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Movie Review: Man of Steel Nothing More Than a Hard Body

Superman, Henry Cavill, movies, General Zod, Clark Kent

Superman is really nothing but a hard body.

I had the misfortune of wasting time watching Man of Steel. I don’t know if the producers and director thought they were being edgy by having dark and tornadoey vignettes of Clark’s childhood but seriously, it made little difference. Of course, before we get to those little blips of what is a condensed first five seasons of Smallville, we see a woman in birth sounding more like she’s being tortured than popping out a baby (and yes, I have attended live births and unless they’re doing a C-section without any anesthetic, no one sounds like that). And there is concerned dad Russel Crowe watching over the first natural birth in centuries, little Kal El. And then along comes Zod.

Damn that Zod, he’s just a megalomaniac out to destroy. Except, yep, Krypton is already dying. But Russell, or should I say Jor El, dies first at Zod’s hand. Though considering the wooden dialogue, it was probably a mercy killing and I’m not sure why an actor of Crowe’s caliber got caught in the trap. We have to suffer Zod a while longer, of course. Sound familiar? I’m sure most people born in North America in the last 40 years or more have read the comics or seen one of umpteen Superman spinoffs,  such as the above mentioned Smallville, Clark and Lois, or one of the many  movies.

When we drop onto an ocean trawler, the “greenhorn” is getting in the way, until they see an oil rig going down and he saves the day. Tender short moments of Mom Kent and Pa, before he dies, are shown. In this case Kevin Costner has few lines and gives the adages of truth and justice but is afraid Earth ain’t ready for a mighty alien. Lois Lane comes along as well and a few of the other tried and trues.

Clark or Kal El spends half the movie finding himself…again. Good god, is there no original material out there? Sure,they updated Supes’ outfit but they did that in Smallville too.  Played by Henry Cavill, who definitely has the Superman body of steel to drool over, Clark is big on fighting naughty Zod. And that’s all this film is; massive fight scenes with Zod and his crew, who of course, coming from Krypton, have the same powers. I gotta say, I like their armor and the air filter masks they wear. Lois Lane is a damsel as usual, albeit she’s always been played with brains, and she helps solve how to get rid of those bad Kryptonians who want to terraform Earth. (It’s a good thing the nerdy scientist explains to us dumb viewers what terraform means…duh!) She also tracks Clark down like any good stalker or reporter, and convinces him to do good. Etc. When Zod asks for Kal El to give himself up, Clark does, to save Earth. But Zod also asks for Lois, for no apparent reason but to add some meat to a worn-out plot and have the damsel on hand for threats and rescues.

Superman, heroes, movies,, Man of Steel, Henry Cavill

Henry Cavill is pretty yummy under the new outfit. Too bad they didn’t lose the dorky cape. DC Comics

There is no great dialogue in this movie, and while Clark battles his own people there’s a touching scene of Perry rescuing a co-worker, just so you know that humans can be all helpful and caring as well. But having seen this just two nights ago I’m already forgetting most of it because it was indeed Smallville all over again (and actually not as good) but condensed into one movie with a massive budget for special effects and smashing up all, and I mean all, of Metropolis. It’s always interesting how these movies never mention all the people that get killed and while Clark saves Lois several times, there are countless others who no doubt die, but like any good military tactical double-speak, the collateral damage is never mentioned.

Considering how many Superman movies there have been and the fact that everyone knows the story and genesis of Clark’s powers, I wonder why director Zack Snyder even bothered to go there yet again, ad nauseum. The movie was so boring, and so much smash em up fighting just went on and on, to the point that I was falling asleep. Save yourself from being weakened by the green kryptonite and give this one a miss. The Man of Steel is as interesting as watching lead melt.

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Movie Review: Bass Ackwards

movies, entertainment, film, bass ackwards, Linas Phillips, road trip

Bass Ackwards is about a road trip to find oneself.

This is a low-budget, independent film from 2010, written, produced and starring Linas Phillips. It was shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

This was on a disk I borrowed from a neighbor and would never have asked for it. Because of this I almost didn’t watch it. It starts out slow and seems a depressing tale of a guy who is lost, drifting, doesn’t know what to do with his life, lives on people’s couches and generally is failing at trying to have a relationship with a woman who is married. From what I can tell he never gets farther than chatting with her and playing cards. Up until this point I was pretty bored with the meandering, going nowhere life. Then the woman’s husband/boyfriend follows her and tries to beat up Linas. It’s ineffectual, involving two guys who aren’t very physical or macho, rolling about and batting at each other. Linas doesn’t even know why the guy is after him.

After he goes to work on a farm, where he finds some old VW bus that’s been shortened. Without money or purpose he decides to travel east and maybe see his parents. He still entertains a dream that the woman will join him, but the viewer knows that won’t happen. Thus begins another road trip movie.

