Happy St. Paddy’s Day – Jekyll Centurion In The Grey Bruges

Well no green beer for me this year but I thought I’d highlight some films from my favorite Irish actors.

The Grey

 

The Grey (2012) – Rated R

After narrowly surviving a deadly plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, a band of oil riggers must battle the elements — and a pack of wolves.

Obviously, Liam Neeson kicks serious butt. He currently stars in Non-Stop which was a lot of (nonsensical) fun AND The Lego Movie (as Good Cop/Bad Cop) which was even more fun. While I enjoy his action movies, The Grey is not actually the survival story the trailer would have you believe. Instead it’s a wonderful existential treatise on life and death disguised as a survival movie.

Jekyll

Jekyll (2007) – TV-14

In modern-day London, Dr. Jekyll’s last living descendant believes he can control his dark side, but a secret society has other plans for him.”

James Nesbitt is a favorite Irish actor of mine, mostly for this British miniseries. He is just fine as Jekyll but the first time you see him as Hyde, you’ll be hooked. He currently stars as Bofur in The Hobbit movies.

In Bruges

In Bruges (2008) – Rated R

After a job goes wrong in London, two hit men are ordered to lay low at a bed-and-breakfast in Bruges, Belgium, until their boss contacts them.”

In Bruges features two of my favorite Irish actors. When he isn’t getting into trouble, Colin Farrell is quite the charmer and Brendan Gleeson is always good, usually better than his material deserves. In Bruges is absolutely hysterical, an understated gem from the folks that made Seven Psychopaths (also hysterical)

Centurion

Centurion (2010) – Rated R

In 2nd-century Britain, a famed centurion and a handful of Roman soldiers try to survive behind enemy lines after Pict tribesmen decimate the platoon.”

I really enjoy Liam Cunningham in everything. Lately I’ve caught him as Davos in Game of Thrones but that obviously isn’t on Netflix. Netflix does stream Centurion, in which Liam has a supporting role. Not only that but it has Michael Fassbender in a starring role. In spite of that, the movie is stolen by Dominic West as General Virilus and Olga Kurylenko as Etain.

 

ActionFest 2010 at Home on Netflix

I’ll be at ActionFest Thursday through Sunday (and my wife will be diligently posting updates). If you aren’t joining me there, then you can catch up on the films from the first ActionFest. 14 of the ActionFest 2010 films are currently available on instant Netflix:

Centurion (2010) – Rated R

“In 2nd-century Britain, Roman fighter Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the lone survivor of a Pictish attack on a Roman frontier post. Eager for revenge, he joins the Ninth Legion — under General Virilus (Dominic West) — and journeys north on a mission to destroy the Picts. Writer-director Neil Marshall’s rousing sword-and-sandals adventure also stars Olga Kurylenko as the beautiful Pict warrior Etain.”

This was the opening film of ActionFest 2010 and did a good job of setting the mood for the Fest. I found this to be much better than the following year’s very similarly themed The Eagle.

District 13: Ultimatum (2009) – Rated R

“Set two years after the action in Pierre Morel and Luc Besson’s District 13, this French-language sequel follows Capt. Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) and Leito (David Belle) on their quest to clean up crime and corruption in the city. With the territory divided into five distinct neighborhoods created along ethnic lines, they have their work cut out for them. But they’ve also got a secret weapon: a will to defy the odds.”

This is fun but not as good as the first film, District B13 so make sure to watch that first.

Harry Brown (2009) – Rated R

“When a crew of drug-dealing gang members takes the life of his only friend, a retired Marine and widower decides to take the law into his own hands — but his old-school training might be overmatched.”

How can you not enjoy watching elderly Michael Caine kick butt? This is actually a somewhat slow-moving thriller but very enjoyable just the same.

Mandrill (2009) – Rated R

“Years after his mother is murdered, young hit man Mandrill (martial arts master Marko Zaror) embarks on a bloody and unyielding revenge mission, vowing to bring deadly justice to the killer in this gripping Chilean action thriller. Director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza reteams with leading man Zaror for the pulse-pounding film, also starring Celine Reymond as Dominic, Alejandro Castillo as Tio Chone and Luis Alarcón as Don Mario.”

