Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday Matinee with Swords, Sandals and Scenery Chewing

One of the pleasures of the last 100+ degree Texas August Sunday of the year is, after an afternoon at Barton Springs, sneaking a posse of 12-year-old boys off to catch the matinee of their choice: in this case, the unjustly critically maligned old school swashbuckler "The Last Legion," a popcorn-worthy feast that gives the grown-up escort an outstanding cinematic opportunity to count the homages-per-minute. Dino De Laurentis is not dead.

The plot: returning Roman legionnaires find the imperial capital besieged by Goths, and must escort the boy emperor Romulus Augustus (the last Western emperor) to far lands in search of the magical blade that will restore the last hope of Justice. Meaning, another Excalibur myth that connects the dots between Arthurian legend and the last legions of Rome, mythologizing Britain as the lasting embodiment of the highest ideas of the Empire. Kind of like that grackle eating your french fry being a descendant of the last velociraptor. Among the highlights:

- Anglo chick flick vet Colin Firth as a swashbuckling leather-armored Roman commander, a kinder gentler Maximus, if equally humorless.

- That annoying kid from the horrendous Hugh Grant=Tony Blair flick, "Love Actually," as an earnest and wimpy teen emperor. (They neglect to mention that the actual Romulus Augustus was a usurper, installed by his father Orestes, a Decline and Fall Vichy Roman who served as Attila's chief of staff.)

- Ben Kingsley as a scenery-chewing proto-Merlin, equal parts Obi-Wan, Gandalf, and gangster Gandhi.

- What I was sure was an aging Dolph Lundgren (!) as a red-headed cranky Goth with an unlimited supply of mud-thudding battle-axes, made even crankier when his jefe goes all Yakuza on his ass. (Alas, IMDB reveals the part of Wulfila was played by an up-and-coming Scotsman, while the Dolphster continues his full-auto barrage of direct-to-DVD international action flicks. Come to think of it, a Grace Jones cameo would have fit right in with this flick.)

- Dr. Bashir from Deep Space Nine (fresh from his turn as the uber-terrorist on last season's 24) as the mysterious emissary of Constantinople.

- A Fellowship-worthy escort of multicultural legionnaires.

- Metal-masked evil lords of Celtic Britain, straight out of Excalibur.

- An abandoned Hadrian's Wall doing a marvelous Ozymandias Great Wall turn.

- An Alpine crossing like Moria without the monsters.

- Merlin as staff-fighting Kung Fu Gandalf!

- More stone age megaliths than a Spinal Tap reunion tour.

- Best of all, Bollywood bombshell Aishwarya Rai as a masked Istanbul Easterling guard from beyond Banglaore, exploding with non-stop Crouching Curry martial hearts moves, femininity only revealed 30 minutes in with a wet-T-shirt scene, which does not appear to impress Colin Firth any more than it does the 12-year-old boys in the multiplex. If only they would break out in a bombastic Bally Sagoo dance number, it would be the perfect movie.

Probably not long for the big screen, so catch it with popcorn in the dark while you can.


Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

I snuck into the last 30 minutes of this one while waiting for Stardust to start. I have to say that I've never been all that impressed with Excalibur all these years, and Last Legion struck me as more of the same, only with less fantasy. Aishwarya Rai was by far the most memorable part of the film, although the whole "token hot warrior female" lead pioneered by Kiera Knightly is getting a bit old.

Agree with you completely about the creepy kid. He's turning up in pretty much every British film out there, seems like.

Dave Hardy said...

Ah for the days of discount movie theaters. Almost any movie is good if you only spent a buck-fifty and snuck in a bottle of cheap wine. Even "The Other Sister".