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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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

October 5, 2014

Crash Course World History: “The End of Civilization (In the Bronze Age)”

A few months ago, I posted about Crash Course Literature’s take on the Odyssey. As the Sea Peoples are my favourite awesomely named group of long ago people who maybe did or maybe didn’t exist, I was pretty excited when I saw the thumbnail for this week’s installment of the second Crash Course World History series. The Trojan War only gets a couple shout-outs in the video, which makes me feel like I’m cheating posting about it, but it might be useful to some as a quick introduction to what happened in the time after the war is thought to have taken place. This video also features two mentions of Canada (a rare thing in Crash Course!) and an appearance by a Kingdom Hearts keyblade (KH being one of about three video games I’ve finished) so, you know. I obviously had to link to it.

September 15, 2014

Margalit Fox: “The Riddle of the Labyrinth”

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

Non-fiction
Full Title: The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
Pages: 346
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: In 1900, while excavating on Crete, the charismatic Victorian archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed inscribed clay tablets amid the ruins of a lavish Bronze Age palace. Written by palace scribes circa 1450 B.C., the script they displayed – featuring outline drawings of swords, chariots, and horses’ heads, as well as other tiny pictograms – resembled no alphabet ever seen. Evans named the script Linear B, and from the start it posed a deep mystery. No one knew what language Linear B recorded, much less what the curious inscriptions meant. If the tablets could be deciphered, they would open a portal onto a refined, wealthy, and literate society that had flourished in Greek lands three thousand years earlier, a full millennium before the glories of the Classical Age.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing riddles in history – Linear B – and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. […] Following the three investigators as they hunt down, analyze, and interpret a series of linguistic clues hidden within the script itself, The Riddle of the Labyrinth offers the first complete account of one of the most fascinating conundrums of all time.

Review: So you may have guessed that this book is not very much about the story of the Trojan War! But it’s about a Bronze Age script and it mentions the war enough that I feel justified posting about it, although in a rather shorter post than usual.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth tells the story of the decipherment of Linear B by following its three major players: archaeologist Arthur Evans, professor Alice Kober, and architect Michael Ventris. According to its introduction, this book is “the first complete account of the decipherment,” filling in what was previously unknown about Alice Kober’s years of work on the script. All three sections of the book are interesting, but I especially enjoyed reading about Kober and how dedicated she was to the decipherment at a time when it surely couldn’t have been easy to be a female scholar. I really appreciated how Fox handles this section, especially the way in which she only briefly mentions Kober’s apparent lack of interest in traditionally “feminine” goals, doesn’t disparage her for it, and then never brings it up again. Awesome!!

Before reading this book, I glanced at a couple reviews that suggested that a background in Linguistics would help readers to understand the discussions of the decipherment. I happen to have such a background, but I think what was more helpful was my familiarity with Japanese, a language that uses syllabic writing systems similar to the syllabic writing system Linear B turned out to be (spoiler?). But this book is definitely written for the general reader, and Fox includes enough explanation that I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. I suspect that anyone who’s interested in reading this book will have little problem understanding it.

As a big fan of Bronze Age Greece and an even bigger fan of languages, I super enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about how one goes about deciphering an ancient script and it was fascinating to read about the kind of perseverance the process requires. I even nerdily enjoyed reading the correspondence between scholars discussing their theories about Linear B. If any of the above appeals to you, I suspect Riddle of the Labyrinth will be as unputdownable for you as it was for me.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

August 4, 2014

Clemence McLaren: “Inside the Walls of Troy”

Inside the Walls of Troy  Inside the Walls of Troy

We had accumulated six years of memories, Helen and I – of teaching each other our languages and laughing at the mistakes, of sharing patterns at the loom and and playing knucklebones with Laodice and Polyxena during the long afternoons. I still found such women’s games pointless. But I loved to listen to Helen’s stories, to hear her laughter. Even as angry as I was, I knew how I would miss her.

YA Novel
Pages: 199
First Published: 1996

Synopsis: Helen is renowned as the most beautiful woman in the world. Her divine beauty will lead her to a lifetime of adventure – from being kidnapped at age twelve, through her arranged marriage, to a passionate affair that will ultimately bring about the Trojan War.

