By: Reaper Rick
Welcome once again to Reaper Rick’s Movie Reviews, and a Happy Spring to everyone.
If you enjoy historical dramas with well-staged action scenes and amazingly produced special effects, you might be interested in “Centurion” from 2010. This British produced movie was written and directed by Neil Marshall and stars Olga Kurylenko and Michael Fassbender (who also appeared in “300,” “Inglorious Bastards,” “Hex” [the British TV series], and “Band of Brothers” to name just a few).
In 117 AD, Rome is still trying to conquer the Northern British Isles (today’s Scotland) which is controlled by the warrior Picts. Fassbender is a Roman Centurion who recently escaped from a Pict camp and is assigned to travel with the famous Ninth Legion to finally eradicate the Pict Empire. Unfortunately for the Romans, the Picts are fighting on their home turf and they do not play fair. Ambushed in a deep forest, the Ninth Legion is attacked and wiped out—almost to a man. Six legionaries and a cook survive the attack, as well as their general, who has been taken captive by the Picts. Fassbender the Centurion is one of the survivors.
When the seven Romans learn their general is still alive they decide to attempt a rescue, which ultimately fails, but during the attempt a chieftain’s son is killed. The chieftain wants vengeance for his son’s death and sends a tracking party after the Romans. Miles from safety, the Romans try to make their way back to their own lines as the ruthless Picts track them down and pick them off one by one.
This movie combines breathtaking scenic vistas of Scotland with some of the most gruesome and blood-filled carnage I have ever witnessed in a film. Battles of old, when fought with sword and axe, were by nature of course very bloody, but this movie does not pull any punches when it comes to showing blood and serious mayhem done to bodies in battle (of which there are quite a few). The squeamish need not apply—seriously. However, if you enjoy full contact battle scenes with historically accurate wounds and blood spray, you should get a kick out of this picture.
The story-line could have been a bit stronger but, if you are a fan of period war drama, this movie is one you will enjoy. There was an interesting twist toward the end of the movie which was totally unexpected, and overall “Centurion” was a great action/drama with some outstanding battle scenes and amazing scenic panoramas, so I give it Three Howls of Pleasure .
A movie that, for the most part, slipped past the general viewing audience was the 2009 sci-fi horror/drama “Pandorum.” Directed by Christian Alvart, this flick starred Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster and Antje Traue. Anyone who enjoyed the movies “Alien” or “Event Horizon” will no doubt get a twisted kick out of this cinema-graphic effort.
Two crew members awake from a long hyper sleep aboard a space ship, but do not know who they are, where they are or what their mission was. They quickly discover that they are trapped in a small compartment and their ship is malfunctioning, but know little else. Slowly, and somewhat painfully, they start to regain bits and pieces of their memory, and Foster crawls through an air duct in an attempt to get out and open the locked doorway so they can reach the ship’s bridge. As Foster explores a seemingly deserted ship, Quaid stays behind to monitor his progress, but slowly appears to succumb to a deep-space sickness called Pandorum.
To his shock and dismay, Foster soon begins to find bodies on the ship—apparently other crew members—some of whom have apparently been snared in booby traps. Eventually, Foster discovers other living people—crew members, as well as passengers—and some missing pieces of their journey begin to fall into place. Their ship was sent from Earth to colonize another Earth-like planet thousands of light years from home, and it was a one-way ride. They could never return to Earth and no one was going to come looking for them. They were on their own, but were not alone on the damaged ship. Something was hunting down the remaining humans on board—and eating them.
There are a lot of suspenseful twists and turns in this claustrophobic and darkened-set, action packed movie. One problem I had with it was that perhaps a bit too much of the plot was left unexplained—the viewer was frequently expected to surmise what was going on, and some of the plot twists left you rather confused. There were so many rapid-fire twists toward the end of the movie I was somewhat lost, but the ending did leave it open for a sequel—although this flick did rather poorly at the box office, so a second effort may never see the light of day.
This was a good, suspense-filled action flick, but due to plot inconsistencies and general confusion, I have to give “Pandorum” a mere Two and a Half Howls of Pleasure . It’s worth a weekend rental for sci-fi fans, but is unfortunately not a top-rated movie.
Everyone enjoys a good zombie movie, and George A. Romero has been the leader in producing zombie flicks since 1968. One of his latest releases in this long-running franchise was the 2009 effort, “Survival of the Dead.” Romero wrote and directed this movie which starred Alan Van Sprang, Kenneth Welsh, Kathleen Munroe and Athena Karkanis. Romero also stars in the rather comic introduction to this episode.
“Survival of the Dead” takes a somewhat different and occasionally humorous approach to the ongoing zombie plague. On an island off the Delaware coast two families—the O’Flynns and the Muldoons—have taken opposing views on how to handle their zombie outbreak. While the O’Flynns feel zombies are dead and should be eradicated from their midst, the Muldoons feel that if they keep their zombie family members safe and protected, someday a cure may be found to eventually being them back to health. All they need to do is train the zombies to eat something other than human flesh and then they will no longer be a threat.
