The Media I8 This Week: Julius Caesar and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

My reading habits were more scattershot this week. I started and set aside a huge collection of Julius Caesar’s books, dug into the “Baker Street Journal,” and am partway through two books of uncertain value.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

After watching two P&P movies, why not this one as well? I’m glad I did it in this order. The Kiera Knightly movie told the story in within two hours, and the Colin Firth mini-series exposed me to the deeper subplots.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” ratchets the Austen side of the story even tighter to make room for the undead, while managing to link the two halves together into a coherent story. This meant that the characters had to race through their plot points before the next attack. This worked very well when we’re not in the mood for the six-hour miniseries.

The problem was the ending, when the characters are rescuing each other and blasting the buggers and there’s a tick-tock that you know will end all right even when the movie is trying to convince you otherwise. There were continuity errors (the movie couldn’t figure out if the climax should take place at night or during the day; Ed Wood would approve). And the final scene in which Darcy and Elizabeth cross the last bridge as it was being blown up was followed by a long, long, long scene of Elizabeth confessing her love to the (she believed) dead Darcy. Considering they rode through massive explosions with stone fragments flying, they should be deaf or sliced to ribbons.

They might as well have borrowed from the end of “Ghostbusters,” where three of the gang are covered in white goo, and Bill Murray’s character is utterly clean, and no one says anything about it. Short, sharp, and hey-ho for the wedding bells!

That said, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was a great movie to watch at home and hoot at. The zombies are there, they’re gross, and they eat brains (once that we see), but unless you’re especially squeamish it can be ignored. Maybe my sensors are skewed by watching hundreds of headshots in “John Wick.”

Or, maybe it was simply wonderful to see Doctor Who play the unctuous Parson Collins trying to woo Elizabeth and Cersei Lannister as Lady Catherine De Bourgh with an eyepatch and wielding a sword. It seemed clear that Matt Smith was having way, way too much fun with his role. Try as he might, when he proposed marriage to Elizabeth, I couldn’t help but shout, “ACCEPT HIM! He’s the DOCTOR!”

It also seemed clear that the people behind the movie knew that, for this to work, everybody had to play their roles utterly straight-faced. Five young girls between the ages of 15 and 20 in empire-waist dresses cleaning their handguns? Of course they would! To speak exchanges between the future lovers like this:

Mr. Darcy: [to Bingley] Carelessness when dealing with a zombie infection can lead to your abrupt demise.

Elizabeth Bennet: [suddenly at his side] Arrogance can lead to yours.

But, I hear you ask, what about Elizabeth and Darcy? Surprisingly, Lily James was an excellent choice. She was the right age and exhibited a serious, intellectual side that suits the character. Kiera Knightly was overwhelmingly charming and energetic, but James matched her in her interpretation. Sam Riley is no Colin Firth, but then, Colin Firth wasn’t Colin Firth then, either. I suspect that if he was seriously cast in another Austen and given time to speak, he would perform just as well.

So now it’s time for one more P&P movie: “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” I loved it the first time, especially the pathetic fight scene between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Now that I have imbued all of Austen by this point, I’ll be curious to see what happens next.

The Landmark Julius Caesar

On my grave should be the legend, “He always bit off more than he could chew.” That was the case here. I really wanted to dip into this new translation of Caesar’s “Gallic War,” “The Civil War,” and other books, but got as far as the lengthy scholarly introduction and a few pages into the Gallic War before giving it up. Clearly, this book would occupy my bedtime reading time for months, and I simply couldn’t muster the interest to dig into it.

I’ve read and enjoyed shorter works like “The Gladiators” by Fik Meijer, “Pagan Holiday” by Tony Perrottet (which taught me a lot about how the Greeks ripped off Roman tourists), and “Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day” by Philip Matyszak. Then there’s Mary Beard’s “S.P.Q.R,” a learned discourse on early Roman history that focused on specific themes instead of a lengthy narrative. This led me to the “Hardcore History” series about the bloody conflicts that turned Rome from a republic into an empire (and which resonated strongly with the recent presidential election).

But diving into original source material, especially when it’s not for a book, was just too much for me.

John Wick

Up until “John Wick 2” appeared in theaters, I wasn’t aware there was a “John Wick 1” which says more about my isolation from popular culture than the appeal of Keanu Reeves.

The plotline is simple and basic: Bad guys kill former bad guy’s dog. Former bad guy gets revenge.

This is the whole of the movie. The rest, to borrow from the Jews, is body count.

But, man, this was some stylish killing. According to Wikipedia, Reeves helped with rewriting the script, insisting on putting in more backstory for the other characters. So we get to see Theon Greyjoy steal Reeves’ sweet ride and stomp his puppy (which he got as a parting gift from his dead wife), and spend the rest of the movie whining and on the run from Wick’s vengeance. At least he didn’t get his dick cut off.

Yes, I know it’s bad to delight in violence, but this was like pro wrestling. It’s not to be taken seriously. And it was great fun to think of the action sequences like ballet only with bullets and lots and lots of red spray.

Two bloody thumbs up.