Considerations of the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline (book review)

New book review from The Movie Snob.

Considerations of the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline, by Montesquieu (translated by David Lowenthal).  I learned about this book the same way I learned about Memoirs of Hadrian—from Joseph Epstein’s book The Ideal of Culture.  This one didn’t impress me like Memoirs did.  The book is only about 200 pages long and purports to sweep from Rome’s humble beginnings to the fall of the Byzantine Empire some 2000 years later.  As a result, it moves quickly and lightly over events, and it made little impression on me.  Epstein calls it a work of genius, but if it is it went over my head.

Memoirs of Hadrian (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951).  I learned of the existence of this novel from Joseph Epstein’s The Ideal of Culture, and it did not disappoint.  It is a fictional memoir of the Roman emperor Hadrian (reigned 117 to 138) in the form of a long letter to his adopted grandson and heir, Marcus Aurelius.  Hadrian’s death is near, and he sums up his life and tries to offer some advice to his successor.  I get the impression a ton of historical research went into this work, so I assume it sticks pretty closely to the facts as we know them.  I really liked it, but then I’m a sucker for the swords-and-sandals genre.  So your mileage may vary.

Caesar’s Druids (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Caesar’s Druids, by Miranda Aldhouse-Green (2010).  This densely written and highly academic book surprised me right off the bat in a couple of ways.  First, I had no idea that Caesar’s Gallic Wars were “our richest textual source for ancient Druids.”  I read the Gallic Wars not too long ago, and I barely remember a reference to the Druids.  Second, I didn’t know that “there exists not one vestige of archaeological evidence that can be linked unequivocally to the Druids.”  Thus, aside from Caesar and few scattered references in other ancient writers, we apparently know almost nothing about the Druids.  As a result, this book is full of discussions of ancient tombs and treasures and places and human sacrifices that we do know some things about, plus a bunch of speculation that maybe these things had something to do with Druids.  Or if not, maybe Druids did similar things anyway.  So, it was kind of interesting to learn about some of these ancient stories and archaeological finds, but I don’t guess I learned a lot about the Druids.  And no, contrary to Spinal Tap’s memorable song, the Druids didn’t have anything to do with Stonehenge.

The Landmark Julius Caesar (book review)

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

The Landmark Julius Caesar: The Complete Works, translated and edited by Kurt A. Raaflaub (2017).  The complete works and then some – this volume contains not only the ten “books” Caesar wrote about the Gallic Wars and the civil war he fought with Pompey, but also four other books about Caesar’s campaigns that were written by other authors.  The translation is very readable (I’m in no position to judge its accuracy), and the stories are generally quite interesting.  Sure, I occasionally got lost among the many proper names for places, tribes, and people I’d never heard of before, but I didn’t sweat that.  One thing was a hoot – Caesar mentions the two soldiers at the center of the HBO miniseries Rome, by name, for their courage during a particular battle in the Gallic Wars!  They were real people!  Anyway, this edition is a massive chunk of a book because it contains lots of introductions, footnotes, maps, pictures, and appendices.  I read the introductions and lots of the footnotes, and they added a lot to the stories.  If you’re into the swords-and-sandals genre of history, this is a must-have.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard (2015).  I guess I will never tire of reading books about ancient Rome.  This is a good one.  It starts at the very beginning, examining the mythical founding stories of Romulus and Remus and the early dynasty of kings of Rome, and then marches up to the year 212 A.D. when emperor Caracalla made every free male inhabitant of the empire a Roman citizen.  Beard doesn’t focus much on the big names of Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Caesar Augustus, but Cicero gets quite of bit of ink.  Very readable, but I did get slightly irritated when Beard would interject little comments about how barbaric or how sexist some particular ancient practice seems by today’s standards.  I didn’t really need her to prove her up-to-date sensibilities to me.

Dying Every Day (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, by James Romm (2014).  Seneca was an ambitious philosopher–poet–politician in ancient Rome.  He became a tutor of Nero, who was heir-apparent to Roman emperor Claudius, and attempted to instill Stoic philosophy and virtue in the young man.  Unfortunately, Nero turned out to be a homicidal maniac who, among other things, arranged for the murder of his own mother.  Things ended badly for Nero, Seneca, and lots of other people in Nero’s orbit, but only after a reign of terror that lasted about 13 years.  It’s definitely an interesting story, and well told by Romm, a classics professor at Bard College.

