My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week focuses on three films set in Late Roman Britain.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
I saw this film years ago and it didn’t leave much an impression. At the time, I thought it was an exercise in nihilism. My viewing the other night goes to prove that perspectives of films definitely change depending on what mood or what phase of life you’re in. Now, I find Centurion to be a well-made action/adventure film, certainly flawed but with a lot of merit.
Perhaps its subject and setting, Romans in Britain, is part of the reason for my current affection. It’s a place and time I’m focused on and therefore I was eating up the wardrobe, weapons, locations, and production design much more than I did in the past. All of those are brought to life with incredible skill and attention to detail. The action is also directed well, never too flashy with its choreography or too confusing with its coverage. The use of digital blood at times is the only major flaw the fight scenes and film as a whole makes. It’s a bizarre choice, given that so much of the picture is practical… However, I tried to forget this sin.
The only other thing that prohibits Centurion from being a great film (it is certainly a very good one) is more of an arch for the Michael Fassbender character. He starts a hero and stays a hero. Yes, they all must struggle to survive but there’s no real internal conflict or journey. I feel like the script could have played more with his indecision of whether to remain loyal to Rome or not, a layer that would have played well with the film’s existing ending. There is a slight nod to the cynical Play Dirty here in the finale, whether intentional or not.
I’m glad I gave Centurion another try and it will certainly be a good reference point for my work in the genre.
Watched on Tubi.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
I admire what Stuart Brennan and his team try to do with this movie. It reminds me of my own work, limited by budget constraints and choice of talent. Everyone is clearly working hard but sadly not all of it works.
What does come off in Wolf are the costumes and attention to period detail. I salute the filmmakers for their design which doesn’t seem to miss a beat, though I’m not expert on the period (yet). The cinematography is also solid, though the night sequences are both distractingly front-lit and over-lit.
Something about Wolf that bothers me is their decision to barely show the threat. At first, I assumed they were saving all the budget resources for a big reveal of creature effects at the end then when that climax is reached, the results are… pretty normal? It begs the question why they didn’t show more earlier in the movie since their makeup is clearly up to standards. Instead, they make audiences wait for something grand that isn’t.
But the biggest problem with Wolf is that it’s a men-on-a-mission movie that never captures the heart of its characters. A subgenre that is as dependent on camaraderie and inner conflict as much as action, this movie and its characters never connected with me on any emotional level. Therefore, no matter what they went through, I was just watching faces and bodies on screen, not people, and it was difficult to care. Also, on one character note, I can find no evidence online that there was uniformed black female soldiers in the Roman army? Unless I’m missing it somewhere out there, this feels like a distracting woke decision.
Again, I admire the attempt.
Watched on Tubi.
The Last Legion (2007)
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 Stars
The Last Legion represents Hollywood’s worst instincts: over-lit cinematography, an over-abundance of CGI sets instead of practical exteriors, casting great actors (Colin Firth) in roles they have no business playing, writing hot lady characters who magically kill every inept man-warrior who comes their way, stupid child characters who constantly put themselves in danger, and plot holes you could drive a semi-truck through…
Going through the Sword & Sorcery genre and specifically some films set in Late Roman Britain, The Last Legion is a guide of what not to do. Compared to Centurion, it is a bloated, silly affair. It’s so ridiculous that I often felt the filmmakers should have gone for a Princess Bride style farce instead of attempting for anything resembling a serious period piece. Even Wolf, a flawed low budget film, is better than this.
Well, at least now I know what doing this kind of film the wrong way looks like. And knowing is half the battle.
Watched on Tubi.