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Caligula – Review

31 Oct

Throughout the years, there have been films that redefine what’s possible when it comes to film making and how to tell a story. In the past, there were classics like Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia, which can both be seen as sweeping epics in their own ways. More recently we’ve had films like Inception or The Revenant. Both of these movies are unconventional in their means of telling a story and also offer visual spectacle that will be remembered for decades to come. Movies are a window into worlds that may otherwise never exist, and there are so many that so fully succeed into taking us away from our everyday lives and somewhere all together magical… and then there’s Caligula.

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In 37 AD, a young Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) is the next heir to the throne in the Roman Empire. His uncle and adoptive parent, Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), still is in control however, despite his growing physical and psychological sicknesses. After Caligula visits his uncle and sees the power he wields and is also almost assassinated by the sick man, Caligula decides to take fate into his own hands, along with the head of the Praetorian Guard, Macro (Guido Mannari), kills Tiberius. Now at the head of the empire, Caligula proposes many changes to the Senate and all seems to be going pretty well. The decline begins once a love triangle starts with himself, his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), and his new wife Caesonia (Helen Mirran). As if that isn’t enough, Caligula starts to grow paranoid of the people around him, which results in multiple arrests and executions, which forces certain members of the Senate and the Guard to plot to remove Caligula as Emperor.

Just look at that cast. You have Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirran amongst some others. Don’t let that fool you like the producers fooled some of these actors. O’Toole had no idea that this movie would turn out the way it did. What could I possibly mean by this? Well, Caligula is the one and only film produced by Penthouse Films. You know…like the magazine. If you go into this movie expecting a historical epic that accurately portrays the reign of Caligula and the effects it had on the Roman Empire, than you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I like to think of this movie as the most expensive midnight movie you’ll ever see. There are hardly any redeeming qualities to this movie, but I’ll certainly give it a try. The performances by O’Toole and Mirran are both really good, while McDowell gives a fantastic performance as Caligula. You also can’t say that this movie shirks on showing the depravity that happened in the Empire. This kind of exploitation can go too far, however, and it goes way too far in this movie. I also have to give credit to some really amazing sets for the actors to perform in. It takes a lot to make this movie believable, and the sets can occasionally help.

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Let me just say that most of the critiques that I give Caligula, I do with a smile on my face just for the sheer absurdity of what I saw. Like I said before, this film was produced by Penthouse Films and the magazine’s creator, Bob Guccione, so be prepared for lots of sex and nudity. You can hardly get through a scene without some sort of nudity or sexual activity going on. It really starts to wear on you after awhile, especially when there are completely out of place sex scenes that can go on for about 10 minutes. When I  heard how controversial and graphic this movie is, I thought maybe a few scenes were the cause for such upset. I was wrong. It’s pretty much the whole movie. The way the story is told is also completely off the wall. The story’s filled with ridiculous and often clichéd symbolism that won’t add to the drama, but more so add to the unintentional hilarity. Don’t even try to follow the plot using any logic because the movie’s messy and troubled editing phase shines in a timeline filled with continuity errors and a failure to show the passage of time. You can’t even get a good historical retelling since this movie takes the term “dramatic license” and really runs with it.

Reading about the making of Caligula has really become part of the whole experience for me, because I can’t think of a bigger cinematic disaster story. From pre-production through post-production, this films was plagued with one catastrophe and betrayal after another. The original screenplay by Gore Vidal was bought and changed to the point of destruction that Vidal completely disowns it. The same can be said for Tinto Brass, the director, who was banned from the editing room so that Guccione had the control he needed. Even some of the actors had no idea what this movie was supposed to be and regret being seen in the final piece. McDowell even asked people in interviews not to see the movie. How could a movie that was this much of a problem amount to anything? Well, Caligula did amount to something. It became one of the most infamous cult classics ever made.

