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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Five movies everyone seem to love that leave me cold

RonSwansonBannerThis list has been on my draft folder for some time. Well, now seems as good a time as any to counter all the the applause for movies as one award after another is getting announced. This post is inspired by Abbi’s list, as well as Kristin’s who posted her own list. Now, I don’t totally abhor all of these films, but like Abbi said, I really don’t get all the praise and for me at least, it did NOT live up to the hype.

I use IMDb rating and Rotten Tomatoes score just to show how critically-acclaimed these films are. Two of the classic films listed here are even considered iconic masterpieces which is even more baffling to me. If you happen to LOVE these movies, well I wish I could say the same but I think they’re awful, sorry!

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

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IMDB rating: 7.1 | RT Score: 87%

I actually enjoyed the first Hellboy and that’s the reason why I was excited to see the second one but heh, my hubby and I actually turned it off after less than a half hour. For some reason I just couldn’t figure out why we liked the first one but this sequel is so boring. All the peculiar creatures and fantastical setting we found amusing the first time around just feels derivative, it feels like a studio obligation instead of a passion project from Guillermo Del Toro perhaps because that’s really the case here. I like Ron Perlman in the role though, but I’d rather just watch the first movie again.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 79%

Just like Transformers, a string of horror series and young adult adaptations, I never get the appeal of Pirates of the Caribbean from the get go. Johnny Depp‘s flamboyant, Keith-Richard-inspired Jack Sparrow is amusing for maybe a half hour tops, but for some reason people just can’t get enough of it that the fifth movie is now in the works [face palm]. Alas Depp can’t seem to shake that role either now, it’s as if Sparrow became his acting *curse.* I haven’t bothered watching the sequels, though I had to endure the second one (or was it the third??) when I was at a friend’s house and it just reminded me how awful this franchise is. I wince every time Geoffrey Rush show up, but I suppose a big paycheck from this type of drivels allow him to do something worthy of his talents. As if these movies aren’t unbearable already, we also have to endure watching Orlando Bloom doing poor imitations of Errol Flynn!

Spartacus (1960)

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IMDB rating: 8.0 | RT Score: 96%

Spartacus_romanceMy 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. Now, I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which I have seen time and again over the years and it still held up, and as a fan of swords & sandal genre, I thought I’d enjoy this too. But heck, I find it corny, dull and boring. I 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. Sure some might’ve called Charlton Heston a wooden actor, but he at least look the part as Ben-Hur and he made me root for his character. Not so with Douglas, and the romance with Jean Simmons have zero chemistry and the backdrop wallpaper they used for the scene is so awfully fake looking I couldn’t stop laughing!

So apparently Douglas did this movie to show William Wyler that he could do a Roman epic of his own, as he didn’t get the Judah Ben-Hur role he wanted. Per IMDb trivia, he was actually offered the role of Messala but he refused to play second banana. Heh, I thank the Lord he’s NOT part of Ben-Hur, I doubt he could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the lead role!! I also think Tony Curtis is completely miscast here as well.

Stanley Kubrick apparently disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that explained it. Seems that this movie resulted from *too many cooks spoil the broth* syndrome.

The Getaway (1972)

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IMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 85%

This was my intro to Sam Peckinpah as my pal Ted S. LOVES his work. Sorry Ted, but I really don’t like this film, like AT ALL. It’s also my intro into Steve McQueen who’s supposed to be this suave and cool hero, but meh, I find him to be blank and stiff. I saw some clips of him in Bullit and he’s pretty much acting the exact same way. Now, I like a tough, brooding hero as much as the next gal, but there doesn’t seem to be much going on internally in his character to make me care. Same with Ali MacGraw who’s gorgeous but doesn’t really have much going on otherwise, and the romance is as lifeless as a dead fish.

TheGetawaySlappingSceneThis film is labeled a thriller but I don’t find it suspenseful at all. Even the shootout from a supposedly celebrated violent action director is so lackluster and on a few occasion it made me laugh! The color of the blood here looks so obviously fake too which doesn’t help matters. Al Lettieri did look menacing as the villain but for the most part he’s more annoying than scary. Plus the whole creepy sex scene with Sally Struthers, forcing her own husband to watch her cheat with a criminal is just plain revolting. What bothers me most here is the violence against women by not just the villain but the hero, as there’s a scene where McQueen slaps MacGraw several times and I read that he actually did it spontaneously so her reaction looked real. Heh, there’s nothing cool or ‘macho’ about assault of any kind and it’s even more shocking that this film is rated PG!!

Interestingly enough, this is yet another movie disowned by the director himself, as apparently he butted heads with McQueen who wanted a different version of the story and the studio backed the actor.

