Archive for ‘2000s’

December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks” (Screencaps #3)

Following my review of Yukio Ninagawa’s The Greeks, this post contains screencaps from The Gods, which includes “Helen,” “Orestes,” “Andromache” and “Iphigenia in Tauris.” Read on for seventy-two screencaps!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks” (Screencaps #2)

Following my review of Yukio Ninagawa’s The Greeks, this post contains screencaps from The Murders, which includes “Hecuba,” “Agamemnon” and “Electra.” Read on for sixty screencaps!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks” (Screencaps #1)

Following my review of Yukio Ninagawa’s The Greeks, this post contains screencaps from The War, which includes the prologue, “Iphigenia in Aulis,” “Achilles,” and “The Trojan Women.” Read on for forty-three screencaps!

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December 14, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “The Greeks”

The Greeks

Play
Japanese Title: グリークス (Guriikusu)
Performed: 2000, Japan
DVD Released: 2008
Run Time: 470 minutes (That’s 7 hours and 50 minutes!)
Starring: Mikijiro Hira (Agamemnon), Seiichi Tanabe (Achilles), Kikunosuke Onoe (Orestes), Rei Asami (Andromache), Kayoko Shiraishi (Clytemnestra), Misako Watanabe (Hecuba)

Synopsis: When John Barton and Kenneth Cavander set out to adapt nine Greek tragedies (and the Iliad) into one long play, the result was The Greeks, which tells the story of three families – Agamemnon’s, Achilles’, and Priam’s – over the seventeen years surrounding the Trojan War. The play’s three acts and the tragedies they contain are:

· The War: “Iphigenia in Aulis” (Euripides), “Achilles” (based on Homer’s Iliad), “The Trojan Women” (Euripides)

· The Murders: “Hecuba” (Euripides), “Agamemnon” (Aeschylus), “Electra” (Sophocles)

· The Gods: “Helen,” “Orestes,” “Andromache,” “Iphigenia in Tauris” (all by Euripides)

Director Yukio Ninagawa’s 2000 production of The Greeks, for which he won a Kinokuniya Theatre Award (source), had a principal cast of twenty-seven and was an all-day affair that, with intermissions, ran ten and a half hours (source). This post is about that production’s 2008 three-disc DVD release.

My Thoughts: Apparently I didn’t feel that a Japanese production of Shakespeare was quite obscure enough for this English blog, because today I’m here to post about a fourteen-year-old Japanese production of Greek tragedy. A fourteen-year-old Japanese production of Greek tragedy that’s eight hours long.

Every time I remember that The Greeks exists I am kind of blown away by it. Putting on a performance of it must take so much more work at every level than a regular-sized play. As I understand it, the full play is performed only very rarely, although the individual acts are occasionally performed by themselves. I am extremely glad that at least one full performance has made it onto DVD. Not a word of a lie, this is probably my favourite of the Trojan War-related DVDs that I own. I love that it covers such a long time period and includes so many characters, but keeps a tight enough focus that it all feels like one story. I think Barton and Cavander achieved the tricky balance of staying true to the original plays while cutting, adding, and shuffling just enough to create a cohesive story that’s accessible to audiences who might only be vaguely familiar with Greek mythology. Meanwhile Ninagawa’s production, with its sparse sets and dark colours, emphasizes the brutal world that the characters inhabit.

You can check out my three screencap posts (The War, The Murders, The Gods) for more specific comments, but here are some other general thoughts I have about this production:

· “Achilles,” based on Homer’s Iliad, is the only segment not adapted from an existing play. The first time I watched it, I was impressed by how seamlessly it fits in with the rest; the second time, I realized there are actually two huge differences between it and the other nine plays of The Greeks: not only does it not have any lines for the chorus, but it also has a much smaller female presence than any of the other plays. What’s amazing to me when I say that is that it’s not like “Achilles” doesn’t feature any female characters – Thetis speaks in four scenes and Briseis in one, and for many works even today that would be considered a decent amount. But compared to the rest of the plays in The Greeks, that’s seriously nothing. Smarter people than me have debated the merits of the various female characters in Greek tragedy, but just in terms of number of lines and time spent onstage, I am constantly impressed by how huge these roles are.