Cassandra, the sister of Helen’s true love, has the gift, or curse, of predicting the future. When she foresees the ruin of her family and city, caused by Helen’s arrival in Troy, she is outraged. Yet Cassandra cannot help being drawn to Helen, and as the war rages around them, the two young women develop a deep friendship.

Through their eyes, the classic tale of the Trojan War and its mythic cast of heroes is romantically, grippingly told.

“Crazy woman!” he screamed. “How long must we endure your ravings? You would destroy a gift from the immortals?”
“You’re eating your last food!” I shouted back. “You’re already starting down a road used by ghosts.”

Review: Here it is, my friends. The entire reason I am a Trojan War fangirl. I bought this book when I was thirteen because I was surprised to see a novel about something we’d (briefly) talked about in my seventh grade social studies class. I read it in one day while I was home sick from school, and then I was awake half the night just thinking about it. Within a year, I had read at least four more books about the Trojan War and was pretty well hooked.

Fourteen years have passed since then, and while this book has always had pride of place as the book that started my interest in the Trojan War (and Greek mythology in general), I had never reread it. Now that I’m trying to (re)read and post about all of the Trojan War books I own (instead of buying new ones all the time as is my wont), I decided that it was time.

I guess it’s probably a good thing that my tastes have changed since I was thirteen, is the roundabout way I will begin this review. Let’s start with the positives. I like that it passes the Bechdel Test within the first two pages. I like its portrayal of Theseus, although he’s very much the sort of Theseus that could only exist in YA. This might be the only novel I’ve read so far where Polyxena and Helenus get to fulfill their roles as major influences on the course of the war, which is awesome, although I didn’t love how those storylines were handled. And in retrospect, I’m glad that the first Trojan War novel I read follows the mythology and the Iliad so closely; in that way at least, it’s a good introduction to the story.

Unfortunately, although all the important parts of the story are there, the novel suffers quite a bit from being so short. It covers thirteen years in less than two hundred pages, and only eighty of those pages are dedicated to the war from the arrival of the Greeks to the fall. The narration rushes from one event to the next and even major characters feel underdeveloped. My biggest complaint is about Paris. The book is narrated in the first person, with Helen narrating the first sixty-five pages and Cassandra the rest. Unfortunately, we barely see Paris from Helen’s point of view before we spend the rest of the book seeing him from Cassandra’s. Cassandra openly dislikes him, disapproves of his actions, and refers to him as “mean-spirited.” It’s frustrating to me that the book’s first narrator falls in love with someone we only see in a negative light. Even Helen speaks ill of him, as she does in the Iliad, and worse than that, she’s “afraid to be alone with him”! But we’re supposed to believe they’re in love? The only reasons given for their being together are a) Aphrodite decided they would be (but whether this book considers the gods to exist or not is unclear), and b) they look alike (I’m not joking). Maybe I wouldn’t be so bothered by all of this except that I’m tired of YA novels that try to convince us that their terrible relationships are beautiful and romantic.

Perhaps also due to the short length of the book, the worldbuilding is very sparse. The author’s note seems to indicate that McLaren did her research, but all that shows on the page is what the average person might know about the ancient world. Wine! Kohl! Spears! The geography is also very vague and there are whole scenes where we aren’t told where the characters are, which makes things hard to picture.

Another thing that struck me as weird comes when (SPOILERS??) Cassandra learns that Agamemnon has claimed her as his war prize:

“You’ve never even noticed him fighting his duels right below the gate where you stood,” Helenus was saying … “He’s been trying to get your attention for years.”

McLaren has just reduced the horror of Agamemnon taking Cassandra as his slave to Agamemnon trying out for the football team so that Cassandra will notice him.

So clearly I’m no longer as completely taken with Inside the Walls of Troy as I was when I was thirteen, but I think I’m okay with that. I will forever be grateful to this book for introducing me to the Trojan War, and I’ll be happy to pass it on in the hope that it will have a similar effect on another reader’s life.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

“Listen, girl, Menelaus will be an impeccable husband. He’s a good man, if somewhat lacking in imagination, and he loves you more than he should.” Theseus reached for my hands. “Here is the last piece of advice I’ll ever give you: Be satisfied with what you’ve got.”

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.

