Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gladiator


DON'T GET MAD, GET GLAD!

Norman was whisked off to the Betty Ford center by his physicians this past week and underwent his third prefrontal lobotomy in order to rein in his behavior somewhat. He did exceedingly well during the surgery and recovery period and has returned home to Chateau Maine to continue his recovery. Nurse Tameka has been a godsend and has allowed me to keep up some of my entertainment career during this somewhat difficult time. The Campbell's Soup commercial I was to film this week has had to be postponed as the ad agency missed the deadline for something called the Souper Bowl. There are many things I will do for my art, but I draw the line at trying to tap dance in bowling shoes. I am still busy in the rehearsal studio, however, and my Vickicam website is drawing up to 17 hits a day and I am staying busy answering my electronic fan mail.

Mr. Brad, our interior designer, spent the weekend at Chateau Maine in order to help dear Norman get settled and reoriented. He has suggested that I redo the dining room in a restful sage green, perhaps with some avocado accents as a means to keep myself occupied during this brief hiatus. I’m just not sure, having always been partial to cerise and aubergine. I've left paint chips in front of the Vickicam and am asking my fans to vote on an appropriate color scheme.

While Mr. Brad was here, I treated him to Gladiator , which he had not had a chance to see in its theatrical run, on the new home theater system. For the few of you who have not yet heard of this little film, it stars Russell Crowe as the Roman general Maximus (how symbolic). Maximus, after vanquishing a horde of unwashed Goths, is chosen to be the successor of the noble Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris). Unfortunately, Marcus departs this life quickly, aided by his villainous son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), before he has a chance to announce the succession. Commodus, acting in a pragmatic sort of way, tries to have Maximus executed but he escapes, ending up in a life of servitude as a gladiator. With his military training, Maximus eventually becomes a human veg-o-matic, slicing and dicing extras in seven ways, including julienne fries, catching the eye of the gladiatorial entrepreneur Proximo (Oliver Reed) who sees Maximus as his ticket back to the big time at the Colosseum. Soon Maximus is back in Rome knifing all comers, to the displeasure of Commodus and the pleasure of his sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) who involves Maximus in a lot of dreary political intrigue.

I had seen this film in the theater on its initial release and had been impressed with its recreation of Rome. It was the first swords and sandals flick I had ever seen where I believed that the extras were actually soldiers, rather than surfers in centurion costumes. These people looked like brutish legionnaires living on the edge. I also loved some of the CGI shots of the Colosseum filled with masses of people and the attempts to recreate Rome as a vibrant city rather than a white marble wedding cake on a back lot somewhere.

The movie works primarily because of its impeccable casting. Russell Crowe brings brooding strength to our hero and catapults himself to Movie Stardom (although I've been a fan since Romper Stomper and The Sum of Us ). He won the Oscar for the part, not because of its inherent worth, but rather to make up for his snubbing for The Insider the year before. The supporting cast is equally fine; Oliver Reed, Richard Harris, Joaquin Phoenix and Connie Nielsen are all in top form. Oliver Reed, in particular, who died during the filming, gives a great valedictory performance, as the wily Proximo. Joaquin Phoenix gives another phenomenal take on his patented neurotic young man in the mid-career Johnny Depp mode while Connie Nielsen can speak volumes with her eyes and looks sensational in Roman Imperial couture. The action sequences, in their relatively accurate recreations of ancient battles and games, are very violent and gory. I could have done with a little bit less blood but it seems an accurate reflection of the culture and there are some hair raising arena stunts reminiscent of the chariot race in Ben-Hur .

Ridley Scott, well known for making relatively intelligent films in hoary old genres, directed the film. He reinvents Roman Empire clich├ęs in modern terms to keep the film entertaining, fast moving, and involving. There are some nice directorial touches here and there involving some not so subtle symbolism and he’s smart enough to leave the Christians and the lions out of the story as it would detract.

The DVD transfer is great with a wonderful soundtrack that takes full use of the possibilities of surround sound. It also has an interesting commentary track with the director, editor and DP that actually discusses the film making craft, rather than rambling on about the plot (which isn’t much). There are a number of cut sequences that further flesh out the political details of the story, but which would have slowed the film down and some video documentary extras on the effects and on the historical background of the second century and arena life.


Headless messengers. Menacing Germans. Family crucifixions. Gratuitous lares and penates. Tiger stabbing. Gratuitous David Hemmings. Even more gratuitous eyebrows on David Hemmings. Moroccan dye markets. Arm bracelets. Gay giraffe references.

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