This one just showed up on instant Netflix and I haven’t had a chance to catch it. I missed it at ActionFest even though I got to meet Marko Zaror.

Merantau (2009) – Rated R

“As part of a rite of passage known as “merantau,” young Yuda (Iko Uwais) leaves his tiny farming village for Jakarta. But he ends up saving orphan Astri (Sisca Jessica) from a human-trafficking ring ruled by the evil Ratger (Mads Koudal). With vengeful villains hot on their trail, Yuda must keep Astri and her little brother, Adit (Yusuf Aulia), safe in the pimp- and mob-ridden streets of the city in this fast-paced Indonesian thriller.”

This film won best picture at the first ActionFest but I have not yet caught it.

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (2008) – Rated R

“Tien (Tony Jaa), the son of Lord Sihadecho — a tragically murdered nobleman — goes under the wing of Chernang (Sorapong Chatree), a renowned warrior and leader of the Pha Beek Krut who teaches Tien a variety of deadly fighting styles. Now a master of weapons and combat, Tien seeks out those who slayed his family. Jaa also directs and Sarunyu Wongkrachang co-stars in this martial arts thriller set in 15th-century Thailand.”

This one is a bit incoherent and has a very disappointing ending but all three Ong Bak movies are available on instant Netflix if you want a Tony Jaa marathon. Even if the films aren’t very good, the stunts and martial arts are awesome.

Power Kids (2009) – Not rated

“When little Wun needs a heart transplant, his friends race to save him. But the donor heart he needs is at a hospital that’s been captured by terrorists, so it’s up to the remaining Power Kids to liberate it.”

Martial arts for kids? I’m afraid I missed this one.

Raging Phoenix (2009) – Rated R

“After she’s rescued from a gang of Thai thugs who specialize in the trafficking of women, sexy Deu endures a grueling regimen of drunken-style, break dancing-inspired combat training and sets out to get her revenge.”

Again the Philippines produces some really nifty martial arts films but they are pretty incoherent plot-wise.

RoboGeisha (2009) – Netflix shows this as being rated TV-MA but I’m not sure that’s correct.

“Director Noboru Iguchi and gore master Yoshihiro Nishimura team up for this hyper-violent and hilariously grotesque depiction of a very angry army of butt sword-wielding geisha robots with enough strength to embed tempura shrimp in villains’ eyes. Special effects in Iguchi’s (Machine Girl) over-the-top, feminist melodrama include chainsaw lips, blood-spouting buildings, geisha transformers, machine gun bras and some basic decapitations.”

I think you have to be in the right mood to enjoy this. It is wildly over the top and was a fun break from the rest of the ActionFest titles but I would never go so far as to call this a good film.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) – Rated R

“On a train crossing the Manchurian desert, an unlikely trio — good bounty hunter Park Do-won (Woo-sung Jung), bad gangster Park Chang-yi (Byung-hun Lee) and weird train robber Yoon Tae-goo (Kang-ho Song) — unite to find a treasure map’s promised loot. Racing through the unforgiving landscape, they stay one step ahead of rivals and the Japanese army. Ji-woon Kim directs this Sergio Leone-inspired adventure.”

I’ve recently covered this but it is a very fun ride.

The Square (2008) – Rated R

“Bored with married life, middle-aged Ray devises a dangerous scheme to steal a large sum of money and run away with his beautiful young mistress, Carla, in this neo-noir thriller set in a decrepit section of Sydney. It looks as if the plot involving Carla’s unscrupulous husband and a career arsonist is a success — until an anonymous blackmailer threatens to expose the truth. Director Nash Edgerton also helmed the award-winning short “Spider.””

This was a very slow-burn thriller that, in my opinion, was a little overrated. The short, Spider, is also available on instant Netflix. Spider is only nine minutes long and I found it to be hilarious.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010) – Rated R

“Expecting to enjoy a relaxing vacation at their rundown mountain cabin, backwoods boys Tucker and Dale see their peaceful trip turn into a nightmare when college kids camping nearby accuse the duo of being psychotic killers.”