· My absolute favourite female character in Ninagawa’s production is Electra, played by Shinobu Terajima. All of the acting in this production is top quality, but Terajima especially throws herself into her character. You can tell by the way she speaks that she holds herself in high esteem and never doubts that she’s right; you can tell by the way she moves and by some of the poses she gets herself into that she’s been living wild for several years. And her facial expressions are all so intense! I really enjoy watching her. It’s also amazing to me to think about The Greeks’ Electra after having read the part in Simon Goldhill’s How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today where actresses talk about how demanding it is to play Sophocles’ Electra. Whoever plays Electra in The Greeks doesn’t just have to play Sophocles’ Electra – an hour later, she has to play Euripides’ Electra in “Orestes,” which may well be just as demanding a role. On top of that, in this production, Terajima occasionally appears as a member of the chorus! And she’s not the only one who appears in multiple segments or plays multiple roles. I really have a huge amount of respect for everyone in this cast. Special mention also to Mikijiro Hira, because I found his Agamemnon surprisingly sympathetic, even when he was doing terrible things.

· One look at almost any of the costumes in this production and you’d know they weren’t striving for historical accuracy. I think they were hoping to evoke an atmosphere of the ancient past, not to recreate a particular era. But things get a little strange sometimes when medieval Japanese or even modern influences slip in – Helen sips a beer and flips through a fashion magazine, Apollo dresses like a character from a kabuki play, the sounds of modern warfare end both “The Trojan Women” and “Orestes.” I don’t dislike these other influences, but I’m not sure why they weren’t used more consistently throughout the whole play. There is one thing about the costumes that I really love, however, and that’s the threads that almost everyone wears, sometimes in their hair, sometimes on their clothing, sometimes dangling from their wrists. Greek characters have red threads and Trojan characters have blue threads, and it does amuse me when everyone is colour-coded, but really I just think they look cool. It’s also interesting to see whose costumes don’t fit this pattern. Helen, for example, never wears anything red or blue at all.

· I love the very fact that The Greeks exists so much that I hesitate to admit there are parts I don’t love … but I do wish there was a bit more to the sets. Ninagawa’s minimalist style is fine in shorter productions, but after eight hours I find I’m pretty tired of staring at the same empty black stage. Some of the tragedies have more set dressing than others, but there are some with hilariously little – I think “Hecuba” only gets a rock. I also don’t love that The Greeks ends with ten minutes of Athena and the chorus discussing the nature of happiness. Maybe my opinion of this will change as I become more familiar with Greek tragedy, because at the moment I’m still not really sure what to make of the chorus. I’m okay with them in all of their other appearances, but as soon as the main characters leave the stage at the end of the last tragedy my desire to watch ten minutes of philosophising definitely takes a hit.

· The above point might lead you to believe that I have watched all three DVDs in a row, but so far I haven’t. I would love to try it one day, if it weren’t for “The Trojan Women.” According to this report from someone who went to the play, following “The Trojan Women” there was a half-hour intermission. I’m not sure a mere thirty minutes would be long enough for me to remember what happiness feels like.

· The Greeks ends with a list of the names of certain Trojan War heroes spoken in unison by the chorus. The last hero named is Diomedes, who neither appears nor is mentioned anywhere else in the play. I’m not sure what Barton and Cavander’s intention with this was, but it always makes me think about how the story of the Trojan War, its beginnings and its aftermath is so huge that even an eight-hour play can only begin to tell it. (You may have noticed that The Greeks doesn’t even include all of the surviving Trojan War tragedies, omitting both Sophocles’ “Ajax” and his “Philoctetes.”) This is not really a comment on The Greeks, but it does remind me that one of the things I love so much about the Trojan War myth is how vast it is.

· I feel like I should apologize for heaping so much praise on something that (I’m rudely assuming) has a language barrier for many of my readers. If you ever have the chance to see a production of The Greeks, I would absolutely recommend it. I definitely see Ninagawa’s production becoming a frequent rewatch for me.