Of Dice and Men (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It, by David M. Ewalt (2013).  This was an impulse purchase at Barnes & Noble.  I’m an old Dungeon Master from the heyday of Dungeons & Dragons back in the 1980s, so when I saw this paperback purporting to tell the backstory to the creation of D&D, I was easily hooked.  It is an interesting story, told by a guy who played D&D back in the day and still plays today with some other grown men.  In addition to explaining where D&D came from, the many lawsuits it spawned over the years, and the meteoric rise and fall of TSR, the company behind the product, Ewart also does some reporting on the “D&D and Satanism” stories that circulated in the 1980s.  Beyond this, he also reports from some gaming conventions and even tries his hand at one of those live-action fantasy experiences out in the woods somewhere.  If you ever played D&D or ever wondered what all the fuss was about, I highly recommend this book.  At 259 pages, it’s a breezy read.

Hercules (2014)

New from The Movie Snob.

Hercules (C).  I did not expect the latest Dwayne Johnson (Get Smart) movie to be a masterpiece, and I was not disappointed.  It had potential.  In this version, the twelve labors are long behind Hercules, and he now leads a small band of mercenaries who wander throughout the known world looking for jobs that will pad their 401(k)’s.  The film shows a little cleverness by gradually revealing that the legendary labors may have been mostly the product of good P.R. work, and that Hercules may in fact be nothing more than a muscularly gifted orphan rather than the son of Zeus himself.  But on the whole it’s a pretty ordinary exercise in the old hack-and-slash.  John Hurt (Snowpiercer) shows up as a king who hires Team Hercules to train up an army and defeat some marauders who may not be what they seem.  The redoubtable Ian McShane (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising) is underused as the eccentric seer Amphiaraus.  I was mostly distracted by the gal who plays the Amazonian warrior in Herc’s troop, Ingrid Bolsø Bergdal (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters).  She looked an awful lot like a slightly bulked-up Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man), and she even sounded a little like her.  I wonder if she has any more movies coming up . . . .

The Fall of the Roman Empire

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (D). Imagine Gladiator stretched out to three hours. Take out all the good parts and substitute some long, boring speeches. Now you’ve got the gist of this 1964 epic starring Alec Guiness (Star Wars) as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) as his unbalanced son Commodus, Sophia Loren (Man of La Mancha) as his daughter Lucilla, and Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) as the doughty Roman general to whom Marcus Aurelius intends to bequeath the Roman Empire. As we know from Gladiator (and even from actual history), Commodus became emperor after Marcus Aurelius’s death, and things generally kind of went downhill for the next few centuries. The sets and costumes and epic sprawl are all fabulous, but the script is flatter than a pancake, Loren can’t act, and scenes seems to drag on forever without anything ever actually happening. I watched a couple of the bonus features on the DVD, and they were more interesting than the movie itself. If you see this movie in the bargain bin at Walmart, try to resist the urge to buy it.

A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

A Culture of Freedom: Ancient Greece and the Origins of Europe, by Christian Meier (Oxford 2012). Seems like I just can’t get enough of those ancient Greeks and Romans. This is a dense book by a leading historian and scholar of our toga-clad forebears. Meier sets out to discover why a “culture of freedom” arose in ancient Greece and seemingly nowhere else. Interestingly, he focuses on the centuries before the part of Greek history that is usually written about—that is, he writes about the centuries before the rise of Athens, before the Greeks’ successful defenses against Persian invasion, and before the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Because the historical record is so thin, there’s necessarily a lot of speculation about what went on roughly 1200-500 B.C., but Meier seems to be the right man for the job. It’s not a fast read, but it’s an interesting and thought-provoking one.

300: Rise of an Empire

A new review from The Movie Snob.

