Empire Strikes Back: Six Films to Commemorate the Fall of Rome


"Are we like late Rome," asked social critic Camille Paglia, "infatuated with past glories, ruled by a complacent, greedy elite, and hopelessly powerless to respond to changing conditions?" As you mull the answer to that question, raise your gladius and drain the Etruscan vino from your amphorae: It’s time to commemorate the fall of the Roman Empire.

It was today in 476 AD when the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the Germanic warlord Odoacer and the Roman Empire drew its final wine-soaked breath. Here’s a look at some of the best movies set in what was certainly one of the most violent and depraved times in human history (notwithstanding our own, of course).

Caligula (1979)

Penthouse founder Bob Guccione filmed scenes for this controversial 1979 Italo-American biographical drama about the famously debauched emperor who somehow managed to clear his head long enough to become the first Roman commander to invade Britain since Julius Caesar did a century before.

Gladiator (2000)

Joaquin Phoenix proved to be a perfect slimeball as the Emperor Commodus (which I’m guessing means "toilet" in Latin) in Ridley Scott’s exuberant epic also starring Russell Crowe as Maximus, a general who became a slave, who became a gladiator, who defied an emperor, who won an Oscar for Best Actor.

Spartacus (1960)

Remember those movies before the era of CGI and huge battle scenes required filming thousands of extras—and not just a small crew of computer programmers? It was like if you had to film an epic, the production itself had to be, well, epic. Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas in the title role, was one of those films. For the battle scenes, 8,000 extras were pulled in from the Spanish infantry to play Roman soldiers. Ingeniously, Kubrick recorded 76,000 spectators at a Michigan State vs. Notre Dame college football game shouting "Hail, Crassus!" and "I’m Spartacus!" for the climactic scene.

Cleopatra (1963)

For her portrayal as the Egyptian queen and lover of Roman general Mark Antony in Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1963 epic, Elizabeth Taylor won the Guinness World Record for "Most Costume Changes in a Film." (She had 65 different outfits.) Perhaps if she had spent less time worrying about her clothes, she wouldn’t have lost the Battle of Actium. But then we wouldn’t get to see her commit suicide by snakebite.

Agora (2009)

"If I could just unravel this just a little bit more, and just get a little closer to the answer, then…I would go to my grave a happy woman," said Hypatia, considered to be the first significant female figure in the world of mathematics, as played by Rachel Weisz in Alejandro Amenábar’s 2009 Spanish English-language film Agora. Accused of instigating religious tension, Hypatia was killed by a Christian mob. Later, her legacy among Christians changed and she became a symbol of virtue. In her 1986 book Women Philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle, Kathleen Wider argues that her murder marked the end of Classical antiquity. Stupid, stupid evil mob!

History of the World, Part I (1981)

In one of the many awesome scenes in Mel Brooks’s 1961 comedy classic, Bea Arthur plays a government worker at an unemployment insurance collection window. It was an inspired casting choice: Not even the dumbest gladiator would dare mess around with Maude.

James Murphy to Write Original Music for ‘Betrayal’ on Broadway Starring Rachel Weisz & Daniel Craig

Back in April, we expressed our unwavering thrill that genius playwright Harold Pinter’s Betrayal would be heading to Broadway. And not only that, but Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig would be taking on the leading roles in the production, with direction by the iconic Mike Nichols. And as his work is wont to be, Pinter ‘s play is a biting and absurd tale of the painful romantic entanglement caught in the nuances of everyday life. 

