10 Christopher Plummer Films To Watch This Weekend


Christopher Plummer died today.  The Canadian actor was 91 years old and he left behind a truly impressive filmography.  Below are ten films that I would recommend if you want to have a Christopher Plummer film fesival this weekend.  I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit of an idiosyncratic list, a mixture of obscure and cult films with a few films that are well-known but which perhaps aren’t usually thought of as being Christopher Plummer films.  This was intentional on my part.  Everyone already knows that Christopher Plummer was in The Sound of Music and Knives Out.  I wanted to recommend a few films that you might not see listed elsewhere.

So, with all that in mind, here are 10 Christopher Plummer films to watch this weekend:

Starcrash (1979) — One of my favorite films of all time, this Star Wars rip-off features Christopher Plummer in the small but pivotal role of the Emperor of the Galaxy.  Plummer brings a lot dignity and humanity to the role.  If the galaxy does ever have an emperor, I hope he will be as wise as Christopher Plummer was in Starcrash.

Up (2009) — Christopher Plummer lends his amazing voice to this PIXAR film about an old man who floats away on an adventure and who runs into far more sinister adventurer named Charles Muntz.  Plummer is wonderfully menacing at Muntz, using his voice to create one of PIXAR’s most memorable villains.

Murder By Decree (1979) — In this Canadian film, Plummer plays Sherlock Holmes while James Mason plays Dr. Watson.  Together, they investigate the crimes of Jack the Ripper and uncover a royal conspiracy.  Plummer is perhaps one of the most credible Sherlock Holmes to ever appear on screen, breathing real life into a character that otherwise could have felt like a literary invention.  Thanks to Plummer’s performance, the final scenes are poignant and rather sad and perhaps as emotional as any scene to be found in any screen adaptations of Holmes’s adventures.

12 Monkeys (1995) — Plummer is nicely cast of Brad Pitt’s father in this Terry Gilliam-directed time travel epic.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) — In this historical epic, Plummer played yet another emperor, the mad Commodus.  Though The Fall of the Roman Empire has its flaws, it’s still an enjoyable work of spectacle and Plummer’s villainous turn is definitely one of the film’s highlights.  Whereas other Roman epics often portrayed the “bad” emperors as being decadent and somewhat buffoonish, Plummer plays up Commodus’s anger and his desire for revenge.  He’s the emotionally vulnerable tyrant.

Dreamscape (1984) — The enjoyable sci-fi/horror hybrid features Plummer as a sinister government agent who is conspiring to kill the President through his dreams.  Though the role might not have much depth, this is a well-made movie and Plummer makes for an effective villain.

The Silent Partner (1979) — Christopher Plummer is terrifying in this Canadian film, playing a bank robber who dresses up like Santa Claus and who has no hesitation about using violence to get what he wants.  This is one of Plummer’s best villainous turns.

Barrymore (2011) — The great Christopher Plummer plays the great John Barrymore in this Canadian film.  This may not be Plummer’s best-known performances but it’s one of his best.

Alexander (2004) — As silly as this Oliver Stone epic sometimes is, Christopher Plummer is the ideal Aristotle.

Vampire in Venice (1988) — Christopher Plummer vs. Klaus Kinski in Venice!  Kinski is Dracula.  Plummer is basically Van Helsing.  It’s a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of two unique acting talents.

Finally, a few other Christopher Plummer films that I’d also recommend checking out: Inside Daisy Clover, The Pyx, The Man Who Would Be King, Wolf, Dolores Claiborne, The New World, The Last Station, Beginners, All The Money In The World, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Christopher Plummer, R.I.P.

 

Film Review: The Fall of the Roman Empire (dir by Anthony Mann)


Why did the Roman Empire fall?

Well, historically, there were several reasons but they can all basically be boiled down to the fact that the Empire got too big to manage and that having two separate capitols certainly didn’t help matters.  The Empire got so large and overextended that the once fabled Roman army was no match for the barbarians.

Of course, if you’ve ever watched a movie about the Roman period, you know exactly why the Empire fell.  It all had to do with decadence, gladiators, human sacrifices, and crazed emperors with unfortunate names like Caligula and Commodus.  The Roman Empire fell because the imperial government descended into soap opera, complete with love triangles, betrayals, and whispered plotting inside the Senate.