To Catch A Thief (1955)

ToCatchAThiefPosterIMDb rating: 7.5 | RT Score: 95%

The poster promises ‘shocking suspense and sizzling romance’ but we’ve got neither. Apart from the gorgeous cinematography of the French Riviera – as well as Grace Kelly’s exquisite beauty – this film hasn’t got much to offer. Kelly’s soooo beautiful here that it’s actually distracting, and I was  also distracted by how tanned Cary Grant is in this movie, especially compared to his alabaster co-star. It feels more like a rom-com than a mystery romance, as it lacks any real suspense or even believable chemistry between the two leads. Perhaps the fact that Grant was 50 playing a guy in his mid 30s have something to do with that. It’s almost as tedious as Torn Curtain, another disappointing film from ‘the master of suspense’ director Alfred Hitchcock.

The premise sounds promising on paper and you’d think with this cast, this could’ve been far more entertaining. By the time the twist was revealed, I no longer cared who did what to whom. I suppose this film is worth seeing for the lush scenery and glamorous costumes (done by Edith Head, natch!), but as a film, it’s more window dressing than an intriguing piece.


Well, those are five movies that everyone seem to love but me. What do you think? Let’s hear it!

Classic Flix Review: Out of the Past (1947)

Greetings, once again! It isn’t often that I’ve been given the opportunity to indulge in a Trifecta or triple play regarding one of Hollywood’s premier Tough Guys, Robert Mitchum. I covered his Scary attributes in The Night of the Hunter. I am going to dial it back a bit and explore another arena where the actor reigned supreme. Intimidation. Best illustrated in a film from 1947. Directed with sly gusto, elan and eerie shadows by Jacques Tourneur. Who instinctively knew when bright sunlight and its absence were called for. Where to put them and for how long. To that end, allow me to introduce:

Out of the Past (1947)

The film begins in bright California sunshine as a convertible rolls into the small rural, rustic town of Bridgeport, California. Locked somewhere between Lake Tahoe, Reno and far away from L.A. Its latest visitor is an elder errand boy for a higher power looking for Jeff Bailey. Superbly realized by Robert Mitchum. Quiet, unassuming. Just wanting to get by while seeing the town’s naive ‘Good Girl’, Ann Miller. Played well and memorably by Virginia Huston. Who knows nothing of Jeff’s past and whose parents do not approve. Though they wholehearted approve of local policeman, Jim. Well and briefly played by Richard Webb. The errand boy and Jeff talk. Jeff agrees and takes Ann with him. The long road trip allows plenty of time for Jeff to fill Ann in on his past as a private investigator in New York who had once rubbed elbows with that higher power. Failed mobster, Whit Sterling. A role creepily brought to life by Kirk Douglas. Absolutely reveling in his well toned physicality as he dutifully fends off subpoenas and possible future federal investigation. Whit needs to get his house in order. And to do that, his old (kept) girlfriend, Kathie needs to be found. Kathie may or may not have shot Whit and absconded with $40,000. May have headed south and may or may not be hiding in Acapulco.

Jeff slinks into Acapulco and begins haunting the local bars and cantinas. Striking gold very early as Kathie makes her entrance from scorching afternoon sunlight into the bar’s soft shadows. Radiating beauty and sensuality with practiced fluid ease. To say that Jeff was hit by a lightning bolt would be understatement. Jeff strikes up a conversation that quickly evolves into acquaintance and a torrid love affair. Pillow talk slowly reveals Jeff’s true purpose. Kathie denies shooting Whit, but hints that the two of them could run away together with the forty grand.

Jeff goes to his hotel room to pack and finds Whit and the errand boy waiting for him. Jeff asks to be taken off the case, but Whit will not take no for an answer. Jeff then lies. Saying that Kathie slipped through his net and is on a steamer headed south. Whit lets Jeff go and soon, Jeff and Kathie are headed to San Francisco. Where they try to maintain a low profile. Until they are spotted spending the day playing the ponies by Jeff’s old partner, Fisher. Played with oily, thuggish aplomb by Steve Brodie. Who is given the slip while quickly putting two and two together and smelling money.

Jeff and Kathie split up and when Jeff arrives at their rural bungalow. Shadowy, angular Noir kicks into high gear as Jeff finds Fisher waiting with Kathie. Fisher wants a piece of what Jeff and Kathie have to keep quiet. Punches are thrown. Many connect. More heard than seen. Except for the expression on Kathie’s slowly smiling face. Fisher drops his pistol. Kathie picks it up and kills Fisher, much to Jeff’s dismay. As she splits to leave Jeff to clean up the mess. After things are tidied up. Jeff happens upon Kathie’s bank book and finds a recent deposit of $40,000.

