My entry to the Against the Crowd Blogathon: A battle of two Sword-and-Sandals Movies

bannerfans_16176859

Wendell over at Dell on Movies is reprising his blogathon from a year ago. Since I didn’t participate at the time, I knew I had to do it this time around. Dell’s idea is that this is our chance to tell the world about our love for a movie everyone else hates and the other way around.

1. Pick one movie that “everyone” loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that “everyone” hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on rottentomatoes.com. Should a movie you select not have a grade on rottentomatoes.com, use a score of at least 7.5 on imdb.com for ones you hate and less than 4.0 for ones you love. Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the tomato meter scores of both movies.

I always like this ‘against the crowd’ idea because it happens all the time that my taste doesn’t align with critics or other moviegoers. Heck I actually enjoyed the latest video game flick Agent47 but I kinda knew the critics’ gonna trash it.

Well, I’ve sort of already made a list for both categories, Ted & I collaborated on 12 *rotten* movies we secretly adore and I picked five movies everyone loves that leave me cold. But for the purpose of this blogathon, I thought it’d be fun to pick a film of the same sword-and-sandal genre.

Now, let me preface this list with the fact that I think *hate* is a strong word. But it baffles me why this movie is regarded so highly as I could barely finished watching it. I have already included it the ‘movies everyone loves’ list above, but I’m going to pick it again because out of that list, this is the reigning *king*  as I even shudder thinking how much I don’t care for it…

Spartacus_RTscore

I’m a fan of swords & sandals genre and I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which came out the year before. Now, whilst I saw Ben-Hur years ago as a young girl and it has since became one of my favorite films of all time (not just from this genre), I could barely made it through this one. My jaw dropped when I found out just how high the score is after seeing the film. I saw this a few years ago and I could barely made it to the end.

Firstly, I simply don’t buy Kirk Douglas as a gladiator slave for a second. He just isn’t tough nor ruthless enough I’d imagine the character to be and he (as well as Tony Curtis) looked way too healthy to play a supposedly desolate and malnourished slave. Despite what some may called wooden acting from Charlton Heston, it was easy to root for him to get back at all the injustices that befell him and I was fully invested in Ben-Hur journey throughout the film. I really didn’t care for Spartacus as I was too distracted by how I think Douglas was miscast. Even the great Laurence Olivier and couldn’t save this movie and it didn’t help matters that Douglas had zero chemistry with the lovely Jean Simmons. I couldn’t stop laughing at the awful, fake looking backdrop wallpaper they used for the romantic scene.

Spartacus1960stills

As of 2008, this movie was ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Epic.” Seriously?? The only epic thing about it is the epic squabbles behind the scenes that you can read on IMDb trivia about the falling out with not one but TWO directors and all the studio meddling due to everyone having a huge ass ego.

In regards to his casting, later on Douglas himself admitted that he made this film partly because he didn’t get the role as Ben-Hur (he was offered the role of Messala but refused to play second banana to Heston). “That was what spurred me to do it in a childish way, the ‘I’ll show them’ sort of thing.” Heh, clearly Ben-Hur‘s director William Wyler made the right decision as I doubt Douglas could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the title role! It’s common knowledge that director Stanley Kubrick disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that pretty much explains it.


Now, I’m going to contrast that with a much lesser-known film that’s released last year. I know that most of you haven’t even heard of it as it barely got a theatrical release and went straight to VOD/Blu-ray.

SwordOfVengeanceRTscore

Yes ok so naturally the fact that Stanley Weber is in this automatically makes me want to defend this movie to the death, ehm. But hear me out. I initially doubted this too, thinking that even my undying love for this French Adonis still wouldn’t make me enjoy it. But then it came to Netflix earlier this month and I decided to check it out. Voilà! I actually like it a lot and have seen it four times since.

SOV1

It’s a visually-driven genre film that doesn’t pretend to be deep or philosophical. The mysterious protagonist, only billed as Shadow Walker, quipped ‘Vengeance is my only belief.’ And you know what, he lived by that rule in the movie. He didn’t seek out to be a hero or has aspiration to lead a nation or anything like that, he just wants vengeance. It’s as minimalistic as it gets, so if you go in expecting a whole lot more, then you set yourself up for disappointment.

Stanley Weber is freakin’ bad ass in the lead role, sporting a historically out-of-place corn rows but who cares, it looks so damn cool! Apart from that hairstyle, he looks suitably grim and gritty, and his rugged costumes look believably soiled and grubby. His character is the strong silent type who’s as efficient with words as he is with his sword fighting. He’s like an 11th century John Wick!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The movie has the look and smell of the dark ages, the set pieces look appropriately harsh and gritty, the fact that it was shot on location in Serbia in the middle of Winter. Even from the opening sequence when we first met Shadow Walker slaying off people in the rain, I love Jim Weedon‘s style and his use of music. It’s decidedly modern, even sounds a bit like John Wick‘s score, but somehow fits perfectly with the action. Weedon started out as an award-winning commercials director who also worked on some SFX work for films like Gladiator (the Elysian Field sequences).


Obviously I dug Stanley in the lead role but I also like his fellow French actor Edward Akrout who co-starred with him in BBC’s The Hollow Crown Henry V. There’s a great mano a mano sword fight between the two that’s fun to watch, but my favorite scene is the one in the woods where the Shadow Walker get to show his action hero prowess. Annabelle Wallis might not be as convincing as a leader of exiled rebels, but she has a nice enough chemistry with Stanley.

Sword of Vengeance is stylishly-shot and the decidedly stark, bleak color scheme actually looks quite artistic in contrast to all the red of the spurting blood from those who get in our hero’s way. But I think the simple, no-frills plot suits the piece. I mean the title says it all, obviously the protagonist is seeking vengeance and once it’s revealed what’s taken from him, you get why he does what he does. Yes, a bit more character development is always nice, but at a brisk 87 minutes, it was entertaining enough without overstaying its welcome.

SOV_shadow_walker

Glad that I’m not the only one liking this flick, this THR reviewer also said nice things about Stanley: “…the chiseled, handsome Weber, whose beautifully coiffed cornrows suggest his character had time for long hairstyling sessions between battles, is a suitably taciturn, macho hero in the Eastwood tradition, even managing to make such declarations as “Vengeance is my only belief” sound convincing.” Indeed!

So yeah, I have no qualms about liking this flick. It’s not for everyone but if you like this type of genre flick, I’d say give it a shot. I love seeing Stanley as an action hero, it just shows just how versatile he is as an actor. He did this movie whilst juggling a yet-to-be-released French WWII drama and a French stage adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, so obviously he can handle a variety of roles.


Ok so I’m sure you have an opinion about my picks. Let’s hear it!