Other Greeks posts: The War screencaps; The Murders screencaps; The Gods screencaps

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, CDJapan. Please note that the DVDs are Region 2 and have no subtitles in any language.

November 20, 2014

Mini-Reviews #1

All three of the books in this post are worthy of having a big long rambling post to themselves. Alas, I have been terrible at staying on top of my reviews this year, with the result that I have forgotten much of what I wanted to ramble about! So, with apologies to my readers and to the authors below, I present my first (hopefully of very few) post of mini-reviews.

~*~

Cassandra Princess of TroyHilary Bailey: Cassandra, Princess of Troy

Novel
Pages: 325
First Published: 1993

My Thoughts: I reread this book in January and put off posting about it forever because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to properly express how much I love it. The first time I read it, I declared it to be my favourite Trojan War novel. Now I would perhaps say it is my second favourite (after The Song of Achilles, which chewed up my emotions and spat them back out), but it is a very close second.

The novel is narrated by Cassandra, who has survived the war and is living in Greece. The chapters alternate between her present life and her memories of the war, although later in the book there are also chapters from Clytemnestra’s point of view. Occasionally, there are also one-shot chapters narrated by other characters, which actually might be my least favourite part of the book because it’s never explained how these chapters ended up in what is supposed to be Cassandra’s memoir.

Ignoring those questionable one-shot chapters, one of the things I love most about this book is how realistic it feels. Bailey’s Troy is smaller and less imposing than it’s usually portrayed, the lives of the princes not as glamorous (Hector works on a farm!), and the focus on the royal family not as tight. Regular citizens are mentioned frequently, which helps the city feel more populated and alive. Some of the novel’s most haunting images are of regular people struggling to survive a war. Bailey’s depiction of the city under siege is fantastic – she considers even the smallest details and uses them to ground her story in reality. We see characters going hungry, turning on each other, facing danger every time they leave the city. I also like how committed Bailey is to keeping Cassandra’s viewpoint realistic. Well that probably doesn’t at all say what I want it to, but what I mean is I really like how some of the most famous events of the Trojan War are described in just one sentence, because Cassandra wasn’t there to witness them.

I also really like Paris in this book, which is something I rarely get to say! I think Bailey builds him up just enough as a good older brother in the beginning that I was able to feel sympathy for him later.

Cassandra, Princess of Troy is a book I recommend without reserve.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

~*~

How to Stage Greek Tragedy TodaySimon Goldhill: How to Stage Greek Tragedy Today

Non-fiction
Pages: 248
First Published: 2007

My Thoughts: The title of this book might lead you to think it’s a strict step-by-step guide, but it isn’t at all. The book is divided into six chapters, each covering a major issue that must be considered by anyone staging a modern production of a Greek tragedy. As listed on the back of the book, these six issues are: “the staging space and concept of the play; the use of the chorus; the actor’s role in an unfamiliar style of performance; the place of politics in tragedy; the question of translation; and the treatment of gods, monsters, and other strange characters of the ancient world.” Goldhill discusses how each of these would have been handled in their original context, then analyzes the approaches taken by a variety of recent productions in the U.S. and western Europe. He pretty plainly states which productions he thinks were successful and which he thinks failed, but I really liked reading about all of them – it definitely made me want to watch more Greek tragedy!

This book’s writing style is a bit of an odd mix of ~fairly casual~ and ~so academic I had to put effort into understanding it~, but it still grabbed me enough that I finished it in a weekend. Goldhill brings up a lot of points that I had never considered before, and I think I learned just as much about how Greek tragedy was originally performed as I did about how it might be performed today. The chapter that surprised me the most was the one about translation; I had never even realized that a translation style might be chosen based on the director’s overall goals for the production. Goldhill shows us three different translations of Cassandra’s speech from Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon,” and I was kind of fascinated by the three completely different styles. I never thought there could be so many different possibilities in the translation alone!

