Gladiator (2000)


Today I Saw a Slave Become More Powerful Than the Emperor of Rome.

Today’s contest was admittedly difficult to manage.  I decided that I would pick a movie from the drama genre, but as I’ve mentioned many times, I hate dramas.  How would I be able to pick a movie that depressed me and call it my favorite?  I would have to be deceptive and find a movie that was inarguably a drama, but perhaps with enough elements of a type of movie I do like it will overcome the melancholy.  And that’s when it struck me.  I could think of a movie that was definitely a drama but with plenty enough action in it that I wouldn’t hate watching it.  It’s also one of my favorite movies, so the decision was clear.  I would call Gladiator my favorite drama, written by David H. Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Richard Harris, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou, Derek Jacobi, David Schofield, John Shrapnel, Tomas Arana, and Ralph Moeller.

The great warrior and general Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) leads a victory for the Romans over the Germanic tribes.  The dying emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) makes the decision to make Maximus the leader of Rome so that he can return the power to the people.  When he informs his son, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), of his decision, Commodus murders him.  Maximus realizes what happened, but is betrayed by General Quintus (Tomas Arana) and sentenced to be executed, as well as his wife (Giannina Facio) and his son (Giorgio Cantarini).  Maximus escapes his execution and rushes back to find his family already dead.  He buries them and is later found unconscious by slavers and sold to Proximo (Oliver Reed), and forced to become a gladiator.  With Commodus reinstating the games in honor of his dead father (even though his father disbanded them), Maximus figures that, if he performs well, he will be able to stand before the new emperor and finally have his vengeance.

This is how I take my drama movies: barely being able to be considered a drama.  It’s great action and a great story, but with a fair share of drama mixed in.  Revenge is an easy but great motivator in movies.  The movie starts itself off pretty strong with the war in the beginning, but then I start getting emotionally invested when Commodus not only kills the likeable emperor, but also tries to kill Maximus and succeeds in killing his family.  I’m instantly on board.  I love Maximus and I hate Commodus.  That keeps me interested past the satisfying, albeit a little depressing, conclusion, and I enjoy the entire ride.  The dialogue in the movie is extremely well-written as well.  Most of it’s very crisp and stinging, including a lot of smarter versions of “fuck you”.  Any time that Commodus is talking with Maximus, every line ends with a version of “fuck your face”.  I was confused by the relationship between Commodus and Lucilla though.  I don’t know if it was more common back then, but Commodus was really aching to jump Lucilla’s bones, regardless of the fact that they were brother and sister.  They never said half-siblings or step-siblings, so I just found it weird.  That part of the movie felt like watching Clueless all over again.  The movie was beautifully filmed though.  It starts off really cold and blue and gritty when they’re in Germania, bright and hot and orange in the middle when he’s first becoming a gladiator, and colorful and bright and beautiful when they’re in the majesty of Rome.  The recreation of Rome was fantastic as well.  The fights are what really interest me about this movie, and they’re all great.  Not a lot of flourish to the fights, but every one of them was exciting and awesome.  Maximus never seemed to be the strongest or the fastest, and was never super human in any way, but he won all of his fights with skill and cunning.  They’re gory and exciting and you’re always rooting for the home team.

The performances are what set this movie apart for me.  Them and the action.  But the performances were really good.  Russell Crowe was great all the way through the movie.  I’d say there was one part that was iffy with me, but it was only partially his fault.  When he was crying over his dead wife and kid he had snot running out of his nose and drool coming out of his mouth.  Then he kissed the feet of his wife and had it sticking to her feet.  They probably should have taken that out with CG or something.  I found it not only distracting, but icky.  Also, in the part where he was kissing the wooden figures that represented his wife and son, he got a little too freaky deaky with the figure representing his wife.  He’d been alone for a while though.  I hated Joaquin Phoenix from the very first time I saw him, but that’s a credit to him because we weren’t supposed to like him at all.  He played the role so utterly despicable in every way, but it wasn’t in a cartoony way.  You could kind of get a handle on his motivations, though it doesn’t justify his actions.  And the entire movie we watch his slow descent into madness and paranoia, and he pulls that off very well.  Connie Nielsen was a good character as well.  I started off not trusting her because she always acted as if something was going on behind the scenes.  As they say in the movie, she would make a great leader if she was a man.  But, by the end of the movie, you side with her as her brother’s craziness starts getting to her as well.  And mother fuckin’ Dumbledore was up in this bitch!  Richard Harris is always great though.

It doesn’t come as any kind of a surprise that Gladiator is an awesome movie.  Yes, it’s a drama, and it’s also a bit mopey at times, but the action and the excitement override that, and the story is something that gets me involved almost immediately.  The action is great, the look is fantastic, and the performances are all top notch.  You don’t always like all of the characters, but they’re very well performed.  If you have managed to not see Gladiator by this point, I hate you.  Fix it or we’ll have troubles.  Gladiator gets “Smile for me now, brother” out of “At my signal, unleash hell!”

