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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
45 thoughts on “My entry to the Against the Crowd Blogathon: A battle of two Sword-and-Sandals Movies”
I am with you on Spartacus. I don’t hate it, but it’s rather dull, unfortunately, which is odd considering that it’s Kubrick.
Very dull indeed. Apparently Kubrick didn’t have creative control and later disowned the film. The end result of the film likely wasn’t what he had in mind for the film so that explains it.
I love your picks! I love that you took on Spartacus, and I love that you admitted to such a cheesy film. I’m not sure you’ve convinved me, but if I see it on Netflix….well, you’ll definitely be hearing from me!
Nice post, Ruth!
Hi Jay! It’s easy to rip Spartacus as I simply can’t stand it. Hey I never said SOV as cheesy 😉 It’s on Netflix streaming now and it’s easy for me to love it given my undying love for the lead actor. Always helps when watching a film that’s normally not my cup of tea.
Entertaining post, Ruth. Missed Sword of Vengeance, and it looks gory and bloody, so I’m surprised you like it so much. I will have to rent it just to see why you like it so much.
Hi Cindy! Well it is pretty gory and bloody, but more stylized violence. You shouldn’t be surprised I like it so much given who the lead actor is 😉 But he’s really good here, a taciturn type of hero modeled after Clint Eastwood in his Spaghetti Westerns.
I think I would like it. I tolerate gore and violence more than you. 😉
The cinematography is beautiful, I don’t even mind all the slo-mo. Plus they hired three gorgeous French actors, including Stanley of course. I’d LOVE to hear what you think after you’ve seen it!
NOOO…. Ok, it is one of my least favorite films by Kubrick though I am aware he didn’t have total control of the film.
Yep, Kubrick later disowned it. I just can’t fathom how people love it, as I find it boring and unconvincing. Plus the set design is awful, everything looks so fake!
I like, but don’t love Spartacus. Very interesting pick with that one. Never heard of the other, but you’ve definitely got me intrigued. Thanks for participating!
I could barely get through Spartacus, which was surprising given I generally like this genre. I feel bad as my friend lent me his dvd and he absolutely loved it. But Sword of Vengeance is entertaining to me, I LOVE the lead actor so that helps, but thankfully he’s also GOOD in the role, otherwise I probably wouldn’t recommend it.
I’m kinda with you on Spartacus. I couldn’t get through it either. Great post, I want to take part in this one but I can’t for the life of me think of a film that I love with a low rating!! 😦
You have me very intrigued with Sword of Vengeance!!
WOW, so you’re always in line w/ the critics? I seem to be the opposite about half the time, ahah.
Check out Sword of Vengeance Jordan! I’d love to hear what you think. I think it’s pretty darn good considering the tiny budget AND it was shot on location which always helps increase the believability factor.
Hmph.. I guess I am inline w/ critics most of the time. I never really though of it that way, I don’t really bother reading them but I can’t think of a movie that I like that has such a low score. The only one I could find had a 38% rating and that was Brothers Grimm by Terry Gilliam. =/
To be honest Spartacus never felt like a Kubrick film. His other films had his name written all over them.
Not being a sword and sandals fan I haven’t seen Sword of Vengeance.
I guess I wouldn’t know what Kubrick’s signature is, but considering how beautiful the camera work of 2001 was, Spartacus look so amateurish.
Not a fan of sword & sandals genre eh? Well, then maybe SOV isn’t for you, though I’d love for you to check out my crush Stanley in something. If you don’t mind rom-coms set in picturesque Glasgow, then watch Not Another Happy Ending, Dave! 😀
Here’s some examples of Kubrick’s signature Ruth:
(taken from http://www.openculture.com) Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, a towering, multifaceted edifice of sheer craft, offers many patterns for attentive fans to spot. Some occur within a film of his, others between them; some he and his collaborators deliberately included, while others simply emerged. The short video embedded above spots a pattern in Kubrick’s technique itself. Those unschooled in photography or other types of image composition may feel what the video means to shows them without being able to put it into words. All these shots — from films as varied as 2001, Paths of Glory, Barry Lyndon, and A Clockwork Orange — use what’s called “one-point perspective,” which you get when “the painting plate (also known as the picture plane) is parallel to two axes of a rectilinear (or Cartesian) scene – a scene which is composed entirely of linear elements that intersect only at right angles.” Got that? In other words, all the visual lines in these shots appear to converge on a single point, usually dead ahead.
Like many of Kubrick’s signature choices — see also the Kubrick zoom — using one-point perspective has its controversies. One commenter calls the video “best argument against those who tell me that you should not make symmetric shots.” Another calls it “a prime example of how off-putting symmetry can be in motion picture photography,” since “you feel like there’s something wrong in every one of these shots,” that “you can’t put your finger on it, but you know things aren’t quite right.” (Given the free-floating but thorough dread in pictures like The Shining, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange, might the shots be perfectly suited to their projects?)
And then of course there was “The Kubrick Stare”:
Not Another Happy Ending. I’ll check it out. I can watch Karen Gillan in just about anything. She’s so cute and I love her accent.
Funny I feel exactly the opposite about Spartacus and Ben-Hur. Maybe because I saw it so many times when I was a kid but I’ve always liked Spartacus and Kirk in it, it helps that I love Jean Simmons so much and think she’s wonderful in the film. Love the rest of the cast too. As far as Ben-Hur goes I really like Stephen Boyd and the chariot race but found the rest a ponderous bore and Chuckles as charismatic as a tree in it.
I enjoy a lot of the sword and sandals flicks so I’ll be checking out Sword of Vengeance. I like the short running time, usually these things have a habit of running long and I glaze over.