August 2, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “Troilus and Cressida” (DVD & screencaps)

Ninagawa x Shakespeare X

In August 2012, I was fortunate enough to be able to see Yukio Ninagawa’s all-male production of William Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” in Saitama, Japan. The post I wrote afterwards, which contains more information as well as my thoughts about the production, has baffled me by becoming one of the most popular posts on this blog. I was going to post about it again anyway, but now I feel slightly more justified in doing so!

The DVD: Ninagawa’s “Troilus and Cressida” was released on region-free DVD in 2013 as part of the box set Ninagawa x Shakespeare X (“X” because this is the tenth in the series). The set comes with three DVDs: one for “Troilus and Cressida” (172 minutes), one for a production of “Cymbeline” (188 minutes), and one with bonus features, most notably twenty-one minutes of footage from behind the scenes of “Troilus.” None of these DVDs include subtitles of any kind, although Shakespeare’s text can be used to figure out what’s happening in “Troilus”; I don’t think there are any changes large enough that they would throw someone off. (I haven’t watched “Cymbeline” yet, but I’m looking forward to it!)

Watch: Troilus, Cressida, Pandarus and Diomedes in clips from V.ii and V.iv (please note that the footage on the DVD is higher quality and better edited), the cast at a press conference

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, CDJapan

Screencaps: So I originally meant to only screencap the things I wanted to show you when I wrote my previous post, but of course I went a little overboard. Read on for thirty-nine screencaps (and four photos)!

Continue reading

July 24, 2014

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

Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two

Graphic Novel
Pages: 175
First Published: 2013

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

Ships hit the beach. Battle cries ring out. Warriors leap ashore to meet the chariots of the mighty Trojan army. Achilles and his cousin Ajax clash with the Trojan prince Hektor and his ally, King Sarpedon of Lykia. Dust rises as men fall dead, all for the sake of one woman, Helen, who watches the Trojan War from high on the walls of Troy, safe for the present.

Within the walls, conniving Pandarus hopes to avoid paying for his brother’s betrayal of the Trojans. But how? Perhaps Pandarus can gain royal protection by persuading his niece Cressida to accept the love of the Trojan prince Troilus. But she’s reluctant.

The war waits for no one. Its bloody claws close tight around both Troilus and Cressida, forcing each of them to face choices neither would have imagined before the Trojan War began. Troilus’s understanding of existence cracks open, while Cressida must choose whose bed she’ll share.

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 because the artist sent me a free copy.

Review: I really enjoyed Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One, two of the previous volumes in the Age of Bronze series, so I was looking forward to reading Betrayal, Part Two. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lives up to the level of its predecessors.

The most prominent storyline in this volume is that of Troilus and Cressida. A lot of space is devoted to it and it progresses much farther than I would have expected. I feel a little odd criticizing this without having any idea how the story is going to unfold in later volumes, but I would have preferred to spend less time with them. This is the book where the Trojan War really starts, but so little time is spent on the war that it loses a lot of its impact. I might not have minded this so much except that the time that might have been spent on the war is instead spent on two characters I don’t really care about. Troilus has very little personality besides his constant pining and Cressida, although the more interesting of the two, has a literal change of heart that completely changes her motivations within the space of a few pages. This made it difficult for me to empathize with either of them. I will admit, though, that I was really glad that Cressida’s motivations were made clear and I was glad that she has an actual reaction to the Greek kings when she arrives in the camp; Shakespeare leaves both of those areas pretty vague, and with appropriate embarrassment I must admit that, apart from Age of Bronze, Shakespeare’s is the only version of the Troilus and Cressida story that I’ve read so far.

I have one more criticism of the Troilus and Cressida storyline that might not be valid, but that bothered me enough that I have to mention it. The back flap of this book tells us that Age of Bronze is Shanower’s attempt to tell the story of the Trojan War “in authentic historical detail.” Yet there’s a scene that’s a recreation of the part in Shakespeare where Troilus, Cressida and Pandarus talk about how future generations will remember their names. Of course, telling the story of the Trojan War as it authentically, historically happened is basically impossible, and perhaps the “authentic historical detail” is only meant to refer to the visuals. But it seems odd to me to make a claim like that and then lift a scene from a relatively recent playwright who is not exactly known for his historical accuracy. I would be ready to just shrug this off except that the scene ends with Pandarus’s line: “All those who selflessly exhaust themselves by going between should be called Pandars.” As far as I can tell, this is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of line that only works if your audience is made up of speakers of modern English, and so perhaps not something that a historical Pandarus might have actually said. This is absolutely a nitpick but, to be fair, I did predict that as I continued to review Age of Bronze I would start nitpicking …

Now for what I liked!

