Musings on the first trailer of the new Ben-Hur (2016)

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Most of you who’ve read my blog for a while knows I’m a huge fan of the 1959 Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. I’ve listed it as one of the films that have defined me and one of my three favorite Oscar-winning films of all time. That epic masterpiece that won the most awards in its time (11 wins out of 12 noms) was actually a remake of the 1925 silent film. I always think that like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, etc., Ben-Hur is one of those classics that ought not get remade. Alas, nothing is sacred anymore these days so we shouldn’t be surprised that nearly 60 years later, we get yet another cinematic adaptation based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.

Behold the trailer…

 

BEN-HUR is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala (Toby Kebbell), an officer in the Roman army.  Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves (Nazanin Boniadi), Judah is forced into slavery.  After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption.

Initial impressions

The way the trailer’s cut now didn’t exactly scream epic in terms of compelling narrative and emotional gratification. Given the pedigree of the director, whose Hollywood films so far seem to be more effects-driven than anything else, this trailer certainly showcase that. Yes so at the time, the 1959 Ben-Hur was marketed as an epic that offered a spectacle like no other, and that chariot race scene alone is a reason to see it on the biggest screen possible. Even as I saw it decades later, when special effects had improved significantly, that chariot scene still left me breathless and it remained one of the most incredible scene to pull off even by today’s standard. But yet, the film was far more than just the spectacle and what stays with me more is the story, it’s the protagonist’s journey and transformation (more of that later). I suppose with 3.5 hours running time, the 1959 version could go into more depth with the story and there are richer, more complex narrative that involve more than just Ben-Hur vs Messala.

So far my impression is meh, in fact someone remarked on Twitter that this is ‘Fast and Furious: Jerusalem Drift‘ and I don’t blame them for thinking that. I mean the blaring music is so generic and has no majestic vibe at all, and way too much screaming and laden with banal dialog. But y’know what, instead of just brushing it off, I thought I’d offer some of my thoughts about some of the elements of the movie.

The cast

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Heston was so 50-years ago, we now have Huston as the new Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur. Ok I have to admit I was inspired by this great opening line from EW.com. Jack Huston sure has quite a Hollywood pedigree – grandson of acclaimed filmmaker John Huston and nephew of Anjelica Huston, but whether or not he could step into Charlton Heston’s shoes, er sandals remains to be seen. Now, though I think Heston was great in the role that won him an Oscar for Best Actor, he’s not exactly the most expressive actor. What Heston did have in abundance is screen presence, and I’m curious to see how Huston fares in that regard in his first leading role in a big-budget film. Huston is not a household name yet but I’ve seen him in three films so far, American Hustle, Night Train to Lisbon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which showed he’s a pretty versatile actor. He certainly looked more Jewish-looking, for a lack of a better word, with dark hair and dark eyes, than Heston was, though one could argue blond, blue-eyed Jews do exist.

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Morgan Freeman is the most recognizable face here as Sheik Ilderim and he naturally adds gravitas to the production. I do have a soft spot for British actor Hugh Griffith in the 1959 version though, as he didn’t take himself so seriously. He’s more of an ally than a mentor too, so it seems they’re more of equal footing in their relationship. Plus Freeman’s dreadlocks is distracting, it’s like something out of Battlefield Earth, did they just have their discarded wig or something?? It’ll be hard not to burst out laughing every time he’s on screen now, come on man, you’re supposed to add dignity not comic relief!

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Toby Kebbell seems type cast as a villain now. He’s just played Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Doctor Doom in the um, doomed Fantastic Four movie, and now Messala. Again, I LOVE Stephen Boyd who had a great chemistry with Heston as both friend and foe. I can’t say I’m feelin’ it with these two, but then again they’ve got mundane dialog like ‘Are we having fun now brother?‘ which seems to be inspired by another sword ‘n sandal epic Gladiator‘s famous line ‘Are you not entertained?‘ but folks, it’s all in the delivery and Kebbell ain’t no Russell Crowe. That said, I also think he’s a good actor from some movies I’ve seen him in, most notably Rocknrolla, War Horse and Control.

The director

So I think the cast might turn out to be ok, but what worries me most is the director, Russian filmmaker w/ the unpronounceable name, Timur Bekmambetov. Now, I’ve seen two of his previous movies, Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I’ve enjoyed both in varying degrees, but he’s not exactly the name who’d be in my wish list if I were asked who I’d want to direct an epic sword & sandals masterpiece. For one thing, his films seems to be very CGI-laden, and from this trailer it looks pretty effects-heavy. Heh, I was hoping what Jack said at the IGN comic-con interview (promoting PPZ movie) were true, as he said there’ll be more practical effects and he had spent four months ‘doing everything for real’ which sounds really promising.