Told chronologically in reverse, Betrayal will star Weisz as a woman involved in a serious affair, with Craig as her unassuming husband. So to top it off, as if we weren’t already brimming with excitement, it appears that former LCD Sound System frontman James Murphy will be helming the original music for the play. And oh yes, I can certainly live with that.
The show is set to debut in previews on October 1 with an October 27th opening at the Barrymore Theater, but in the meantime, check out the photos below from rehearsals, courtesy of Vulture

See a Rare Video of Terence Davies Introducing Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

English writer, director, and actor Terence Davies has given us a wealth of emotionally devastating films—from Distant Voices, Still Lives to The House of Mirth and last year’s The Deep Blue Sea. When we spoke with Rachel Weisz (who starred in his latest film) she talked about how Davies grew up on on films like Brief Encounter and actresses like Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck—stories about women getting to be strong and powerful and complex, which has seeped its way into his work. But those aren’t the only stories he’s interested in. And thanks to Cinephilia and Beyond and The Seventh Art, a rare clip of Davies introducing Stanley Kubrick’s first masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey for TV has been brought to our attention. Spencer Everhart writes:

A bit of an oddity today: the introduction to a television broadcast of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on BBC2′s The Film Club from director Terence Davies…Davies is strikingly accompanied by images from the film, a blank black background, and an imposing set light. 2001 was the last in a programme of Kubrick films on the screening series and Davies cites it as his personal favourite. One incredible aspect of the series was its commitment to show the film in its widescreen aspect ratio, which Davies makes a point of celebrating.

So yes, I would recommend taking four minutes and nineteen seconds out of your day to watch this delightful gem.

Rachel Weisz to Betray Daniel Craig on Broadway

Noble Prize-winning English playwright, poet, genius, and wonderful human being Harold Pinter created plays that were as biting as they were reflective. His work exposed the menacing darkness lurking inside of men and woman, deliciously written with a bent towards absurdity but always based in the familiarity of everyday life. And this coming fall, beautiful English couple Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig will head to Broadway in Pinter’s  tale of infidelity, Betrayal.

Told in chronological reverse, Betrayal will star Weisz as Emma, a woman involved in a serious affair with a man named Jerry (played by Rafe Spall). Her unknowing husband Robert will be played by Craig, who appeared on Broadway in 2009’s A Steady Rain. In his 1983 review of the Pinter’s screen adaptation of his work, Roger Ebert said: 

The ‘Betrayal’ structure strips away all artifice. It shows, heartlessly, that the very capacity for love itself is sometimes based on betraying not only other loved ones, but even ourselves.

And if you weren’t thrilled enough, Broadway veteran and legendary director Mike Nichols will be directing the production—which is set to go into previews on October 1 and open November 3 at the Barrymore Theatre in New York.

Let’s all take this time to brush up on our Pinter. I suggest sitting alone in a darkened corner reading The Homecoming, watching The Servant, and maybe listening to Colin Firth read his poetry.

James Franco Goes Up and Away in ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Trailer

Reimagining and rebooting a classic American work of literature and cinema like The Wizard of Oz is inevitably going to involve some playing with fire. With Disney’s upcoming Oz The Great and Powerful, a retelling of the classic from the perspective of the Wizard himself (played by aspiring Renaissance man James Franco), there’s certainly fire. There are explosions and CGI fairy-type creatures (Munchkins? Probably Munchkins.) and a colorful Oz that has that inexplicable Disney feeling.

In the first trailer for Oz, directed by Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, the Spider-Man series), we meet the Wizard in his humble place of origin, peddling his hacky magician act around small-town Kansas, a flyover country lad with big-city dreams (“Kansas is full of good men,” he tells us. “I want to be a great one.”). Then comes the cyclone, and he’s transported to a land full of magical creatures and yellow brick roads and Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams (as good witches Theodora and Glinda, respectively, combating Rachel Weisz’s Wicked Witch Evanora) and is charged with saving them all. And yes, in case you were wondering, the flying monkeys, even when one is voiced by Zach Braff, are present and are still hyped up on high-octane nightmare fuel.  

‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Debuts at Comic-Con

Like a breath of sweetly poisoned air, the first trailer for the much-anticipated Disney flick Oz the Great and Powerful was screened before a full house at San Diego Comic-Con International this morning. Director Sam Raimi (of Evil Dead fame and the first Spider-Man trilogy) used his CGI magic in the trailer, which features James Franco as a power-hungry Oz, Mila Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West, Rachael Weisz as the one in the East, and Michelle Williams as Glenda the Good.