Hands-down my favorite film of the first ActionFest. This is a hilarious sendup of the hillbilly killers horror subgenre.

Valhalla Rising (2009) – Not rated

“After years of slavery, Viking warrior One-Eye (Mads Mikkelsen) escapes from his captors and seeks refuge on a Norse ship bound for his homeland. When a storm throws them off course, the crew lands at a mysterious realm inhabited by invisible demons. As the bloodthirsty creatures claim one sailor after another, One-Eye rediscovers his fighting spirit but begins to wonder if they have arrived in Jerusalem or someplace much more sinister.”

Hands-down the worst film I saw at the first ActionFest. Many viewers walked out of this one. I didn’t see anyone walk out of any of the other features. On the other hand, I’ve seen many reviewers like this film. Apparently you either hate it or love it. I hated it.

One could literally edit Valhalla Rising down to a 30 minute running time without losing any action, dialogue, or meaning. Take all the worst parts of European cinema of the last half century (unnecessarily lengthy scenes, scenes where people just stare at each other, completely pointless dream sequences, severe closeups) and apply to them to a viking epic.

Vengeance (2009) – Not rated

Today, Costello (French music and film icon Johnny Hallyday) is a skilled chef. Twenty years ago, he was a cold-blooded killer working for the mob. But when a horrific tragedy befalls the family of his daughter (Sylvie Testud), Costello returns to his old ways. Journeying from France to Hong Kong, our culinary hero prepares to serve up revenge on a host of bad guys in this bloody tale from acclaimed action director Johnnie To.”

If you’ve seen a Johnnie To film then you know what to expect from this one. It is good but not as good as some of his other Chinese crime films.

 

 

Streaming Michael Fassbender

If you love him so much, why don’t you marry him? After catching Fassbender on the big screen twice in the same week, he has another film starting today Shame, his second collaboration with director Steve McQueen.

Shame (2011) – Rated NC-17

“Thirtysomething New Yorker Brandon is outwardly reserved, but inside is seething with an overwhelming sexual addiction. When his tempestuous and much-loved younger sister invades his life, Brandon struggles to escape his self-destructive behavior.”

I thought I’d end the week with some streaming Fassbender recommendations.

Centurion (2010) – Rated R

“In 2nd-century Britain, Roman fighter Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the lone survivor of a Pictish attack on a Roman frontier post. Eager for revenge, he joins the Ninth Legion — under General Virilus (Dominic West) — and journeys north on a mission to destroy the Picts. Writer-director Neil Marshall’s rousing sword-and-sandals adventure also stars Olga Kurylenko as the beautiful Pict warrior Etain.”

I discussed this film at length after the first ActionFest but the gist is that this is a fun action film. Fassbender is the star but Dominic West steals every scene he is in. It does suffer from a few flaws but the cinematography and location shots are wonderful, the violence is brutal, and villains lie on both sides.

Hunger (2008) – Not rated

“Acclaimed visual artist Steve McQueen makes his feature film debut with this gripping drama (and Independent Spirit Award Best Foreign Film contender) that depicts the events surrounding a hunger strike staged by a group of IRA prisoners during their 1981 incarceration in Britain’s Prison Maze. Led by IRA volunteer-poet Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), the strikers waged their six-week-long protest in an attempt to be acknowledged as political prisoners and to improve the prison’s conditions.”

This is a very powerful film (regardless of your politics) with perhaps Michael Fassbender’s best performance. That said this is by no means a fun film. This is a very dark, depressing film – both tonally and thematically. If you want enjoyable – stick with Centurion.

Blood Creek (2009) – Rated R

“When a family agrees to host an occult-obsessed Nazi scholar in their West Virginia farmhouse prior to World War II, they’re transformed into his undead slaves and must kidnap local victims to feed his bloodlust. Years later, an abducted war hero (Dominic Purcell) breaks free from the zombie family’s clutches, rounds up his brother (Henry Cavill) and returns to the wilderness for payback. Joel Schumacher directs this supernatural horror flick.”

