Archive for the Movies Category

Point Break: Revisiting an Old Debate

Posted in Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2016 by timtrue

Saw a movie with my daughter this weekend.  She picked it out, rented it from Redbox, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have watched it.  It’s called Point Break, apparently a remake of a 1991 movie by the same name starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, one I really will probably never see.

Point_Break_poster

I remember seeing the trailer several months ago and thinking, “Looks like one big adrenaline rush.”  And that’s about what it was.

Without spoiling much, a villain and hero unite over a common goal.  They’re both poly-extreme-sports practitioners, both very good at all things extreme-sports: surfing 50-foot waves; motorcycling across razor-edged ridges; snowboarding avalanche chutes; free-climbing El-Capitan-like cliffs; etc.

So, yeah, one big adrenaline rush.

It was fun, sure.  But, better, because it kept me interested, it delved some into philosophical motivations for why adrenaline junkies do what they do.  Definitely worth the $1.63 we paid.

Yet it occurred to me some two days later that here was a modern-day take on a debate that has been with us since classical times.  Here was Aeneas versus Odysseus.

Odysseus, recall, was the wily mind that schemed up the whole wooden horse idea.  He was only one of many players in The Iliad; but, arguably, with his gift-horse brainstorm, can be credited with the Greek victory over the Trojans.

What comes next is The Odyssey, the story of Odysseus’ adventures as he returns from Troy to his beloved Ithaca and his wife Penelope.  He leaves the shores of Troy with a whole crew of companions.  But along the way, what with Polyphemus the Cyclops and the Sirens and Scylla and Charybdis and Circe and ten years, he loses all his crew and arrives home alone.

In this painting, Odysseus passes between the monster and the whirlpool.  Notice the artist’s depiction of Odysseus’ companions, eaten by the monster so that Odysseus can pass through alive.

Odysseus

So, was Odysseus selfish?

Some say so.  Or at least some say Vergil wanted us to think so.

Yeah, Vergil.  You know, the author of The Aeneid, the story that tells of Aeneas’ adventures from the shores of Troy to the shores of Italy.

Aeneas was one of only a few Trojan survivors after Troy’s legendary razing.  Soon after Odysseus set out on his quest, Aeneas sets out on a similar one.  But unlike Odysseus, he arrives at his new destination–after similarly grueling, poly-extreme-sports-like adventures–because he has been called there by the gods, not by his selfish desire to regain his own kingdom; and most of his crew arrives with him, for he, unlike wily Odysseus, would rather have died himself than let his crewmembers perish.

Aeneas’ selflessness is captured well in this painting, where he is carrying his aged father and leading his young son from razed Troy to their escape vessel.  Hardly the every-man-for-himself attitude of Odysseus!

Aeneas'_Flight_from_Troy_by_Federico_Barocci

Villain and hero.  Similar goals.  Very different motivations.  Retold in Point Break.

The villain commits crimes; the hero tries to prevent crimes.  Over the course of the movie the audience becomes endeared to both villain and hero.

Both anti- and protagonist are charming, after all.  But the villain–more than the hero–on top of his charismatic charm seems highly educated!  Despite the fact that he’s had to spend countless hours as an extreme athlete, honing his skills in multiple disciplines (not to mention his Greek-like physique)–an extreme sports Renaissance Man, as it were–nevertheless he has found time, somehow, to become well read, especially with respect to metaphysics.

In the end, I found the villain more endearing than the hero; and perhaps even no less realistic.  Maybe that was intentional on the part of the movie makers; or maybe it was just me.  I don’t know.

At any rate, this adrenaline-rush flick was definitely worth the $1.63 (and quality time with my daughter).

But I’m kind of tired of the same old thing.  Maybe you are too.  Can’t we turn the tables?  Can’t we get out of our pragmatic Roman mindsets for a while–at least for ninety minutes!–and sympathize with the more artistic Greeks for once?  Show me a compelling movie with a modern Odysseus as hero and that other guy, that guy who is all things Roman-virtue, as villain!

Spoiler Alert: Watch *Jack the Giant Slayer* before Reading

Posted in Movies with tags , , , , on November 5, 2013 by timtrue
Гравюры по рисункам Крейна к сказкам «Синяя Бо...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The history of England is shrouded in legend.  Sure, we know many truths and facts about the Tudors, the Plantagenets, William the Conqueror, even Alfred the Great; but going back further, to Arthur, the fog becomes thicker.  Was there even a real Arthur?  Probably.  But are we to believe all those stories about Launcelot, Guinevere, Galahad, Gawain, and the Green Knight–who rode away headless, by the way, after challenging Gawain to lop off his head?  And what are we to make of Morgana Le Fay, eh?

So too with the Anglican Church.  There are reports of bishops from England attending the earliest ecumenical councils, centuries before the pope sent Augustine over to Christianize the island.  Patrick, too, the saint we attribute to so many things Irish, was actually from England, the son of a deacon of an extant church when he was kidnapped by Irish pirates.  Point is, the church was there already.

How it arrived no one can say for sure.  One of my favorite legends credits Joseph of Arimathea, that guy in the Bible who supplied the tomb for Jesus.  Legend tells that he was a wealthy merchant of tin; and the only place in the world where there were tin mines in Jesus’s day was, yep, England.

One more: George is England’s patron saint.  This is the saint who killed a ravaging dragon and thereby saved a good kingdom from certain destruction.  Beyond this we know little.  But a dragon?  The stuff of legend.