Fully briefed in, Ann waits as Jeff meets Whit for a final proposition. Away from the prodigal girlfriend, Kathie’s eyes and ears. It seems that things have gone from bad to worse in regard to Whit’s organization and the feds. The IRS is breathing down Whit’s neck openly discussing prosecution for tax evasion. An affidavit about a shady land deal is being kept by Whit’s lawyer, Leonard Eels. Who is using it to blackmail Whit. Jeff correctly figures that Eels also has Kathie’s affidavit implicating Jeff in Fisher’s murder.

Nightmare Alley ramps up as Ann returns to Cambridge and Jeff heads to San Francisco that night for a bout of tailing, stalking and skulking about. Avoiding Kathie as Jeff makes off with the lawyer’s papers and heads to Bridgeport. Kathie feels the walls closing in. She dispatches Whit’s errand boy to kill Jeff, but the attempt is thwarted. While Jeff drives to Lake Tahoe and talks Whit into turning Kathie over to the cops for Fisher’s murder. Before the deal is sealed, Jeff discovers Whit shot dead.

Before a word can be spoken, Kathie announces herself in charge with a superb coup under her belt. Then gives Jeff and ultimatum. Stay with her or face three murder raps. Whit’s. His errand boy and Fisher. Jeff agrees, but has time to make a quick call to Jim and his officers to set up a roadblock. As the two roll up on it, Kathie shoots Jeff. The police open up. The car crashes and the police find Jeff and Kathie dead amongst the missing forty grand.

What Makes This Film Good?

Where to begin? A superb screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring based on his hard boiled novel, Build My Gallows High with James M. Cain close by to kibitz. Lateraled to the machinations of Nicholas Musuraca and the little to no budget, magic pedigree of Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People and  I Walked with a Zombie. A master of limited lighting, smoke and myriad shadows. Instinctively aware of benefits of sunlight to accentuate the positive. And the variations of its absence to titillate the darker side of ominous tension and fear. Well versed in how emotions play into a dream scape of his own making. That appears familiar, yet slightly off kilter and other worldly once the action moves to San Francisco at night. In other words, Grade A Prime Noir!

A story that starts out at a regular pace, but slowly starts to wind tighter and tighter once Jeff and Ann begin their road trip to Lake Tahoe. And Jeff begins telling his sordid tale in flashback with occasional narration. Where nothing and no one is as it seems.The first hurdle is reached with Kirk Douglas and his smooth and oily, somewhat intimidating Whit Sterling. Swelled, broad chest and all. Obliquely speaking in cautious sentences that rarely connects point A to B. Lest there be microphones connected to the law close by. Radiating supreme confidence as his empire shows cracks from strain and threatens to fall.

Aided by Roy Webb’s sometimes eerie orchestration that seethes with mood when Jeff and Kathie are together. Deftly focusing the attention of the audience throughout. Kudos to Darrell Silvera’s sometimes spartan set direction played against Edward Stevenson’s choices in sheer, opulent, flattering gowns for Jane Greer’s Kathie.

What Makes This Film Great?

Robert Mitchum well in his prime. Seeming incredibly tall and nearly as wide across. His face and body intersected by shadows. Proving to the world that he was made for Noir and foggy, rainy San Francisco nights. Snap brim Fedora, Trench coat and all. Not quite ready for the bad craziness that would plant him on the map with Night of the Hunter. Mitchum reveals more of himself and his character in 97 minutes than in the lion’s share of his works. Relying on his physical presence to get his message across. Occasionally offsetting that with wisps of smitten, shambling, puppy dog silliness after he’s fallen Hook, Line and Sinker for Jane Greer’s femme fatale, Kathie. Knowing this relationship won’t have a happy ending. Though enjoying the ride and really not caring as he plays every card in his hand and still comes up short.

Jane Greer setting the bar incredibly high for all later gorgeous, manipulative women in film. Using elegance and poise to catch the attention of her prey. Then using raw sensuality to keep him well and fully trapped. Shrewd and obviously used to getting what she wants. Greer’s Kathie Moffat does whatever is necessary to stay one step ahead. And looks great doing it!

The Film’s Mystique:

Considered by many to be the crème de la crème of Film Noir. Out of the Past along with Detour set and exceeded many of the ground rules for Film Noir. Basically due to budgeting. Lighting cost money. So, the fewer lights that are required. The more money is saved. In this film, that premise is writ large. Relying on Sunlight for scenes in and around Cambridge. While leaving San Francisco shadow slashed and swirling in fog. Tourneur’s natural playground.

Creating a gem that was nominated for the National Film Registry in 1947 and was selected in 1991.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


Thoughts on Out of The Past? Do share ’em in the comments.