300: Rise of an Empire  (C).  I kind of liked the first 300, a garish and gory spectacle in which Gerard Butler (The Ugly Truth) led 300 mighty Spartans against the entire Persian army in the Battle of Thermopylae.  The sequel ups the ante with barrels of gore and a fair number of severed heads and limbs, but somehow it’s just not as much fun as the original.  This time around the focus is on the Athenian naval resistance to the Persian invasion of Greece, and part of the problem may be that Athenians aren’t as cool as Spartans.  Their leader, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, December Boys), may be a tactical genius, but he’s also kind of a wet blanket, and the rest of the Athenians are a bland bunch indeed.  It’s up to Eva Green (Casino Royale) to liven up the proceedings as the villainous Persian naval commander Artemisia, and she delivers the goods with a wild, over-the-top performance that really must be seen to be believed.  I mean, any old villain can cut off the head of a luckless Athenian prisoner of war, but who would think to give the severed head a passionate and lingering kiss before casually tossing it aside?  Artemisia, that’s who.  And her one-on-one parley with Themistocles right before the climactic battle does strike a few sparks (and cause a few bruises, I daresay).  But when Green’s off-screen, Rise of an Empire is really a fairly dull affair.

Pompeii

New from The Movie Snob.

Pompeii  (B).  It’s not often I willingly see a movie its opening weekend, but what can I say–I love stuff about ancient Rome, and that especially includes the doomed resort city of Pompeii.  So, despite the poor reviews, I caught a matinee of this new release and quite enjoyed it.  And why not?  Take Titanic, chop out almost 100 minutes of boring stuff, substitute a volcano for the iceberg, and voila!  You’ve got a perfectly serviceable B movie.  Kit Harington (TV’s Game of Thrones) stars as a slave-turned-gladiator.  Kiefer Sutherland (Stand By Me) co-stars as a slimy Roman senator.  Emily Browning (Sucker Punch) is the poor little rich girl caught between them.  Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) has a couple of scenes as the girl’s mom.  There’s lots of gladiatorial violence, and lots of CGI fire and brimstone.  Turn your brain off for 98 minutes and enjoy the ride.  Oh, and enjoy some pictures of the real Pompeii, circa 2007:

Picture 255

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 266

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 270

The Golden Mean (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Golden Mean: A Novel of Aristotle and Alexander the Great, by Annabel Lyon (2009).  The subtitle may have turned some people off, but it was catnip to a liberal-arts graduate like me.  And what do you know, the book totally exceeded my expectations.  It’s a first-person narrative by the Philosopher himself, recounting not only his adventures as tutor to Alexander the Great, but also some digressions into Aristotle’s background, his time with Plato, and his familiarity with King Philip, Alexander’s father.  Lyon makes Aristotle an interesting if peculiar character.  Her Aristotle suffers from a touch of manic-depression, and although he can be kind, he is generally a bit of a cold fish.  Anyway, I thought it was a thoroughly interesting read that really gave me the feeling of being back in ancient Greece.  Not a time and place I’d want to live, but fascinating to read about.

Antony and Cleopatra

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Antony and Cleopatra  (C-).  I picked this 1972 flick out of a Walmart bargain bin.  I figured it had Charlton Heston in it, how bad could it be?  Well, it’s not very good.  I hadn’t realized it’s an adaption of Shakespeare’s play (or that Heston was apparently a huge lover of the Bard), so the dialogue is a little on the archaic side.  It’s also extremely long, at almost two and a half hours.  Heston (Ben-Hur) both directed and played Antony.  Cleopatra was played by an actress named Hildegard Neil, who was decent but not great.  John Castle (Man of La Mancha) played Octavius Caesar, and he was pretty good—icy cold and calculating.  Maybe it’s better than I thought—I was suffering from a cold when I watched it, and probably wasn’t in the right mood.  Still, I won’t be hurrying to watch this one again.

House of Shadows (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

House of Shadows, by Rachel Neumeier (2012).  Full disclosure if you’re new to The Movie Court—Rachel Neumeier is my cousin.  That said, I would recommend her fiction to any lover of fantasy tales.  Her Griffin Mage trilogy was superb.  In this novel she leaves the world of griffins behind and introduces us to a whole new realm of swords and sorcery.  The action takes place in the coastal city of Lonne, in the kingdom of Lirionne.  A humble widower has died and left his eight daughters unprovided for.  Bowing to financial necessity, two are sold off: one to be an apprentice to a wizard, and another to become a sort of geisha in the city’s Candlelight District.  Broader geopolitical trouble is also brewing: the king of Lirionne has recently had to execute some of his sons for plotting against him, a fifteen-year truce between his kingdom and a neighboring kingdom is about to expire, and a mysterious foreigner is present in Lonne for possibly nefarious purposes.  I thought it was an enjoyable story, and Rachel has a knack for drawing complex characters that seem one way at first and then quite different as you get to know them better.  I assume there will be a sequel, and I am already looking forward to it.

