest of the cast: Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper (in his one scene), are all brilliant. The only one I didn’t buy was Blake Lively. She tried. The problem was that I could see her trying. I never believed her. Oh well, maybe it’s just me.

It is mere coincidence that the last three films on the list also happen to be my three absolute favorites of the year, although not necessarily in the same order. JMHO, everything you’ve heard about these next movies is true. They are each completely deserving of every superlative that has been used to describe them and of the accolades that are being heaped upon them.

My feelings about The Fighter can be found here:  weetiger3.livejournal.com/21316.html I’ve seen it twice and not only did it hold up well on a second viewing, I came away with an even greater appreciation for Christian Bale’s performance. The only thing that really bugged me was the same thing that bugged me the first time around: The movie starts in 1993. No mention is made of how much time has passed, but it appears to have only been a year at most. We’re never told how long Dicky is in prison. If it is only a year, then there is a glaring anachronism in the climactic fight scene, and frankly, I couldn’t believe the filmmakers hadn’t noticed it. (I’m referring to the logo for a website that appears in the middle of the ring during the Ward v. Neary fight in London.) Well, after some research and if the actual timeline is correct, it turns out it wasn’t an anachronism at all. The Ward/Neary fight took place in 2000, seven years after the start of the film. In no way is this ever made clear. It’s a small thing, but it smacked me between the eyes and took me out of the moment both times I saw it. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t detract from the overall power of the film. I’ll continue to get chills whenever I hear Whitesnake’s "Here I Go Again" and I know I’ll want to watch the movie again when I do.

I enjoyed the Coen Brothers’ True Grit immensely, but it almost didn’t make my list. I’ve written about it recently and my thoughts, in case anyone who is interested missed them, can be found here: weetiger3.livejournal.com/22509.html It was a tough call because I wasn’t sure, if based on my criteria above, that I could call it a "favorite" yet. I was afraid that it was actually the pounding baseline of Johnny Cash’s "God’s Gonna Cut You Down" that plays under the trailer that had continued to move me. I added the film to the list and took it off several times before I decided to sleep on it. I finally realized that not only will I add this to my collection because it’s another fine example of a Coen Brothers spin on a classic genre (no, I do not follow them blindly — I did not like Burn After Reading and I do not own A Serious Man), but that I will want to watch it over and over again because I want to spend more time with those characters, especially Jeff Bridges’ Rooster and Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie. I know there are still a lot of naysayers out there and I’ve said all I’m going to about why this movie deserves to exist along side the earlier version, but anyone who denies themselves the pleasure of watching this unknown, untested thirteen year old girl go up against an Oscar winning veteran like Bridges is missing out. Ms. Steinfeld may or may not go on to other great parts, but there’ll only ever be one first.

This brings me to the final film on the list, The King’s Speech. I’m such a complete anglophile that I’d been anxiously awaiting this one from the moment I first heard about it. I raced to the theater to see it as soon as it opened here and really, since my expectations were so high, the only real question was whether or not I’d be disappointed. I was not. I loved every minute of it.
Ostensibly, the film is a period drama about a member of the British Royal Family with a speech impediment, but there’s so much more to it than that. I don’t want to do a detailed synopsis, and I’m rarely interested in doing a conventional review. None of the reviews I’ve read do it justice anyway. The direction and the performances, all of which are spectacular, turn what could have been a dull and dry footnote to British history into a completely engrossing emotional experience.

Colin Firth is astounding. It’s as simple as that. Through the course of the film, one literally watches him transform himself from the shy Duke of York into King George VI, the man who symbolically held his country’s hand and led them through the dark days of World War II. What’s truly amazing is that Firth does it mainly through the way he carries himself and the way he composes his face and his jaw, all of which we see closeup. The camera stays tight on his face and sometimes just his mouth, nearly every time he opens it. I believe he’s a lock for an Oscar. He deserved it for A Single Man and he’s just that consistently good, no matter what piece of dreck*** he appears in, but I don’t think they’ll be able to overlook him this time. I could continue to gush, but what would be the point? This performance is indeed award worthy. For that matter, so is Geoffrey Rush’s. Their dynamic is wonderful. They’re so good together. Just like Wahlberg and Bale, I find it hard to differentiate between these two lead and supporting performances. I suppose it comes down to screen time and Firth is onscreen just slightly more than Rush.