I also liked that Goldhill interviewed people who have been involved in modern productions of Greek tragedy. He quotes two different actresses talking about how sick they were after finishing a run as the title character in Sophocles’ “Electra”! Another thing I never realized is how intense that role must be.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

~*~

David A. Traill: Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit

Non-fiction
Pages: 365
First Published: 1995

My Thoughts: This is a biography of Heinrich Schliemann, and somehow I think it’s the first proper Schliemann biography I’ve actually read?! How did that happen??

I would not be surprised if this book is a controversial one, seeing as how it takes one of the most famous archaeologists in history and shows him in a less than flattering light. Having said that, however, I really think Traill is careful to treat Schliemann as fairly as possible, and I don’t think his goal in writing this book was to tarnish Schliemann’s name. He provides sources for everything he says, most of them from Schliemann’s own writings. One thing I really liked about this book is how frequently Traill quotes primary sources. He is constantly examining and comparing Schliemann’s diary, his letters, his published books, and the writings of his friends, family, and colleagues in an attempt to figure out where Schliemann was telling the truth and where he was fudging or fabricating. The book includes large portions of these primary sources so readers can examine them as well. I can’t claim to be an expert on Schliemann, but I found Traill’s interpretations very thorough and convincing. I can’t recommend this book if you want to like Schliemann, but I got a lot out of it and enjoyed reading it.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

May 13, 2014

Wolfgang Petersen: “Troy”

Troy

Movie
First Released: 2004
Run Time: 163 minutes (Director’s Cut: 196 minutes)
Starring: Brad Pitt (Achilles), Eric Bana (Hector), Orlando Bloom (Paris), Diane Kruger (Helen), Peter O’Toole (Priam), Sean Bean (Odysseus)

Synopsis: Brad Pitt picks up a sword and brings a muscular, brooding presence to the role of Greek warrior Achilles in this spectacular retelling of the Iliad. Orlando Bloom and Diane Kruger play the legendary lovers who plunge the world into war, Eric Bana portrays the prince who dares to confront Achilles, and Peter O’Toole rules Troy as King Priam. Director Wolfgang Petersen recreates a long-ago world of mighty warships, clashing armies, the massive fortress city and the towering Trojan Horse.

Review: May 14, 2014 marks the tenth anniversary of Troy’s theatrical release. Enough reviews of this movie have already been written that I’ve honestly considered never posting about it at all, but I can’t pass up an anniversary. I do, however, want to keep this short; I could talk about this movie for days but I’ve chosen two things I like and two things I don’t like and am going to do my best just to stick with them.

Also, I am making absolutely no attempt in this entry to avoid SPOILERS.

· Thing I Like #1: Achilles’ Fight Scenes

Troy is the only movie I’ve seen so far that actually tries to bring the greatest warrior of the Trojan War to life on the battlefield, and just for that I’m glad it exists. I know nothing at all about fighting, but the DVD extras discuss the creation of Achilles’ fighting style in a way that makes me feel like it was impressive undertaking, and I am more than happy to believe that. The scene where he’s fighting on the beach shows an Achilles who can take on multiple enemies at once, who can predict their movements based on very little information, who uses every advantage he has and who knows exactly what to do to win a battle as quickly as possible. My favourite part comes at 2:24 in the linked clip, where he throws his shield onto his back less than a second before it’s pierced by an arrow. I like this scene so much that I am even willing to forgive the moments where the editing or special effects are way too obvious. I do have some problems with Achilles in this movie, but just in terms of his battle scenes, in terms of portraying him as a man who was born for war, Troy is a huge improvement over every other Trojan War movie I’ve seen.

Related, I also love how the fight between Hector and Achilles has them alone together on the battlefield. There honestly might not be anything I would change about that scene.

· Thing I Don’t Like #1: Patroclus

It honestly doesn’t bother me that Troy makes Achilles and Patroclus cousins. What does bother me is that, for all that we are constantly told how close they are, they never seem to be close at all. The actors who played them are twenty years apart, they fight in every scene they have together, Achilles’ relationship with Briseis is given priority, and when Patroclus goes onto the field in Achilles’ armour, Achilles doesn’t even know. I would be okay with this distance between them if it were the movie’s intention to create distance between them, but based on Achilles’ reaction to Patroclus’s death I would say it clearly isn’t. Every time I watch Troy’s Achilles swear to revenge Patroclus’s death, I find myself thinking, “But Achilles … did you even like that guy??”