The movie is set before Dorothy ever ruby-shoe steps onto the scene—a bit like Wicked, only without the singing, the bright green makeup, or Kristin Chenoweth. (Phew!)

The trailer opens to a monochrome scene of an old-fashioned circus, with Oz as the magician. “Kansas is full of good men,” Oz says with disdain. “I don’t want to be a good man. I want to be a great one." He is then whisked away in his balloon to Oz, where we are assaulted with a brilliant panorama of the mystical land. The creatures and foliage used in the trailer are vaguely reminiscent of those seen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which isn’t a far stretch considering it’s produced by the same person.

Watch the full trailer below:

Rachel Weisz Talks About Her New Film ‘The Deep Blue Sea’

Rachel Weisz is known for taking on roles that entice and challenge—she’s even won an Oscar for it. But it’s her latest role as Hester in Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea that resonates in a most powerful way. The film tells the story of a woman who throws herself into a self-destructive love affair with an emotionally distant Royal Air Force pilot and the madness in which it causes her to descend. As the wife of a tame yet loving judge, she makes the decision to leave him in pursuit of her extreme desire, only to end up shattered by the passion she possesses but does not receive. Known for his unique cinematic works, Davies has crafted a brilliant adaptation of Terence Ratigan’s play that feels almost like a nightmarish, lovesick dream that can feel at once relatable or completely out of one’s emotional sphere. We caught up with Rachel to discuss what attracted her to Hester, how love makes one mad, and working with such an iconic director.

What drew you to the film at this particular time?
It was a beautifully written script. I had never read the play, but Terence had written a very beautiful adaptation and he has this beautiful point of view, and I liked that kind of storytelling. Terrance in England is a really bit of a cult director; it was just a great character, great story, great director—kind of a no-brainer.

Did you see a lot of yourself in the character of Hester?
Not really, no. What really interested me about her was that she really completely humiliates herself. She has no pride; she doesn’t hold it together. Nowadays people say things like, “He’s just not that into you.” You don’t behave like that—your friend will take you out for a drink and say, “Come on, there’s plenty more fish in the sea,” but Hester doesn’t have that response. What I found interesting about her is that she just fell so completely, devastatingly, utterly in love with someone who really couldn’t love her back, but she couldn’t control it. I thought that was really interesting to see someone lose it and just throw herself at his feet. She kind of makes a complete fool out of herself in many ways, it’s really undignified.

And it was time when people were supposed to be more repressed and she didn’t even care at all.
She lost it. But even now if one of our girlfriends was behaving like that we’d say, “Pull yourself together!” I feel like it’s more interesting to tell it in the ’50s because it was a time of greater repression, so it makes it more taboo . But it’s still a relevant story now. I think if a woman left a comfortable marriage for a younger man and humiliated herself in a way, people would still be talking.

Would you say the character goes through a sexual awakening?
I think she’s never felt love or passion or, as Terrance calls it, “erotic love.” It’s a completely new feeling and she’s a bourgeois, married wife of a judge, and she’s never had these feelings. It’s an awakening, and her life is torn to pieces by it.

In most of your films, you’re usually the object of desire or object of love and it’s told from a male point of view. Is this the first of your first films where it’s you who’s doing the desiring?
I loved it. It’s a great story to tell. What Terrence has been saying is that he grew up on films like Brief Encounter and like actresses like Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck—stories about women getting to be strong and powerful and complex. Those were the movies he grew up on. The question is not just the movies I have done. but the movies that are made.

What kind of mindset did you have to put yourself in for this character?
I suppose just someone who is not really thinking too much. She’s not thinking anything sensible, practical, self-reservation-like. She’s screwing up in a major way and thinking too much. She’s all ridiculous-crazy love.

Would you say that Hester was mad or just utterly and helplessly in love?
Some people say she’s just mad. I personally don’t think so, but in a way you can see that. I just think she’s in love, but then you can say that love is a kind of psychotic state. I don’t think she’s mad at all. I think it’s a bid for freedom, and I think it’s a really bold, brave thing that she does. I personally respect her, but there are people who see the movie and think she’s just nuts. That’s a fair enough interpretation.

