Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000)

On the weekend I finally watched Gladiator again and on BluRay. I’m still sometimes reluctant to buy BluRays but in this case it was really worth it. It was almost another movie. The sound was great, the colors intense. Quite amazing.

Is Gladiator a war movie? I don’t think so, I don’t think King Arthur or Last of the Mohicans are war movies, but they are certainly war themed. If I did consider them to be real war movies… My Top 10 would look slightly different. Although I don’t like Gladiator as much as King Arthur, I still like it a lot.

I have a feeling however that this is a movie that is so widely known that reviewing it in detail makes no sense.

Just let me tell you that it starts with an intense battle in Germania. The Roman Empire is hungry for land and advancing greedily and brutally. After the battle is won the old emperor has a heart to heart with his General Maximus (Russell Crowe). He doesn’t want his own son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) to become emperor after his death, he wants to re-establish the Senate, give Rome back to the people. If Maximus was in charge it could be done.

Things don’t quite turn out that way. Commodus speeds up his father’s passing and wants Maximus killed. Maximus wouldn’t be the hero he already is, if he couldn’t overcome the men in charge of killing him. He escapes and returns to Italy to find his family slaughtered. Badly wounded he faints, is picked up by a slave merchant and sold to become a gladiator.

That’s the beginning. Fight upon fight follows, until the gladiators  finally arrive at the place of their destination, the Colosseum in Rome. The new motto of the new emperorCommodus  is “Bread and Games” and the best of the best of the Gladiators have to fight in the huge arena.

What happens when Commodus finds out Maximus isn’t dead… is for you to find out. If you haven’t done so already, watch it.

Gladiator is the tale of a hero, a man larger-than life. It’s beautifully filmed with a stunning score by Lisa Gerrard and Hans Zimmer.

It’s also a tale of friendship, greed, ambition, loyalty and courage. I’m not sure if this movie would be so great without Russell Crowe but I know that he was one hell of a great choice. And so are the other actors, among them Joaquin PhoenixConnie Nielsen, Oliver Reed and Djimon Hounsu.  The same that can be said about the actors can be said about the score. Not one of those large scale Hollywood prodcutions would work as well as they do without the music.

In terms of emotions and entertainment, this is one of the  most perfect movies for me.

Game of Thrones – A Song of Ice and Fire (2011) Epic Fantasy Starring Sean Bean

“Winter is coming. There is a war coming.”

I’m not going to bore you with any justification why I included Game of Thrones in my war movie blog. There are a few good explanations other than that I LOVE this series. I’m a sucker for epic fantasy, it’s my favourite guilty pleasure. Although compared to Lord of the Rings, this series has elements of Braveheart, King Arthur, 300, RomeCenturion and Gladiator. Game of Thrones is a large-scale genre blend that is like nothing I have ever seen on TV before.

I have just watched the first episodes and really love it. I haven’t read the books by George R. R. Martin yet (we are talking 3000+ pages) but I’m seriously tempted before watching more of the series.

The series starts with a scene in a snow-covered forest. A small group of men, the Night Watch,  encounters something unspeakable. Most of them will not survive the encounter. The only survivor is brought before Lord Stark (Sean Bean). The explanation he gives for what spurred his cowardly escape is strange, he says to have seen an ancient evil that hasn’t been lurking in the forest for 2000 years. Since he is not believed, he is sentenced.

Lord Stark is the master of Winterfell. The Starks are only one influential family in the divided world of Westeros. Intrigues and fights for the throne are constant, no family can trust an other one and even inside of one family there may be traitors. Winterfell lies in the North, King’s Landing, where King Baratheos reigns, lies in the South. Border between the North and the wild that outstretches far beyond the horizon is the Wall, a barrier made out of pure ice. The Night Watch is in charge of guarding the Wall. Being sent to the Wall is a questionable honor. The most able fighters are dispatched together with convicts, orphans and other outcasts.

In the first series we are introduced to four different families and the story moves between them. This is all quite fascinating and there are some interesting and complex characters to be discovered. What makes for an especially intense atmosphere is the threat of war and winter. This is a world in which seasons follow another rhythm than in ours. Winter can last longer than three years or not come at all for decades. It can be intense or light but it always brings unspeakable things, unrest and war. At the beginning of the series all the wise old men and women whisper to one another, they say that winter is coming and that it will be long and awful.

Do you like Lord of the Rings? Did you like Rome, King Arthur, 300 and Centurion? Are you a Sean Bean fan? Do you consider epic fantasy and action movies to be worthy of your attention? If so, I guess that you have to watch this stunning new HBO series.

Last but not least, this isn’t a series for prudish people. The episodes showing the Dothraki people and their wild ways and interactions with their women includes quite a bit of nudity.

Green Zone (2010)

Wouldn’t it be merciful to be among those who regularly fall asleep when watching a movie? I would have been so lucky if it had happened while watching this.

Green Zone is a hybrid movie that want’s to be war and action drama and most of all aims at a political statement. That’s just like decaffeinated coffee. If you can’t handle the real deal, just stick with something else. Some of my readers know that I do occasionally have strong reactions when I don’t like an actor. This isn’t case here. While not Matt Damon‘s most ardent fan, I enjoyed the Bourne movies. But that isn’t what you will get here.

The major problem is that the topic is really old news. By the time this movie was made everyone knew that there hadn’t been any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. To sell a story like that as if it was really a discovery can only work on people who have spent the last 10 years in a TV free dungeon.

