Sunday, October 20th, 2013
Computer Game #3: Caesar III (1998)
My brother sent me an article last week about the highest paid athlete in history — a charioteer in ancient Rome. Turns out he earned the modern equivalent of $15 billion over his career and lived a lavish lifestyle. Yes, if you were a citizen of the Roman Empire, life was usually pretty good. Of course, if you clicked on the virtual citizens of your Roman city in Caesar III, you’ll most likely get an earful of complaints.
This was one of the more charming elements of the city building computer game Caesar III, a clever combination of SimCity and a real-time strategy game, which let you build Rome in a day. While historically inaccurate — if you laid out your digital version using an actual Roman street plan, your city would fail — Caesar III was nonetheless a challenge to play and a great deal of fun. Clicking on your citizens as they went about their daily tasks would tell you what they needed, as you planned what to construct next. Aquaducts, markets and colosseums were important, but so were gardens, walls and temples: you really did not want to anger the gods in this game.
Sadly, the only thing Caesar III was lacking was a multiplayer element, one where you could trade with — or invade — your friend’s cities.
Friday, October 4th, 2013
Book #9: “I, Claudius” — Robert Graves (1935)
If you want to see what life was like in ancient Rome, rent HBO’s “Rome” — while they get many of the historical characters wrong, they nail the look. Plus, there’s lots of sex and violence. Or read Colleen McCullough’s “First Man in Rome,” a gritty nuts-and-bolts retelling of how the republic slid into empire that is the most detailed and lovingly accurate novel about that time and place. But if you want a grand, Shakespearean experience, pick up the classic “I, Claudius” by poet Robert Graves, who regales the chaos of Caligula’s reign of terror through the eyes of the only man who didn’t want to be emperor of the Roman Empire. (Or rent the stagey, epically-long 11 hour PBS version, with a very young Patrick Stewart)
Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
Comedy #20: “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966)
On the day after our biggest New Year’s Eve party ever, my wife and I awoke to a thoroughly trashed apartment, several unconscious friends, and a well-earned hangover. Not wanting to move further than the remote, I turned on the TV to discover that “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” had just begun. It was the perfect movie to watch as we lay about in the ruins of the night before.
Seriously, how can anyone hate a movie that rhymes “pantaloons & tunics” with “courtesans & eunuchs,” and has one character order a “sit-down orgy for 12”? For the next several years, we started every New Year’s Day with this film.
Stephen Sondeheim’s very first musical, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was directed by Richard Lester (who will appear on this list more than once) coming off of back-to-back Beatles movies — so you know there will be lots of chase scenes, cross-dressing and broad jokes. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is a parody of the sex farce, as much anti-musical as it is true to the form. Songs are poorly sung — deliberately — dances are awkward, and whole thing is incredibly silly. (Ironically enough, until HBO’s Rome came along, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” also happened to be one of the most accurate visual depictions of what life looked like in a Roman city in a Hollywood production. Well, except for the mare sweat.)