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What a glorious blood bath. Well, the blood bath itself is glorious, but everything else…

Actually, this wasn’t that bad of a film. Yes, it’s one long chase scene. Yes, the characterizations don’t go beyond two dimensions for most characters. But it’s tense (Olga Kurylenko as the Pict tracker is intense), and there is enough character in the film that you want these guys to live, though you may know by the onset of the chase who will end up dying. That part actually is pretty unpredictable until the end.

Most impressive about this film is the visual shots. It’s reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with many helicopter shots over snow and grass covered mountains, valleys, and fields, each one more luscious than the previous. Some of it does get covered in blood, lots and lots of it actually (the main story covers the alleged disappearance of the Ninth Legion during the early 2nd century, which in this instance is caused by the Pict resistance in the north of England), with heads, legs, arms, anything and everything getting hacked and slashed. It all looks beautiful and gritty at once, which is hard to pull off but Marshall does it.

Actually, from what I understand, Neil Marshall directed The Descent, which was apparently quite good (that was the horror movie about women getting trapped in a cave with cannibalistic humans living there). It had great reviews apparently, but, given that it’s horror, the audience is limited. He has a good eye and feel for directing. Hopefully his next project that gets released stateside gets more exposure (Centurion lasted two weeks in Philly, for those keeping track).

So, see it for the flowing landscapes and the equally flowing valleys of blood. Enjoyable for what it is.

B-

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I must say, this one was tough.

Not that it wasn’t bad. Opposite, in fact: quite good. I can consider this in some ways a sort of neo-realism film, with the mix of trained actors and non-actors. It’s gritty, it’s intense, it’s tough.

Katie Jarvis plays Mia, a 15-year old girl who lives with her mom and younger sister in an apartment complex in a working class section of Essex. They argue constantly, often quite venomously: Mia and her mother, Mia and her sister Tyler (and, quite possibly, though never shown, the mother and Tyler). Mia’s a loner with no friends (she’s not in school), and is often neglected at times. There are very few connections she makes in the world: an ill horse that’s chained in a fenced off trailer yard, a young man who lives there, and Conner (Michael Fassbender) who dates Mia’s mother. Her other big connection is wanting to dance. She believes she dances well, but has no confidence: she often dances alone, in an empty apartment either in the same complex or elsewhere in Essex. She’ll dance for Conner, though that requires pulling several teeth out.

The relationship between Conner and Mia starts off rather timidly, but Mia finds an attraction to him beyond mere friendship or parental longing (it’s never established why Mia doesn’t have a father, but the dysfunction is evidently there without a father figure helping out). She leans comfortably on his back when Conner carries her back to the car on a fishing trip, she films him getting changed, and she gets quite comfortable around him with other people around too (she’s either pants less or jumps around him when other people are in the same vicinity as they are). Conner, meanwhile, takes it all and finds some attraction to her too. Trying to juggle two women seems hard, but Conner somehow manages to do so, though he’s experienced in that regard (the third act deals with the consequences of the payoff to Conner’s and Mia’s relationship, revealing Conner’s secret).

Jarvis is a real find. She was found by a casting agent of the director during an argument with her then boyfriend. Everything she does comes off naturally, probably because she might have experienced everything that the character Mia did, before and after the filming of the movie. She looks to have come from a working class family, broken at that, and at some point after filming and before her eighteenth birthday, she gave birth to a daughter. Life reflects art and vice versa, it would seem.

Her character at times is hard to be sympathetic about. We often feel for her situation and maybe hope that, in a better circumstance, she would have come up better. Then again, this is reality, both for Mia and for Katie Jarvis.

Outside of Michael Fassbender, I’m not sure who is a classically trained actor and who is a non-actor. The performances are spot-on and flawless. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is gritty neo-realism at its finest. It’s tough to watch though, that I can say. It’s well worth it.

Note: I thought I saw a comparison made between this and Precious, which is understandable: young woman, tough upbringing, finding something to make life better. The resolutions are different, and I much prefer the ending of Fish Tank to Precious. There’s a greater hopefulness to it (even though things are still left unsaid between certain parties), while in Precious, you’re kind of left wondering “Well, she’s going to be dead in five years, so what now?” Fish Tank is strong enough on its own merits to stand out from Precious, so you’re not seeing the same movie twice.