How was filming the sex scene? 
It was new for Terence. He had never shot a sex scene before, so I spent most of my time making him feel alright about it.

How was it working with him in general?
He’s very different, very unusual. He’s probably as passionate as Hester—led by his heart and his emotions. He’s much more like her than I am. He gets very carried away both in happiness, sadness, and angerm so he’s a very passionate person. He likes things to be incredibly controlled in terms of where the camera is. It’s the opposite of a contemporary reportage style—films that we’re used to seeing now. He’s got real rigor as a filmmaker, but he’s also really passionate.

Tell me about working with your two leading men.
I’d always imagined the husband role being very unpleasant, but that’s not how Simon played it. He played him with incredible sweetness and empathy and made it really hard to leave him. I thought he would be kind of a pig—nasty and controlling. But he was a sweetheart and lovely to work with, so his performance always surprised me. Tom is just wonderful. He’s very alive and sexy and passionate and really bright, very smart. We met once before we started filming, but it was very intense. We had a really easy rapport.

Do your parents tell you any stories about post-war England?
Well my mom, who is going to be eighty this year, grew up in England during the war. My mom would talk about music actually, and she still sings songs from the ’50s. Music is very important to Terrence. Like the singing in the pub scene; he has a whole story as to why there came about. Apparently that’s what people did before there were TVs and jukeboxes in bars, so that’s what they did on a Saturday night. My mom talks about songs a lot, and rations. She lives very frugally as a result of it. I think it’s still very hard for those who lived through the war to shake it off.

Do you look for something specific in a role?
I just look to be touched in some way, or to be intrigued or be pulled in. It’s like reading a book. Some books grab you and some don’t; it’s the same for a character. It would be hard to say what makes you connect to a certain book. You can connect to something silly or something really dark and tragic, you know what I mean? It’s just different.

Had you wanted to work with Terrence before? The story is that he never heard of you and saw you and said he wanted to work with you but did not recognize you.
He’s not really heard of anyone after color films. I’m serious! He wouldn’t know who anyone is in color movies.

Links: Natalie Portman is Pregnant and Engaged, Elton John Gets a Baby Boy

● Natalie Portman says she is “indescribably happy” and “very grateful” to be pregnant and engaged to the choreographer Benjamin Millepied, who she met while filming Black Swan. Mila Kunis declined to comment. [EW] ● Teen Mom‘s Amber Portwood has been charged with three felonies for beating up her fiance on camera. [People] ● Rachel Weisz is dating Daniel Craig, who is both better looking and less talented than her ex-husband Darren Aronofsky. [Us Weekly]

● Elton John and his husband David Furnish announced that they now have a son via surrogate named Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John, giving him a grand total of four first names and a “Furnish.” [Us Weekly] ● Miley Cyrus and her little sister celebrated Christmas by doing karaoke to Miley’s own song, “Can’t Be Tamed.” Their parents must be so proud. [People] ● Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton sleep in separate beds because the director snores too loud, according to the actress. [E! Online]

Links: Darren Aronofsky & Rachel Weisz Break Up, Dakota Fanning Is Homecoming Queen

● Darren Aronofsky, director of the upcoming Black Swan, and his actress partner Rachel Weisz are splitting after nine years of dating without ever getting married. At least they’re saved when it comes to paperwork! [TMZ] ● Vivid Entertainment is considering a porn based on Kanye West and Taylor Swift. Key line: “Imma let you finish…” [Hollywood Life] ● Ke$ha’s new tour is called “Get $leazy.” Real letters just won’t do. [Vulture]

● Sixteen-year-old famous person Dakota Fanning was voted Homecoming Queen for the second year in a row at her normal people high school, proving that money does, in fact, lead to happiness. [X17] ● Bristol Palin is probably dating her Dancing With the Stars partner Mark Ballas, because the two are always touching anyway. [Page Six] ● Miranda Kerr is both pregnant and naked (and skinny!) because that’s what all the women are doing nowadays. [E! Online]