I found this started slow, depressing, dreary. The cinematography is pretty straight forward, the colors a little subdued. Once Linas gets going on his road trip the tale picks up. The true gems are the people he finds along the way. The small cast, Paul Lazar, Jim Fletcher and Davie-Blue, are also co-writers, along with Sean Porter.

Linas avoids getting beaten, barely, by a yokel who’s woman he was hitting on. Then he meets some guy who just kind of coerces Linas to let him sleep in the van. At first you think he might be a drug addict or nuts and maybe he is a bit. He meets a mechanic who first yanks his chain, then opens up to him. Through these encounters and a few others, Linas begins to find himself. The people come across as real, and have more depth than you think they would at first.

These encounters are the true heart of the movie and make it worth watching. So while the pace is as meandering as the road trip itself, and there is flatness to the beginning, the film builds on its humanity. This is no startling revelation, nor sudden change of fortune. It’s a tale of what life is often like; it continues on, like a gentle curve in the road, sometimes revealing vistas, sometimes potholes, and slowly you see Linas climbing out of stasis and finding a path.  I’ll give this 6.5 gallons of gas out of 10.

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Movie Review: Immortals

Henry Cavill, Theseus, Immortals, film, movies, Greek gods, gods

Henry Cavill’s Theseus is competently acted but the plot lacks. Nice man muscles though.

I actually had no clue what this 2011 film was about when I got it. I thought Immortals might be about superheroes and in a way it is, the superheroes of old. It is a tale of Theseus; you know, the guy who battled the Minotaur and did other heroic deeds. In the ancient world of Greece you had your gods, your demi-gods and your heroes. As time, history and mythology progressed, some heroes became demi-gods. And when you have thousands of years of history and mythology the stories get a little muddied.

So I was willing to accept a lot of fantastic elements and let some of the costuming (of the gods) be historically inaccurate. But let’s look at the costuming because it’s often a bugaboo for me. Since this is placed in ancient Greece, it’s at least pseudo historical. How pseudo?  A lot.

Minotaur, Theseus, movies, film, Greek gods, Olympian, Immortals

I was okay with this interpretation of the Minotaur though the tale strays pretty far afield after this.

Theseus’s people live in a narrow cliffside area, but there are no trees, no grass, no chickens and what looks like no way down the very high, sheer cliffs to fish. So what do they do there? Is this the town center, missing any semblance of commerce, or a temple? Who knows but the people are dressed in weird baggy homespun robes of indiscriminate shape with odd woven cape things on some of them. Theseus himself doesn’t seem to be doing much but hacking ineffectually at a dead tree on a rocky shore. But at least he has a nice impression of leather armor/breastplate though if he’s not a warrior I’m not sure why he has one or how a man of his age doesn’t seem to be part of the army or working a little harder at surviving.

I can give the bundles of fabric to emulate peasantish clothing, I could even forgive that he has some leather armor but then we get to the sibyls in the sibylline monastery. First, monastery? Really? The Greeks had temples with priests and priestess. Monasteries came about with Christianity. And since we’re dealing with pseudo history, the “monastery” is some ugly rectangular edifice with no windows, and reminiscent of Mordor once the Heraklion forces move in.  But back to the sibyls who look like they’re wearing semi sheer red and black chitons or peplos (the rectangular garment we associate with Greece). Underneath, lo and behold, they’re wearing lovely red skirts with corset/bodice tops. Yep, that’s as far from ancient Greece as I am.

The worst case of crabs I’ve ever seen. The Immortals

The Heraklion forces are lead by the ruthless Hyperion (don’t get me started on the names), played by Mickey Rourke. I have to tell you it’s hard to take the really bad man seriously when he’s wearing a crab claw on his head. I kid you not. Of all the bad guy helms that could be made, I guess we can give this one points for originality but it is ludicrous beyond belief. The silly hats and headdresses don’t stop there. Enter the gods, dressed all in gold, plastic gold armor from what I can tell, and a nice gold corset top for Athena (no Aphrodite here; after all it’s about war). They’re all wearing bizarre headdresses that I can’t figure out until I hear Poseidon’s name and figure out he’s got shells on his ears in gold filigree. And the guy I took to be Apollo with giant rays of gold coming off of his hat (there’s too much air space for it to be a helmet) turns out to be Ares, god of war. The helmets that the Olympian gods don when they have to battle the Titans are nothing Greek at all and in fact pretty similar to the Titan helmets. Strangely the gods wear helmets but Theseus doesn’t in battle. Why why why do the dumb heroes and villains fight without their helmets unless they have no brains (or the directors don’t).

Immortals, Greek gods, Athena, Ares, movies

Ares looks back to measure Athena’s crown and see if it’s bigger than his. As a historical note, the ancient Greeks did not wear crowns.