Game of Thrones: Season One

The Bleacher Bum proffers a second opinion.

Game of Thrones, Season 1.  Game of Thrones is based on a series of fantasy/medieval novels by George R.R. Martin.  It is my understanding that Season 1 covers only the first book. I cannot confirm because I have not read the books. (I ordered the first book today.) I think it is important to note that I am a huge fan of this genre, and I have since learned to my dismay, some people are very much not.  With that said, I think everyone would be a fan of this show because it is entertainment personified.  It is about the battles, politics, bribery, murders, curses, marriages, relationships, betrayals, bloodlines, histories, and scheming of seven families in ancient times.  They are all trying to seize control of The Seven Kingdoms aka The Realm. The cast is massive. The performances are phenomenal. The writing and direction are exceptional. The sets and scenery are majestic.  The deaths are breathtaking.  Everything is bigger and better on this show. This show is HBO.  And as an HBO show, this show is not for children under the age of 16. But this show is for people that like to be pulled in about 1,000 different directions.  Grade: A.

King Arthur

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

King Arthur  (C-).  This 2004 film is a very different version of the Arthurian legend from any I have seen before.  In fact, it’s more of a Roman epic like Centurion or The Last Legion (although much better than either of those turkeys).  In the mid-400s A.D., the Romans are pulling out of Britain, but Roman commander Artorius (Clive Owen, Children of Men), is sent north of Hadrian’s Wall to rescue a handful of Roman citizens from an approaching Saxon army.  He takes his handful of comrade knights, including Lancelot (Ioan Gruffud, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) and Galahad (Hugh Dancy, The Jane Austen Book Club), on his quest, and against great odds they succeed.  They also pick up a rather fetching local pagan named Guenevere (Keira Knightley, Never Let Me Go) along the way.  She persuades Artorius to stay and help her people, the Woads, oppose the wicked Saxons, who are led by the evil Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgard, Thor).  As you may have gathered, this movie is completely unlike Excalibur (Merlin is barely in it, and there’s no magic at all), but like Excalibur I give it credit for trying to have some decent fight scenes (although they go on and on a bit too long in the “director’s cut” that I watched).  Oh, I should note that, in Hollywood fashion, the movie makes the few Roman Christian characters out to be villains and it associates Artorius’s relative benevolence and love of freedom with his adherence to the early Christian heresy of Pelagianism.  Anyhow, it’s not a very good movie, but it’s a tolerable one.

Wrath of the Titans

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Wrath of the Titans  (F).  Wow.  How could this movie go so wrong?  Okay, granted it’s a sequel to a remake of a 1981 movie that wasn’t very good in the first place.  Nevertheless, the original Clash of the Titans holds a very special place in my heart.  Thirteen-year-old me thrilled to the sight of ancient Greek hero Perseus (Harry Hamlin, TV’s L.A. Law) slaying Medusa, battling giant scorpions, and saving Princess Andromeda from a giant sea monster.  The bloated 2010 remake didn’t recapture the magic of the original, and it inexplicably introduced a second female character to distract Perseus from Andromeda, but it was not totally bereft of charm.  This movie, however, was quite bereft of charm — and logic, editing, and everything else that makes a movie good.  Well, with one exception; it does feature the lovely Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), who replaces the original actress as Andromeda.  But unfortunately, Pike has nothing to do in this movie except follow Perseus around, get tossed like a rag doll in the occasional ancient Greek explosion or earthquake, and look gorgeous through the photogenic streaks of dirt and blood that appear on and disappear from her face at random.  And how much money did they have to dangle in front of Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) and Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List) to get them to appear in this stinkbomb?  Anyhoo, the plot, such as it is, is something about Hades and Ares scheming against Zeus and the rest of the gods in order to release the ancient Greek titan Kronos, so Perseus has to pad out the film, er, I mean go on a mythical quest, to find out how to stop Kronos from destroying the universe.  Oog.  The stupidity was palpable.