Caligula has completely earned that title of infamy. It’s a two and a half hour long disaster that could have been so much more if it wasn’t for a producer who had his own agenda, while the film makers and actors had a completely different one. For people who are interested in the goods and bads of cinema or people who have a fascination with movies as awkwardly weird as this one, it’s worth seeing for the history and legacy. For everyone else, keep far away from Caligula and save your sanity.

Final Grade: D-

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Lawrence of Arabia – Review

11 Nov

For this review, we’re jumping back to the 1962 to take a look at a movie I’ve wanted to write about for a while, David Lean’s masterful epic Lawrence of Arabia. David Lean is a name that’s synonymous with outstanding film making with other works like Doctor ZhivagoA Brief Encounter, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. While all of these films are recognized by critics, audiences, and the Academy alike, no one can deny that his greatest work was Lawrence of Arabia, the film that still seems larger than life and has been ranked by the American Film Institute as the number 1 epic film of all time.

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T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is a misfit British lieutenant in Cairo, spending his days wishing he could do more about Prince Faisal’s (Alec Guinness) revolt against the much more technically advanced Turks. When he is assigned to meet Prince Faisal and better assess the situation, Lawrence becomes completely taken by the desert, the Arabian revolutionaries, and the stance that they are fighting for. Before long, Lawrence completely oversteps his original mission, and fights with the Arabs, helping them reclaim cities and attack trains for supplies and weapons. What may be more dangerous to Lawrence than the desert conditions and the fighting may be just how much he enjoys the battles and killing people in the process.

The scale of Lawrence of Arabia, from the story to the different shots to the larger than life characters us absolutely huge. It’s hard to summarize a movie like this because, clocking in at about 4 hours long, there is a whole lot of story and a whole lot of characters. To anyone who hasn’t had the joy of seeing this film may cringe at the thought of the movie lasting that long, but oddly enough it doesn’t really feel that long because it’s guaranteed that you’ll be so entertained by the story and entranced by the visuals of the desert. Still, by the end of the second part (yes there is an intermission), it does start to get a little tedious, but that’s only a half hour out of 4.

Lawrence Of Arabia 5

 

I feel like you can sum up the success of Lawrence of Arabia with three names: David Lean, Freddie Young, and Maurice Jarre. Lean is the guy that holds this entire film together, which was a difficult job filming in 100 plus degrees, getting equipment transported into the desert and getting all of the actors and extras to perform the way he wants. Freddie Young, who also worked with Lean on Doctor Zhivago, films the desert with such beauty that it’s almost unreal. I read somewhere that a a fan of this movie thought that watching it on his 60 in tv made his television feel small. The desert seems so vast, and there was even a point where they used a lens, now called the “Lean Lens,” to capture Omar Sharif’s mirage like image. This lens was never used before nor since. Finally, Maurice Jarre’s score highlights the action and adventure of traversing the deserts of Arabia and battling the Turks in a way that many scores can’t with their respective movies.

It’s really no surprise that this film is considered the best epic of all time, won 7 Oscars, and has also aged better than other films of the time. The film is just so enormous and has so much adventure, action, and characters that it’s hard to get bored. The feeling of this movie is timeless, but it definitely fits a time when film making was more organic and there was no computer trickery of any sort. I feel like I harp on this point a lot, but I respect practical effects a lot more than computer generated ones. There really are that many extras in Lawrence of Arabia. They had to blow a train up with actual explosives. Even more impressive, the constructed their own rendition of the city of Aqaba. It’s film making at its most impressive.

Lawrence of Arabia truly is one of the best films ever made in terms of technical and artistic achievements. It’s the epic that other epics should look to for inspiration. While it boasts an almost unreasonably long running time, it almost never gets boring and the characters are so interesting, you really care about what happens to them. Now that I finally got to writing this, I found my thoughts all jumbled together because I could almost write an entire book on this film. It’s an essential piece of cinematic history and a timeless film that anyone in any day and age can enjoy.