I really have to praise the character designs in Age of Bronze. There’s a ton of characters but somehow they manage to be pretty distinct. I read this volume a couple months after I read the previous volume, but even so, the number of characters I recognized right away far outnumbered those I didn’t. I also continue to be impressed with the transitions between scenes; my favourite in this volume smoothly takes us from nighttime in Troy to morning in the Greek camp. It’s followed by several pages where the panels on the left are scenes on the battlefield and the panels on the right are other scenes. I really love how this alternating pattern not only shows the passing of time but also moves the various storylines forward really efficiently.

Unrelated to the story, this cover is my favourite of the volumes so far, and I also really like how two pages at the back of the book are dedicated to encouraging readers to help preserve the archaeological sites.

Even though I didn’t love Betrayal, Part Two, I didn’t dislike it, and I have no reason to doubt that future volumes will return to the high standard set by Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One. If you’re interested in reading a graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War (and don’t mind a bit of a wait till future issues), I definitely recommend Age of Bronze.

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

June 8, 2014

Josephine Angelini: “Goddess”

Goddess  Goddess

YA Novel
Pages: 421
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Can you change your fate?

The gods’ thirst for war already has a body count – and Helen is plagued with visions of destruction. She must find a way to imprison them once again, or risk unleashing immeasurable chaos.

Her powers are increasing – and so is the distance between Helen and her mortal friends. Uncertain whether to fear or revere her, the once-solid group divides.

To make matters worse, the Oracle reveals that a dangerous Tyrant is lurking among them … and all fingers point to Orion. Still unsure whether she loves him or Lucas, Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision, for an all-out war is coming to her shores.

Starcrossed and Dreamless are international bestsellers. Now Josephine Angelini delivers a thrilling conclusion to this epic trilogy of love, hate, revenge, and fate. With worlds built just as quickly as they crumble, a goddess must rise above it all in a final battle to change a destiny written in the stars.

Spoiler-Free Review: Goddess is the third novel in the Starcrossed trilogy, which I’ve been reviewing here because it kind of sort of uses the story of the Trojan War as a base from which to launch its own story. When I read Starcrossed, the first book, I was baffled by its popularity but kind of amused by all its blatant similarities to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I thought the second book, Dreamless, was more original and more interesting, but I was frustrated by Lucas’s violent treatment of Helen as well as by the fact that most of the story only happens because of a lie that the readers know is a lie. Reading Goddess, I think I passed through bafflement and frustration and reached a point where this series genuinely makes me angry. Because … it’s terrible.

As usual, I must confess that there were a few things I liked, and here they are: Matt’s first few scenes. Morpehus’s two appearances. Some of the more fantastical settings that ensure that, if the rumoured movies do get made, they should at least be nice to look at. And … that’s about it.

This book reads like a hastily written first draft. Every action and every line of dialogue is overexplained; like both books before it, cutting out all the unnecessary exposition would make the book at least a hundred pages shorter. Plot threads are left half-finished. The main characters are unlikeable. There are too many characters who contribute nothing to the plot. Important scenes focus on characters the readers barely know and don’t care about. None of the main characters ever face any real risk or consequence. The original mythology is simultaneously vague and overcomplicated. The Greek mythology is changed so much that I’m not sure why it was used. The tone and register are all over the place. Characters frequently do things they were adamantly opposed to doing no more than a chapter before, with no reason given as to why they changed their mind. Characters develop powers out of the blue and then never use them. The narration awkwardly jumps from the mind of one character to the mind of another for no good reason. And – my least favourite point of all – an abusive relationship is portrayed as the truest of true loves.

There are some good ideas buried below all the first draftiness of this book, and a ruthless edit and rewrite could have improved it immensely. I have no idea why this series didn’t receive that treatment – surely this book had an editor, right? what did she even do? fix typos?? – but the fact seems to be that it didn’t. As it is, then, I don’t recommend Goddess or either of its predecessors at all.

SPOILERIFFIC!! Review: Let’s explore some of my above criticisms through examples from the text. Continue reading

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)