The core theme of the story

Now there’s the treatment of the Christ story, which is pivotal in the book, I mean the tagline IS ‘a tale of the Christ’ after all. Apparently Rodrigo Santoro is playing Jesus Christ here, as there’s a snippet of the crucifixion scene. I read that Jesus is given a bigger character arc this time around, and whilst that is a wonderful thing in my book it also worries me a little. What I love about the William Wyler version is the subtle-yet-powerful depiction of Christ whose face was never shown on film. The impact of his being was conveyed through the characters who encounter him in the film, i.e. the Roman soldier who wanted to reprimand him for giving water to Judah.

BenHur1959_Jesus_RomanSoldier

It’s mysterious and mystical, and the faceless character had such gravitas that it’s unforgettable, especially the moment he gave Ben-Hur water when he’s chained as a slave. That scene is one of my all time favorite cinematic scenes that I could watch over and over. What the 1959 version did beautifully was that it showed how Judah’s and Jesus’ lives intersect, and the parallel of how the two men were charged and punished for a crime they didn’t commit. But in the end it was more of a story of redemption than a tale of vengeance, a theme that perhaps isn’t as cool or even marketable, but for me it leaves a much more lasting impression.

Interestingly, Bekmambetov actually said in an interview (per IMDb trivia) that he thought the 1959 version was more about revenge. Huh? Did he not stay until the end of the film?? Judah’s last line was not at all subtle about his own redemption.

Judah Ben-Hur: Almost at the moment He died, I heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Esther: Even then.

Judah Ben-Hur: Even then. And I felt His voice take the sword out of my hand.

He went on to say that wanted to focus more on the forgiveness aspect of the story, he said ‘…humanity has to learn how to love and forgive.’ Well, I sure hope what he aspired to do w/ the story will actually transpire in the final film, as I’m not seeing that in this trailer. At the very least I’m hoping that the Jesus’ story be handled respectfully and that the themes of love and compassion in Lew Wallace’s novel isn’t love amidst the CGI-fest spectacle.

One last thing, I find it odd to see Judah falling from his chariot and held on to his horses, how’s he going to get back up to the chariot and win the race?? I guess we’ll find out when the movie is out on August 12, 2016.


Well, that’s my thoughts. Now, what do YOU think about the first Ben-Hur trailer?

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Thursday Movie Picks #32: Oscar-Winning Movies

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy Thursday everyone! I’ve been seeing posts on the weekly Thursday Movie Picks that’s spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog, but I haven’t been able to participate. Well until now that is.

The rules are simple simple:
Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it, one of each. Today’s topic is…

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The Oscar-winning movies can include winners of Best Picture, Best Animated Film and Best Foreign Film, but I ended up sticking with the main Best Picture winners. As I was thinking of doing a Top 10 list on this topic, you could say that these films would make my Top 5.

So, here are my picks of three films that deserve all the accolades they’ve received and I don’t hesitate calling each of them a masterpiece.

Casablanca (1942)

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Oscar Facts: Won 3 Oscars out of 6 nominations

I had the good fortune of finally seeing Casablanca for the first time two years ago (as I documented here), as part of TCM Theatrical re-release. Robert Osborne, the longtime TCM host, introduced the film and gave some background, which is cool. Unfortunately, he also spoiled the plot – I think he just assumed everyone had seen the film. But even with that snafu, I was so engrossed in the story right from the start. It’s got everything you could want in a movie – intrigue, romance, humor, great music, exotic setting, etc. But most importantly, at the heart of it is the engaging and unforgettable love story, beautifully-realized by Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman. There’s really so much to appreciate in this film that I can’t possibly write in a paragraph or two.

The world will always welcome lovers ♬ As time goes by ♪

 The world will always welcome beautiful stories, too and that’s why Casablanca will always stand the test of time.

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1959)

Oscar Facts: Won 11 Oscars out of 12 nominations

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Here’s another Hollywood epic that shall stand the test of time. This is one of the first American films I saw as a young girl with my late mother and it made a huge impression to me then. I was in awe of the visual grandeur and all the epic action scenes, especially the chariot race. I have re-watched it countless times since and even with the technological advancement of movie-making, few scenes from today’s movies could match the intensity and the panoramic spectacle of the chariot scene, it’s 40-min of pure adrenaline rush that I wish I could witness on the big screen one day.

But visuals alone doesn’t make a movie and the personal redemptive story of Judah Ben-Hur is just as riveting. I love that it tells the story of Christ through the eyes of the protagonist and how an encounter with Him ultimately transforms his life in a profound way. It’s truly as epic as a film could get, a feast for the eyes as well as for the soul. Though it’s 3.5-hours long, it’s so well-worth your time and I know it’s one that I appreciate more and more every time I watch it. Both Charlton Heston in the title role and Stephen Boyd as friend-turned-foe Messala are superb, with a supporting cast

But this is truly William Wyler‘s towering achievement. He’s considered by his peers as a master craftsman of cinema, and rightly so. I just read on IMDb that Wyler was an assistant director on the 1925 version of Ben-Hur, who knew he’d go on to surpass that film in so many ways three decades later.