John Carter

A new review from The Movie Snob

John Carter  (C).  I’m a fan of swords & sandals, but I’m afraid I agree with the critics about this particular entry in the genre — it’s a dud.  There’s a long prologue in which we see how a tough-as-nails Civil War veteran named John Carter is miraculously transported to Mars, or Barsoom as its inhabitants call it.  Since Mars’s gravity is weaker than Earth’s, Carter is kind of like Superman, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and he’s no slouch with a sword either.  Anyway, there are humans living on the Red Planet, but Carter falls in first with the tall green insectoids called Tharks.  I found this part of his adventure rather more interesting than the part when he gets mixed up in the war between the two human cities, Helium and Zodanga.  At 2:12, the movie started to feel a little long to me, even before the climactic battle, followed by an epilogue back on Earth.  But it was kind of fun to see Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds) and Mark Antony (James Purefoy) from HBO’s Rome reunited as the leaders of Helium, and I certainly have no objection to the casting of Lynn Collins (13 Going on 30) as the Martian princess Dejah Thoris.  I hear that Disney stands to lose $200 million on this show, so I guess there won’t be a sequel?

John Carter

Movie Man Mike checks in with a new review.

John Carter. (B+).  The critics have really panned this film, and it didn’t do all that well in its opening weekend, but it has rated well with those who’ve seen it.  This is a fun, action-filled adventure film and I recommend it.  I saw it in 3-D and really liked that version, but I’ve talked with others who saw the 2-D version and liked that, so I am not sure you HAVE to see it in 3-D to appreciate it.  To be sure, this film has a flaw or two in the story line, and it takes a few liberties with the original Edgar Rice Burroughs book, but it is largely true to the original.   John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is a Civil War hero who gets transported to Mars by the fate of an encounter with a superior, alien race.  On Mars, he discovers that the lower gravity gives him a kind of superpower in that he is able to jump great heights.  This superpower comes in handy as he finds himself in the middle of a conflict between warring Martian tribes.  And, of course, he meets a princess, Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), who convinces him he must help her people to defend themselves.  Only after he gets involved does he discover that the conflict and its outcome is scripted by Matai Shang (Mark Strong), who is the leader of the alien race that caused Carter to be transported from Earth in the first place.  I’ve heard this film described as “Tarzan on Mars,” but it’s really much more than that.  It was a fun movie to watch and well worth the price of admission.

Game of Thrones (Season One)

A TV review from Comic Book Guy

Game of Thrones (Season One). Granted, I’m a big fan of science fiction and fantasy. After all, I worked in a comic book/science fiction & fantasy bookstore. But even if you don’t consider yourself fan(boy), consider giving this series a view. It’s based on the first book of George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Ice Series of the same name. It’s an epic set in a medieval world where seasons can last for decades and mythical creatures (and possibly magic) exist. The series follows several families and their quest for control of the Kingdoms that make up Westeros. I originally tuned in for the fantasy but stayed with it for the story line and characters. It has all of the things that you expect from HBO:  very high production values, sharp writing and excellent acting. Think Sopranos meets Middle Earth.  I give it an A, as in Awesome. Catch it now so you’ll be ready for season 2 when it starts in April, 2012.

Centurion

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Centurion (F). Sometimes my fondness for everything having to do with ancient Rome leads me astray. The Dallas Morning News helped by giving this piece of ridiculousness a good grade. In 117 A.D., Roman soldiers are on the defensive on the northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. The native Picts are fighting back to good effect. When the Romans send the Ninth Legion to teach the Picts a lesson, the Picts almost annihilate the Legion and capture the Roman general. The few surviving Roman soldiers unsuccessfully attempt to rescue the general, then spend the rest of the movie running for their lives from the Picts. The movie is distinguished chiefly by the use of copious amounts of mud and gore. Liam Cunningham stands out by playing the exact same grizzled veteran soldier he played in Clash of the Titans. Olga Kurylenko, who was in the last James Bond movie, has no lines as the ferocious lead huntress for the Picts. Save your money.  Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) was in it, but I didn’t know who he was at the time.