It also really, really irritates me to think that a major reason Troy creates so much distance between Achilles and Patroclus is because of the political climate at the time the movie was in production. Like it wasn’t enough to make them cousins – Troy also has to make sure these two men don’t even act like friends, just to make sure no one can accuse them of having a homosexual relationship. The thought that this movie weakened its own story in order to appease a certain demographic drives me up the wall.

· Thing I Like #2: Odysseus

Troy’s Odysseus is definitely a watered-down Odysseus in that, apart from his imagining the Trojan Horse, his cleverness only shows itself through one-liners. The film attempts to portray him as the man of many turns, but isn’t terribly successful. For example, in his first scene in the director’s cut, he convinces Agamemnon’s messengers that he’s someone else only to immediately admit he’s bluffing – why?? Even so, I’m glad that this Odysseus is in the movie. All the other characters are so serious that I think Odysseus and his wry comments are almost necessary. I also really love his friendship with Achilles and, no matter how many problems I have with the movie that precedes it, I never fail to tear up at his ending monologue.

· Thing I Don’t Like #2: Agamemnon

I don’t have much to say about Troy’s Agamemnon because there isn’t much to him. He’s completely one-dimensional and has no redeeming qualities. Even doing my best to accept this character as the one-note villain of a summer blockbuster, I kind of hate every scene he’s in. Surely they could have given him a little nuance? It’s like one minute this movie is quoting Homer and casting Peter O’Toole in one of the most famous scenes in Western literature, and the next minute Agamemnon is shouting about how evil he is. In the end I don’t quite know what kind of movie Troy wanted to be.

Related, I also wish this movie had taken care to be a little bit subtle about the whole glory aspect of the story. The search for glory is a huge part of the Iliad and I think the questions it raises both directly and indirectly are still extremely relevant today. Is it worth trading your life for fame? Does a life have meaning if it’s forgotten once it’s over? I love this aspect of the story and I hate how Troy deals with it. The scene where Agamemnon and Achilles argue about which one of their names will be remembered is, in my mind, the worst offender. It’s so busy hitting you over the head with the point it’s trying to make that it forgets to be at all compelling.

· I will be honest with you: in the end, Troy is my favourite of the Trojan War movies I’ve seen so far, although this has less to do with how it handles the story or the characters and more to do with the fact that, at the moment at least, it’s the only Trojan War movie made on a Hollywood budget during my lifetime. Actually, I think this is also why I get so irritated by the parts of it that I don’t like – because it’s the only one of its kind, I can’t seek out others that I might enjoy more, like I constantly do with Trojan War novels. For all its faults, though, I have watched this movie at least twice a year since it was released, and I’m sure I’ll continue to watch it at least twice a year until Hollywood decides it’s time to remake it.

Watch: the trailer

Buy it at: Amazon.com (regular edition), Amazon.com (director’s cut), Amazon.com (director’s cut collector’s edition), Amazon.ca (regular edition), Amazon.ca (director’s cut), Amazon.ca (director’s cut collector’s edition)

May 7, 2014

Jon Solomon: “The Ancient World in the Cinema”

The Ancient World in the Cinema

Non-fiction
Pages: 326
First Published: 2001 (revised and expanded edition)

Synopsis: This entertaining and useful book provides a comprehensive survey of films about the ancient world, from The Last Days of Pompeii to Gladiator. Jon Solomon catalogues, describes, and evaluates films set in ancient Greece and Rome, films about Greek and Roman history and mythology, films of the Old and New Testaments, films set in ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Persia, films of ancient tragedies, comic films set in the ancient world, and more. The book has been updated to include feature films and made-for-television movies produced in the past two decades. More than two hundred photographs illustrate both the films themselves and the ancient sources from which their imagery derives.

