The Eagle (2011)

I was in the mood for a guilty pleasure and The Eagle is just that. I must admit that I liked it far better than I expected. I even liked it quite a bit. It’s not historically accurate and you have to oversee the way “the barbarians” are depicted, the good versus evil vibe is quite heavy-handed but still, I enjoyed it for various reasons.

First of all The Eagle is visually compelling. The images are beautiful and I liked the atmosphere they created a lot. The other reason why I liked the movie was the main character, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum). Tatum isn’t a very good actor but he does well when he has to play an introverted, wounded man.

In 120 A.D. Flavius Aquila, Marcus Flavius Aquila’s father, led the 9th Legion, 5000 Roman elite soldiers, far into Britannia, beyond the border of the Roman Empire. The Legion never returned and the emblem, the eagle, was stolen.

20 years later Marcus Flavius Aquila is sent to Britannia as Centurion of the remotest outpost near Hadrian’s wall. The soldiers under his command are not very keen on a man whose father disappeared. They think he means trouble but he is doing surprisingly well. We are introduced to a deeply religious man who is a very skilled and courageous soldier and a just commander. Unfortunately he’s gravely wounded in his first battle and sent to his uncle (Donald Sutherland) to recover. He gets an honorable discharge as his wound will not allow him to return to the life of a soldier. This is hard for him as being a soldier is all he knows and on top of that his secret hope was to restore his father’s honour.

When he watches some games with his uncle and sees a slave losing a fight against a gladiator he saves the slave’s life. While Esca, the slave, hates everything Marcus represents he still swears to be loyal. Marcus sees an opportunity to go beyond the wall, guided by someone who comes from there and speaks the language. He hopes to find out what happened to his father and maybe bring back the eagle.

Their quest is taking them far into enemy territory. The task is as difficult as it is dangerous.

A lot has been said about the bromance element in this movie. I’ve never really understood that term anyway. For me this was the story of an adventure and how two unlikely men become close friends. Call it “bromance” if you must.

As I said already, I liked this quite a bit. I thought it was well filmed and suspenseful. I spent two pleasant hours with this movie and wouldn’t mind watching it again. It’s not as good as Gladiator or King Arthur but personally I liked it better than Centurion and much much better than The Last Legion which is really not good. Watch it if you like movies set during the Roman Empire.

If you want to watch more movies set during the Roman Empire here’s my list: War Movies Set During the Roman Empire.

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The Last Legion (2007)

I didn’t expect much from The Last Legion but I like movies set during the Roman Empire and this was said to tell the pre-history of King Arthur which sounded interesting and so I watched it. I wasn’t aware that Colin Firth is in this movie. If I had realized it I wouldn’t have watched it. That could only go wrong. He is not plausible as a Roman general and the fact that he seemed to make fun of the role didn’t really help much. Pairing him with the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai made matters worse. Chemistry wise it didn’t work. And how did Ben Kingsley end up in this? That it was historically inaccurate didn’t bother me so much or let’s just say, it didn’t matter anymore.

The movie is set in 460 A.D. The last Roman emperor, a boy of 12 years, Romulus Augustus (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), has just been crowned when the Goths invade the city. He is sent to Capri with his mentor Ambrosinus (Kingsley), part druid, part warrior. They are rescued from Capri by the loyal general Aurelius (Firth) who is helped by three male and one female warrior. After realizing they have been betrayed by senator Nestor, they flee to Britannia to look for the Ninth Legion which is located so far away from Rome that it might hopefully still be loyal to the emperor.

While there is hardly anything supernatural happening with the exception of the emperor finding Excalibur, there are a lot of fighting scenes, some romance and most of all the well liked topic of a very few highly dexterous warriors against a lot of far weaker opponents.

While I’m still not sure the movie was intentionally funny, I didn’t mind watching it because it made me laugh quite often. It may very well be that with another main actor it wouldn’t have been funny but at possibly much more decent. I think this is easily Colin Firth’s worst role.

While it was based on the novel The Last Legion by Valerio Massimo Manfredi it felt as if it had been adapted from a comic.

Watch it if you like action-adventures and if you are extremely keen on movies on the Roman Empire and don’t mind historical inaccuracy. I wouldn’t rate it higher than 2/5.

Alejandro Amenábar’s Agora (2009)

I find it surprising that this movie, although not a “real war movie”, didn’t even get the tag “war” despite the fact that civil war is a major topic. I had meant to watch Agora a long time ago although I read many mixed reviews. Now that I have finally seen it I can see why. It is a flawed movie, it is the victim of silly marketing as well as the victim of what I think is a bad and misleading title. All this said I still think it is excellent and how many times do I have nightmares after having watched a movie? And, yes, Agora, woke me, it woke me because the story it tells – and which is a true story – is deeply upsetting for many reasons.