Agora

New from The Movie Snob

Agora (C). This swords-and-sandals epic from the director of The Others barely made it onto my radar screen, but once I learned about it I made sure to see it. Rachel Weisz (The Shape of Things) stars as Hypatia, a brilliant scientist and mathematician living and teaching in Alexandria, Egypt in the late 4th century. The city, it seems, is continually in political turmoil as the Roman Empire approaches its expiration date. At first the city is divided among pagans, Jews, and Christians. Soon the pagans (who include Hypatia and most of the educated folks) and the Christians provoke each other into genuine civil war; the overconfident pagans are whipped by the more numerous Christians, and the famed Library of Alexandria is destroyed by the Christian mob. Things settle down for a while, but as the Christians continue to consolidate their power it is only a matter of time before the Jews and the few remaining pagan holdouts (like Hypatia) feel their wrath. Although it is perhaps just possible that the director is actually slyly sounding a warning about Muslim fundamentalism and what folks have to look forward to if Islamists gain control in more countries than just Iran, I think the movie was intended to be just what it appears–a hatchet-job on Christianity.

The character development is poor, and the battle sequences and depictions of ancient Alexandria are not particularly spectacular, so the movie’s main interest is historical. Which necessarily raises the question of historical accuracy. How much do we really know about these battles and the life and death of Hypatia, and how accurate is this movie overall? Was Alexandria’s bishop, later canonized as St. Cyril and revered as a Doctor of the Church, the intolerant zealot and schemer he is made out to be? Late 4th century Alexandrian history is not exactly common knowledge these days, and I hope I may be forgiven a little skepticism that the Spanish film-makers went into this project bias-free. The recent book Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart actually devotes a whole chapter to this very episode in history, and he concludes that the earliest historical sources tend to contradict much of the Agora account. Of course, he may be a partisan too, and most of us lack the time, inclination, and knowledge of ancient languages we would need to figure out how accurate Agora is for ourselves. So let’s just close this review by paraphrasing something I think Roger Ebert said in a review of Chocolat or some similar movie–wouldn’t it be remarkable to see a movie in which the Christians are the happy, life-affirming people, and the pagans are the dour, killjoy types? I’m not holding my breath.

Rome (The Complete Second Season)

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Rome (The Complete Second Season). Season 2 picks up immediately where Season 1 left off. (If you haven’t seen Season 1 yet, be warned that Season 1 spoilers follow.) Julius Caesar lies dead on the floor of the Roman Senate, and Lucius Vorenus’s wife Niobe has just committed suicide rather than suffer an honor killing at Vorenus’s hands. The major question hanging over Season 2 (if you don’t know your history) is who will emerge as the first man in Rome: Mark Antony or Octavian Caesar. As in Season 1, two ordinary Roman soldiers play important roles in the action and give us a look at life for non-noble Romans–Vorenus, who is put in charge of law and order in Rome’s commercial district, and his comrade-in-arms Titus Pullo. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although Season 2 doesn’t have quite the same narrative drive as Season 1–probably because it lacks a single dominating figure like Julius Caesar. But there are plenty of vivid secondary characters beyond Vorenus and Pullo: Cicero, Brutus and his scheming mother Servilia, Octavian’s mother Atia and his sister Octavia, the Jewish strongman Timon, and of course, as the season winds down, Cleopatra. As in Season 1, there is ample graphic violence and nudity and graphic sex, so this is no show for children, but these flourishes do vividly illustrate the point that Roman customs and morality were a far cry from the Judeo-Christian ethic that still generally prevails in the modern West. I haven’t watched all the mini-features on the five DVDs that make up this set, but the couple I have watched, like “Antony and Cleopatra,” were definitely worth it.

Troy

DVD review from The Movie Snob

Troy (B). I saw this movie once back when in was in the theaters, and I bought the DVD not too long after it came out, but I only recently got around to watching it. Clocking in at 2 hours and 43 minutes, it’s barely shorter than the Trojan War itself! (Especially as portrayed in the movie, in which the War seems to take about two weeks after the Greeks arrive on the shores of windy Ilion.) I like the movie, despite its many obvious departures from the Iliad. Brad Pitt (Babel) makes a brooding Achilles, Eric Bana (Star Trek) is an admirable Hector, and Peter O’Toole (Stardust) is pitiable as aging King Priam, ever-trusting that the gods will reward him for his piety. Chief among the film’s demerits is the goofy love story between Achilles and the captured Trojan priestess Briseis (Rose Byrne, I Capture the Castle). But if you like swords-and-sandals epics, I don’t see how you could fail to like Troy.