Another thing that we’ve learned from the movies is that the fall of the Roman Empire was damn entertaining.  Between the orgies and the men wearing those weird helmets with the brushes on top of them, there’s nothing more fun that watching the Roman Empire fall.

Case in point: the 1964 film, The Fall of the Roman Empire.

This three and a half hour epic begins with the last of the good Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius (Alec Guiness), battling to keep the Germanic barbarians from invading the empire.  Marcus is a wise man and a great leader but he knows that his time is coming to an end and he needs to name a successor.  His daughter, Lucilla (Sophia Loren), is an intelligent and compassionate philosopher but, on the basis of her sex, is not eligible to succeed him.  His son, Commodus (Christopher Plummer), may be a great and charismatic warrior but he’s also immature and given to instability.  Marcus’s most trusted adviser, Timonides (James Mason), would never be accepted as a successor because of his Greek birth and background as a former slave.  (Add to that, Timonides is secretly a Christian.)

That leaves Livius (Stephen Boyd).  Livius is one of Marcus’s generals, a man who is not only renowned for his honesty and integrity but one who is also close to the royal family.  Not only is he a former lover of Lucilla’s but he’s also been a longtime friend to Commodus.  Unfortunately, before Marcus can officially name Livius as his heir, the emperor is poisoned.  Commodus is named emperor and things quickly go downhill.  Whereas Marcus ruled with wisdom and compassion, Commodus is a tyrant who crushes anyone who he views as being a potential threat.  Lucilla is married off to a distant king (Omar Sharif).  Timonides is declared an enemy after he suggests that the conquered Germans should be allowed to peacefully farm on Italian land.  Rebellion starts to ferment in every corner of the Empire and Livius finds himself trapped in the middle.  Which side will he join?

Despite all the drama, Commodus is not necessarily an unpopular emperor.  One of the more interesting things about The Fall of the Roman Empire is that Commodus’s popularity grows with his insanity.  The crueler that he is, the more the people seem to love him.  Soon, Commodus is fighting as a gladiator and having people burned at the stake.  While some Romans are horrified, many more love their emperor no matter what.  People love power, regardless of what it’s used for.  Perhaps that’s the main lesson and the main warning that the final centuries of the Roman Empire have to give us.

The Fall of the Roman Empire is surprisingly intimate historical epic.  While there’s all the grandeur that one would normally expect to see in a film about the Roman Empire, the film works best when it concentrates on the characters.  While Boyd and Loren do their best with their thinly drawn roles, the film is stolen by great character actors like Alec Guinness, James Mason, and Christopher Plummer.  Plummer, in particular, seems to be having a blast playing the flamboyantly evil yet undeniably charismatic Commodus.  Even with the Empire collapsing around then, both Plummer as an actor and Commodus as a character seems to be having a blast.  Add to that, there’s all of the usual battles and ancient decadence that you would expect to find in a film about the Roman Empire and the end result is a truly enjoyable epic.

As I watched The Fall of the Roman Empire, it was hard for me not to compare the film to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.  That’s because they’re both basically the same damn movie.  The main difference is that The Fall of the Roman Empire is far more entertaining.  The Fall of the Roman Empire, made in the days before CGI and featuring real people in the streets of Rome as opposed to animated cells, feels real in a way that Gladiator never does.  If Gladiator felt like a big-budget video game, The Fall of the Roman Empire feels like a trip in a time machine.  If I ever do go back to 180 A.D., I fully expect to discover James Mason giving a speech to the Roman Senate while Christopher Plummer struts his way through the gladiatorial arena.

Finally, to answer the question that started this review, why did the Roman Empire fall?

It was all Christopher Plummer’s fault, but at least he had a good time.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Cleopatra, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Caligula, Titus


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Welcome to a special Ides of March edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films.  These 4 shots are taken from 4 diverse films about the Roman Empire (which, of course, was a direct result of events that occurred long ago on the Ides of March).

4 Shots From 4 Films

Cleopatra (1963, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Cleopatra (1963, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964, dir by Anthony Mann)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964, dir by Anthony Mann)

Caligula (1979, dir by Tinto Brass, et al)

Caligula (1979, dir by Tinto Brass, et al)

Titus (1999, dir by Julie Taymor)

Titus (1999, dir by Julie Taymor)