Gladiator (2000)

Oscar Facts: Won 5 Oscars out of 12 nominations

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I have dedicated a post for Ridley Scott’s magnum opus a few years ago and even today he still can’t reclaim the glory of this Roman epic. I’m going to self-plagiarize myself here as I still carry a torch for this film and each repeat viewing reminds me just spectacular it is. Gladiator is a visceral spectacle that offers a thrilling blend of intellect and physical strength.  Massively entertaining and memorable, it lived up to the promise of Maximus himself: “I will give them something they have never seen before.“ Oh yes, we’re definitely entertained.

I LOVE that both the hero and the villain are equally-matched in terms of how intensely they’re portrayed on screen. Both Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix gave tremendous performances, culminating to a thrilling and emotional finale worth cheering for. Like the two films I mentioned above, this film ticks all the right boxes to be considered a classic. Visually and emotionally satisfying, it also boasts one of the greatest soundtracks ever by Hans Zimmer. It’s the soundtrack that’s been copied many times over but never surpassed.

BONUS PICK:

Gone with the Wind (1939)

GWTW_OakTreeI just had to include this film as it’s also one of my earliest intro to Hollywood films and even eight decades later, this film is still being talked about. I’d call it a monumental classic, showing the best and absolute worst of American history during the civil war era. Some people didn’t care for the melodrama and it seems overindulgent at times thanks to producer David O. Selznick‘s constant meddling, but few films are as beautifully-shot and wonderfully-acted as this one. There are just too many iconic scenes and dialog from this film, some of them I have highlighted here on its 75th anniversary. Whether you’d end up liking it or not, this is one of those cinematic gems every film fan should be compelled to check out.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen these films?

Long Weekend Roundup: Top Gun, Code 46, & Bill Cunningham New York

Hi everyone! My weekend roundup is slightly delayed this week as I also got Monday off. Well I ended up seeing quite a few movies in the comfort of my home cinema. These are the four films I got to watch in my three day weekend.

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Top Gun (1986)

Thanks to Ted for lending me his Top Gun Blu-ray, my hubby and I watched it on Friday night and despite the inevitable 80s cheese-fest, the movie is still pretty darn entertaining! I remember being so wowed by it when I first saw it on the big screen two decades ago. All the flying sequences made me dizzy on the big screen, but it wasn’t too bad seeing it on my smaller TV screen. Of course, when the Berlin song Take My Breath Away played on, I was swept by the feeling of sweet nostalgia! 😀

It really didn't get any cheesier than this folks... but wait, yes it did!
It really didn’t get any cheesier than this folks… but wait, yes it did!

There were few movies bigger than Top Gun in the mid 80s and Tom Cruise’s career shot up to super-stardom. Amazing that he still remains there today, but the same can’t be said for the rest. I mean, Anthony Edwards became a TV star because of E.R., Meg Ryan became the queen of rom-com, Val Kilmer starred in high profile movies and even became a superhero (Batman), but Kelly McGillis never really got another memorable roles since. But today, Meg seems to have disappeared from Hollywood, Val has lost his svelte figure, and most tragic of all, we’ve lost director Tony Scott to suicide 😦 So not only does Cruise seemed to have drank from the fountain of eternal youth, he’s pretty much still got that movie star status. That’s really quite a feat after 27 years!

Anyway, here are my mini reviews of the rest:

Code 46 (2003)

A futuristic ‘Brief Encounter’, a love story in which the romance is doomed by genetic incompatibility.

I’ve been wanting to see this film for quite some time but when my pal Mark mentioned Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton as his favorite cinematic pairing in this post, I finally decided to see it this weekend. I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi romances, and nothing is more tragic when human’s free will cease to exist and totalitarian government enforces rules as to who we can and can’t love.

The film takes place in a not-too-distant future where city security zones are enforced due to a climate disaster, and cloning and genetic manipulation has become the norm. A strict global law called Code 46 is especially troubling, as it makes the union of two people with genetic similarities illegal. The film opens with William (Robbins) traveling to Shanghai to investigate an identity fraud case for the Sphinx Corporation. During his travels, he runs into María (Morton) and though he realizes she’s the one who committed the fraud, somehow he covered up for her. A forbidden affair ensues after they spend the night together, but the fact that William has a wife and young boy is the least of their complications.

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I’m not going to go further into the plot as it’s best that you discover the predicament the two people are facing and what they have to do to be together. I have to admit though that because there are sooo many details about the universe this film is set in that I actually had to read more about it in order to grasp just what the heck is going on, especially involving the empathy drugs and other medical procedures that’s become prevalent in their world.