There wasn’t a false note in any of the other performances either. Timothy Spall looks nothing like Churchill, but he evokes the man completely. Guy Pearce not only looked like Edward VIII, he sounded like him. It wasn’t just a matter of him adapting his Australian accent to a posh British one, but anyone who has ever heard snippets of the actual "The Woman I Love" speech would find Pearce uncanny. (Bit of trivia: Anthony Andrews who plays Prime Minister Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain’s predecessor, played Edward VIII in a tv miniseries called "The Woman He Loved" and when he appeared on screen my first thought was, I wonder if he gave Guy Pearce any pointers. Oh well, I had to digress at least once…"so they’d know it was me". )

Helena Bonham Carter has never been better. She seems to have taken to heart what Eleanor Roosevelt once said about the Queen Mother, Elizabeth: that she’s "perfect as a Queen, gracious, informed, saying the right thing & kind, but a little self-consciously regal."+

The relationship between George VI and his "commoner" wife is depicted as being very loving and affectionate and in sharp contrast to what "Bertie" grew up with. His mother, Queen Mary, was shown to be cold and emotionally distant and his father, George V, a tyrant to his children. I was struck by how loving and even demonstrative the current Queen Elizabeth’s early life was supposed to have been, considering how detached she’s supposed to have been with her own children. I think it had to do with the idea that she and her "family" were not being groomed for the throne at the time. A shift in tone is hinted at in one scene after George VI became king. Let’s face it, the British monarchy have always been fairly dysfunctional, but it did feel like a telling glimpse into their lives.

I enjoyed everything about this movie. The costumes, the hair and makeup, the set design and decoration are all stunning. Alexandre Desplat’s score is inspirational and moving and makes wonderful use of some well-known classical pieces. The climatic "speech", the famous one that first rallied the British people at the start of the war, was of course incredibly well done and very emotional (which is as it should be since it is the culminating point of the film), but it is because of the journey we’ve taken more than the words that are spoken that makes it so.

I saw this one a second time as well. Until I had, I was vacillating between this and The Fighter as to which one would be my absolute favorite of 2010. Both films certainly hold up under a repeat viewing (something I haven’t done at the theater for any film without Gerard Butler in it in a very long time), packing the same emotional wallop as they did the first time and both will find a place on my dvd shelves. The difference is that I would be hard pressed to find a single flaw in The King’s Speech.

It’s perfect. Just My Humble Opinion.

*for example Harlan County, USA. A doc focusing on a coal miner’s strike in Kentucky, but depicting the same kind of impoverished rural existence as that of Winter’s Bone.
**Mark Strong’s character in RocknRolla
***Take that, Rupert Everett
+ William Shawcross (2009), Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: The Official Biography, Macmillan

Centurion: Bloody Good Saturday Matinee!

I’ve seen it at last! “Centurion” has come to the booming metropolis that is Boston and is playing on exactly one screen (which is actually across the river in Cambridge.) At least it’s at the very cool eco-friendly, intellectually superior theater that gets all of the foreign and art-house flicks; the one frequented by adults who know how to behave at the cinema and without the sticky floors. Bonus! Yesterday afternoon, I made the pilgrimage. (Sorry Idris, you’ll have to wait until next week.)

As has already been documented on this blog, I’ve been looking forward to Centurion for quite some time and for a quite a few reasons. First, I’ve been a fan of Neil Marshall’s since 2002’s “Dog Soldiers”, not to mention I’m a huge fan of Michael Fassbender. I’m not going into a blow by blow or a typical review, but in mentioning Marshall’s first feature film I believe I’ve found a good jumping-off point.

I’ve mentioned Dog Soldiers before, in reference to where I first noticed Kevin McKidd. The film is a fresh take on the werewolf mythos that actually has a lot in common with Centurion. Both films are about the struggle of the underdog trapped behind enemy lines. In both cases, the “underdog” consists of the remains of what started out as a superior fighting force: in Dog Soldiers, a squad of highly trained British Army soldiers on tactical maneuvers in Scotland; in Centurion, an elite Legion of highly trained Roman soldiers, members of the occupying army in what would later become Scotland.

In both cases, we’re meant to root for the outnumbered few far from home whose only goal has become getting back to it, despite the fact that this cunning and resourceful handful was part of a larger force that was initially trying to wipe out the natives; (Even though in Dog Soldiers the natives were monstrous wolf-human hybrids and in Centurion they only painted their faces blue- they both were there first. Speaking of blue faces…I’m thinking this is where William Wallace got the idea. Or was it from Antoine Fuqua’s “Woads”*?) much the same way that we’re meant to root for the Cowboys vs the Indians in most American Westerns.