Now, what is the story? Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon) is in charge of a group of soldiers who are to discover the mass destruction weapons in Iraq. Every time they arrive at one of the places indicated on their maps that they got from intelligence, they find nothing. Miller starts to suspect that the information is wrong. He tries to talk to people in charge but they don’t want to listen. He talks to experts and a journalist and all pretend, that the intelligence is solid.

Frustrated and disgusted he tries to solve the riddle on his own. What follows is an initially action-packed hunt. What is important in my last statement is the bit about the “initially action-packed”. The action – and that is deadly for an action movie – slows down considerably during the last third. On top of that it gets confusing and, as said, the main topic isn’t gripping.

It’s an OK movie if you have nothing else to watch and are a huge Matt Damon fan anyway. I’d rate it 2/5.

War Movies Set During the Roman Empire: A List

 Rome

It’s time once more for a little list. This time it’s a topic that I’m not only quite familiar with but also a topic that I enjoy a lot.

From  a purist point of view the movies on this list are not strictly speaking war movies but I have decided a while back that there is not much fun in being a purist. The only movie on the list that I have reviewed so far is Centurion. But reviews for Rome, Gladiator and King Arthur are upcoming. King Arthur is one of my favourite movies of all time although it is not on my Top 10 War Movies list because, despite what I just said, the list is reserved for “proper” war movies. I equally like Gladiator a great deal but I wasn’t impressed with Centurion. Not at all. I haven’t seen The Last Legion but have a feeling it it is the weakest movie on this list.

  • Ben Hur (US 1959) directed by William Wyler, starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Haya Harareet, Martha Scott
  • Spartacus (US 1960) directed by Stanley Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton
  • Cleopatra (US 1963) directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison, George Cole
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire (US 1964) directed by Anthony Mann, starring Alec Guinness, Sophia Loren, Stephen Boyd, Christopher Plummer, Omar Sharif
  • Caligula (US/IT 1979) directed by Tinto Brass, starring Malcolm McDowellPeter O’TooleHelen Mirren
  • Gladiator (GBR/ USA 2000) directed by Ridley Scott, starring Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Reed (see my review)
  • Imperium: Augustus (GE/ITA/ FRA/ ESP/ AUT/ GBR 2003 TV) dirceted by Roger Young, starring Peter O’Toole, Charlotte Rampling, Vittoria Belvedere, Benjamin Sadler
  • King Arthur (USA/UK/Ireland 2004) directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Clive Owen, Keira Knightley, Til Schweiger, Ioan Gruffudd, Ray Winstone, Ray Stevenson,Mads Mikkelsen
  • Rome (US/ GBR 2005, TV series) directed by Carl Franklin, John Maybury and others, starring Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson
  • Empire (US 2005, TV Mini series) directed by John Gray, Kim Manners and Greg Yaitanes, starring Satiago Cabrera, Vincent Regan, James Frain and Emily Blunt
  • The Last Legion (US/ GBR/ FRA 2007) directed by Doug Lefler, starring Colin Firth, Ben Kingsley, Thomas Sangster (my review)
  • Centurion (GBR 2010) diercted by Neil Marshal, starring Michael Fassbender, Andreas Wisniewski, Dave Legeno, JJ Feild (here is my review of Centurion)
  • The Eagle (UK/US 2011) directed by Kevin Macdonald, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland (here is my review)

Robin Hood (2010) or This is the Robin Hood we were waiting for

I don’t care if Robin Hood is really a war movie. There is a lot of warfare and talk of war but the purists would probably deny it the access to the war movie realm. I can’t. I am biased. I am partial to Russell Crowe - my favourite actor – I am partial to Ridley Scott - watch all of his movies, they are worth it - I am partial to Cate Blanchett – one of my favourite actresses. In short Robin Hood  is well done, has a great cast and is very entertaining. It doesn’t make the world a better place or will revolutionize cinema history but  it is well woth watching.

I waited for this to come out on BluRay before I watched it and was looking forward to it like a child (Is it available yet? Is it available yet?). I was not disappointed. I truly enjoyed every minute of it.

What we get to see is the pre-history of Robin Hood, the years before he becomes an outcast (will there be a sequel?). At the beginning he is in the middle of a big battle in which  King Lionheart is  fighting against the French. Robin Longstride  is not a noble man and since he is too outspoken he endangers himself and those who follow him. He is sentenced and if King Richard hadn´t died, he would have been bad off. But Richard Lionheart is killed and Robin takes advantage of the chaos that follows the king’s death and escapes with his buddies to the sea.

Sir Robert Loxley who is to bring the crown back to England and hand it over to the new king is murdered on his way home. At that very moment Robin and his men come along and the dying man asks him to return his sword to his father Sir Walter Loxley (Max von Sydow). Robin decides to pretend to be Sir Robert Loxley and first brings the crown to the new king and then travels on to the estate of the Loxley´s where he meets Marion, Roberts widow. Of course there is a love story but it is not corny. The country is in bad shape. People suffer. They are famished and impoverished and exploited by their king. The noblemen from the North want to overthrow the new king but there is a threat coming from the South. One of the king´s people is a traitor and conspires with France. It will take combined efforts to save Britain from invasion.

I won’t tell you if this is achieved and how Robin Hood got his name, nor will I tell you why he became an outcast. You got to find out for yourself.

Some historical facts about Robin Hood can be found on the  BBC British history page.