I wanted to like this movie. I love the idea of horror movies with Nazis. Dead Snow is absolutely hilarious, Shock Waves is a wonderful slice of 70s cheese, The Keep was wonderfully atmospheric even if it made no sense whatsoever. Combine the kooky premise with a decent cast (Michael Fassbender, Dominic Purcell, and Henry Cavill – the new Superman) and it should have been a cakewalk. Sadly it is only okay.

Fassbender is also in Fish Tank, Angel, and A Bear Named Winnie but I have not had time to watch those.

Centurion – Actionfest week

This past weekend I spent at ActionFest. Instead of instant Netflix films this week, I will be talking about the films I saw. Centurion was a World Premiere at Actionfest.

WATCH: Centurion (2010) – NR – Not rated (yet)

“In 2nd-century Britain, Roman fighter Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the lone survivor of a Pictish attack on a Roman frontier post. Eager for revenge, he joins the Ninth Legion — under General Virilus (Dominic West) — and journeys north on a mission to destroy the Picts. Writer-director Neil Marshalls rousing sword-and-sandals adventure also stars Olga Kurylenko as the beautiful Pict warrior Etain.”

Neil Marshall is one of my favorite up and coming directors. His latest film, Centurion, had its world premiere Thursday night at Actionfest.

His first feature film was the wonderful Dog Soldiers – one of the two best werewolf movies of the last decade (Ginger Snaps being the other one). Dog Soldiers is a very cool low budget military horror movie (there are not enough movies in that subgenre) – marred only by thick accents and British slang which make it a little tricky for American audiences.

He followed that up in 2005 with the incredible The Descent. The Descent is the only horror film of the last decade to actually scare me. It had the misfortune to be released around the same time as The Cave, The Cavern and one other cave related horror movie whose name escapes me. The Descent is the real deal. Not only does it capture an incredible feeling of claustrophobia but also tells a powerful emotional story about characters you care about.

Sadly his third film Doomsday (2008) was not very good.

Centurion is good but not a masterpiece. It was not the best of the Actionfest movies though it was a lot of fun. The cinematography made good use of the impressive terrain and is quite nice to look at without detracting from the narrative.

The violence is not brutal – it is ultra-brutal and occurs constantly throughout the movie. I enjoyed the unflinching carnage with one exception. Much of the blood in the film is CGI. I simply do not understand how we can realistically depict dinosaurs, aliens, spaceships, etc in CGI and yet every time CGI is used for blood spatter, it just looks so fake.

One of the factors I really enjoyed about the narrative was that while our protagonists are Roman soldiers and the story is told from their point-of-view, it is clear that the Romans are just as responsible as the Picts for the events that unfold.

Michael Fassbender is the star here. He had small roles in a number of shows but caught a break when he was cast as Stelios in 300. Most recently he played Lt. Archie Hicox in Inglourious Basterds. He is quite captivating as an action hero. He has a good but not overwhelming presence (which fits in with the story) and certainly has an action physique.

Dominic West steals the show as General Virilus. Like Michael Fassbender, he was also in 300. There he played the despicable Theron with some degree of relish. Here he shows off as the ultimate Roman general with one tiny little weak spot.

Olga Kurylenko has a powerful female role here as the tracker Etain. She is riveting in all of her scenes even though her character is mute. She handles the physicality well and is no stranger to action having previously appeared in Quantum of Solace, Hitman, and Max Payne. She is joined by Axelle Carolyn as another powerful woman.

The rest of the cast is colorful including Ulrich Thomsen as the Pict chief Gorlacon. The other Roman soldiers are given just enough screen time and presence to make them interesting but not quite enough to make us care about them.

There is an incident early in the third act that both sets up and completely gives away the ending. It is unfortunate since Neil Marshall was far more subtle and less-contrived in Descent and Dog Soldiers. My only guess is that it was a push to make the narrative more mainstream.

Ultimately Centurion is a very gory and fun thrill ride. I recommend putting it in your queue for later.

For those who do not know, films can be put in your Netflix queue long before they are released. The Netflix queue can hold 500 films. Mine always fluctuates between 475 and 500. Doing this gives you a good idea when one of your films is coming to instant Netflix.

People Watch: Imogen Poots plays a very intriguing Arian here. She previously played Tammy in 28 Weeks Later and Young Valerie in V for Vendetta.