Gladiator: an army general turned slave must rise from the pits of the Colosseum and take down a false leader who murdered his family, friends, and previous employer. The cast is a jaw-dropping mix of ‘classic’ thespians, up-and-comers, bodybuilders, and comedians but everyone feels completely at home in their roles. The plot is simple, but packed with so much Shakespearean betrayal and deception that feels hypnotic in parts. Action scenes are huge, flashy, and bloody – but remain visceral & entertaining, and stand up against anything coming out today. It’s hard to find flaws in this: In fact, my only minor niggle is that some of the setup feels rushed and clunky; like how you can pick anyone off the ground and make ‘em a slave. You know a film is special when even after a handful of viewings and years of TV re-runs it still grips you, and the 155 minute runtime flies by. Everything about Gladiator feels truly ‘epic’ in the classic Hollywood sense – the sets, the action, the plot, the acting, the score – and it all comes together perfectly to create what’s arguably the perfect swords and sandals film.
What We Do in the Shadows: a documentary crew follow the exploits of four vampires – Viago (aged 379), Vladislav, (862), Deacon (183) and Petyr, aged (8,000) – sharing a house in Wellington, NZ. All the standard vampire tropes are here and used to comic effect: being invited in, reflections, hypnosis etc. The character’s have nearly a thousand years of history to play with and the film does well to thrown in a bunch of historic references and jokes – although the strongest riff is minor character Stu teaching the vampires how to use modern technology (Laptops, Skype, Ebay etc). The central trio are fantastic characters: perfectly acted, and all funny in their own styles – you’d happily sit and watch them argue for hours as they truly feel like bickering mates. It’s a great comedy script, with plenty of big and throwaway gags, but the overall feel of the film is more like a bunch of individually strong sketches loosely tied together by a few tangents – it feels more like a sitcom, than a documentary or movie. Most situations substitute the romanticism of being a vampire with the silly and mundane stuff, giving the film an upbeat, giggly, and playful tone which – along with the old-timer’s habits, dress sense, accents etc – make it all great fun to watch. It’s technically sound – CGI & wires are well hidden and there’s even an Inception-style corridor fight that works. I tip my beaver fur top-hat to Clement and Waititi for taking on two completely tired genres and making something this fresh and funny with it. A charming and entertaining look at the boring daily vampiric monotony.