Centurion, just as Dog Soldiers was, is filled with Marshall’s trademark blood and gore plus the added bonus of the sounds of axe or sword crunching bone and spear piercing flesh. We also get the similar washed out color palette that makes everything seem that much more bleak and desolate and yet at the same time starkly beautiful, whether it’s the snow-capped Highlands or a Caledonian forest. (Actually the forests in the earlier film were in Luxembourg. I’m glad Marshall has graduated to using actual locations. Parts of The Descent and most of Doomsday were filmed in Scotland as well.)

Both films feature the great Liam Cunningham, (who also starred opposite Michael Fassbender in the exquisitely painful “Hunger”, as Fr. Moran) although unlike in Dog Soldiers, where his Capt. Ryan was a complete prick, he plays a veteran soldier with a sense of humor and capable of compassion, called ‘Brick.’

In fact there are darker takes on quite a few characters that first appeared in Dog Soldiers. “Spoonie” is replaced by Thax, Emma Cleasby’s Megan is replaced by Imogen Poots’ Arianne.


(Thax, Macros, Brick)

…wait…or is she replaced by Olga Kurylenko’s Etain? Elements of Megan’s story have been expanded and then divided up between these two characters. Having said that, I must point out that Etain is quite possibly the toughest, most ruthless female antagonist on film. If you throw in the fact that she does it all without saying a word, she wins hands down.


(Looks can be deceiving. There is nothing tender about what is going on here.)

Sean Pertwee’s Sgt Wells in Dog Soldiers is supplanted by Dominic West’s General Virilus. Both characters are “boysy” men’s men who command respect and inspire loyalty by being “of” their troops, not above them. Virilus is Wells on steroids.

I would have liked to have seen more of Dominic West’s General, but that’s purely selfish. This wasn’t his story. West did what was needed, which was to create a leader that the audience could believe would galvanize a small handful of soldiers into taking action on his behalf and set the plot in motion. Not only did he accomplish that (and look good doing it, even covered in blood and filth) in his few minutes onscreen, but his ‘presence’ permeated the rest of the film.


(Virilus-NOT moshing)

Which brings me to Michael Fassbender’s Quintus Dias. It is easy enough to compare this character to the luscious Kevin McKidd’s Cooper. Both characters exhibit resourcefulness and intelligence beyond their scripted stations. (Cooper is by rank a Private. Kept on the lowest rung of the ladder by his refusal to be blindly cruel for what he perceives to be the sake of it. Quintus is the son of a freed slave turned gladiator, but displays respect for his enemy by learning their language.) Both gain the trust of a local beauty, a loner either by choice or circumstance, who provides aid and comfort. Both characters are also the heart and soul of their respective films. If we don’t believe in either Cooper or Dias, we don’t believe in the road each man travels or care about the final result.

Again, Fassy’s character is a souped up version of his earlier counterpart. Physically, he takes much more of a beating than McKidd ever did, even in the latter’s climactic final fight scene.


(Fassbender didn’t look this buff in 300! Gaaaah!)

This film may not tax Fassbender’s acting muscles as much as it did his physical ones, but it may up his visibility quotient, which I am of two minds about. On the one hand, I’ve seen what happens when the rest of the world gets a hold of an actor I’ve long admired but is considered to be a “hidden gem” and frankly, I don’t like to share my toys. On the other hand, there is a part of me that DOES want everyone to know what I’ve known all along. Fassbender deserves to have a place at the A-List table, as long as we’re talking about the A-List that gets offered the best and juiciest scripts, working with the most talented directors and actors. (He can stay off of that “other” A-List. I personally don’t give a damn if he EVER meets Lindsey Lohan.)

Centurion has all of the elements that a good Saturday afternoon at the movies should have: lots of action, compelling drama with a hero worth believing in, spectacular visuals, rousing score, and an attractive cast. If it fails to find an audience in theaters, and frankly, that seems likely since it’s barely being released, I predict it will find the same kind of loyal cult following on dvd and later on cable television, as Dog Soldiers has done. It is, IMHO, an interesting take on the possible fate of the “lost” 9th Legion (and it managed to beat Kevin MacDonald’s “The Eagle”** to the punch. We’ll have to wait until 2011 before we find out which one seems more plausible.)

