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Centurion (2010)

Director: Neil Marshall
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Olga Kurylenko, Liam Cunningham, David Morrissey, Imogen Poots, Ulrich Thomsen
Rated R,  97 minutes

CENTURION is a bloody, action-packed film that speculates about one of the great mysteries of Western history: the fate of the legendary Ninth Legion of Rome. More specifically, it riffs on the often disputed theory that the army marched into Scotland to break the Picts and were never seen or heard from again. Here the Ninth, led by the incredibly badassed General Virilus (Dominic West) are sent on a final, all-out push with the intention of assassinating the Pict king Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen). To accomplish this seemingly impossible task, Virilius is ordered to use a fierce Pict warrior woman named Etain to guide them into the heavily booby-trapped Pict territory. It's no surprise when Etain betrays Virilus and leads the Ninth into a devastating ambush that wipes out all but a handful of Roman soldiers. The remaining men, led by Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender; EDEN LAKE), must fight their way back home, while being pursued by a band of bloodthirsty Pictish warriors.

It's important to note that CENTURION is NOT a film that is interested in historical accuracy. Director Neil Marshall (DOG SOLDIERS; THE DESCENT; DOOMSDAY) has repeatedly stated that the film is an action-thriller based on legend, not recorded fact. Still, that point hasn't stopped many from trashing the film for not staying true to history. If anything, the biggest weakness here is the sense that Marshall tried to tell a story that was bigger than time and money would allow. Some characters aren't developed enough, and the story seems to jump ahead too often, particularly early in the film. As a result, CENTURION loses some of the epic feel that it could have had.

Instead, CENTURION is more like a gloriously violent comic book-style tale with likable heroes and fearsome villains, with a bit of political intrigue thrown in for good measure. There's a lot of familiar faces here (including Liam Cunningham from DOG SOLDIERS and "Game of Thrones," and David Morrissey from the RED RIDING trilogy and "The Walking Dead"), sexy warrior women, and all the gory sword-and-spear action a movie like this should deliver.

3.5 out of 5.

The Purge (2013)

Director: James DeMonaco
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield
Rated R 85 minutes

In the not-too-distant future, America seems to have undergone a soft-fascist revolution, where the "New Founding Fathers" have instituted a national holiday known as "the Purge." Once a year, for twelve hours, murder and mayhem is legal, and anyone with violent impulses is free to engage in whatever type of violence they desire, as long as they don't attack government officials or use explosives. On the surface the Purge seems to be a good thing; the crime rate is lower, the economy is better, and a high-tech alarm system salesman and Purge supporter named James Sandin (Ethan Hawke, SINISTER) is having his best year ever. As the holiday is about to begin, Sandin settles in for the long night with his wife (Lena Headey, LAID TO REST) and kids to wait out the twelve hours of hell in his seemingly well-protected home. As good as he thinks his alarm system is, it doesn't protect against threats from within, and his children, through a combination of conscience and stupidity, breech the system, and expose the Sandin home to a gang of country club psychos determined to kill a homeless man taking refuge in their house.

Rather than explore the savagery and cruelty of mankind in general, writer/director James DeMonaco chooses to take the easy way out and portrays society's most dangerous people as a group of prep school jacket-wearing rich kids who presumably attend Tea Party meetings on the nights they aren't stalking and tormenting the poor and the downtrodden. This community college sociology sensibility seriously undermines the film's secondary function as a brutal home invasion thriller by throwing light on each flaw in the film's concept. What's left is a fairly routine slasher film that isn't as tense or interesting as it could have been. The villains aren't frightening, the victims aren't sympathetic, and while it throws in a decent amount of gory violence in the final act, the film is unable to tie its concept and its execution together.

2 out of 5. 


Dear God No! (2011)

Director: James Bickert
Starring: Jett Bryant, Madeline Brumby, Paul McComiskey, Johnny Collins, Nick Morgan
Not rated, 81 minutes

DEAR GOD NO! is yet another low budget, shot-on-video trash flick that attempts to replicate the alleged "grindhouse" pictures of the late 60's and early 70's. After a strip club massacre in which they do battle with a rival bike club, the Impalers gang head out to the country to hide from the cops and to continue their rape and murder spree. They eat magic mushrooms and decide to invade the home of a wealthy anthropologist and his daughter. What they soon discover is the "anthropologist" is a little more of a mad scientist and that a bloodthirsty Sasquatch-like creature is roaming the grounds around the house.

While the film certainly pays homage to the biker/drug movies of the past, its main intention seems to be as outrageous and offensive as possible. DEAR GOD NO! takes a kitchen sink approach and includes as many gross-out gags, boobs, and gory carnage as it can fit in its running time, like a Troma film without the production values. It's mostly amusing until the halfway point when director James Bickert incorporates a very mean-spirited and vile rape scene that feels as if it belongs in a different movie. And it just gets worse from there. It's dumb, gross, occasionally funny, but never boring. Recommended for fans of extreme bad taste cinema, and that's about it.

Bickert returned in 2016 with FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS, featuring much of the same cast and covering the same thematic ground. 

2.5 out of 5.


The Seasoning House (2012)

Director: Paul Hyett
Starring: Rosie Day, Sean Pertwee, Kevin Howarth, Anna Walton, Jemma Powell
Rated R 90 minutes

THE SEASONING HOUSE uses the Bosnian Civil War as the backdrop for a tale of a little mute girl (Rosie Day) who is thrust into a nightmare. When her mother is executed during a neighborhood raid by a heartless warlord/mercenary type named Goran (Sean Pertwee; BACKWOODS), she is taken and sold to an even more vile character named Viktor (Kevin Howarth; SUMMER SCARS, RAZOR BLADE SMILE, THE LAST HORROR MOVIE). Viktor runs a grimy brothel that provides drugged girls for the various soldiers and mercs roaming the wastelands. He demonstrates his utter indifference towards his slaves by slashing the throat of one woman in front of the newest arrivals. Fortunately for our heroine, Viktor takes a liking to her, names her "Angel," and puts her to work as a sort of maid instead of a sex slave. As days go by, Angel begins bonding with brothel's girls and explores the house's numerous vents and crawlspaces. But as she settles in to her new, miserable routine, Goran and his men arrive and set off a very bloody chain of events.

It's dark and dreary subject matter, and the film's look certainly matches the tone of the material.  The brothel is a filthy and bloodsoaked palace of misery, as the heroin-addicted women are forced to service all sorts of horrible, disgusting characters. It's so unbearably miserable it reeks of artificiality, and despite good performances from all involved, it fails to become the engaging drama it attempts to be. It's not until the arrival of Goran and Co. towards the end of the second act, when the THE SEASONING HOUSE shifts gears and turns into a stalk-and-slasher, that the film comes alive. Director Paul Hyett is a seasoned special effects pro (THE DESCENT, DOOMSDAY, EDEN LAKE, and many more) and he handles the violent action with a sure hand. It makes you wish the film had gone a little lighter on the drama and focused more on brutal thrills.

2.5 out of 5.