Hi Joel! It’s funny that perhaps the childhood nostalgia thing might be in play. I saw Ben-Hur as a young girl but when I rewatched it again later it still holds up for me. I do love Jean Simmons, but I think she’s more compelling in The Big Country (that also has Heston in it). “Chuckles as charismatic as a tree in it” ahah yes I’m aware that ppl think his acting is wooden but I actually think he’s more charismatic than Kirk in Spartacus and he looks the part, like he actually lost weight for the scenes when he’s imprisoned as a slave.
I hope more people give Sword of Vengeance a shot. It’s on Netflix streaming and it’s a quick watch. Like I said, it doesn’t pretend to be deep or weighty, it’s a simple story of a guy seeking vengeance. It’s got beautiful scenery (nature AND people) and awesome fight scenes, what else are you expecting? 😀
Heston’s clenched jaw rigid backbone acting style was perfect for some of his roles, Moses in The Ten Commandments, Andrew Jackson in The President’s Lady and The Buccaneer etc., but he’s so humorless in Ben-Hur I find him a trial. I’ve wondered what Wyler’s first choice Rock Hudson with his more relaxed screen presence would have made of the role or for that matter Burt Lancaster, who turned it down, with his swagger might have felt more right.
I agree Jean Simmon’s has been more compelling elsewhere then in Spartacus but then Varinia doesn’t require nor afford her the acting chances that Angel Face, The Happy Ending or All the Way Home did.
Spartacus! It’s the perfect pick (even though it doesn’t star Weber). 😉
Urrrgh. I accidentally posted before I was finished…
(Con’t)…That said I do like Spartacus. Probably not as much as many but I have always enjoyed it.
He..he.. that’s ok Keith, I do that a lot too.
I wish I could say the same about Spartacus Keith. I was so excited when I got the dvd my friend lent me, and given how much I LOVE Ben-Hur I thought I’d at least LIKE it. Alas…
How about Sword of Vengeance? Hope I at least made you somewhat interested in it? 😉
Oh sure, I’m definitely interested in it. It actually sounds right up my alley.
As for Spartacus, it’s no Ben Hur! Not at all.
Awesome! I hope you don’t end up hating it 😉
The thing about Ben-Hur is there’s that spiritual aspect, I think it’s brilliant that they interweave Christ’s life into Judah’s. Even though it’s fiction but it felt true and the message definitely inspired me. Plus, that chariot race, my goodness, to this day it’s STILL phenomenal.
I don’t remember much about SPARTACUS so maybe I’ll have to agree with you and I didn’t realized it’s so highly rated. I always thought it’s one of forgotten Kubrick’s films. Not sure if I want to watch SWORD OF VENGEANCE, looks like it’s a combination of 300 and GLADIATOR, two films I’m not in love with.
I think I should send you my list of highly rated films that I think aren’t that great, FORREST GUMP, SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, DANCES WITH WOLVES, AVATAR are some good examples. For sure mine would be more “controversial” LOL!
Hey I think we collaborated on that ‘rotten’ list we love, Ted. Hmmm, the only one I haven’t seen on your list here is Dances With Wolves, but I like the rest in varying degrees.
Well if you don’t care for 300 & Gladiator, then you probably ain’t gonna like SOV, but for me, it has Weber as the lead and he probably could make me like even a slasher horror flick, ahah.
Yeah, I remember our collabration on the “bad” films we enjoy but I was going to list films that I thought were okay or not that great but many think they’re great and many of them were box office hits or Oscar winners. Similar to your list of films that left you cold but I think mine would be more controversial since I’m going to list more well known and loved films. Ha ha!
Awesome then, YES give me that list Ted!! I always like lists that are ‘against the crowd’ as it were, as it’s more entertaining 😀
I definitely do not consider Spartacus one of Kubricks more…definitive works. But i think overall i found it ok
And have not seen Sword of Vengeance yet but i might check it out
Yes I think that seems to be the conclusion about Kubrick & Spartacus.
Do check out SOV, it’s a fun, medieval action flick w/ some great action sequences.
Heh, I remember watching Spartacus in a history class back in high school and being bored to tears. That’s crazy how high it’s rating is.
Hey, glad to hear you’re in my camp about Spartacus! I was flabbergasted how people regard it as an amazing epic. Epic fail maybe [shrug]
I haven’t seen either of these but Weber sure looks hot all dirty with the cornrows.
Stanley IS super hot no matter what his hairstyle is and the more disheveled the better. Lots of moments where I’d pause and just take in all the hotness of this man… mmm mmmm 😛
You hate Spartacus? Oooohhh, we disagree! I must admit I can’t think of a film that everyone loves and I hate… Hmmm, will have a think!
That’s ok Mark! I wish I didn’t loathe it, but it is what it is. Curious to know which films you’d pick in that category.
I love the fact that you’re irreverent enough to admit that you hate Spartacus. 🙂 Seriously, I haven’t seen either of these movies, so I don’t have an opinion.
Ahah, not irreverent, just being honest 😉 Do check out SOV, even just to witness the badassery of this gorgeous Frenchman!
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Yeah, Spartacus isn’t Kubrick’s finest hour. I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t belong on a top 10 epics list, for sure. Ha, Sword of Vengeance actually sounds kinda good – in a kinda bad way. Maybe I’ll check it out.
Sword of Vengeance is on Netflix streaming Josh, I hope you give it a shot. I’ve actually seen it a half a dozen times in a month. Yep, it’s another obsession of mine, well anything by Stanley Weber pretty much 😉
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