*from his “King Arthur”
**still hate that name change.

Dueling Centurions pt 1- redux

Just in time for its release to VOD, and prior to its limited August 27th US release, Centurion has unleashed a new trailer. (courtesy of Apple Trailers by way of AceShowbiz) I recommend watching it with ear-buds or head-phones to get the full impact of Michael Fassbender’s voice over.

As for Dueling Centurions part 2, given that Eagle of the Ninth (with the incredible, edible Mark Strong) has been pushed back to February 2011, I suppose the whole concept is moot. The two films will no longer be “dueling”. (There is also the rumor that EOTN’s title has been shortened to the more idiot-friendly “The Eagle”. Rosemary Sutcliff is probably rolling in her grave.) Having said that, I’m still looking forward to the film and will post the trailer when it finally arrives.

Dueling Centurions, pt. 1

Centurion ArtworkSee More Centurion Artwork at IGN.com

From Pathe Studios: AD 117. The Roman Empire stretches from Egypt to Spain, and East as far as the Black Sea. But in northern Britain, the relentless onslaught of conquest has ground to a halt in face of the guerrilla tactics of an elusive enemy: the savage and terrifying Picts. Quintus Dias (Fassbender), sole survivor of a Pictish raid on a Roman frontier fort, marches north with General Virilus’ (West) legendary Ninth Legion, under orders to wipe the Picts from the face of the earth and destroy their leader Gorlacon. But when the legion is ambushed on unfamiliar ground, and Virilus taken captive, Quintus faces a desperate struggle to keep his small platoon alive behind enemy lines. Enduring the harsh terrain and evading their remorseless Pict pursuers led by revenge-hungry Pict Warrior Etain (Kurylenko), the band of soldiers race to rescue their General and to reach the safety of the Roman frontier

Trailer

(Thank you HeyUGuys and IGN)

IGN Video: Centurion Movie Interview – Behind-the-Scenes
Red Band Behind the Scenes Featurette w/Fassbender, Kurylenko, West and dir. Neil Marshall. (Click on the link. For some reason I can’t seem to get the embed code to work.)

This looks like a down and dirty action flick with plenty of blood and guts and all manner of other bodily fluids, all set in 2nd century Scotland. *SWOON*

I’m a big Neil Marshall fan (since Dog Soldiers-I even liked Doomsday with its Warriors/Escape from New York vibe), as well as Michael Fassbender (who’s been an actor on the verge for so long I hope he doesn’t fall off.) The film also stars Domenic West and David Morrissey. They had me at Fassbender and swords. These two equally terrific actors are just icing.

I’ve been waiting for this for what feels like forever. "Centurion" opened in the UK this weekend and was JUST given a US release date of August 27. (Why we have to wait four months is beyond me, but just last week there was no date at all. I suspect that the enthusiastic reception at last weekend’s “ActionFest” played a part. In any case, I’ll take it. imdb also lists July 23 as the “Video On Demand” release date. Not sure what’s up with that.)

Empire Magazine Interview with Neil Marshall in which he mentions “Eagle of the Ninth”, the subject of “Dueling Centurions, pt. 2” (as soon as we get a trailer…)

Fassy Rules!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/may/14/cannes-film-festival-andrea-arnold-fish-tank-review

Another film I am really looking forward to is Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (official website: http://www.fishtankmovie.com/), with the incredibly talented Michael Fassbender.

He’s getting a lot of attention these days in the deluge of press surrounding the release of “Inglourious Basterds.” He’s being touted as the next big thing, but as is usually the case, he’s been around for years.

What I find odd, however, is that more is made of his first big break in “Band of Brothers”, (he’s supposedly in 8 of the 10 episodes but I’ve only been able to spot him in the first one. The camera pans across him in the opening scene while the company is watching a movie.) than the role in which I first discovered him, 2007’s “300”. His turn as young Stelios is usually mentioned in passing, and then the most is made of his physique. And while said physique is VERY impressive, (there could not have been an ounce of fat on that man. He was all lean and tightly coiled sinew…shudder…)

you miss the point if you don’t listen for his demented laugh as he tells Daxos that he may have found the enemy to give him the glorious death he was born for.

In any case, I have been smitten with Mr. FITS (‘Fights in the Shade’-yes I know, terribly clever) ever since.

