A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Cleopatra kills herself, 30BC
On this day in 30BC, Cleopatra VII Philopator, last pharaoh of ancient Egypt, killed herself. She was the daughter of Ptolemy XII Auletes and at first ruled alongside him, later ruling alongside her brothers Ptolemy XIII and XIV, the latter of whom she married. The Ptolemaic dynasty had its origins in Greece, the original Ptolemey having been one of Alexander the Great’s generals. The Ptolemaic era marked the decline of Greece and the ascent of Rome and one of Cleopatra’s strategic couplings was to have a son with Julius Caesar, who became co-ruler with her after her husband/brother Ptolemy mysteriously died of poisoning. Julius Caesar had met his end around the same time, so Cleopatra then aligned herself with Mark Antony, and bore him three children. But with Mark Antony she had chosen the losing side. Because in the struggle for a successor to Caesar, he lost out to Augustus (aka Octavian) and was defeated in battle at Actium. As a result Mark Antony committed suicide. Cleopatra followed her husband (who was incidentally already married to Octavian’s sister), clasping an asp to her bosom, as tradition has it. Her son, Caesarion, briefly tried to become pharaoh but was killed on Octavian’s orders. Egypt became a province of Rome.
Snakes on a Plane (2006, dir: David R Ellis)
Snakes on a Plane is a slightly bigger budgeted version of the sort of film that the SyFy channel churn out for buttons – Sharknado, Frankenfish, Dinocroc vs Supergator – where the accent is on fun and cheesy special effects are all part of the package. And if you’ve got a fading celebrity on board, then so much the better. No such thing here, though, since it’s Samuel L Jackson, very much still riding the wave that Quentin Tarantino got going with Pulp Fiction in 1994, who’s the main man here. He’s playing the badass cop taking a witness to a trial, a witness whose death in transit would be very much appreciated by the accused. Enter the snakes, and exit pretty much any remaining contact with reality. The set-up is borrowed entirely from 1970s disaster movies – we meet a bunch of people: the honeymooners, the uptight Brit, the mile-high couple, the kickboxers, the bimbo stewardesses, the gay steward. Some of them will make it, most of them won’t, and Samuel L will say “motherfuckin’” a hell of a lot.
There is no need to go into more plot than I’ve just laid out, with this film the title is the plot. In fact it’s almost the whole film, once the snakes get loose and start getting busy. One tiny detail – the snakes have been exposed to some gas which makes them extremely violent. “Well that’s good news… snakes on crack,” says Samuel L. Though Jackson looks like he’s doing his scenes in between shooting something else (he was making between five and ten films a year at this point, so it figures), his line readings are never less than brilliant – the notorious “Right, that’s it. I’ve had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane” being the motherlode, the line that got the internet jangling and sold the last few pre-bookings that hadn’t already been sold on the title alone.
The good news is that there is a tiny bit more going on, gratuitous sexual wounding, for example. One early victim gets a snake zonking straight onto her tit. A guy taking a leak gets one… yes, he does. More good news is that there isn’t a big message hiding in there somewhere, apart from the “if we all just pull together we might just beat this” which some overheated souls will see as socialism, but there’s not much anyone can do about that.
It’s dumb, it’s fun, you can half-watch and it still makes sense. Sometimes it’s exactly the sort of movie you want, when you’re tired, the pizza is really top notch and the beer is cold and you’re thirsty.
- Samuel L Jackson – a tour de force
- Dumb, but not stupid
- All the right people die
© Steve Morrissey 2014