Though the romance is not explosive, nary of melodramatic declarations or the likes, there is a painful honesty between Robbins and Morton that is so heart-wrenching. Towards the end though, there is one scene as they run away together that I find pretty shocking for its brief graphic nudity. Now, I always think that most of the time such scenes are unnecessary as a suggestive depiction could’ve made the same impact and I feel the same way here. That said, I’m not going to hold it against the filmmaker as the scene is not without emotions. One can’t help but feel for this couple, no matter how ill-advised their union has been from the start.

What makes it more intriguing is the small details of this futuristic world, especially the language used that’s a mix of English with other languages like Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic. The characters use “Ni Hao” or “As-Salamu Alaykum” to greet each other, the Spanish word “palabra” for “password”, etc. The most important legal document of that world is called “papelles” which is a made up word that sounds French. Despite the relatively low budget, somehow director Michael Winterbottom manage to make this film look futuristic-looking by using sleek, modern buildings in Shanghai, etc. and some of the gritty market/street scenes has a Blade Runner vibe to it.

One thing for sure, despite the slow and sometimes sullen mood of the film, this is one of those film that linger with me long after the film is over, especially after it’s revealed what happens to William and Maria in the finale. Worth a look for fans of sci-fi romances, I wish they made more films in this genre.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Bill Cunningham New York (2010)

Chronicles a man who is obsessively interested in only one thing,the pictures he takes that document the way people dress. The 80-year-old New York Times photographer has two columns in the paper’s Style section, yet nobody knows who he is.

Truth be told, I didn’t know who Bill Cunningham was until this documentary was made, but I must have seen his photos on the fashion magazines/blogs. He’s the pioneer of street fashion photography since he published an impromptu set of pictures in the New York Times which then became a regular series. He basically takes photos of fashionistas in Manhattan that catch his eye, using a 35mm Nikon as he rides his Schwinn bicycle around town. His ‘uniform’ is a blue nylon jacket, and a convenience-store bought poncho filled with black masking-tape patches all over it as he refuses to buy a new one when it gets torn.

When you watch this, it’s guaranteed that you will fall in love with this man. He’s just so endearing for his eccentricities, but you’ll also admire him for his integrity and work ethic. I find him to be even more quirky and a rare human being, much rarer that even the most bizarre piece of fashion he photographs, and you’ll see some really out-there stuff in this film!

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All the fashion stuff is fun and dandy, but what I love most about this documentary is to get to know Bill the man, the person behind the lens and all those fashion photographs. He does what he does because he loves it — he practically shuns money almost to a fault, refusing to cash his check according to his former boss at Details Magazine. It’s never fully explained why, but basically the 83-year-old refuses to sell out to anyone as he values his creative freedom more than anything. He’d rather be allowed to do what he wants than being paid to ‘conform.’ He also doesn’t allow himself to get caught up in the glitz and glamor of the fashion world. When he does go to lavish parties (even to Lady Astor’s 100th birthday party), sitting on the front row of fashion shows, he doesn’t even take a drink of water offered to him. He said he always eats before he goes to work and he’s only there to do his job, not to hobnob with the rich and famous.

BillCunninghamWhat really gets him is fashion and he is married to his work, which he doesn’t call work at all as he enjoys it so much. There’s a twinkle in his eye and he has this huge grin on his face when he’s out in his element photographing people and he’s well-loved in the fashion community. “We all get dressed for Bill“, says Vogue editor Anna Wintour who’s frequently interviewed in his documentary, and Bill appreciates fashion. He sees the beauty even in outfits most of us would deem as too weird or even ugly.

What’s fascinates me most is the contrast between Bill’s minimalist, even monastic lifestyle and the glam and glitter of the subject he’s covering. At one time, the filmmaker was baffled to learn that he goes to church every Sunday. Later on he was asked about his personal life, whether he ever has a romantic relationship and whether he’s gay, which he nonchalantly replied. But when the question turns to his faith, as to why he goes to church every weekend, suddenly the cheerful man choked up and grew quiet. It’s clearly a personal matter to him and after a long pause, he admitted that his Catholic faith ‘gives him guidance.’ It’s something he needs in his life, and to me, it makes so much sense and in a way it explains how he’s able to live the way he does.

I highly recommend this documentary to anyone who loves to learn stories about intriguing people. Mr. Cunningham definitely fits the bill and you’ll also meet other fascinating patron of the arts, like Editta Sherman, the 100-year old photographer dubbed “Duchess of Carnegie Hall” who was once Andy Warhol’s muse. Bill and Editta were two of the last few members of Carnegie Hall Artist Studios until the planned building renovation in 2010.


