Monday, November 8, 2010

2 Reviews: Centurion / Night of the Demons (remake!)


The legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion has survived for centuries. They were purported to have disappeared into the mists of the Scottish highlands, never to be seen again. Historians have long since disproven the story, but it makes for some stunning material with which to weave a dramatic story. Writer/Director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) asks what might have happened and manages to create a thrilling adventure. Early in the story, a Roman soldier (Michael Fassbinder) is captured by the Picts after a successful raid on his outpost. The Ninth Legion manages to rescue the escaped prisoner and then walk into an ambush. Nearly wiped out to a man, the soldier leads a rag tag group of survivors on a daring rescue of their stalwart general. Things do not go according to plan and the troupe is forced to run, harried by the Picts in the aftermath of their unsuccessful rescue.

The film starts off quickly enough, but seems a little clumsy for the first several minutes. The Legion are not heroes, they are soldiers on a mission. The Picts are defending their homeland. It becomes difficult to identify with the Romans. They are portrayed as arrogant, bullish, and bloodthirsty. They are the invaders of a land, and we start the film by seeing them in a terrible light. Their enemies and the films primary antagonists seem far more sympathetic at the start. We get the gory goods from Neil Marshall, but the man is no slouch at telling a story. What seems clumsy at first actually comes together later as roles become reversed and we see the Romans as vulnerable and desperate. We see the Picts become set on the hunt, sadistic in their own cruelty, and vicious to their own people. Fassbinder grows into the role of the “Centurion” of the title, leading his adopted men through the terrible winter wasteland of the Scottish hills in a desperate attempt to evade his pursuers. This is yet another terrific film from one of the most talented directors of our time and something

The harsh winter cold seeps into the marrow of the film, allowing the viewer to imagine how the land itself is rejecting the presence of the Romans. Swirling gray clouds shift and swirl constantly, threatening to break open with a frozen snow or rain. The terrain is jagged, uneven, and difficult and we feel each stumble and fall as the men scramble to reach safety. Hardcore traditional effects generously splattered with blood were shot on location. The battle scenes are brutal, with limbs savagely ripped or chopped off and faces painted in tortured agony.

I definitely urge my readers to check out if they get the opportunity.

4 out of 5.

Night of the Demons

Remaking “Night of the Demons” is actually a pretty good idea. It’s a little known cult classic with a great many faults but a terrific little Halloween Night premise. There’s a strong enough fan following to provide instant interest, but just enough wiggle room to do something a little different and possibly improve on the original source material. So it actually came as a surprise to me when I rented the remake and discovered the depths of an epic failure that so brutally scrubbed my brain with its utter lack of anything worthwhile to bother with the time it takes to actually watch this trash. I’m at a loss of where to begin, because this movie doesn’t just fail in simple direction, acting, or special effects… it leaps into the worst CASTING decisions to possibly plague such a wretched little project, promotional material that puts forth its’ best effort in displaying the vapid lack of thought from a single person on the cast or crew, and even a location that boasts the least eerie “haunted house” to ever grace my screen.

Shannon Elizabeth, a person who seems very sweet and gentle, is terribly miscast as the vampishly sensual “Angela” upon which most of the film relies in order to provide a degree of menace. But you’ll notice that Elizabeth is described as both “sweet and kind” which makes her attempts at “vampishly sensual” seem awkward at best and just flat out clumsy at worst. It’s usually at “worst” when she attempts to slink her way across a room or intimately wrap her arms around some future victim. But; there seems to be a genuine love for the genre work in her excitement for the role, so I feel badly about ragging on her performance. Honestly, I don’t think it was her fault. This terrible casting decision pales in comparison to Monica Keening and co-star Edward Furlong. Neither actor shares the slightest shred of chemistry with the other but we’re supposed to believe that their failed relationship will provide the emotional anchor their characters need. Furlong is just plain hard to watch while Keening is flat and terrible as the films main protagonist. She sucks the excitement from a scene and makes several unsuccessful attempts at sarcastic dialogue in order to maybe come off as cool or snarky. Attempts made, and epic failure achieved. Just about the only redeeming thing about this movie comes from the brief cameo made by Linnea Quigley, a feature performer in the first film.

The story is something like this… Angela rents the old manor house with a foul reputation in order to throw a wild Halloween party. The police shut the party down because she’s charging each person an entrance fee and she forgot to get a permit, leaving her high and dry. We also have a number of subplots that eventually lead to several other guests becoming locked into the property until morning, and then they find some bodies in the basement. Angela begins to turn into a demon and spread the infection… oh, man, this actually sounds like it’s not so bad when I describe it. I’m not doing you any justice… so let me be frank: We had about thirty minutes of character development that never went anywhere and achieved absolutely NOTHING in the way of making this a better story or movie. The characters were bland and meaningless, random faces to be splattered with blood or some other fluid. The demons incomprehensible weakness to “rust” became utterly ridiculous with an actual attempt at logical explanation through dialogue… what?!?!!! You hit them, they burn, end of freakin’ explanation! The roguish thug hero of the first film is replaced with an incomprehensibly pathetic drug dealer who gets introduced with one of the most long-winded back story scenes that never EVER meant anything with regards to the rest of the story. And, in case you missed it, he makes certain to keep explaining why he’s freaking out over and over and over again until you simply stop caring. Oh, boy does this movie suck.

The director offers a pre-taped introduction filmed at and for the San Diego Comic Con, promoting the film as a “Punk Rock” horror flick that includes the first demon anal sex scene. I’m not kidding. That’s what he chooses to focus on for promotional material in this flick and he delivers on precisely that promise, but even THAT comes off as just flat out boring and uninteresting. Really, the whole movie is an exercise in tedium with interesting concepts that never really work.

2 out of 5

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