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 for the Fifth: AUGUST 2015 Edition

Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

1. Thank you thank you Netflix for adding more Stanley Weber‘s movies available to stream [happy dance] So this first question is inspired by my recent watch of  Sword of Vengeance over the weekend, which is a sword-and-sandals movie is set in 11th century England.
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Here’s the trailer:

Though it’s not really my genre, I actually enjoyed it more than I thought. Yes of course having the charismatic French actor in the lead naturally adds the enjoyment factor for me, but the cinematography is quite beautiful to look at despite the small budget. I’m also diggin’ the music, I liken it to John Wick if it were set in the Middle Ages. It’s a no-frill plot and not much dialog but for a violent vengeance flick, it’s pretty effective. This THR review states that the filmmaker’s influenced by Japanese samurai epics and the Italian spaghetti westerns, hence the protagonist is suitably taciturn.

So what’s your favorite vengeance movie?
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2. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Relativity Media, which up until recently was the third largest mini-major film studio in the world (per Wiki). It was founded in 2004 by Ryan Kanavaugh and was quite prolific for the past decade or so, co-financing movies like Pinneaple Express, Fast & Furious, The Social Network, The Bourne Legacy, Les Misérables, Oblivion, etc. Well, reportedly it’s filed chapter 11 bankruptcy, which THR said as one of the biggest bankruptcies in Hollywood history.

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Now, whilst two films from its slate are still on schedule to be released, a heist comedy Masterminds starring Zach Galifianakis and Owen Wilson, and the thriller Kidnap starring Halle Berry, there are quite a few movies that are now on limbo. Some of those are …

  • Jane Got a Gun, a Western starring Natalie Portman
  • Collide, the action-thriller starring Felicity Jones, Nicholas Hoult and Anthony Hopkins
  • The Tribes of Palos Verdes, the YA adaptation starring Jennifer Garner and Tye Sheridan

And it seems that The Crow reboot probably isn’t meant to be as it’s also one of films caught in Relativity’s fallout. They should just pull the plug on that once and for all!

I’m curious if any of you’ve been following the news about Relativity, and if so, what are your thoughts?

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3. No new trailer piqued my interest in the past few days. I couldn’t care less about Deadpool‘s trailer, I have no interest in watching that movie anyway.

This FIRST LOOK however, did caught my eye and I hadn’t even heard of it before. TRUTH is a political drama starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchett. Well, the casting alone is awesome.
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Per Variety, the film is based on the Mary Mapes book Truth and Duty, and Blanchett plays Mapes, a CBS News journalist and Rather’s producer. It follows Mapes and Rather as they uncover allegations that George W. Bush may have been AWOL from the U.S. National Guard for over a year during the Vietnam War. Four documents were presented as authentic in a “60 Minutes” broadcast aired by CBS on Sept. 8, 2004, less than two months before the 2004 election, but it was later determined that CBS had failed to authenticate the documents. The ensuing scandal ruined Rather’s career — he stepped down six months later — and caused profound changes at CBS News. The network fired Mapes, several senior news executives were asked to resign, and CBS apologized to viewers.

It’s to be writer James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut also stars Topher Grace, Elisabeth Moss and Dennis Quaid. Well, the only good film Vanderbilt’s written is Zodiac, so hopefully his directorial debut is a good one.

What’s your initial thoughts of this one?

4. Just saw this yesterday and I have to say I was geeking out so much even though I’m not even a Trekkie. But come on, who wouldn’t want to win this thing!!  Check out this Star Trek Beyond Walk-On Role Contest video…

I’ve watched the video repeatedly just for Idris Elba breaking into a dance (breakdance?) at the end… [swoooon]. Man, I’m drooling over this so much, I mean I don’t really care about the walk-on role, I just want to hang out with THIS cast on set all day!

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So did you/would you enter this contest? 

5. This month’s Five for the Fifth’s guest is Adam from Consumed by Film:

I’ve recently been reading Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film as well as Mark Kermode’s Hatchet Job, the former about the history of cinema and the latter Kermode’s take on the future of film criticism.

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Do you have any favourite non-fiction movie-related books that you’ve spent countless hours peering over?


Well, that’s it for the August 2015 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! 😀