Oh and the Titans, well they’re held in Mount Tartarus for all time, just chained up together in a box (it’s more cruel you know) so they can wait and wait. They’re shown as identical and when unleashed there are more of them than we saw. And let’s not forget that the Titans were 12 gods before the Olympians came along, and 6 of them were women. We see mindless cloned killing machines that Zeus ends up burying by pulling down gigantic statues, placed inside a mountain that nobody goes to. Why didn’t they do this first? And the gods, well they are so super fast that each of them can kill five Titans in the literal blink of an eye, but somehow the Titans still get the better of them and kill them all including some nondescript Olympian army dudes. No more Poseidon or Ares or Athena? Theseus doesn’t save the day except to kill Hyperion before he succumbs (but is saved to the heavens by Zeus).

The sets have their share of CGI, a bit too much and too obvious I think, but the biggest problem with the movie is that it’s a mishmash and doesn’t know what it wants to be. If you’re going to take one of the many varieties of a myth and do your own interpretation, that’s fine but this has the feel of someone with ADHD on too much caffeine, from the disjointed imagery and costumes to the storyline. I didn’t mind that the Minotaur is a very large man wearing a metal made bull helmet but when Theseus chops off his head in the mausoleum where he puts his dead mother,  he feels the need to carry it outside with him. The crypt suddenly becomes the labyrinth though he had no trouble walking into it and there is no Ariadne to give him a ball of twine but his own bloody or wet footprints. Once outside and seeing his friends about to be killed he tosses the head over the cliff and uses the Epirus bow.

Now we come to it, the item that Hyperion seeks and that Theseus finds. Okay, there is no mythological Epirus bow though there was a town of Epirus and Greeks like many cultures had archery. But the bow (very modern in looks) might have been tied to Apollo but they leave that out. And it’s a weak plot device and doesn’t add a lot. The sibyl Phaedra who has been trained as a prophetess gives up her virginity and pretty much the first sight of Theseus. At least in the myths they do have him married to Phaedra for a while.

The acting is competent with such names as Henry Cavill (Theseus, The Tudors), Mickey Rourke, Luke Evans (Zeus, Three Musketeers), Freida Pinto (Phaedra, Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Dorff (Stavros, Public Enemies) and John Hurt. But you can only do so much when the storyline dips and drops all over. When Poseidon causes a seismic wave of watery doom, the heroes get off the ship that is destroyed with their enemies, not to mention that we don’t see the rest of the decimation of a seaside coast for miles around. But hey, gods are capricious. Personally, I think I know why the gods meddled with Theseus even if Zeus threatened them with death if they interfered with the free will of humans. (Since when did Greek gods worry about morals?) They were probably so bored with the storyline that they had to spice it up with the action shots. After all, enough special effects will carry a story that should just sink to its watery doom. I’m afraid I can only give this a generous 5 Olympian statues out of 10. Originally I gave a 6 but that’s too generous by far. Addendum: I just saw Wrath of the Titans and it was even worse. I could only give it 2 crumbling statues. Directors, just don’t use existing myths/legends if you’re going to mangle them so badly.

Zeus, Greek gods, Immortals, film, movies

Hunky Zeus coddles Theseus but bans the other gods from doing so.

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Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

Ralph Bakshi, animation, anime, movies, cartoons, rotoscope

Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings from the 1970s used rotoscope animation .

I like good animations, and Dreamworks as well as some of the Japanese anime can rank at the top. Recently I went through a binge of animation films. Shark Tale and the Monster House weren’t very good, the first being a bad excuse for a cliched plot and fish that acted and moved more like humans than fish. Monster House had some hackneyed stereotypes, iffy reactions and a bizarre plot that didn’t quite suspend my disbelief, even though it was a cartoon. On the other hand, Howl’s Moving Castle was a delight and a wonder.

Wallace and Gromit, claymation, animation, movies, film, humor

The British Wallace and Gromit claymations tend to be shorts, but Flushed Away, done by the same artists is a full length film.

When I was a kid animations were the flat and wooden two-dimensional characters, and at best the rotoscoped movements used in the earlier feature length films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. With computerization and complex graphics, the world of animation opened up. That doesn’t mean every three-dimensional claymation such as Wallace and Gromit is great because it uses new and/or different techniques (though claymation isn’t that new either). What really makes any animated film is the story and the characterization. It’s one reason Wallace and Gromit were so funny; the characters look goofy and get into all sorts of madcap adventures based on their wacky inventions.

The 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle is based on a book by Diana Wynne Jones and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It isn’t really a forerunner of new techniques but went on to be one of the most successful animes ever. It uses painted backdrops and the standard two dimensional style in characters, with shading. The style is classic Japanese with the cartoonish eyes and antics, to some degree. But the movements are far more fluid and the images are beautiful. On top of that, the imagination in Howl’s is fantastic. The moving castle is this weird house on legs, part alive, part machine, part home. It’s rambling, chaotic and magical and opens on different times and places.

Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones, Miyazaki, anime, film entertainment

Howl’s Moving Castle was nominated for several Academy Awards.

Sophie is a shy young woman who accidentally runs into Howl and is saved but subsequently is cursed by the Witch of the Wastes. Turned into an old woman she leaves the life she knows and ends up at Howl’s castle, bringing discipline and order to the chaos. Howl, like many wizards, has a reputation of being scary and self-serving but he is also extremely vain and there is a reason for this. The castle slowly gathers a host of characters including an asthmatic dog, a devoted scarecrow, the Witch of the Wastes and the castle’s denizens, Calcifer the fire elemental who keeps the house alive,  and Markl the apprentice.

I can’t say much is predictable in this delightful film except for the inevitable romance. It is a tale of discovering one’s self, confidence, heroics, and fear. And it is a tale of war and peace, Miyazaki’s own pacifist twist on the wizard’s involvement. I loved this film so much that I’ll be watching it again next week. I would give this movie 9.5 out of 10 on the wizard scale and it’s worth watching for the beautiful scenery alone. If you like anime, it’s one of the best.

anime, heroes, cartoons, Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki

Howl’s castle moves so that his source of power cannot be discovered.

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What I’ve Learned About Bad Guys in Fantasy Movies

Lord of the Rings, orcs, evil, villains, bad guys, movies

Lord of the Rings had epic bad guys. These one are just minions but you get the idea. Evil ain’t pretty.

Hollywood is built on cliches, recognizable tropes that audiences can identify to guide them through a story and conflict. But it seems that Hollywood has been feeding so long off of this pap that even the most obvious plots are dumbed down in dialogue and in imagery. Audiences aren’t that stupid (I hope) and it’s good when we have a challenge. What if the bad guy looks like you or me? Well, sometimes we want the villains to be petty, small minded, ugly and obviously a dick. Then we can cheer all the harder.

I find that in a lot of these movies they develop the hero’s role and character into three dimensions, but the villain will often be a cardboard cutout and very two-dimensional. Some of these get so trite that I throw up my hands in frustration. It’s not just medieval fantasy movies that have this issue. Modern and SF movies have the same problem, with often too easy to hate monsters. Star Wars, which could fall into a fantasy in space in many ways, like Lord of the Rings had a much more epic and sweeping tale. The bad guys have some depth but still evil is ugly and corrupts and corrodes them so that even their very forms are distorted.

Palpatine, Star Wars, villains, movie bad guys, evil

Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars follows the classical bad guy stereotype.

I’m not saying it’s bad to use these tropes…sometime, but it’s good to see some variance on the stereotypes. Perhaps that’s what’s so interesting about The Game of Thrones; the bad guys are so very human and sometimes pretty. So, with no further ado, here’s a list of what I’ve learned about bad guys in the fantasy movies.

  • If the evil overlord wears a helmet, it will usually have a skull, horns,  glowering eye slits, or other death’s head funnery. It will obviously emulate evil.
  • The destined hero will be the only survivor when his village is massacred and he tortured by the bad guy. Somehow his value is much greater, even if there is a prophecy that says he’ll kill Mr. Bad.
  • A village of farmers, with nothing much of value will be overrun and completely destroyed, with the villains taking neither slaves nor food. So, what, they just get drunk and want to commit anarchy?
  • Evil voices will be low, gravelly and guttural. Just imagine how sinister it would be to have a high-pitched nasally whine coming at you while you’re tied in the torture chamber.
  • The villain’s color spectrum does not include blue, green, yellow, orange or purple. It would be pretty scary to see a villain in pink and orange.
  • Their evil is so potent that they will reduce the land to cinders and ash, even though the minions still need to be fed, but perhaps they feed on people.
  • If you can see their eyes, they’ll be black pits or glowy red.
  • Evil overlords will inevitably fail but not before they maim a lot of people and scourge the land.

    movies, bad guys, heroes, villains, evil overlords, Wolfhound, pets

    Wolfhound is a movie out of Europe and slightly better in the medieval fantasy style.

Wolfhound, a movie out of Europe, was more interesting than most though it followed some of the tropes. The hero has a pet bat for a sidekick. That was different. Still, he is the only survivor of his village, a lone wolf, and not particularly trusted or liked at first. But he is noble in his valor and as the tale progresses he gets his revenge and more. Not badly done but look for the usual bad guy stereotypes.

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How I First Learned About Money

money, working, first jobs, allowance, chores, babysitting

Creative Commons by cupwire.ca

CBC Radio One was talking about allowances today and whether they’re good or bad, or should be allowed. As a child, I was one of four to a working class family. We didn’t have a ton of money, or at least that was the way it always came across. I wasn’t given money that I can remember and maybe as a small child I was, so that I could learn how to spend it and count it out. Or maybe I learned about it in grade school. I actually can’t remember any specific lessons about money.

