The Awakening Bound

The Awakening & Bound are currently available on instant Netflix

The Awakening

 

The Awakening (2011) – Rated R

A haunted boarding school calls on Florence Cathcart, who disproves hoaxes for a living. But the strange place leads Cathcart to question rationality.”

If you like your horror movies visceral and in your face, The Awakening is not for you. The Awakening is a nice, slow burn story of a haunting (or is it?). The atmosphere is quite wonderful and essentially omnipresent (think The Woman in Black).

Performances are good across the board. Rebecca Hall (Iron Man 3) plays Florence Cathcart, a hoax explorer and debunker in post World War I Britain. Dominic West has a tendency to give one of two performances, either wonderfully understated (The Wire) or egregiously over the top (Punisher War Zone). Thankfully, his performance here is of the former category. Imelda Staunton (Maleficent) helps ground the film as a no-nonsense matron.

The Awakening is not as strong as some other story-based hauntings, such as The Changeling, The Orphanage, or The Others, but it is very well done with a good story.

Bound

Bound (2015) – Not rated

A real estate broker meets a younger man who introduces her to BDSM. Sexually fulfilled, she takes charge of her professional and personal life.”

I saw Bound was new to instant Netflix but I thought the fun 1996 thriller from the pre-Matrix Wachowskis was already on Netflix (it is – go watch it!). I had never heard of this 2015 direct-to-DVD ripoff of 50 Shades of Grey. Its tagline is “No Grey. Only Black and White” which is a little too on-the-nose.

Poor Charisma Carpenter. She tried out for the title role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While she didn’t win that role, she obviously did well enough to be cast as Cordelia. Cordelia is not as important as Buffy, Angel, Giles, Xander, and Willow but was an integral part of the team. Word was that she was difficult to work with, perhaps because of disappointment over being sidelined.

She went with David Boreanaz when Angel got his own series. Cordelia was the female lead but was gradually sidelined for whatever reason. Eventually relations between the showrunners and Carpenter got so bad that they stuck Cordelia in a coma for a season before resorting to more drastic measures.

She has had guest spots and occasional runs on various television series since then, the most significant of which was an eleven episode run on Veronica Mars. Unfortunately her career has had a steady downturn, hitting all the usual marks. She starred in a low-budget horror movie, Voodoo Moon, as well as some Lifetime productions.

Now she stars in the Fifty Shades of Grey ripoff, Bound. I decided to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. Well, at least until it began with “The Asylum Presents” which is pretty much the worst way any film can begin.

It did not get better from there. The movie has a laughable view of the S&M world (not as laughable as Pretty Woman’s view of prostitution but I digress). I would love to compare it to Fifty Shades but I have not seen that. I did notice that Carpenter uses the same safe word, ‘Red’, as the heroine in Shades. For those of you with the heart of a teenage boy, yes, Carpenter is in various stages of undress throughout the film, including topless but this film and the script are certainly not flattering to her.

Unless you are a rabid Charisma Carpenter fan, avoid this. I can only think they sold Carpenter on the overall storyline and kept the script from her until filming.

 

Shakespeare week – Richard III

This is Shakespeare week on Instant Netflix. Another inventive adaptation of the Bard is Richard III by Richard Loncraine. Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Richard III (1995) – Rated R for violence and sexuality.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeares classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule. Richard plots against his brother, Edward (John Wood), in his quest to usurp the throne, and will stop at nothing in pursuit of his goal. The film received Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design.”

“I that am rudely stamped, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world…”

For all the inventiveness of Romeo + Juliet, Richard Loncraine got there a year earlier with Richard III. Richard III begins with a teletype machine hammering out a message about the war and segues into a 1930s style war room and from there… well lets just say that that would be a visual spoiler only a few minutes into the film. Seriously though even if you do not choose to watch the film, watching the first three minutes will give you a wonderful idea of its chutzpah.

Star Ian McKellan co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Loncraine. While they have rewritten Shakespeare, fear not – The House of York speech and much of the original dialogue remains intact.

Ian McKellan is absolutely stunning as Richard. This should come as no surprise to those who have seen him steal every scene as Magneto in the first three X-Men movies or again every scene as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is practically a one-man show (as Richard III often is) and McKellan is riveting, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the camera.

McKellan is ably supported by John Wood as King Edward IV, Jim Carter as Hastings, and Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence. Jim Broadbent is very impressive as Buckingham. Robert Downey Jr. acquits himself well as Rivers but his recent performances have been more nuanced than this.

On the distaff side, Annette Bening makes quite a good American Queen Elizabeth but Kristin Scott Thomas has the juicier role as the cursed Lady Anne, a year before Kristin earned an Oscar nomination for The English Patient. She even gets to spit on Ian. It is of course a given that Maggie Smith is compelling as the Duchess of York.

While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for both Best Costume Design (Shuna Harwood) and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration (Tony Burrough). It lost both to Restoration. The set design, costuming and even the choice of setting in Richard III are fabulous as each descends into darkness and severity as Richard comes ever closer to his goal of the throne.

While there are a few niggling plot holes, due to Shakespeare and streamlining in equal measure, the film overall is quite wonderful and definitely a showcase for Ian McKellan.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder ninny Tim McInnerny as a very serious Catesby and The Wire star Dominic West (James McNulty) in his feature film debut as the Earl of Richmond.

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.