4.5 out of 5 reels


TheVeryThoughtOfYouPosterOh, I also rewatched this late 90s British rom-com The Very Thought of You which I saw quite a while ago because Rufus Sewell is in it. It’s actually a pretty decent movie written by Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon, The Last King of Scotland) and directed by Nick Hamm (Killing Bono). I find it especially amusing as the protagonist Martha (Monica Potter) is from Minneapolis and there’s a brief scene at Mpls/St Paul airport with Tom Hollander. Mostly the movie is set in London though, which is a big plus for me.

The cast is full of talented but underrated British actors: Sewell, Hollander and Joseph Fiennes as three lifelong friends who all fall for the same woman. Oh and Ray Winstone also has a small role as a sympathetic neighbor, a far cry from his usual violent mobster roles! It’s nice to see the normally intense actors playing a light, fluffy rom-com. It’s surprisingly enjoyable though I wouldn’t rate it as the best in the genre. I’d say give this a shot if you have Netflix Instant, especially if you’re a fan of any of the actors.

I will have the review of The Heiress next week. I’m sort of still mulling it over, but it’s definitely an excellent film from William Wyler that can’t be pigeonholed into a certain genre.


Well that’s my weekend viewing roundup, folks. Any thoughts on these films?

My Movie Confessions – My Film Views Blog-a-thon

Nostra at My Film Views is at it again with yet another fun blog-a-thon. This time we’re talking about *movie sins* that we all have committed but has been reluctant to admit… that is until now 😀

All I had to do is answer these questions below, so let’s get on it shall we?

Which classic movie don’t you like/can’t enjoy and why?

This is easy. Spartacus! For a long time I had been curious to check it out as it was supposedly made because Kirk Douglas had wanted to star in Ben-Hur, so this is supposedly his way of ‘I’ll show them’ kind of reaction to William Wyler (per IMDb trivia).

Well sorry but I don’t think this film even came close to the masterpiece that was Ben-Hur in so many levels. Mainly I just don’t buy Douglas in the role of a slave who leads a revolt against Rome, and I found the whole thing to be so darn boring, and that’s something coming from a big fan of swords & sandals genre!

Which ten classic movies haven’t you seen yet?

There are sooo many but these ten represent those I REALLY want to see fairly soon [in alphabetical order]:

  1. An Affair to Remember
  2. Cat On A Hot Tinroof
  3. Citizen Kane
  4. It Happened One Night
  5. Lawrence of Arabia
  6. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
  7. On The Waterfront
  8. Singin’ in the Rain
  9. Some Like It Hot
  10. The Apartment

Have you ever sneaked into another movie at the cinema?

No, I just don’t have the energy to see two movies back to back even if I wanted to.

Which actor/actress do you think is overrated?

This is an easy one also, and I wholeheartedly agree with Novia’s picks of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, especially the latter. In fact, I’m so bored with him that I haven’t seen any movie starring Pitt in quite a while now, I think the last one I saw was Spy Game which my friend lent me. I just don’t find him attractive at all or even THAT talented, and I’m so sick of seeing him being put up on such a pedestal by the the media and bloggers alike.

As for the actress, well if you’ve read my Breaking Dawn and Snow White and the Huntsman reviews, obviously it’s Kristen Stewart! I’m absolutely baffled as to why she’s in so high demand, I mean the girl only has about two facial expressions, either nervous or despondent, that’s pretty much it! [shrugs]

From which big director have you never seen any movie (and why)?
I’m embarrassed to say that have not seen any work by Ingmar Bergman nor Akiro Kurosawa. Not sure why really, just haven’t got around to any of them. Any suggestions?

Which movie do you love, but is generally hated?
Ahah, well my friend Ted and I made a post of a dozen movies we secretly adore. But out of the recent ones, I guess it’d be John Carter. I don’t LOVE it enough to buy the Blu-ray but I gave it a 4/5 and as I’ve said in my review, it’s unfairly judged because of its terrible marketing, but it’s actually quite entertaining.

Have you ever been “one of those annoying people” at the cinema?
Not really. I always turn off my cell phone just before the trailers starts, nor do I kick the chair in front of me, etc. I mean it’s just basic courtesy stuff. I’m surprised how many people don’t seem to know or practice them though.

Did you ever watch a movie, which you knew in advance would be bad, just because of a specific actor/actress was in it? Which one and why?

Oh yes. I think we all have certain actors we adore that would make even bad movies watchable. One such movie was Beautician & The Beast which I rented solely because Timothy Dalton stars in it, even with that hideous mustache and silly premise, the movie ends up being quite fun. Yes, I could even endure Fran Drescher’s voice if you can believe that! No, I did NOT buy the movie. Hey, even I’ve got standards, ahah.

Did you ever not watch a specific movie because it had subtitles?
Nope. I came from Indonesia where most Hollywood movies have subtitles, so I’m used to that. In fact, I much prefer that over dubbed movies, now those I absolutely refuse to watch.