But…by the time I was six or seven I had my first job. It wasn’t a paper route but it was selling Regal Cards, a mail order company for Christmas and birthday cards, door to door. They’re still going strong Probably the cuteness of being a little child helped me sell those cards but I was working early on. My mother didn’t believe in letting us shirk any duties and she’d grown up a Depression Era child so making your own way was part of the game. We may have been lower middle class but my siblings and I were richer in goods than my mother had been at that age.

After Regal Cards, came babysiting, when I was old enough. I babysat for the people across the street and for a while had a job babysitting on Saturdays for a woman who worked. A full day of entertaining a two-year-old who wouldn’t sleep if the didn’t have his bottle (and threw it over the balcony one day) was more than I could take and I eventually quit. But the fact is I was familiar with working and being paid for it probably since I was seven. I opened a savings account between the ages of 12-14, where my mother had to come with me because they weren’t used to kids with bank accounts at that age. Now, every kid can get a bank account. I had a chequing account just a few years later.

In between all this I asked my mother, probably around the age of 13 or 14 if I could receive an allowance. By this time my two older siblings were out of the house and it was just my brother and me. We already had chores to do, such as vacuuming, mowing lawns, shoveling walks, washing dishes so it’s not like the bribe of money made us do the chores. The threat of grounding or being spanked made us do the chores. However, my mother had started working so she was less diligent about such things. But when I asked for that allowance I was pretty much told it wouldn’t be fair to give it to one and not the other, and because my brother never did his chores I was punished for his chaos.

By the time I was sixteen I was working in a movie theater, my first real job with a regular paycheck. I had that job for a

ju jube, candy, working, movies, entertainment, first jobs

Ju Jubes from charlieschocolatefactory.ca

couple of years, until art college. It was a great job for a teenager. We could sneak in to watch some shows at the slow time. My girlfriend also worked there with me and we’d pick out the choicest popcorn to eat. Sometimes we’d order a pizza slice or two from Stromboli’s next door and dip the thick puffy crusts in some butter we had poured off. We’d count the ju-jube bags and buy the ones with the most red or black ones and we’d buy the Twizzler bags that had the highest count. Something only teenagers could get away with.

I was definitely buying most of my own clothes by the time I was 16, with little if no cash from my mother. So I learned the value of money from a very young age and I learned how to save. After all, I put myself through college, no savings from relatives. But back in those early days, yeah, an allowance would have been nice.

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Four Things in War Movies That Would Never Happen

movies, war, fighting, chevalier, horses, swords, armor, king arthur, battle, mayhem

Clive Owen in King Arthur

I love historical films, or period piece movies, where the setting is of a different time and especially of a different culture. Once you go pre-Industrial era you’re dealing with huge (or sometimes small) battles involving cutlasses, swords, spears, maces, arrows, catapults, boiling oil, inaccurate muskets, canons and a whole host of hand to hand combat. With the medieval era or early there is still this romanticism about the noble knight, a holdover from Victorian notions that Hollywood has embraced. Sure, war scenes have become gorier, with bodies being skewered and sliced, and blood spraying everywhere. Reality would be the reason the directors would give. But even they fall victim to romanticism, so that even if a movie looks historically accurate in terms of costume and setting, they’ll veer in actual actions and attitudes.

  1. The mounted fighter will leap off his horse to battle the hordes on the ground. Not in a million years. The difference between a mounted fighter and one on fought was astronomical. Horses and armor were so expensive that those who had these items were pretty much guaranteed to be knights. The term chevalier comes from the Latin caballarius meaning horseman. It was the French word for knight and a noble. Because of the expense of a horse the knight would not give up his mount easily, nor would he lose the advantage he had of literally being head and shoulders above the crowd. It meant superior mobility, better viewing of the battle and powerful blows from above. The knight would stay mounted as long as he could, until he was either pulled off his horse or his horse was killed.
  2. The noble knight wears no helmet in battle or tears it off in the final face-to-face with the foe. So, what is the point of wearing armor if you remove parts of it, especially when fighting the more experienced warrior? Armor, like those horses, was expensive and you didn’t want to lose your helmet amongst the gore on the field. Not to mention, leave you head bare to being sliced up? I’ll mention here too that the helmets are usually tied, buckled or clipped on to stop them from toppling off with any knock. Maybe not all were, but they would have covered the faces and necks and would not sit jauntily atop the head. I’m no armor expert but I know enough that you have to affix your armor so it stays in place. Clive Owen as Arturius (Arthur) above wore his helmet in battle but his dying comrades didn’t always.
  3. Armor is black, especially if you’re noble or a bad guy. Before about the 1600s black was a dye color that was extremely difficult to procure, if you could get it at all, and came from black walnut and oak galls. It was therefore very expensive. If you managed to get some of this dye,would you waste it on armor when it was going to get scuffed and hacked at? No. You’d use it on your clothing. The lower classes got the more washed out colors of blue, green, brown, yellow and pink. No one would have black armor unless the metal itself was black and that too would have been rare. Even if movies have no battles this is the biggest mistake made.
  4. Traveling through the snowy, cold mountains with your cloak billowing behind you, if you’re wearing one. Early armor was made of leather boiled in beeswax. Then there was chain mail and later, plate metal. Some armor could be a combination of two or three of these things. Any metal was cold so warriors always had padding beneath, for keeping the metal off the skin to stop chafing, bruising and cuts, and to insulate. If it was cold enough to wear a cloak and still need to wear your armor while traveling through hostile territory, you would have it billowing nobly behind you. What’s the point? To look like Superman? It certainly wouldn’t serve the purpose it was made for, which was warmth. Everything in those early centuries was handmade and not cheap to replace.