Review: As the synopsis says, this book sets out to catalogue, describe and evaluate every non-documentary film that fits into one of its chapters: Greek and Roman History; Greek and Roman Mythology; the Old Testament; the New Testament; Babylon, Egypt, Persia, and the Ancient Orient; Ancient Tragedy and The Satyricon; Ancient Comedy and Satirized Ancients; and the Muscleman Epics. This includes films silent and sound, American and overseas, Hollywood and made-for-TV. Although it’s a little out of date now (the most recent movie it mentions is 2000’s Gladiator), the book’s large scope ensures that it remains a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the genre.

I do want to mention that this is not a book I recommend reading cover-to-cover unless you feel particularly inclined to do so. Before I started reading it, I expected it to be a book of film analysis, but it really isn’t. The closest it comes to analysis is in the muscleman chapter, where Solomon attempts to describe the plot of every muscleman film in one go. The rest of the time, depending on how much he has to say about a particular film, he’ll introduce it, talk a bit about what went on behind the scenes, describe the plot and any scenes he finds especially important, comment on how the film compares with what we know of the history it’s based on, and then give his evaluation. (If you want to skip all that, you can flip to the list of film titles, ordered by subject, in the back of the book.) Absolutely this book is a great resource, but it makes for dry reading if you try to read it all the way through. I also think that the fact that Solomon started this book in the 1970s really shows in the way he describes the films. Now that it’s easy to watch movies at home, it isn’t necessary for an author to devote three pages to a thorough description of the chariot race from Ben-Hur. If Solomon decides to release a third edition, I think it would make sense to shorten the scene summaries for movies that are widely available.

One thing I do really like about this book, however, is Solomon’s stance that “historical accuracy and artistic necessity belong to different families.” He has no problem praising a historically inaccurate film if he feels it’s successful as a film – a breath of fresh air when so many people seem to believe that “this movie deviates from its source” is the exact same thing as “this is a bad movie.”

Since this is a Trojan War blog, I should perhaps mention that pages 103 to 111 and 263 to 268 are the pages to check out for movies about the Trojan War and its aftermath. I was surprised to learn that there are a few I haven’t seen yet! I’m really looking forward to watching them, as well as more than a few other movies introduced to me by this book, which I definitely recommend as a solid reference book for anyone interested in movies about the parts of the ancient world that it covers.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

April 29, 2014

Mike Jonathan: “Road to the Globe: ‘Troilus & Cressida'”

The Hunt for Troy

Documentary
First Released: 2012
Run Time: 52 minutes

Synopsis: The Road to the Globe is an “all access” documentary which charts the historic performance of Shakespeare’s “Troilus & Cressida” in Te Reo Māori by Rawiri Paratene’s theatre company at the Globe in 2012.

In 2010, with the coming of the 2012 Olympic Games, the home of Shakespeare – The Globe issued a proclamation outlining the world’s biggest Shakespearean festival: 37 countries, 37 Shakespearean plays, 37 languages.

Rawiri Paratene answered the call and was duly given Shakespeare’s little known “Troilus & Cressida.” To raise the stakes, Rawiri and his theatre company were also charged with opening the festival.

The Road to the Globe follows Rawiri and theatre director Rachel House throughout the rehearsal period, where we meet key cast members and watch them confront their fears, struggle with lines and moves and ultimately lift each other up to face their opening curtain.

Review: This is a short documentary whose quick pace makes it feel even shorter, but, as predicted, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. The Trojan War, Shakespeare, behind-the-scenes footage, and discussions of language and culture – this is a whole bunch of things I love all in one movie, and it pains me that I don’t actually have a lot to say about it.

· As someone who knows essentially nothing about Māori culture, I would have loved more information about the costumes, the dances, and the make-up used in the play. I also would have appreciated subtitles for the interviewees who code-switched (for example, by starting a sentence in English and finishing it in Māori). At the same time, however, I accept that monolingual white Canadians are probably not this movie’s target audience, and the filmmakers’ decision to not include subtitles or cultural explanations is a fair one.

· I loved Paratene’s story about celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday every year.

