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“Centurion”: A hundred bad guys with swords.

“Centurion”: A hundred bad guys with swords. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival.

I wish I found Hadrian’s Wall half as intriguing as British writer/director Neil Marshall apparently does. The structure, located in northern England, was built by the Romans to defend their northern line against the tribes beyond it, and it’s inspired the lesser two of Marshall’s films — 2008’s camptastic “Doomsday,” which imagines a future where a plague outbreak in Scotland leads to the wall being rebuilt for quarantine purposes, and “Centurion” (which played one of SXSW’s secret midnight screenings), which is literally about Romans and Picts engaging in bellowing border skirmishes in 117 AD. It’s a setting also being explored by Kevin Macdonald’s upcoming “The Eagle of the Ninth,” a film that plans to put a political spin on the ancient tale of imperialists and insurgents. “Centurion” doesn’t really aim to be anything more than a loping B-movie, but still comes up hollow — it’s a striking-looking, blood-spattered chase over the forbidding Scottish countryside that’s curiously spiritless.

Marshall’s modus operandi is basically survival horror — his four features to date have all been about a tough, outnumbered few struggling through hostile territory, soldiers vs. werewolves, cavers vs. crawlers, mercenaries vs. plague survivors, centurions vs. the barbarian hordes. “The Descent” remains his best work because of the unexpected complexity of the relationships between its characters, women whose history with each other includes rivalries, betrayals and resentment that bubble to the surface as the stakes are raised. “Centurion” instead has broadly drawn types — the (ahem) virile General Titus Virilus (Dominic West), the soulful Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), the was-going-to-retire Brick (Liam Cunningham), and the mute, near-supernatural Etain (Olga Kurylenko), who poses as a tracker assisting Virilus’ Ninth Legion in their search for Pictish leader Gorlacon (Ulrich Thomsen), only to lead them into an ambush that leaves all but a handful of the men dead.

03182010_centurion2.jpgI’m still not sure how anything in which Dominic West plays a character named Virilus isn’t somehow fun, but in aiming for a grounded, subdued tone that’s far removed from the cartoonishness of “300” (in which West and Fassbender both starred), “Centurion” ends up in an awkward spot, trying to earnestly deliver on lines like “I am a soldier of Rome! I will not yield!” while also striving to sell former Bond girl Kurylenko as a woefully unconvincing Pict warrior badass. Marshall’s a fine director of action, and the film is rife with impressive footage of the mist-shrouded landscape and sequences of inventive, brawny violence, but to what end is all of that if you could can barely distinguish, much less invest yourself in, the characters involved?

“Centurion” will be released by Magnolia later this year.

[Photos: “Centurion,” Magnolia, 2010]


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.