I’m sure there are more inconsistencies and inaccuracies in those movies that show battles. I won’t even touch on the World War movies as I don’t watch many of those. If you have any pet peeve with Hollywood’s mutilation of history, let me know.

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Movie Review: The Train Wreck of “I’m Still Here”

I got to see the preview of I’m Still Here last night, another in a long list of reality, documentary, “real life” stories on film. So it’s shot with a handheld video and is grainy and old looking, as well as bad to incomprehensible sound quality in parts. Just like Blair Witch Project and all those other made-to-be-real stories. But it’s a documentary, sort of. Joaquin Phoenix, the star, or anti-star, of this documentary was filmed by brother-in-law Casey Affleck. Now in a way it’s unfortunate that Affleck let the cat out of the bag so early that in fact this is a mockumentary and not really Phoenix’s plummet into eccentric weirdoness. We sincerely hope–though stars going crazy, or doing too many drugs or booze is an old story and Phoenix seems to have had his brush with this in the past.

Joaquin as crazed hip-hop wannabe (from x17online.com)

In some ways, this reminded me of the documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, which had grainy handheld images by a novice videographer, for part of it. But let’s look at I’m Still Here as if it were being filmed as a true documentary. First, if Casey Affleck was revealed as the director at the beginning we then have to wonder, why does an actor with money and names at his disposal decide to use the lowest level of technology available to make this film about his brother-in-law? Only because it will look more like reality, but already I’m suspicious because it’s not some no name Joe and at least the filming should be a little more even, and the framing and sound better. That’s my first raspberry to the film.

Let’s not forget that for Affleck’s directorial debut it does keep production values and costs pretty minimal, and producing a film can be very very expensive. Not to mention paying those high price actors of which Joaquin Phoenix is one. But hey, he’s in on it and he’s Affleck’s brother-in-law and we know the Affleck boys are talented. So let’s do this badass hoax.

Phoenix, as always, is such a consummate actor that he’s believable as the tripped out, pot-smoking, coke-snorting, beer-drinking crazoid who wants to give up acting and become a hip-hop artist. However…through this increasing train wreck of two years, Joaquin gets fuzzier with a big untrimmed beard, uncombed hair, massive sunglasses held together by duct tape, sometimes a torn toque or shirt on his head and generally a slovenly appearance that radiates negative sex appeal. I kept wondering if they put a fat suit on him but it looks too real as he gains weight. Now there are many actors who have put on weight, starved themselves or gotten buff to play a role and I don’t doubt that Phoenix would do this.

However, I find it unbelievable that anyone who actually cared for the man, including presumably his brother-in-law and a sister somewhere (or the brief cameo of his father) would let a man slide for so long without wanting to stage an intervention, and that Affleck would put that in the video. Phoenix is crazed,  he’s drugged, he mumbles, he rants and is basically so fucked up that he’s unappealing to anyone but the sycophants/aids/assistants who are paid to follow and help him. But no one, not publicist nor marketing people nor agents ever say, “What the hell? You need serious help.” They just let him ride and let him slide, and that to me is unbelievable and missing from this mockumentary, hence making it a noticeable fake documentary.

As for the film itself, well there are funny moments because Joaquin is so crazed and the way he dresses so bad (because we know he’s a famous star) that you just have to laugh. His home doesn’t look anything like what a star would live in and seems half unpacked with his assistants living in bare bedrooms with no pictures on the wall and only a single size bed (also unbelievable–no one can love him that much). So yeah we laugh at his crazy looniness and at the lame-ass attempts at hip-hop, which, because the sound is never mastered in any way is hard to hear at times.

But those amusing moments don’t warrant a nearly two-hour film. It’s slow and drags and whereas Exit Through the Gift Shop moved along, had tension, humor, drama and a good story on several levels, I’m Still Here falls flat. So flat in fact that I kept trying to see what time it was when I wasn’t closing my eyes. An hour would have been long enough to document this style of train wreck life, whether real or not. Some judicious cutting would have helped.