The recent movie Jack the Giant Slayer suits this land and church of the Angles wonderfully.  “Fee, fie, foe, fum, ask not whence the thunder comes,” a storyteller’s voice begins; and immidiately I’m thinking, “That isn’t the way it goes.  It’s, ‘I smell the blood of an Englishman.'”  But it’s intentional.  It’s all part of the fun.

The viewer then watches the story of Jack and the Beanstalk unfold, though not exactly the way the story comes to us in nursery rhyme.  There is Jack, sure.  But he lives with his uncle, not his mother.  He doesn’t foolishly sell a horse for beans either; he is actually more burglarized.  Of course the beans have a backstory, which we viewers learn, involving a crown too, once fashioned and worn by an ancient king named Eric, who used the crown to gain authority over a race of giants now ravaging the land.  Of course some bad guy with worse intentions gets a hold of the crown and uses it to his advantage–and everyone else’s disadvantage.  Also, there wasn’t just one giant with a goose that laid golden eggs either, but a whole race of them living between earth and heaven.  They’d once bridged a way to earth, in fact, where they’d got a taste for human flesh, something akin to crack for them apparently, for they’d since longed to get back and feast gluttonously on humanity (and are probably still longing to do so today, we learn near the flick’s end).

The best part comes at the end, when with cutting-edge visual effectiveness we time-lapse to modern-day London, realizing that through it all the giant-controlling crown is still in existence, though disguised through many centuries of royalty, many of whom have added their own ornate details to the diadem, generation upon generation, until, yep, there it sits today, in the Tower of London, along with the royal jewels.  Ha!  That punchline alone was worth the $1.20 I paid to rent this at Redbox.  Plus tax!

Anyway, this entertaining flick aligns well with the similarly entertaining histories of both the land and church of the Angles.

Planet of the Apes, the Gospel, and Gustav Holst

Posted in Movies with tags , , on June 23, 2013 by timtrue

Last night I watched the 2001 film Planet of the Apes.  One of my kids, Hannah, gave the DVD to me for Father’s Day, a generous gesture considering her meager income of a weekly allowance and the occasional odd job, when the mood strikes–her, that is, not me.  I had no idea what to expect other than what I could recall from reruns viewed as a child, usually on days when I stayed home from school sick and my mother had no idea what else to do with me.  “Why don’t you watch some TV?” she would say.  The episodes were, in a word, cheesey.  But, hey, that was the seventies and everything had to be done with makeup, trick photography, and wires.  And what more did a boy’s imagination need anyway?  Now, however, I had a DVD in my hand made in 2001, starring Mark Wahlberg and and Helena Bonham-Carter and directed by Tim Burton.  Surely, with names like this, here would be the real deal, filled with awesome computer-animated visual effects and surround sound to tantalize the auriculars.  Surely, at least, this imagination-triggering full-length motion picture wouldn’t be cheesey, right?

Wrong!  Apparently Tim Burton wanted to keep the seventies cheese feel.  The apes were computer-unenhanced people with basic masks and makeup, to include a lot of hair, just like in the seventies.  When Wahlberg’s character’s spacecraft crash-landed on the planet of the apes in a pond (an event that bore striking resemblance to Luke Skywalker’s crash-landing once upon a time when he was seeking Yoda), the special effects consisted of an underwater air-hose, underwater lights, a smoke machine, and a fan.  Ooh, eerie!

Now I’m sure that Mr. Burton spent long hours and hard work to make the masks, apply the makeup and hair just right, and construct the elaborate sets needed for his re-telling of the Christ story (a hero, Wahlberg, fell out of the sky and reconciled enemies–whether people (and apes) would choose to believe it or not), and deliberately avoided the animating enhancement capabilities of computers.  Maybe Mr. Burton was trying to make some kind of statement; I don’t know, I haven’t watched, nor have I made any plans to watch, the thirteen hours of special features included on my special edition 2-disc DVD set.  But even the most elaborate set and the most detailed artistry, sadly, Mr. Burton, cannot compete with the technologically advanced visual effects that can be done on a few computers in rude cubicles in some office on Sunset Blvd.  Your attempt at old-school then, Mr. B, felt, well, old.  And in the film industry that translates as second-rate, B-film cheese.

Near the end of the film, Wahlberg’s character returns to earth.  But don’t worry, I’m not about to spoil the ending.  For that you’ll have to go out and rent it and watch it yourself.  Or buy it.  Heck, you can borrow my DVD if you like.  Just make sure to get it back to me by, um, this time, er, next, uh, millennium or so.  Anyway, you, the viewer, can tell Wahlberg’s character, shooting through space at warp speed in another spacecraft, is nearing earth because he passes near a planet with telltale rings, Saturn.  But if that weren’t enough of a clue there is loud, spacey music, strikingly similar to, but not quite–oh, what the devil is that piece?  Why of course!  It’s Gustav Holst’s The Planets.  Oh, wait, it’s not really.  Just similar.  And you realize that, like everything else in the movie, the music too is just a second-rate rip off of something first-rate.  Even the cheesey show of my boyhood sick days might be first-rate, arguably anyway, in the sense of its originality.  But this!  Its makeup, its storyline, even its music–they’re all rip-offs!

I think I’ll take Hannah out for a first-rate matinee soon.  Any suggestions?