Are there any movies in your collection that you have had for more than five years and never watched?
Hmmm, I actually do have quite a few. I’ve started collecting Blu-ray discs now so a lot of my DVDs have not been watched in a while. In fact, I haven’t even watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that I bought at a used bookstore over five years ago!

Which are the worst movies in your collection and why do you still own them?
Well that’s what guilty pleasures are all about, right? I have a couple Gerard Butler that fit into such categories: Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life and Attila the Hun, both are a must for any GB fans 😉

Do you have any confessions about your movie watching setup at home?
Well, my hubby actually does all of the set-up in our entertainment room in our basement, I’m quite technically-challenged in that department, ahah. We had the wiring done for surround speakers when we built the home and Ivan set it up in such a way that those unsightly cables aren’t visible. I don’t have a TV on the upper level though, so that’s why I hardly ever watch stuff unless I specifically make my way downstairs. Some of you might find this weird, but I generally don’t like watching full-length movies on my laptop. I prefer to settle nicely into my sofa when I’m watching something 🙂

Any other confessions you want to make?
Not really, I think I’ve made some embarrassing confessions already, ahah. Well, ok so just one more. I think I’ve watched less movies now that I’ve started blogging, but the upside is that I appreciate them all the more.


Well that’s it. So what are some of YOUR movie confessions? Come on, fess up 😀

Valentine Special – 59 Reasons I LOVE Roman Holiday!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody!

May love – romantic or otherwise – fills your heart and puts a smile on your face. Well, a movie that always makes me smile as well as tear up with heartache and joy at the same time is none other than William Wyler’s 1953 masterpiece rom-com Roman Holiday. And since I promised you here that I’d give a special tribute to this fine movie, well what could be a more fitting time than Valentine’s Day?

The number 59 isn’t exactly a random number, it was fifty nine years ago that this movie was released on September 2, 1953. Of course there are easily hundreds more reasons why I love this movie, but then I’d never be done with this post 😀 So without further ado, here we go:

1. Well you’ve got to start with the best part obviously… the cast…
23-year-old Audrey Hepburn in her first feature film role is exquisite. I have no words for her delicate beauty, she’s the epitome of graceful loveliness and magnetic charm. She has a perfect blend of innocence and regal aura that is just perfect for the role of the bored Princess Ann. I really can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.

2. Gregory Peck in his most delightfully playful role as the American journalist Joe Bradley. Despite not being the go-to-guy for rom-coms, I really think Gregory’s comic timing is far better than people gave him credit for. It’s a shame he wasn’t at least nominated for his role as I really think the film works so well because of the genius pairing of these two. Plus, despite all the dashing leading men Audrey’s been paired with in her time, I do believe the tall, dark and ridiculously handsome Gregory was perhaps the only one who could match her beauty.

3. The simple but immensely charming original story by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, too bad he was blacklisted by the studios as part of the Hollywood 10 that he couldn’t receive credit for it.

4. William Wyler’s direction… It’s amazing how different three of my favorite films of his are, Ben-Hur, The Big Country and this one couldn’t be more different from each other yet they are all masterpieces of their respective genres. Under a less-capable director, this simple story would not have been the masterpiece of timeless classic the way Roman Holiday is now.

5. Rome… By all means, Rome. This city is as much a character in this movie than the human cast. Even in black and white, it’s impossible not to be enchanted by the Eternal City. No wonder Rome’s tourism business still benefits from this movie with all kinds of Roman-Holiday city tours such as this one to various locations depicted here.

6. The witty script. No matter how charismatic and gorgeous the cast is, the movie just won’t have such an enduring quality without the sharp and memorable dialog.

Princess Ann: Do you have a silk nightgown with rosebuds?
Joe Bradley: I’m afraid you’re gonna have to rough it out tonight… in these [handing her his striped pajamas]. Sorry honey, I haven’t worn a nightgown in years!

7. Audrey’s regal look when she’s first introduced at the royal ball… hard to imagine she’s not an actual princess!

8. The whole scene of Princess Ann escaping her palace. If there is such a thing as comic suspense, then Wyler captures it beautifully. The cinematography captures all the wonderful detail of her palace’s interior, the Renaissance-style decor and that majestic bed, etc.

9. The opening scene at the Princess’ embassy when she is receiving guests. There’s so much humor even in this short scene, from the way the princess glance over at the announcer when he struggles to spit out an especially long and difficult foreign name, and when she lost one of her shoes under that giant dress!

10. Audrey’s adorable smile as she rides in the back of a delivery truck, waving giddily at a couple riding a Vespa.

11. Ann’s adorable state of wooziness. Audrey’s absolutely beguiling as she mumbles a poem and statements from her royal speeches…

What the world needs… is a return to sweetness and decency in the souls of its young men and… [dozes off again].

