Archive for ‘movies’

November 22, 2014

Mini-Reviews #2

In Search of the Trojan WarMichael Wood: In Search of the Trojan War

Documentary Series
First Released: 1985
Run Time: Six 60-minute episodes.

My Thoughts: In In Search of the Trojan War, historian Michael Wood travels through Europe and Asia in an attempt to answer the question of whether or not the Trojan War really happened. I really have nothing to say about this documentary except that it is absolutely the best documentary I have seen on the subject of the Trojan War and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in anything related to Greek mythology or archaeology. I’ve seen it enough times that I’m sure I could sing you the synthariffic theme song and I still find it a great watch. The series is almost thirty years old and its age does show (I especially love the parts where Wood has to push several buttons AND A LEVER in order to change the picture on a computer screen), but it still has a ton of great information presented in an interesting and enthusiastic way. In an interview filmed for the DVD, Wood talks about how he didn’t want to just tell viewers his conclusions – the series really is set up like a search, and one of my favourite things about it is how Wood shows how details that seem not to be related at all can sometimes turn out to be a major source of information.

Of course I also enjoy all the shots of the archaeological sites, and I especially love the parts where Wood isn’t afraid to use his basic Greek on camera!

Also, at one point there’s a shot of our young host lying shirtless in bed, and it makes me laugh every single time I see it because yes, this is a documentary with fanservice.

Watch it on: YouTube

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

~*~

Mourning Becomes ElectraDudley Nichols: Mourning Becomes Electra

Movie
First Released: 1947
Run Time: The full cut seems to have been 175 minutes; I watched the 159-minute version released on DVD.
Starring: Rosalind Russell (Lavinia), Michael Redgrave (Orin), Katina Paxinou (Christine), Kirk Douglas (Peter)

My Thoughts: I loved Rosalind Russell in The Women and His Girl Friday and I loved Michael Redgrave in Dead of Night, so when I learned that they had starred together in the film version of the Eugene O’Neill play based on Aeschylus’ Oresteia I immediately had huge expectations. The first time I watched the movie, it didn’t live up to those expectations at all. The main thing that bothered me is that there is so much talking. I’d probably have an easier time accepting this from a stage production, but in a movie I guess I expect more showing and less telling, and it certainly didn’t help that a lot of this dialogue is delivered in the most overdramatic fashion possible. Luckily, I rewatched the movie about a month later, and enjoyed it rather more than I had the first time. The overdramatic dialogue was much easier to accept when I knew it was coming, although I still wish the movie had taken better advantage of being a movie. To me, one of the most effective sequences is the nearly silent stretch at the beginning when Lavinia is spying on Christine.

Like the Oresteia, Mourning Becomes Electra is made up of three parts, in this case titled “Homecoming,” “The Hunted” and “The Haunted.” Easily my favourite of the three is “The Haunted,” in which Lavinia and Orin attempt to move on from all that has happened. Although there are no Furies to torment this version of Orestes, it’s hinted quite strongly that Orin, who has just returned home from fighting in the Civil War, is suffering from PTSD; I really like the early scene in which he talks about his belief that war involves killing the same man over and over again. Later in the movie, the portraits of Orin and Lavinia’s ancestors take on the role of the Furies, and even the house itself seems to become a source of danger and evil. I loved all of this; it allows the events of the movie to remain realistic while preserving the supernatural spirit of the story it’s based on.

In the end, I like this movie all right, and it was interesting to see how O’Neill played with the story, but I remain hopeful that one day a really great movie version of the Oresteia will be released. I would also like to gain access to the parallel universe where I can watch the version of Mourning Becomes Electra that stars Olivia de Havilland as Lavinia. I wonder which of these wishes is the more realistic.

Watch: the first forty minutes, two minutes from “The Haunted”

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August 2, 2014

Three Movies I Wish I Could See

1) Elektra (2010) (video link)

Based on the Electra of mythology as well as the Eugene O’Neill adaptation “Mourning Becomes Electra,” this is an Indian movie in the Malayalam language that has yet to be released due to a dispute over its distribution. I was a little disappointed by the 1947 film version of Mourning Becomes Electra and would love to see a different director take on the story, so hopefully we’ll be able to watch this sooner rather than later! Above is the trailer; also on YouTube are “Arikil Varu,” “Ekakiyaayi” and “Let’s Dance,” the three songs on the film’s soundtrack. More information can be found on Wikipedia.

2) The Iliad With Zombies
Everything I know about this “low budget film project” I know from its TV Tropes page. Apparently it was on YouTube for a time but now it is not. The only other evidence I’ve been able to find of it ever existing is this text-only trailer and a recommendation for the fanfic that it may or may not have been based on, which is also unavailable. The amount that I want to see this movie is pretty ridiculous considering that all I really know about it is that it apparently contains super anachronistic lines like the following:

Patroclus: “Basically, this is turning out a lot like To Kill A Mockingbird … but with a lot less black people and a lot more spears.”
Odysseus: “Maybe you should have left a trail of breadcrumbs before starting off down that metaphor.”

I’m sold.

3) From the Word & Film article “8 Shakespeare Adaptations That Don’t Exist (And Their Directors)“:

Another atonal play, [“Troilus and Cressida”] vacillates between romance, sex comedy, and war play, mostly following the plots and hijinks of a few different characters without a unified plot.

Director: Sir Ridley Scott — the Trojan War represents a huge gap in Sir Ridley’s filmography. Hopefully he could flatten the play’s dissonance of tones, finding a balance between love, revenge, and madness the same way that he did in Gladiator (2000).

MAKE IT HAPPEN, HOLLYWOOD.

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)

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

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.