Congratulations to Fabio, who guessed my favorite drama correctly, despite his learning disability.

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8mm (1999)


If There Was No Honor Among Perverts and Pornographers, the Whole Fucking Business Would Fall Apart

I’ve been informed that a lot of the people that read my reviews prefer that I make fun of a bad movie to when I rave about a good movie.  But I could not abide watching a bad movie EVERY day, so I feel I should try to split up the bad and the good.  While trying to think of a bad movie I could watch, my mind instantly went to one place: Nicholas Cage.  The man barely ever lets you down … or up, I guess.  Either way, today I watched 8mm, written by Andrew Kevin Walker, directed by Joel Schumacher, and starring Nicholas Cage, Catherine Keener, Myra Carter, Amy Morton, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, and Christopher Bauer.

Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage) is a private investigator with a wife, Amy (Catherine Keener), and a little daughter.  He’s contacted by recently widowed Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) who found a film in the possessions of her recently deceased husband.  She asks Tom to watch this movie and tell her if it’s real.  The film turns out to be a snuff film.  Now, if you’re not a member of the violent pornography culture as I am (please don’t believe that), I’ll explain.  A snuff film is a sex film where a person gets killed.  Most are fake, but Sister Christian wants to be sure.  She pays Tom to look in to it.  The rest of the movie follows Tom into the seedy underbelly of the pornography community, introducing him to adult video store employee Max California (Joaquin Phoenix) who helps him go further down the rabbit hole.

YAY!  I was right.  This wasn’t a very good movie.  It set it’s intentions towards some thrills and suspense I never really felt it accomplished, but what really made it bad was the subject matter and the look.  It should be expected out of a movie about snuff films that it would be gross and dark but, on the other hand, no one really needed a movie about snuff films.  The subject matter takes us to all the icky places that none of us want to go into in real life, so I don’t really want to go there in a movie either.  The story itself plays out like a mystery without a great deal of mystery.  It pretty much goes in a linear fashion with no surprises at all.  It’s not like there’s some guy that’s been in the movie since the beginning that we find out is the bad guy at the very end.  We pretty much find out who the bad people are once they’re introduced.  The biggest mystery in the movie is why no one in this movie owns a man-sized gun.  Everyone used James Bond-size baby guns.  The most interesting side of the story is Cage’s dilemma over punishing the guys that did it, although, to me, if jail wasn’t really a concern, there wouldn’t really be much of a moral dilemma.  The world may be a little better off without the 3 people Cage had to take out.  Now, the person hanging on the wall in the background of one of the climactic scenes, I don’t know.  There was a body hanging off the wall in the big scene with Gandolfini, Joaquin, Stormare, and Cage that was never explained, never mentioned, and just hung there.

I’m pointing out the music now, so you know there was something interesting about it.  The most interesting thing about it was how little it fit the scene.  For some reason, they decided that the best music for a murder mystery, dark, icky movie was the same music they use in Bollywood.  One scene of Cage looking through a bunch of missing person’s files was music I would expect to instead be playing as someone rode a camel through the Serengeti.  It was mostly music for Bollywood, not Hollywood.

The performances were off-putting, but usually in a way that seemed to serve the purpose of the movie.  To that end, the actors should not be blamed for this movie; just the writers.  Cage was pretty low key for most of the movie but broke into the classic Nick Cage overact near the end of the movie.  His movie-wife, Catherine Keener, performed her part well, but I hated her character.  She made no damned sense!  In the beginning, she see’s Cage packing his gun for this investigation, but he assures her he won’t need it, so she says “So leave it here.”  What kind of a wife is that, writers?  You predict that you won’t need it but, if the event arises that you are in a life-threatening situation and you DO need it, I’d rather it was here being useless.  Also, she doesn’t know what he’s investigating and she gets all pissed at him for endangering the family.  Look, I understand not wanting to endanger your family, but is that Cage’s fault?  It’s his job and it just went too far in a way Cage couldn’t really stop.  It’s like if I went in to work and the building burnt down.  Should I have known better than to get involved?  Technically, he was more interested in finding closure for the mother of the murdered girl.  That’s noble, bitch!  Gandolfini is in the movie as well, and he plays a version of the same character I’ve seen him play many times: quasi-Italian scum bag.  The same could be said for Peter Stormare, exchanging “quasi-Italian” for “indiscriminate Eastern European” and “scum bag” for “creepy person”.

This movie will, very likely, either make you feel dirty or horny.  I don’t claim to know what you’re in to.  The performances are mostly fine, but they act in support of a movie nobody should want to watch about ickiness and badness.  Also, I’m pretty sure whoever put the music in this was watching the wrong movie.  Either way, skip it.  It’s not the worst movie ever, but it doesn’t have many redeemable qualities either.  8mm gets “All I’m saying is … it can get to you” out of “There are some things that you see, and you can’t unsee them.”

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