12. Joe’s chivalry as he offers to take a sleepy stranger back home and hearing Gregory utter some Italian words to the cab driver.

13. Gregory’s breathtaking good looks the moment he walks into the Roman Forum. I must say I breath a sigh every time I watch Audrey lean against Gregory’s strong shoulder 😀

14. The way Joe catches Ann just in time as she was about to fall over from the park bench.

15. The part where Joe takes her up to her apartment… the more I watch this movie, the more I find that the dialog free and subtle gestures during the quiet scenes are hilarious, such as the part at the apartment’s front entrance as Ann leans on Joe’s back and he leans back to straighten her and when Ann almost knocks on the wrong apartment door and Joe catches her just before her hand touches the door. It’s the small things like this that make this film so fun to watch over and over again.

16. Joe’s scene with his boss Henessy. I LOVE the way he lies up a storm and pretend that he’s already got the Princess interview in the can, Gregory’s comic timing here is just spot on, it comes out so natural that I wish he’d done more comedic roles. When he discovered just what the Princess look like from the newspaper, his facial expression is priceless!

I plan to enter her sick room disguised as a thermometer.
– Joe telling his boss of his plan on obtaining an exclusive interview with the Princess

17. Via Margutta 51. Even the address of Joe’s apartment has such a romantic ring to it.

18. Princess Ann asking Joe to undress her…

“I’ve never been alone with a man before, even with my dress on. With my dress off, it’s most unusual.” 😀

19. Audrey’s amusing wide-eyed expression as Ann wakes up, finding out she’s not in her room and that the man standing in front of her is NOT Dr. Bonnachoven…

20. … and her self-satisfied giggle following the wry Q&A with Joe as she realizes she’s broken every royal rule by spending the night in a male stranger’s apartment!

21. Audrey’s simple yet chic outfit, especially that long swing-y skirt that goes so well with her ankle-tie ballet flats. It’s the way she carries herself that make even the most ordinary outfit look so stylish and classy.

22. Ann’s darling haircut... only someone of Audrey’s beauty can pull off such a cut. I also love her Italian barber who’s so taken with her that he asks her out dancing afterwards.

23. Ann revealing her deepest wishes to Joe at Piazza di Spagna whilst eating Gelatto…

I’d like to do just whatever I like, the whole day long…

24. The lively music by George Auric… I love how perky and slightly mischievous-sounding it is as it’s playing during Ann’s first taste of freedom roaming around the city whilst Joe is secretly following her every trail.

25. The conversation at the sidewalk cafe as both Joe and Ann are lying profusely trying to cover up their true identity. Joe claims he’s a fertilizer salesman and Ann pretending she’s a student running away from school.

26. Eddie Albert as Irving Radovich, Joe’s carefree photographer friend… the way he secretly takes pictures of the Princess is fun to watch!

27. The not-so-courteous way Joe tries to hint at Irving about the Princess by spilling coffee on him, knocking him off his chair, etc. Gregory and Eddie has such a wonderful and effortless rapport, you totally believe they’ve been friends forever.

28. The riotous Vespa scene. It just never gets old… especially when Ann is behind the wheel with Joe riding behind her, wreaking havoc on the side streets.


29.
Princess Ann smoking her first cigarette… and nonchalantly quipped, ‘There’s nothing to it…” Who can’t relate to that rebellious streak we all had at one point of our lives?

30. The delightful spontaneity of the Mouth of Truth scene. As you can read on my trivia page, thanks to Gregory’s genius idea of not telling Audrey what he was about to do, that scene of Audrey screaming was done in one take!

31. Night of Dancing on the Tiber River… I love this whole setting, the lights, the orchestra music, the romantic vibe… I love the fact that it was shot on location with Italian extras instead of a closed set.

32. Gregory Peck in a pajama… ’nuff said.

33. The extremely conspicuous men in black hired to retrieve the Princess… funny how they all stick out like a sore thumb!

34. The dance scene…

Ann: Hello

Joe: Hello

And in that moment, they suddenly realize there might be something there…

35. Joe’s completely guilty manner when Ann compliments him for being so selfless. This is when subtlety is so key in Joe’s role and Gregory pulls it off time and again beautifully.

36. Irving taking pictures from behind the bar… the whole set-up of having Joe covering up the camera and movie just in the nick of time for Irving to take the picture.

37. The barber fixing Ann’s hair right in the middle of the dance.

38. The way Ann calls on Bradley to rescue her from the secret service squadron… followed by that jolly good fight scene between that got everyone at the party fighting the secret police. The part of Ann hitting an agent with a guitar is such a hoot and failing to take a shot of that priceless moment, Irving tells her to do it again…

Hit him again, Smithy!

