Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fantasia 2010 Catch-up Part 03: Tears for Sale, Centurion

Yep, it's short. I've spent a fair amount of time in the last few days staring at the shorter bits I wrote for Fantasia Daily postings and deciding that I really didn't have more to add to four days worth of movies. Whether because it's been a month, some of these are ones that didn't make a big impression on me, or I really want to write something else, I'm not sure.

Plenty of Fantasia catch-up that can be done in the Boston area this weekend: The Kendall continues Centurion (9pm shows only) and the first Mesrine, adding the second Mesrine as well. The Last Exorcism is all over the place. And the Regent Theater in Arlington will be running Suck from Thursday to Thursday. It's pretty good and I think most of the country is just getting one night, so that's pretty nice.

Today's unused people standing in front of screens taking questions picture: Serbian journalist Dejan Ognjanovic, who curated the "Subversive Serbia" section of the festival, doing a Q&A with Tears for Sale and A Serbian Film screenwriter Aleksandar Radivojevic. Ognjanovic is not actually tiny, although Radivojevic's proportions certainly make him look that way.

Carlston za Ognjenku (Tears for Sale)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 13 July 2010 in Theatre Hall (Fantasia 2010: Subversive Serbia)

The hackneyed phrase that is often used to describe this movie is "a Serbian Amélie", which I think does it a disservice because, well, I didn't like Amélie much at all. Gilliam might be a better comparison; after all, Jeunet's films are basically optimistic, and while Uros Stojanovic's fantasy is far from being a complete downer, there's an unavoidable element of tragedy to it.

It's just after World War I, and in a small Serbian village, there are two sisters. There are a lot of sisters, actually, but almost all the men have died in the latest war. These two sisters are blonde and sweet Ognjenka (Sonja Kolacaric) and brash brunette Mala (Katarina Radivojevic), and they are professional wailers, crying at funerals to emphasize the mourning family's despair. After an accident leads to the death of the last man in the village, they are dispatched to find and bring back more, and to make sure that they come back, a witch casts a spell so that their late grandmother (Olivera Katarina) will haunt them. The sisters do wind up finding two men willing to come with them - Dragoljub (Nenad Jezdic), a human cannonball, and Arsa (Stefan Kapicic), the huckster he works with - but they're such nice guys; at least one couple should just go on to Belgrade!

Though considerably more colorful than many other recent Serbian pictures that have played the festival circuit, it does contain much of the same pessimism - writer Aleksandar Radivojevic's pen also spawned A Serbian Film, after all. The jokes are frequently-pitch black, such as the early bit that tells us that boys are sent off to war as soon as they are taller than their rifles, and the rifles get shorter all the time. This village serves as something of a microcosm of Serbia then and now, ravaged by war with its aftereffects as inescapable as the minefield, originally meant to protect the women, which surrounds the village (according to Radivojevic's Q&A, this is even more pronounced in the original cut which screened at Fantasia; the version that Europacorp released elsewhere in Europe and at festivals is fifteen minutes shorter and all but removes the grandmother, meant to represent how death always hovers near the region). Belgrade becomes not just the capital, but a representation of the rest of Europe and the world - grand, prosperous, almost a fantasy.

Full review at EFC.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 29 August 2010 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run)

I suspect that Neil Marshall will never break through to doing big Hollywood movies, assuming that holds any interest for him, despite just how good he is at every aspect of the job. The man is just too fond of his blood and guts to go to the world where producers are always looking for a PG-13, and he's not content to stick to horror movies, where that's a niche one can settle into. That's why his new movie, Centurion, is premiering in boutique theaters in the United States alongside a video on demand run despite being a big, brawny action/adventure.

We start with Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a Roman officer (the Centurion of the title) guarding the northern frontier in England in 117 AD. The Picts, led by Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen) attack his fort and he is captured. Like a good prisoner, he escapes, not knowing that Governor Julius Agricola (Paul Freeman) is dispatching the Ninth Legion, commanded by General Titus Flarvius Virilus (Dominic West) and guided by mute tracker Etain (Olga Kurylenko), to attack Gorlacon's stronghold. Though they meet up, a brutal Pict attack has Titus now captured and the Legion more than decimated. The survivors mount a rescue operation, but even after getting in and out of the village, it's going to be a race to the border.

Centurion brings the action from the very start, and it is frequently thrilling, bloody mayhem. It is a time of swords, axes, and spears which connect with a distinct crunch and spray red all over the place, and Marshall is quite creative in how he kills and maims his characters. There are hits that will make men wince, others that are kind of viciously funny, and still others that serve to announce just how rugged the Picts and Romans are even in their last moments. Marshall and his crew do a good job of getting this on-screen, seldom cutting away from a particularly nasty death or shaking the camera too much. While it's not quite an hour and a half of wall-to-wall action, it's intense throughout, and even the moments between fights are unabashedly muscular.

Full review at EFC.

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