Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fall of the Roman Empire

So it's taken me at least two weeks, in 15 minute segments to watch "The Fall of the Roman Empire," but I finally made it! The best part of watching this movie was that I did it mostly in little chunks while I was babysitting my 5 1/2 mo. old nephew. He's got an eye for the ladies already, and the funniest part was that he loved Sophia Loren. Loved her. I'd be holding him in my arms, facing outward, while he's "bicycle riding" in the air. When she would appear, the legs would stop churning and he was just stare and smile and, occasionally, talk to her. When she would leave, he'd go back to bicycle riding and just watching in general. But when she was there, she had his absolute full attention. Hee. He cracks me up.

So, this film could have been great... and it sucks mightily. Okay, it's not really that bad. It just suffers from a weak script. Epics need strong plots to hold together, and this one isn't tight enough to be really effective. It covers basically the same territory as "Gladiator," only with Christopher Plummer as Commodus and Stephen Boyd as Livius (the Maximus role). Sophia Loren is Lucilla and Alec Guinness is Marcus Aurelius. Plenty of other famous actors rounding out the cast (I think Anthony Quayle was my favorite supporting actor in this). It's really too bad, because this movie has awesome sets and great outdoor locations (the winter scenes are the best!!) that I would truly love to see on the big screen. The cast is fine in their roles, and there are parts that are quite entertaining. But overall, it just doesn't hang together right. Not bad, exactly, just not right. So close... It also suffers from having a lousy score. Dimitri Tiomkin is just one of those composers (like Alex North and Bronislau Kaper) that just doesn't cut it for me.

But there is much chariot driving (and Stephen Boyd was probably going "only two horses? piece of cake..."), chariot driving in the snow -- gotta love that!! And the wild chariot duel between Commodus and Livius, which just might be my favorite scene... except it just trails off, doesn't end with any real consequences for either party. Hmph. Wasted plot opportunities. And someone please tell me why they dyed Stephen Boyd's hair that godawful unnatural blond color?? There're some lovely special features on the disk. There's a make-up test of him with natural- colored hair and it looks so much better. Oh, and one making-of program shows it was -10 degrees outside and snowing, and Stephen Boyd saunters out of his trailer mostly in costume (I don't think the bright blue heavy pants were standard Roman issue), casually climbs into a four-horse chariot, and drives off alone towards the set on the icy/snowy roads in the middle of a snow storm. Very cool!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Yeah, I'm going to write a letter...

So, I really loved the first half of season one of "Route 66," couldn't wait for more eps... and now the second set is out. Hurray! Except... And it's a huge except that has me absolutely FUMING. The company putting out the DVDs has made the eps "widescreen." These eps weren't filmed widescreen of course, so to bring us this lovely supposed enhancement, they've cropped off the top and bottom of the image. Yes, you heard me right. They #$@&*%# trimmed the natural image into widescreen aspect ratio. What the--?? Get me a firing squad, because whoever decided to do this needs to be shot. It's bloody awful. I haven't been able to get past the first ep. People's heads get chopped off, and the proportions are all bloody wrong on the shots. No director would frame things this way and it's just... words for this travesty fail me. It looks completely unnatural and it's driving me insane. I really don't want to sit through this. Not now, not ever.

And what's really stupid about it? Your television can format any show to widescreen if you so desire -- not just by stretching it, but zooming to do the equivalent of what these @#&*#$* did to it. At least my television has all those picture options. And just exactly what do they hope to gain by ruining the original picture? Who's watching this show anyway? Do they really think this fake widescreen is going to attract more people to it? It's the SHOW and actors that attracts an audience, not some DVD company's manipulation of it. All it's doing is driving away people like me who would have spent good money to purchase the season, and it might just look weird enough to new people to turn them off too. Who wants to see a cropped image? Bloody hell.

Gee, I'm a bit angry, can you tell? And I so wanted to see more of this show too. Damn them. The reviews on Amazon and Netflix are laying into them for doing this to the show too, so it's not just me they've pissed off.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

"Aw, loosen up. It's spring!"

So, I've been getting up around 6 every morning lately. Shocking for me, but since my evenings are usually spent at my sister's, it lets me get some stuff done. Either writing, or even watching movies.

"The Naked Spur" has been in my queue awhile. Goes with my whole string of Jimmy Stewart westerns I've been watching. ("Bend of the River" is next in that list.) I just sorta happened to bump this one up to the top this week because it also has *cough*Ralph Meeker*cough* in it. Yeah, I got it bad. And he keeps getting cuter in each successive film I've been watching.

I really liked this film a lot. I thought I'd seen it before, but it didn't match at all what I was remembering, so now I wonder. I think I was confusing it with one with Randolph Scott. Plot was tight and a lot of fun. Jimmy Stewart is after outlaw Robert Ryan because he wants the $5000 dollars reward for turning Ryan in so he can buy his ranch back. He gets two unwanted partners, an older broke gold miner and a dishonorably discharged cavalry lieutenant (RM!). Naturally, no one quite trusts the other to split the reward at the end of the road.

The unexpected part? Robert Ryan. Now he's always a solid and dependable actor, but I don't particularly like him. He's usually such a stick in the mud. But here? Wow! He finally gets to relax, and he just goes to town in this role. He plays his captors against each other, sits around smirking when the infighting starts, schemes some more, talks a great line.... he was great! This role is marvelous for him. Just a lot of fun. I don't think I've ever seen him smile or laugh so much in all the other movies I've seen with him combined. And, of course, the fact that he's a nasty, cold-blooded killer beneath the exterior just makes it even better. Color me impressed!

And Ralph Meeker... mmmm, Cavalry uniform suits him well. So does the moustache. He's a crack up in this, unrepentant of his past, and almost as smirky as Robert Ryan at some points. He's got the Arthur Kennedy role here. The guy who's not entirely bad, not quite good, has his moments of bravery, but is mostly just a selfish bastard. Dig it! He goes nicely toe-to-toe with both Jimmy Stewart and Robert Ryan and more than holds his own.