Sunday 25 April 2010

Review: Centurion

Year: 2010
Director: Neil Marshall
Screenplay: Neil Marshall
Starring: Micheal Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko

Synopsis is here

If there's one thing i love about Neil Marshall, it's that he's not afraid to get his hands dirty, and Centurion once again has the man jumping back into the bloodbath with a claret covered tale about the 9th Legion, the roman military unit who disappeared during Romes invasion of Britain. Don't expect too much of a complex narrative to tell (this is Neil "Dog Soldiers" Marshall) this is Gladiators wilder and more feral cousin. It's a straight up, streamlined, men on a mission flick which doesn't shy away from brutality.

Marshall, a British, writer/director that I'm particularly fond of, has once again gone back into what he would like to see in a simple action thriller and brought it to the forefront. The pacing is tight, it's set pieces have some nice moments to them (usually involving a beheading) and what more interesting (to me any way) is that the characters in the film have the comradeship that was sorely missing from bigger budgeted movies such as...clash of the titans.

Yes this is a movie in which the general of the legion drinks (heavily) with his men before starting a bar brawl and when dying means dying together. This kinship within the characters is one the strong spurs which drive the movie forward and kept me well as the balls to the wall gore. Marshall has written this film with a modern audience in mind and shows us a group of soldiers that interact like a group of soldiers would. While certain films like to believe that films of a certain period were full of well spoken British actors who wouldn't dare speak a word out of place; Marshall's script has a rough, workman like feel to the proceedings with its loutish swearing and banter. At first it felt little off, and I thought to myself "why would it?" In fact Marshall's idea not only modernizes the film but it helps us connect with the characters with it's "just-like-us" mentality. While I don't swear like a sailor to everything, the idea that these soldiers come from a more blue collar circle, fits the surroundings more than one would think.

Casting wise, Marshall mostly hits home, as these character actors are not only on the right side of rugged, but also help put across the workman nature of the piece. Actors like Liam Cunningham and JJ Field who show up put in small but solid turns that help pad the film out. Noel Clarke unfortunately hits a bum note, not due to effort but more down to miscasting, as his voice is just a little too "kidulthood" to be truly believable. Olga Kurylenko unfortunately says nothing in this film and there's a slight inkling that either a man or woman could play the role. She does however do the action well and still has enough charm in her silence to push the idea that she is revenge incarnate.

Of course the leads however, are leads for a reason and the placement of Dominic West as the raw edged Titus and Micheal Fassbender's wonderfully reluctant Quintus are perfect. Fassbender in particular once again shows that he is one of the most interesting new actors on the scene with a display that is miles away from his turn in Inglorious Basterds and not at all like his intense role in Fish Tank. Here he shows that he doesn't just carry scenes, but whole films.

Fans of Marshall's earlier work will be happy again here as once again his set pieces are solid, tight sequences that revel in their bloodiness. They're are visceral, realistic and wouldn't look out of place in a good horror film. It is also Marshall's best looking film, utilizing all of the surroundings to emphasize the isolation and wildness of the land. Although at time you will wonder (like the soldiers) how do certain characters find each other...

However if your thinking that after the movies finished and your on the way home, then the directors work is done and you were far too focused on the guts, gore and viscera to care. Marshall once again shows that when it comes to Brit flicks, he is our B movie man and if anyone can bring us something different to our usual gravitas to Rom-coms and kitchen sink dramas, it's him...when Shane Meadows is busy*.

NOTE: This may be the only film about Roman's that has a reference to Under Siege.

*Not counting

Review: The Joneses

Year: 2009 (2010 UK release)
Director: Derrick Borte
Screenplay: Derrick Borte
Starring: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingworth, Gary Cole

Synopsis is here

NOTE: This review may give away a touch of the films "twist", HOWEVER, the trailer alone gives away much of the film so it might not be that much of a surprise.

Bit of a surprise for me this one. The trailer was pretty unassuming, the leads haven't been seen in any recent movie of note, I had never heard of the director and I felt I knew too much about the movie before I went into it. Bad Times.

Not so however, as The Joneses was quite an interesting watch despite the movie slightly losing it's nerve near the end. It's not angry film, but it's shot with enough cynicism to feel quite squirmy at times. Borte (an advertising man, so I've read) has eye for the subject matter and he quickly sets up the cloak of smoke and mirrors with well placed shots of characters in front of mirrors. Nothing too subtle, but it sets the mind working and helps push the ideas through.

As an veiled attack on marketing, at times the Joneses does quite well. As we settle into the idea of the plastic family, one slowly begins to wonder how easy this could be to be placed into practice and how easily lead we would be to such a design. Borte's scenes at times are both quietly droll and unsettling at the same time. The focus on the teens worked best with me, with both teenagers being beyond good looking (one of them the ridiculously hot Amber Heard). The scenes quickly set these characters up as popular and then trendsetters, and have a touch of realism about it, mostly because the teens being targeted at just right to be plucked and a quick smile and chat could easily have them gasping for what these guys want. With this said there's a nice battle set up between the lead character Steve (Duchovny) and Larry (very watchable Gary Cole) leads to a climax that is (once again) not subtle but still very timely and hits the nail on the head.

There are issues however, with the film, such as the movies product placement, which is pushed to the forefront due to the films story. Problem is of course it also serves as nice set up for whatever the brand is that is lucky enough to be placed in the forefront. Awkward as that may sound considering the subject matter, it is not as not as bad as the films latter moments in which emotional response does battle with Hollywood cookie cutter film production. You get the feeling that the film could push this material all the way, however it recedes and plays the film safer than it should have, but then how far could the film push, considering the position it's put in.

With this said, the film's performances keep enough fuel in the tank, until the films last moments and the well picked choices of Demi Moore and David Duchovny are a refreshing change from the typical A list choices that could have been picked for this endeavor. Kudos also goes to Amber Heard, who clearly has a little teen wild child role. One low note would be Ben Hollingsworth, who becomes pretty anonymous when the film really comes to the crunch.

As a whole, The Joneses has it's moments and is more than playful enough with them. It had enough wit to keep me grinning and sharp enough to keep me involved and engaged. I'm sure my brain will push out this movie come next week when I get to see Iron Man 2, but until then The Joneses will remain an interesting watch with a nice concept.