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It keeps a few of them. Petronious really is "suave and ironical," and Leo Genn's performance is pure delight 100% of the time, from his first appearance to his beautifully Oscar Wilde-esque exit. I missed him every second he was not on screen.

Peter Ustinov, who was perfectly hamilicious as Batiatus in (the way better) Spartacus, gets a whole ham palace to frolic around in and gnaw to pieces as Nero, and makes the character surprisingly sympathetic despite a lot of boilerplate writing. What artist doesn't want to be appreciated?

The burning of Rome really is scary and exciting. Poppaea doesn't get nearly as much screen time as she deserves, but she makes the most of what she has. The other women are all weirdly submissive, except for one hairdresser whom I liked. The costumes are terrific. There's an Anachronistic Chessboard and I love seeing Anachronistic Chessboards in movies.

I didn't buy the earth-shattering love of Vinicius and Lygia at all. Probably it works better in the book? Vinicius was just too much of a jerk all the time. He spent 2/3 of the film chasing after Lygia while ignoring every single thing she ever said about her preferences and interests. Their dialogue was all,

Lygia: I hate it so much when people kill each other. Violence is just the worst.
Vinicius: Yeah, me too. Let me tell you more about my military conquests! I stabbed SO MANY Scythians, you don't even know! Let me make you a necklace of their heads, fit for the queen you are!
Lygia: I would hate that, because I'm a pacifist. Please do not give me any severed body parts as a gift.
Vinicius: I have it on good authority that bitches love severed body parts. Hey, why aren't you watching the gladiators? Nero has the best gladiators in. The. World.
Lygia: I just told you, I'm a Christian pacifist. I find even defensive violence morally dubious. I'm horrified by the idea of watching humans kill each other for entertainment. Aren't you listening?
Vinicius: But you're missing the best part!

It's frustrating. And it's not because Vinicius has a bunch of martial values and patriarchal attitudes that I don't share. I have no beef with martial values and patriarchal attitudes in my Rome pictures. I'm equally happy with Spartacus and Varinia bonding over not being animals, or with Antony and Cleopatra bonding over how much death they're going to deal while spending the entire treasury on orgies and edible pearls. I love every single character in HBO's Rome even though they are all basically serial killers by contemporary standards. But Vinicius and Lygia just plain don't get along and they never really try to get along and I can't love it. Your mileage may vary, I guess.

The one time he offers to meet her halfway is -- actually pretty awesome. She's a Christian, he's a good Roman state-culter. She wants him to accept her god so that they can get married, and he's like, heck yes, I can be all about your god, just say the word and I'll put a giant statue of your Jeezy Whatsit in the middle of the courtyard, right next to Jupiter! But even there, they have such poor communication that she can't figure out how to explain that that isn't The Christian Way, and he never really learns why she isn't happy with his suggestion. I wish their relationship had progressed differently so that the giant Jesus statue was his surprise wedding gift (all toga-clad and domineering and bronze, maybe with a big ol' Roman eagle on the chest, and elaborately coiffed beard and curls, and laurels for thorns) and then they had a funny but sincere talk about what he got wrong and how she appreciates his efforts anyway.

Deborah Kerr is extremely pretty in the manner of all Deborah Kerrs, but her character was thinly written and she and Robert Taylor don't have nearly enough chemistry to sell the blistering physical attraction they are supposedly experiencing. Simon called Peter was ok, I guess. I really liked the one scene of a pre-Synoptic Gospels, pre-canon Christian meeting, in which Peter was introduced as an eyewitness and genuine living friend of The Christ. He told a slightly rambling story about miraculously catching some fish, then rattled off some of the sayings of Our Lord while everyone listened and tried to remember them. It felt true to life. The rest of the Christian material was pretty weak, mostly, thought the guy who plays Paul is likeable.

The title scene was weirdly ineffective. Instead of having Peter meet Jesus on the road out of Rome, as the legend goes, he. . . sees some purple clouds and a light, and the boy traveling with him gets posessed by Jesus or something, and the exchange is between Peter and this boy who later doesn't remember what happened. Maybe that's the way it was presented in the book; I don't know. Maybe they just didn't want the bother of casting someone as Jesus? It's the clumsiest scene in the entire movie. Then Peter goes back to Rome and gets crucified in short order, and it's all a little desultory. I was expecting a big Peter vs. Nero ham battle in one of the big Roman Decadence sets, but it never happened. Also missing and sorely missed: Lygia v. Poppaea: Virgin-Whore Face-Off.

Quo Vadis is a clash of cultures, in which the pagans are campy, callous and endlessly enjoyable, and the Christians are pretty and earnest but dull and prone to awkwardly filmed visions. It's sad when anyone gets thrown to the lions, but with a few notable exceptions, Quo Vadis is much more successful as a story about Nero and his long-suffering inner circle than it is as a story about first-century Christianity. All in all, it evens out to "ok most of the time," with a few high points.

Unless you have developed a Romesploitation obsession to feed, you might not need to see Quo Vadis. One benefit of the film: If you are trying to learn Latin, and your textbook uses modified sentences from Roman authors, this movie will make all Seneca quotations automatically entertaining, because you will hear them as Seneca trying to give pithy Life Coach advice to Peter Ustinov's Nero. If that's worth three hours of your life. then so is Quo Vadis. Maybe.

Probably the book is better.


blase ev

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