Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks - Ancient World

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. You can be a part of it, too! Just pick three movies that fit the week's theme and write a bit about them - couldn't be easier!

We've been under siege by snow here in NYC recently, to the point where I had Tuesday off from work, which has thrown my whole sense of time off. Yes, that's a somewhat long-winded way of saying that I forgot today was Thursday so I'm doing this at work now (SHHHH - don't tell!). But that's okay, because we're time-travelling this week, back to the Ancient World. Now, this leaves a bit of leeway, but I'm taking it as a B.C. sort of thing. Biblical epics and dinosaurs, y'all!

The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1954) If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: This is the most entertaining biblical epic ever devised, and there is simply no topping it. You've got Heston at his staunchest, Yul Brenner at his most intense, Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson being themselves for some reason, and, above all, MISS Anne Baxter, wrapping her moist red lips around every juicy line like watermelon in a desert, making a meal out of the single word "Moses". Add to that the truly biblical narration by the Voice of God, Mr. DeMille himself, and of course, the greatest special effect in movie history, the parting of the red sea. It may be four hours long, but damn if it doesn't keep me involved for every single second, no matter how many times I've seen it.

Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) From the sublime to the ridiculous, we have one of history's most notorious flops, but not because it wasn't a bit of a box office sensation. No, audiences flocked to see Elizabeth Taylor as the famous Egyptian ruler, but the film was so expensive that it never recouped its costs. Every bit of its massive budget shows onscreen, but unfortunately the film is kind of a snooze, despite its beauty. Oh, it's always entertaining to watch Taylor and Richard Burton, but when they're not sharing the screen, Cleopatra is a bore, not engrossing enough to be a Serious Historical Drama, not camp enough to be an Entertaining Biblical Epic.

Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) "He's NOT the Messiah; he's a VERY NAUGHTY boy!" Every film Monty Python ever made is hilarious, but for me it's a close race between this and Holy Grail as their funniest. Taking the biblical epic and giving it an even more satirical twist than Mel Brooks's very funny History of the World, Part I, Life of Brian imagines the story of Jesus Christ through the life of a boy born next door on the same night, culminating in a famous scene of the crucified singing their advice to "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life". The film has been accused of blasphemy ever since it was released, but in my opinion, you can make fun of ANYTHING as long as it's funny. And dear God, Life of Brian is FUNNY.

12 comments:

  1. I hope you're staying warm!

    I haven't seen any of these films and I feel like I've said that on every single post I've visited today. I suck with ancient world movies.

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    1. They are definitely an acquired taste!

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  2. Ten Commandments really is THE apex of Biblical epics. Love your descriptions of the various players, the kicker of course is that the person who should make the most sense-E.G. Robinson-sticks out like a sore thumb. It contains some fine subtle work by Yvonne de Carlo, Martha Scott and a few others but who remembers them when a tarted up Eve Harrington is playing to the back row of the theatre across the street!

    Cleopatra is without question an eyeful but it is also mostly a snoozer. Roddy McDowell & Rex Harrison commit to their roles but the bloat swallows them up. Liz looks astonishing too bad she practically sunk a studio to achieve it!

    I'm not a monster Monty Python fan but I did enjoy Life of Brian in all its wackiness.

    I'm a huge fan of ancient world films particularly Biblical epics and will give any of them a try but my sweet spot is 50's spectacle so that's what my three consist of this week:

    Quo Vadis? (1951)-Huge, impressive epic of Nero’s (Peter Ustinov) reign and his persecution of the Christians. Against the broader scale of the story (with amazing sets and a literal cast of thousands) is the tale of Roman general Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) who falls in love with the Christian Lygia (Deborah Kerr) and slowly adopts her religion, a very dangerous decision for the time. Vast in scope with pageantry and a human feel that can’t be replicated by CGI that thanks to the direction and performances, Leo Genn is particularly fine as Marcus’s Uncle Petronius, remains more accessible than many similar films of the period.

    Land of the Pharaohs (1955)-Hooty nonsense about the building of the Great Pyramid in ancient Egypt. Packed with quality British actors, including Jack Hawkins, James Robertson Justice and Sydney Chaplin, extravagantly playing to the back row and best of all (well most campily of all anyway) a young and very beautiful Joan Collins vamping it up as the pharaoh’s wife Nellifer. To say she’s good would be a stretch but she sure is entertaining. The usually excellent Howard Hawks doesn’t seem to have a handle on the pace of the story so despite the florid ridiculousness of the picture it occasionally drags.

    Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)-Fictional sequel to The Robe picks up where that film ended. The movie follows two stories: faithful Demetrius (Victor Mature) the soldier converted to Christianity in the first picture is pressed into being a gladiator and catches the eye of the salacious Messalina (Susan Hayward) wife of Emperor Caligula’s uncle which causes a crisis of conscience. Meanwhile the mad Caligula pursues Jesus’s robe believing it to have magical powers. Star-studded if improbably cast (i.e. Ernest Borgnine as a Roman centurion) with future stars Anne Bancroft and Julie Newmar appearing briefly. Nicely produced if a bit overblown.

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    1. LOVE both Yvonne de Carlo and Martha Scott in Ten Commandments, both playing beautifully subtle while everyone else is chewing the scenery. Cedric Hardwicke is great, too, as are the inimitable Judith Anderson and Nina Foch. And John Derek and Debra Paget make for a too-beautiful pair of young lovers. I could go on and on (AND ON) about this, I love it so much...

      I really need to see Quo Vadis. Land of the Pharoahs sounds like fun, too. I feel like I've seen part of Demetrius and the Gladiators, but it may have been something else...

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  3. Life of Brian. I picked that as well... how can anyone not love that fucking movie? Unless you're some overly-religious twat like Kirk Cameron.

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    1. LOL. I hate when people accuse that movie of being blasphemy. It's freaking HILARIOUS!

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  4. I love Life of Brian. Such a funny film, that is. The last time I watched The Ten Commandments was probably 30 years ago. Time for a revisit...maybe. Cleopatra is one I keep meaning to get to, but haven't.

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    1. It is more worth your time to watch The Ten Commandments again than to watch Cleopatra for the first time. Trust me.

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  5. Life of Brian is fantastic, I can't believe I didn't think of it.

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  6. I've seen all 3 and we match with the Ten Commandments! I always become ha,my and say "Moses...Moses, you incredible fool, you" in lip glossy scene stealing way Anne Baxter does it. I also often say " Do shall it be written....so shall it be done" usually standing the same way as good ole Yul. I love Edward G saying his lines in the best New York accent. I love this film and the green Angela of death still freak me out. Cleopaterererererer...zzzzzzz it is more fun reading about all the behind the scenes antics than watching this flick but it's still something to see good old Liz in gold. I must see Life of Brian again. I find them hilarious and so intelligent. .."We are all individuals!.......I'm not"

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    1. I definitely use the "So let it be written, so let it be done" line AT LEAST once or twice a week hehehe. I bought the Blu-Ray of Cleopatra specifically for the behind-the-scenes features and WOW are they worth it. Although people talking about it as some glorious triumph of cinema are clearly deluding themselves.

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  7. Silly is: I did mine at work, too. Lol.
    I love it when you mentioned all those Egyptian world. It's a very intriguing world to be filmed.
    I love Ten Commandments! I love it that you picked it over Exodus.

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