A contingent of four AWOL National Guard soldiers discovers the island and decides to stay, but the inhabitants don’t want any strangers interfering with their island lifestyle. A battle ensues—not only against the zombies, but between the two families and the soldiers—for control of this island fortress.
Romero offers a new twist in his zombie franchise—that of trying to train these creatures to eat something other than human flesh—and throws in some dark humor at the zombies expense, but overall “Survival of the Dead” falls a bit short. There seems to be little fear of the zombies themselves in this movie. The human characters appear more fearful of each other than of their undead nemesis, and while there are some humorous moments, they do not save this movie from near boredom. With nothing really new or frightening to compel the viewer to watch, we are left with a few chuckles and an occasional yawn, although the final scene in the movie is artistically interesting.
All in all, “Survival of the Dead” seems to have died an ignoble death and in the end I can only give it Two Howls of Pleasure . It’s a good popcorn flick, but not a great one.
Another franchise which has been nearly beaten to death over the years is the Predator series, but from the opening scene of the 2010 effort, “Predators,” we expect heart-pounding action and nerve-fraying suspense, and are not disappointed—at least in those respects. This movie stars Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Danny Trejo and Laurence Fishburne.
Brody, whose movie name we never learn until almost the final scene, is a mercenary, who along with seven other people, find themselves on a distant planet which is apparently a giant game preserve, and they are the prey. All of the humans are trained killers except for Topher, who is a doctor and seems woefully out of place and unprepared for this misadventure. It takes them a while to discover who is trying to kill the group, but they finally discover their enemy to be Predators, and this bunch is bigger, uglier and more dangerous than any of the creatures ever before encountered.
This movie has plenty of action and suspense, as well as some interesting new twists to the story, but there are also quite a few plot discrepancies that tend to take away from the film. The biggest unanswered question is how our heroes were transported to this distant place. We are led to assume it was aliens who brought them here, as the last thing several of them remember is a bright flash of light before they find themselves on this planet. And, before they even learn they are on another world, Topher sees a poisonous plant and warns everyone away from it. But—and this really bothered me—if they are on another world, how is it he knows about the dangerous properties of this strange looking plant? Another ‘boner’ in this film is the fact that Predators always hunt in groups of three, but for some unknown reason there is a fourth Predator being held captive in the alien’s camp. What’s up with that? There is no explanation for this fourth creature being in the movie, and the only reason it seems to be around at all is to help Brody out at the end of the film after he frees it from captivity.
But, if you can get past these few plot flubs, it is a fun movie. Some may say it is simply a rehash of the original “Predator” film—a bunch of gun-happy killers (with the exception of Topher) try to escape brutal death at the hands of the hunting Predators—and the presence of Alice Braga (who was the young female terrorist in the original movie) in this episode rather emphasizes the ‘rehash’ idea, but for action and suspense, plus some nice bloodletting, I give “Predators” Two and a Half Howls of Pleasure . It is worth a weekend rental if you haven’t yet seen it, and is a great popcorn flick to boot.
And finally we come to a movie that might actually have been worth seeing in a theater. “Shutter Island” is from 2010 and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow and Ted Levine. Director Martin Scorsese takes us on a twisted, intense, mind shaking journey through a horrific thriller and doesn’t spare any emotion while doing so.
DiCaprio is a U.S. Marshall who has been assigned to a missing persons case at a mental institution for the criminally insane in 1954. Located on an isolated island, it turns out the ‘hospital’ is not all that it appears to be. As the investigation moves forward, hospital staff seems to thwart DiCaprio’s every effort to find out information about the missing woman, who apparently disappeared from a locked room during the night. We also learn that Leonardo has an ulterior motive for taking on this assignment—the man who killed his wife a few years previously is supposed to be a ‘patient’ on the island, and DiCaprio wants to find him.
As he digs deeper into the sinister background of the hospital, DiCaprio feels that the doctors are performing secret brain-altering surgery on some of their patients at a secluded old lighthouse on the edge of the island. But his own mental status comes into play as he keeps having flash backs to his time in the Army during WW II, when he was part of a team which liberated a death camp in Germany. It gets to a point where DiCaprio does not know whom he can trust, and he fears that they may try to keep him on the island, rather than allow him to leave and blow the whistle on their questionable surgical practices.
There is much more going on in this movie than I can safely divulge—for those who may still wish to see it—but it is one of the most twisted, suspenseful flicks I have seen in a long time, and the ending is a total shocker. Clues to what is really going on abound, but they all seem to point in the wrong direction. By the end of this movie the viewer wonders who is more insane—the patients or those on the other side of the bars. For a great cast, edge-of-your-seat suspense and countless plot twists, I give “Shutter Island” Four Big Howls of Pleasure . This is one movie you should definitely see.
And that will do it for me this issue. Hope to see you again next time.