· From what I’ve been able to see of this production of “Troilus and Cressida,” both in this movie and in the videos linked below, it looks like it was AMAZING. Creative staging, the addition of nonverbal humour, actors who fit their roles perfectly, and a firm setting in Māori culture. I also love how the female characters seem to have been given more to do than usual – I am completely in favour of bringing Andromache onstage for more than her ONE scene!

While I would have loved it if this documentary were longer, even at less than an hour it’s a really valuable look at what must have been a fantastic production, and it does a good job of showing the myriad emotions experienced by those involved. If you think you’d find it interesting, I highly recommend checking it out.

Watch: the trailer, a clip from the movie, a news clip, the first three minutes of the play, a thirty-minute video about adapting the play: part one and part two

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

April 28, 2014

Eric Shanower: “Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part One”

Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part One

Graphic Novel
Pages: 175
First Published: 2008

Synopsis: Winner of two Eisner Awards (Best Writer/Artist 2001 and 2003) and the Gran Guinigi (Best Serial Comic 2006), Eric Shanower presents part one of Betrayal, the third of seven volumes telling the complete story of the Trojan War.

High King Agamemnon is bent on conquering Troy and recovering his brother’s beautiful wife, Helen. But first, Agamemnon’s army must pass the island of Tenedos. Spears fly and men die. When the dust settles, the young warrior Achilles finds himself another step closer to his tragic fate.

During the feast of victory, a snake bites Philoktetes on the foot. His cries of pain are so loud and long that the army can’t stand having him around. Leave it to Odysseus to find a solution to the problem, a solution that satisfies the army but doesn’t sit quite so well with Philoktetes.

Meanwhile, the Trojans muster their strength. Happy events such as Hektor’s marriage to Andromache merely mask the fear growing behind Troy’s walls. Can a peace embassy from Agamemnon’s army hold out any hope? Even Helen dreads to face what lies ahead.

Drawn from the myths and legends of centuries, Betrayal continues the tapestry of drama and action known as the Trojan War. Eric Shanower’s historically accurate illustrations and taut storytelling propel this greatest of ancient epics into the twenty-first century.

Note: I am reviewing this book, Volume 3A in the series, because the artist sent me a free copy of Volume 3B. You may or may not be interested to know that, while my local library decided to shelve the previous volume in the children’s section, this one they shelved in the teen section. I think that’s a much better fit for the series as a whole but I have no idea why the difference. Because this volume has swearing in it … ???

Review: Age of Bronze in its entirety is projected to be seven volumes long, which makes me worry that I am going to run out of things to say about it. I have a terrible vision of my review of Volume 7 being nothing but critiques of how a character’s eyebrows are drawn. My general comments about this volume are basically the same as my comments about Sacrifice – I am still impressed by the research and intrigued by the depictions of the characters, and although neither the writing nor the art are that appealing to me on their own, combined they somehow created a book that I couldn’t put down.

· American comic books don’t have the best reputation when it comes to their portrayals of female characters and I admit that I was nervous about that when I began reading this series. I am happy to say that I have been pleasantly surprised. A decent number of female characters – including Thetis, Cressida, Andromache, and Hecuba – look like they’ll be getting larger roles than usual, and characters like Helen and Cassandra who usually get a decent amount of screen time look like they’ll be keeping it. (I’m curious to see how Thetis being in the Greek camp the whole time plays out.) This volume also passes the Bechdel Test pretty cleanly, and features at least as much male nudity as female nudity, sorry if that’s an odd thing to point out!

· Some of the more comic moments are awesome – for instance, I cracked up when Agamemnon got irritated at Palamedes for closing the door properly – but some feel out of place. Possible spoiler!! There’s a moment where Achilles steals a rock from a woman he’s chasing and it reads a bit like slapstick, but on the very next page the woman falls down a hole and dies, which is decidedly not slapstick. The different tones in this scene don’t fit well together and just felt awkward to me. Happily, I’ve only noticed this sort of thing a couple times.