If Casey Affleck hadn’t revealed that it was a mockumentary so quickly I’m sure that the critics would debate its veracity for months, (and more people would see the film) but probably Joaquin Phoenix is truly worried that people will believe it and that his movie career will plummet. Plus, he’s gotta get back in shape now. But like the phoenix Joaquin is named after, I’m sure this star will rise higher and that the only truly good thing in this film was the caliber of his acting.  As for Casey Affleck’s directing, well, with the right money and people in the right place, I know I could do as well if not better. I’d only give this film four stars out of ten. Watching my cat groom itself is about on par for the excitement in this film.

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Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Banksy's art

On the weekend I went to see a movie with a friend, and it’s not the type of movie I normally would see. Usually, I like my escapist mind candy. I see a lot of speculative (SF and fantasy) movies because it’s what I mostly write. I like a good drama; once in a while a good comedy. I don’t tend to go to horror/thriller movies, slapstick humor, chick flicks or documentaries. With documentaries I guess I feel I want to just enjoy a world of make-believe, of fiction, and not have my emotions tossed all over the place. Or I believe they’ll be boring.

So I wasn’t expecting much when I heard we were going to see a movie about graffiti artists, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The movie started out with this guy Thierry Guetta and his obsession with filming everything in sight. There was a little interview/statement at first by some guy in a black hoody whose face was hidden and his voice disguised. The shots are like old home movies, bad angles, out of focus, insipid color. I didn’t think much of the first ten minutes, but then the brilliance of the movie started to unfold.

Now I come from an art background and I know there is graffiti art, those jagged large letters on walls all but unreadable, yet of a discernible style. There are wall murals but they look to be done by artists hired by the establishment. There are some pictures or posters. And there is the slogan graffiti, like the one on the little bathroom in Grandview Park, painted with a simplistic landscape and some crows, but some anti-everything anarchist defaced the art by painting “F**k the pigs!” and “Kill the pigs!” Not particularly intelligent, deep or new and nothing to do with the most recent protest (on upgrading the park facilities) which was when it was painted.

What I had no clue about was the depth of graffiti art, or street art, where people devote their spare time and money to making images and posting them, usually illegally. How this relates to Thierry the obsessive videographer is that when he is visiting family in France his cousin makes these plastic tiles and sticks them up on walls and underpasses, and they, like his name, are all about Space Invader. Street artists have aliases (probably to protect them from police and being fined) and become known for their particular style. They will print 10-20-foot tall images and then paste them to sides of buildings. What I did notice of all the artists shown was that they use blank walls and never deface public art. They might paint over a previous artist’s work if it’s old and known as a graffiti wall.

The better artists have a good style and may also have a message to get across. Thierry in his obsession began filming his cousin and was then filming numerous street artists, in a way documenting a transitory art form that had not yet been captured for history or memory’s sake. One of the most notorious  and political street artists was in Britain and goes by the name of Banksy. As Thierry finally meets Banksy, Banksy tells him it’s time to get this documentary out there for everyone to see this impermanent form of art. But what they don’t know is that Thierry has thousands of cassettes and he’s never looked at any of them or cataloged them in any order. What results is an unwatchable 1.5 hour film.

What is evident through this film is that it’s a bit of a biography of Thierry, a documentary of street art, a commentary on art and value, a look at culture and a very complex, multi-layered piece. Along the way it’s obvious that Banksy and others stepped in to take some of Thierry’s footage and make something truly historic. And street art starts to move into the big LA and British galleries, being auctioned off and worth big money. Banksy tells Thierry to go home and make some art. But what he didn’t realize was how powerful Thierry’s obsession was.

Thierry goes from filming to wanting to be a street artist too. Banksy gives Thierry a quote: “He’s a force of nature and I don’t mean that in a good way.” (paraphrased) Thierry isn’t just doing a bit of street art; he’s doing a lot. Plus he mortgages his house, sells his business and mounts a truly monumental show. In essence, he makes himself an artist almost overnight. And the thing is, this guy isn’t the trendy artist, nor an anti-culture rebel icon. He’s very provincial, sort of an innocent, and not very eloquent, and yet, he has something. This film also is about what is art and can someone create art without going through the long steps of training and gaining notoriety.

The brilliance of this documentary is subtle and so multi-layered that I’m still thinking about it. And yes, it highlights the elusive Banksy, who remains mysterious, but then it looks like, in the end, that he produced the movie. And Banksy, well, he’s subversive, he’s political, he’s talented and really quite brilliant (I hope his head doesn’t swell too much should he read this.) I’ve included one of his images here, which says a lot , and his website from where I found this piece. You can also find out when the film is being viewed in your city. http://www.banksy.co.uk/index.html

Exit Through the Gift Shop is so ingenuous that it’s worth seeing, whether you like documentaries or not, or are interested in culture, art, history, politics or people. And this is a subtly funny film too. I know that when I go for walks from now on, I’ll be looking at graffiti with a different eye. I don’t know how big the street art movement is in Vancouver but I can say that the best of it is truly a form of unique art worthy of appreciation. I would give this film five stars.