39. Audrey and Gregory looking so darn bewitching even drenched from falling into the river, which leads to…

40.that impromptu first kiss… I’ve always wondered how long Joe’s been waiting to do that…

41. Joe’s world-weariness in contrast to Ann’s naivete… 

Life isn’t always what one likes, is it?

Perhaps it’s this very comment that made Ann seal her decision to follow her duty instead of carrying on a romance with the man she loves.

42. The transformation of Joe Bradley from the rogue-ish, self-serving reporter to the sincere, compassionate, love-stricken man that he’s no longer had it in him to sell the Princess story for his own gain.

43. The amazing view of the city from Joe Bradley’s apartment’s balcony. Apparently the apartment interior and spiral staircase were a studio set, but the courtyard is real and the view from the terrace was shot from one of those courtyard apartments. I wish I had remembered this when we went to Italy a few years ago so I could pay a visit.

44. Joe trying to steal a little girl’s camera. It’s such a silly moment set against one of the most popular Italian setting, the Trevi Fountain.

45. The not-so-chivalrous way Joe moves Ann over from the bed to the chaise… I couldn’t believe it when I saw it the first time, but given that he had no idea who she was at the time, I guess you couldn’t really blame him.

46. Despite the age difference, Joe and Ann’s courtship never feels creepy or inappropriate… there’s something so decent and sweet about the manner of their romance but yet the impact is just as heartfelt as contemporary love stories, if not more so.

47. The way Joe stops Ann and takes her into his embrace moments before he drives her home. There’s so much emotion going on in this scene… Ann stops him from telling the truth, it’s as if the truth no longer matters as she knew they couldn’t be together.

48. Close-ups of misty-eyed Gregory in the heart-rending finale… that’s really what the pause button is invented for 😉

49. Ann finally standing up for herself… refusing the milk and crackers her aide gives her in an assertive manner. The princess grows up in a matter of 24-hours and learn for the first time the joy and pain of falling in love.

50. The longing look as she gazes outside her palace’s bedroom window, and at the same time Joe is doing the same thing in his apartment just before his boss pays him a visit.

51. The no-fairy-tale ending. Though I very much want these two lovable creatures to end up together, I’m glad that the film ended the way it did. It’s a sobering reality that adds so much more meaning their short-but-sweet holiday together.

52. The Baroque bell tower that wakes Joe up the morning of the interview, and also looms in the background during the Gelatto-scene at the Spanish Steps… I love vintage clocks and this one was apparently built in the mid 1600.

53. The beautiful palace where Princess Ann holds the press junket… I love that shot of Joe and Irving amongst the crowd as Irving sarcastically quipped, “It ain’t much, but it’s home…”

54. The heart-rending finale. Joe walking alone in the empty palace corridor as everyone has left, his steps echoing as he reluctantly leaves the building. As he passes the two guards, he still takes a glimpse towards the stage once more. Empty. The music swells up, forcing us to realize they’re never going to see each other again. Joe keeps on walking towards the camera and disappears, carrying the memory of that day in Rome that he too will cherish for as long as he lives. Best. Finale. Ev-er.

55. Though filled with pathos, this scene was shot in the most stylish and artsy way. The glorious Palazzo Colonna and its wonderful paintings on its high walls inside Sala Grande Galleria did nothing to distract Joe from thinking of his lost love. Gregory looked like a fashion model in this last scene, beautiful beyond words. As someone who has seen dozens of his movies just in the last few months, I can easily say he never looked more dashing than in this movie and especially in this very scene. As I said in my tumblr post, in this movie Gregory did for suits what Cary Grant did for tuxedo.

56. Gregory’s undeniable chemistry with Hepburn. His eyes light up every time he looks at her… and a smile forms on his face almost instantaneously. It’s such a genuine rapport that clearly transcend beyond the movie as both became friends for life.

57. The way Wyler captures the every day sound and sights of the city… the market’s hustle bustle, the sound of traffic, people buzzing about, etc…. it adds so much charm to the already captivating scene of the Princess in the city.

58. The beautifully-scripted conversation of that tearful goodbye… tender and emotional without being overly schmaltzy.

Princess Ann: I have to leave you now. I’m going to that corner there and turn. You must stay in the car and drive away. Promise not to watch me go beyond the corner. Just drive away and leave me as I leave you.
Joe Bradley: All right.
Princess Ann: I don’t know how to say goodbye. I can’t think of any words.
Joe Bradley: Don’t try.


59. And last but not least…. the timeless quality of Roman Holiday. This is one of those few movies with a great re-watchability factor. I’ve watched this so many times and manage to find something new to be enamored and enchanted by.


I hope you enjoy my tribute to this classic rom-com. I REALLY recommend this if you haven’t seen it already. Those who have, what’s YOUR favorite scene(s)?