As with Tom Hardy, (Okay, as with most things. I can be like a dog with a bone when I find something new.) I’ve sought out anything else I could get my hands on with Fassbender’s name attached. A lot of his earlier credits are UK television (most of which I’ll probably never get to see.)

Speaking of British television, “Hex”, is a drama about a boarding school for randy, but deeply troubled, teens (that has apparently been Satan’s bordello for centuries) that the nice people at BBC America see fit to run often. The Devil wants me to be the mother of the anti-Christ? I have no problem with that as long as the Devil comes in the form of the smoothly charming and disarmingly sexy Azazeal. And I KNOW that’s not just me.

I’ve been petitioning (more like begging) BBC America to pick up a sumptuous historical mini-series called “The Devil’s Whore” in which Fassbender played a key figure in the English Civil War, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough. Amazing cast including Dominic West as Cromwell, John Simm (love him), Peter Capaldi and relative newcomer Andrea Riseborough. All of the episodes are available on Youtube and I have viewed them all, but that’s not how this colorful, earthy costume drama was meant to be seen. I want it all! I can hope that it will eventually be released on region-free dvd. Until then…there’s always episode 2, pt 4.

Francoise Ozon’s “Angel” from 2007 is not available anywhere that I can find. (Which ticks me off. I wish imdb would stop putting links to Blockbuster Online & Amazon on a film’s title page if the damn title is not available at Blockbuster Online or Amazon.) Again there are pieces available on Youtube (As of this writing; no telling when the Youtube police will strike it down.)

“Eden Lake” deserves a post of its own. On the surface this is your typical “unprepared couple goes camping and bad things happen” slasher film, but it’s really much more. You may still find yourself yelling at the screen, “Don’t do that you idiot!” but when you think you’ve got it figured out it takes one surprising and disturbing turn after another. Having said all that, it is still a horror film. A smart, well written and well acted horror film but nonetheless it is still brutal and bloody. I hate to do spoilers but if the genre doesn’t appeal (well then don’t watch it but if you must, stop the dvd after the romp in the lake. Fassy looks good wet.)

I really want to see “Hunger,” in which MF plays IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. It’s already been celebrated from Cannes to Berlin to Toronto, and is being distributed by IFC Films. I’ve heard that it’s a difficult performance to watch but one that deserves to be seen. The trailer link: http://www.imdb.com/rg/VIDEO_PLAY/LINK//video/screenplay/vi2771256089/

Which brings me to Inglourious Basterds, (another really fine article: http://www.movieline.com/2009/08/the-verge-michael-fassbender.php) a film I’ve wanted to talk about but wanted to find a way to do it that I haven’t already read a hundred times and yet without spoilers. So for now I’ll settle for talking about MF’s Lt. Archie Hickox. First, let me just say that I hope the dvd release gives us more of everything but specifically of this character. I refuse to believe, knowing the research he did and the work he put into getting the accent right, that what we see in the film is all there ever was.
He’s said his inspiration was George Sanders and since the release I’ve heard all sorts of comparisons, like “Oh, he’s doing Olivier!” He’s not doing Olivier. He’s doing a “type”. A clipped, effete accent used to signify the British upper class in films of the 30’s -early 40’s. It sounds more like Ronald Coleman meets David Niven, okay with maybe a little Olivier (circa 1940-Rebecca) but he’s not “doing” Olivier. In any case, it’s flawless and and he steals every scene he’s in.

In addition to the above mentioned “Fish Tank”, he’s got another film completed and awaiting release, “Town Creek”, director Joel Schumacher’s return to the horror/slash thriller genre. (If nothing else, I’m sure it will look good.) There are two films in post-production. “Centurion” (his third film with Dominic West for those keeping score) directed by Neil Marshall, whose 2002 “Dog Soldiers” is an outstanding new take on the werewolf mythology (with another one of my favorites, Kevin McKidd.) Then there’s the darling of this year’s Comic Con, “Jonah Hex” with Josh Brolin, in which he plays henchman to John Malkavitch’s baddie and gets to keep his Kilarney accent.

Currently in production is “Birdsong”, a WWI romance that is being compared to “The English Patient” and co-starring Brian Cox. In pre-production is “The Sweeney”, based on a UK cop show, and co-starring the great Ray Winstone.

What is it with the Irish and the Scots and the Brits? Not only can every single one of them ACT, they all work really hard at it. Sheesh.

JMHO