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Fashion: How Movies Corrupt History

I’m not talking the thousand dollar (plus) frocks that actors wear during the Oscar ceremonies. I’m talking about historical (or pseudo-historical period pieces). There are a full range of historical movies from the earliest eras of humankind up to World War or gangster films. All of these take a fair amount of research and knowledge on the costume designer’s part to recreate the era and the feel of the time. Sometimes the director and cinematographer may want a particular atmosphere, so costumes might be brighter or subdued in color range. They might be conservative or very outre in appearance depending on that movie’s theme. A costume designer might take some leeway depending on the depth of their research, what is know about a particular period, and what the director wants (which of course can hugely frustrate the sensibilities of the costume designer).

Now I’m not a costume historian, as in I don’t have a degree of any sort in this. However I have a keen interest in historical costume with some 50 books at home. I also love period piece films and will go partly for the historicity of the movie and of course for the costumes. I can usually pinpoint a century, or a decade if in the 20th century, by the clothing alone, if not the story. It gets sketchier the earlier we go but I can still pretty much tell a Roman and Greek era film and know what should be right.

One of my big pet peeves is that should a movie make an attempt at being historically accurate in clothing, that they tend to veer wildly the more important the character, especially if the character is a woman. The earlier the film, the more likely this will be. Here are a few examples of really sad costuming in movies and TV series. Gladiator. You would think with their big movie budget and names they could have tried a bit harder and really how many women were in that film? But in fact both the crazy emperor Commodus played by Joaquin Phoenix and the love interest and only woman in the film with any major part, Lucilla tend to have some iffy contrivances. Plunging necklines and tightly wrapped robes appeared. Some of the helmets for the men became pretty fantastical and veer from what would have been worn for actual combat as opposed to ceremonial helms.

More recently I watched the HBO series Rome. The lot of the average Roman is a gritty existence. It’s mostly about common men but there are the “nobler” groups and their political machinations as well. Though I’m somewhat dubious of the manly armbraces that Vorenus and Pullo wear all the time (as they’re not going to stop more than a light nick with a knife) the men’s clothing seems okay. I’m not very interested in military outfits but given that armies like the Roman legions would have supplied some uniform, they might have asked for the weapons back but let the men keep the basic tunic. People wouldn’t have had many changes of clothing and would have worn their tunics to shreds so it’s likely that the guys left the army with the basic tunic. The show seems to have got right the robes, as well as those of citizens and senate, and who would wear the large red or white togas.

There are many major female characters in this show and the one that probably wears the most historically accurate garments is Lucius Vorenus’s wife Niobe, who must hide her earlier adultery. Her garments are the basic chiton, peplos or stola. All clothing of these early eras still followed rectangular construction. Why? Because everything was woven on looms by hand and was expensive and time-consuming to make. A person would construct their garment, never wasting even an inch. Every scrap was used and before sewing techniques and inventions developed, rectangles were easiest.

I’m more up on women’s clothing and though it’s fuzzier when it comes to Roman I can tell you that almost everything the conniving, amoral Atia wears is pseudo Roman to downright fantasy. Plunging necklines and clinging items bound and wrapped in all sorts of ways defies anything but modern convention. Let’s not even go into the fabric, which would be most commonly woven wool and linen. Cotton and silk would have been rare, imported and expensive in that era so it’s possible the richest people and the emperor would have some pieces of this. I’m more willing to allow leeway in textiles as long as they look right.

Rome tried with the men’s clothing, mostly. It tried with the background and peasant/lower classes but once it go to opulence the centuries flew by. When we followed Mark Antony in Egypt, oh my god. I could not believe the stupidly bizarre take on Egyptian clothing and wigs. What were they thinking? The stuff was ludicrous. Interestingly enough, we’re more likely to see authenticity in later period pieces because when you get to Baroque and Roccoco, the women’s clothing couldn’t have been more extravagant. Still, there are good and bad shows.

Brotherhood of the Wolf, which came out in 2001 took place in the 18th century and had very good costuming. The storyline was equally well done and it’s worth watching. There are a few costume weirdnesses here with the unkempt village folk/cult followers that kind of resemble crazed, Mad Max biker guys and I question that but am willing to accept some of it. But most of the main costuming, including the women’s, was appropriate to the period and well done.

I was going to get into the new series Spartacus: Blood and Sand but I’ll just do that as a review of the first couple of episodes. As for costuming in period movies, it would be nice if directors (and costume departments) could decide to do a piece without dressing every woman like a modern vixen. And in fact, with Roman and Greek clothing, the natural drape of a peplos could have a very low neckline and an open side right up to the waist to boot. There are few movies that would get an A+ in costuming. I’d give Gladiator a B+, Rome a B- and Brotherhood of the Wolf an A.

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