Since there was so little new of interest on the box I found myself re-watching a number of previously seen flicks with surprisingly mixed reactions -- some movies seem to age reasonably well (and not just the so-called 'classics') while others are even more boring the second time around. Let's consider one from each category:
Love Actually (2003): I asked my house guests if there was any one movie from my sprawling collection that they would like to see and the l2-year old in the party asked for this title which I gather she had seen previously at a friend's house. It turns out that the film actually has a 15 certificate and should not be viewed by anyone under that age. Ha! One forgets that most 12-year-olds nowadays are 12 going on 25... Incidentally her younger sister put on a pair of earphones to block out the many 'naughty' words.
Anyhow the film has held up reasonably well although in the great scheme of things it could be considered a contemporary movie. Like so many subsequent and lesser films like "Valentine's Day" and the dreadful "New Year's Eve", it is a compendium of a number of 'love' stories in the broadest sense of the term; we follow the paths of the various characters as they cross and interact in the run-up to Christmas week. Some of these stories are far better than others and one or two were so dreary that I had forgotten about them completely like the nude couple pretending to make love in increasingly convoluted positions for a sex education video. (Not what I would have selected for l2-year viewing). Some tales verged on the stupid like the sex-starved Australian who decides to spend the holidays in Milwaukee where he thinks all the nubile young American chicks will fall for his 'cute English accent'. However there were sufficient strands amongst the balance to make happy viewing.
In particular, veteran actor Bill Nighy found a break-out role as a washed-up pop singer trying to flog one of his old hits as a potential Christmas Number One. Each time his story was picked up smiles were guaranteed. Then there was the rather sweet tale of writer Colin Firth discovering that his live-in girlfriend has been having it away with his brother, going off to write at a cottage in Provence, and falling for his Portuguese housekeeper -- and she for him although neither could communicate in the other's language. Amusement too could be found in the strand of floppy-haired Hugh Grant's newly-elected bachelor Prime Minister falling for one of his staff but appalled to catch her in an embrace with the visiting U.S. President -- Billy Bob Thornton eschewing Bill Clinton. Then there was another heart-warming tale as recently widowed Liam Neeson bonds with his young son who is desperate to make an impression on a girl in his class who is about to return to America. Not all of the stories were light-hearted: there was Emma Thompson discovering that hubby Alan Rickman has succumbed to the office minx and poor old Laura Linney desperate to connect with one of her co-workers but forever at the beck and call of her mentally ill brother. On balance, however, this was an inspired choice for all of us -- except probably the children!
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964): I have never been terribly taken with any of the run of Epic sagas that were spawned in the '50s and '60s as the studios' response to the threat of television. Their theory was to look to historical subjects on the wide, wide screen, with lush costuming, big music, extravagant set pieces, and a cast of 1000s. Initially such films did well and were considered suitable viewing for a family day out, but as tastes changed and movie-going gradually became the preserve of the younger generation, the studios began to find diminishing returns. A notorious example was the out-of-control cost-spiraling extravaganza that became Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra" (1963). The crunch finally came with this movie which cost somewhere between 16 and 20 million dollars (big bucks in those days) and took a mere 2 million at the U.S. box office.
However with a cast that includes Alec Guinness, James Mason, Omar Sharif, and Christopher Plummer, I thought to myself 'how bad can it be?'. I noted that it was directed by Anthony Mann who was responsible for a wonderful run of James Stewart westerns and normally a very reliable helmsman. Well, all I can tell you is that it was something of an overblown snorefest. Despite having one of the largest sets ever built and inhabiting it with a gazillion extras (real people in the days before CGI crowds), it was about as exciting as watching gladiators fight a flock of sheep or goats rather than lions. Added to the distinguished names above whose histrionics ranged from superb (Guinness) to autopilot (Mason and Sharif) to towering over the top (Plummer's new Caesar declares himself to be an infallible god), we have Sophia Loren substantially out of her depth as the virtuous love interest and the ever-so bland Stephen Boyd as our goody-two-shoes hero, very much the poor man's Charlton Heston (and I even find Heston hard to take). No point my going into the ins and outs of the story except to say that it took some three hours to relate and left me thankful that the Roman Empire was very definitely about to fall. Hopefully forever...
On a cheery note, let me close with my best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year with a lot of more satisfying movie-viewing to come.