· Polyxena and Troilus have a scene together and the two Ajaxes have a scene together. I mention these only because it’s neat to see characters who are usually pretty minor getting scenes to themselves.

· There are two things in this volume that I suspect might make more sense to me if I had read Volume 1. The first is the scene in which Agamemnon just plain forgets to invite Achilles to the feast that all the other Greeks are attending. He forgot Achilles? How do you forget the best warrior in your army? The second is that I can see Shanower trying to give Helen some angst about the war, but it doesn’t feel very organic to the character. Maybe there’s some information in earlier scenes that would fix these issues for me.

· Possible spoiler!!? So Akamas finds himself in a strange room in the depths of enemy territory with a woman who won’t answer his questions. He responds to this situation by having sex with her and then falling asleep. Dude, I do not think this is the best strategy if you want to make it to the end of this war.

· If I sound less than enthusiastic today, it’s only because I am a terrible reviewer who is writing this entry several weeks after actually reading the book. But in all honesty, I enjoyed this volume even more than the previous one. I read it in one sitting and loved its super creepy cliffhanger! Now that the war is fully about to begin, I’m really excited to read the next volume.

Official Web Site: Age of Bronze
Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

March 5, 2014

Dror Zahavi: “The Hunt for Troy”

The Hunt for Troy  The Hunt for Troy

TV Movie
Original Title: Der geheimnisvolle Schatz von Troja
First Released: 2007
Run Time: 180 minutes
Starring: Heino Ferch (Heinrich Schliemann), Mélanie Doutey (Sophia), Kostja Ullmann (Demetrios)

Synopsis: True story about how famous German businessman and archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann located the ruins of the mythical ancient city of Troy in Turkey in 1868.

Review: To best understand my feelings about this movie (or maybe it is a two-part miniseries, I’m not even sure), you perhaps have to know how I was introduced to it. I was scanning the adventure movies shelf of the rental shop in the tiny city just north of the tiny town where I lived in northern Japan when I caught sight of the word トロイ (Troy) on a DVD spine. Looking at the cover (included above on the right), I was amazed both because I had never heard of the movie before and also because look at that cover. It is majestic. An awkwardly Photoshopped Indiana Jones-type hero posing in front of what may well be the horse from Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy. I would like to believe this cover is the reason photo editing was invented. Obviously I took the DVD home, expecting a cheap rip-off of Indiana Jones that was sure to be both hilarious and terrible.

I should probably insert a disclaimer here letting you know that the DVD I rented offered audio in the original German or the Japanese dub. I chose the latter and understood, I would say, about 85%; I must admit there was an entire subplot where I pretty much just had to guess what was going on. However, what I did understand was much less cheap, terrible, or Indiana Jones-y than I had been anticipating. In all honesty, I actually found it to be a fairly compelling mix of adventure story and love story and a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

It … was still kind of hilarious, though. Where IMDb gets off calling it a “true story,” I have no idea. Only in the most general details does this movie bear any resemblance to the historical Heinrich Schliemann’s search for Troy; it has no compunctions about adding chase scenes, gunfights or love triangles anywhere it feels they are necessary. (I never ever in my whole life thought I would ever watch a movie featuring a Heinrich Schliemann/Sophia Schliemann ~fade to black~ implied sex scene. I suppose we never can predict where life will take us.) Some of the artifacts they find at Troy are pretty fantastic as well, to the point that I would not have been surprised if the characters had unearthed an autographed photo of Achilles. And the last few scenes are way more dramatic than they have any right to be, especially when a lot of people believe that the real Heinrich Schliemann’s reports on Troy involved a not small amount of lying.

I have no idea how to end this post except to say that although I continue to be baffled that this movie exists, I really enjoyed it. If you get the chance you should totally watch it.

Watch: the trailer (in English), the garden scene (in German), the wedding scene (in German)

Buy it at: The existence of an English trailer might lead you to believe that an English language release exists, but so far I have not found that to be the case. In the meantime, those with the ability to watch Region 2 DVDs can order the German release from Amazon.de or the Japanese release from Amazon.co.jp, noting, of course, that neither release includes English subtitles.