391 A.D. Alexandria. The Roman Empire is in decline. The philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Hypatia is an influential figure in the city. She teaches and does research. One of her main topics is the movement of the planets. She wonders whether the sun is really moving around the earth. Her lectures are lively and interactive. She doesn’t mind being contradicted but she wants to hear reasons, well formulated thoughts. It seems she was an attractive woman and some of her pupils are in love with her. She doesn’t want to get married, her life is dedicated to philosophy and research.

The city of Alexandria is composed of different people, Jews and Christians and of course, the so-called heathens, like Hypatia herself. The Christian movement which is not more than a sect is becoming more and more influential and finally a civil war breaks out during which the famous library of Alexandria is burned down and the Christians, led by their bishops, take over the city.

Hypatia is tolerated but not allowed to teach anymore. The longer the Christians are in charge and when they finally also start to persecute the Jews, she is in danger as well. It isn’t liked that she insists upon the fact that the earth circles around the sun and not the other way around. And worse than that, it’s not tolerated anymore that a woman occupies an influential position. Her end is famous and extremely gruesome. The trailer and some of the movie posters make us believe that we will watch a romance. While there are men in love with Hypatia we do not see any love stories but in order to make her ending more acceptable for sensitive movie goers this aspect plays into it.

Before she is killed, Hypatia is accused of witchcraft and the bishops insist that women are to be subjugated by men. All the reasons for this are taken from the bible and the fact that Jesus had 12 male apostles but no woman serves as another proof.

After having watched this and done a bit of research on Hypatia I must say that she was a truly amazing woman. She had found out with very primitive methods (nicely shown in the movie), that the earth isn’t the center of the universe. We know how long it took until this was rediscovered and how long the Catholic Church fought this discovery.

I think it would have been justified to call this movie Hypatia and not Agora. Yes, it’s about the end of an era but more than that it is about a woman and the war against women that still rages in many countries.

Religious fanaticism, no matter the origin, is something that upsets me and one group of people oppressing another group does upset me as well. The combination of topics in this movie make it topical and many elements are as explosive today as they were then.

I’m not much of a Rachel Weisz fan but she is convincing in this role. I have only seen one other of Amenabár’s movies The Others which I liked but I haven’t seen his highly acclaimed Mar adentro – The Sea Inside. After having watched Agora, I’m keen on watching other movies by him.

I am fascinated by this story and would love to read a book about this period and Hypatia. Does anyone have a suggestion?

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.

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)

Centurion (2010): A little bit of Gladiator, King Arthur and 300

When I started this blog I wanted to stick to war movies in the strict sense of the term only but now I feel I am in the mood for more liberties. A few months back I would not have included Centurion but now I do. I would not have mentioned Gladiator, King Arthur or 300 either. (If I did, King Arthur would be high up in my Top 10, probaly even making Black Hawk Down step down.)

Be it as it may, to compare Centurion (a British movie by the way) to those above mentioned movies is very unfortunate for it because it is not up to the comparison, I’m afraid. Nevertheless it is  entertaining. However, compared to the three others, Centurion is super gory. And there are a lot of very combative warrior women in it. By the way, Dominic West, from The Wire,  is in this one too but he is not the main character. He stars as General Vilnius. Michael Fassbender has the leading role as the Centurion Quintus Dias. The German actor Fassbender could already be seen in 300, Inglourious Basterds and The Devil’s Whore, to name but a few of his movies.

The year is 117 AD. The Roman Empire stretches from Spain to Egypt and as far as the Black Sea in the East. Only Britain is fighting off its invaders. The Empire is stopped by the savagely fierce Picts.  Centurion Quintus Dias is the only survivor of a Pictish raid. He joins the legendary Ninth Legion of General Vilnius who is on a mission to erase the Picts and their leader Gorlacon from the face of the earth. When they are ambushed and the general is captured Quintus Dias is left alone with a small platoon far behind enemy lines. They first attempt to free their general and after this the real hunt begins. Led by a female warrior tracker (Olga Kurylenko), surnamed she-wolf, who has been mutilated by Romans in her youth and sworn to destroy each and every one of them, the Picts hunt them relentlessly. Without the help of a Pictish outcast, said to be a witch, they would not stand a chance but even so, they are soon highly decimated and in great trouble.

As said before, Centurion is really gory. It reminded me of Gladiator because of the battles in the woods. Of King Arthur because of the way they flee and are hunted,  because of the scenerey, mountains and snow and  also because of the female warriors. Same for 300. A little group outnumbered by a fierce enemy. The end however is quite different from the other three.

As I already said, it is not as good as the other three mentioned movies, since it is not  heavy on psychology and the Picts are shown as savages whereas we are led to believe the Romans were faultless,  but it is an  entertaining watch with loads of  battle and fighting scenes.

For a change the trailer is quite true to the movie.