Don’t Call it King Arthur

So, Guy Ritchie’s take on the myth/legend of Arthur is out in theaters.

I posted about it few weeks ago on #Facebook… here’s that post:

“King Arthur is primarily a medieval gangster film, and that’s when the movie is at its best.”
And thus the author invalidates the articles title right out of the gate.
**warning – gripe post about something I already griped about. Sue me.**
I’m gonna have see this, the same way I had to see the last Tarzan movie. These are the heroes I spent my childhood with. And these are the heroes that never (almost never) get represented the way I would like them too… I’m not very subjective when it comes to them. So forgive my teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling.
Will this be a well-crafted film? Probably. Will it be King Arthur? No. No it won’t.
Fantasy-based street orphan bests corrupt ruler with the aid of a ‘magic’ sword and prophecies about destiny? Yeah.
But don’t f***ing call it King Arthur.

I also linked to an article from which the quote was taken from, you can read that here: Turns Out King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Is a Lot Better Than Anyone Expected

Having seen the film, I stand by assessment.

Don’t ****ing call this film King Arthur. As a matter of fact, keep it as far away from the source material as possible. Call it whatever you want, rename the characters to whatever you want, just ****ing remove any reference to the myths and legends of Arthur and his Knights.

The rest of this post is more of the same, so if you are one of those TL/DR types – news flash, I didn’t like it.

Like Zack Snyder, (of 300, Watchmen and BvS fame) Mr. Ritchie is able to paint scenes well. Both men are good, competent directors – and I really kinda wish that it had been Zack Snyder that had been behind the helm of this, rather than Guy Ritchie. I think it would’ve fit better with Mr. Snyder’s style and tone – i mean that as a compliment.

The art direction and cinematography and effects for this film are top notch. In fact they are really well done and consistent… As for the costumes, I have a mixed reaction on those. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. Really, looking back on it, having just sat through it… I couldn’t tell if they were going for a Hugo Boss-meets-REI medieval look or for a post-apocalyptic REI-meets-Hugo Boss kind of look. For the most part the costuming worked, it was medieval/ren-faire chic… all leather and sheepskin and woolen cloaks. Oh, and molded plastic armor plating that didn’t really pass for steel or iron or any kind of metal really.

I honestly couldn’t tell you where or when this story was supposed to be taking place – if it was on the continent of Great Britain or on some world a thousand light years away or in some alternate dimension of Earth. The very opening shot of the move has what looks to be a Mayan pyramid in it… or at least a structure that looks an awful lot like a Mayan pyramid. The only time I heard them mention “England” was at the very end. I guess because they had to include that so – once again – they could remind everyone that this was a King Arthur movie.

The performances from the actors were all adequate. It’s an action/adventure/fantasy flick, so there is a lot of scenery chewing but for the most part, the performances rang true. I didn’t really have a fault with any of them… given that they were all kind of stock and recognizable. Again, all the more reason to disavow itself from the legend of Arthur and just give them other names… Just call it The Legend of the Sword, throw in some nods and hints at the source material, and leave it at that… We could’ve relaxed into it, got caught up in the heroic struggle. But nope. Instead the film has to try and make these folks fit into the molds of characters and therefore are stilted and trapped by the parts they are supposed to play in this “legend”.

But I understand why the name of Arthur was tacked on to this film. I understand its probably a rights issue, that the studio(s) probably own said rights and therefore needs to contractually fulfill a ‘once every decade’ resurrection of the King Arthur tale to maintain the rights to the characters… otherwise, some other studio might steal them away and make their own “alternate take” on the legend and so on and so on.

It’s a fairly decent D&D movie actually. It really is. It’s so much better than any D&D film that’s been produced and it maybe should’ve been marketed as such. It’s a above average fantasy film.

It’s just not ****ing King Arthur.

Names we are familiar with are tacked onto side characters and then dismissed because – I don’t know? Pacing maybe? Merlin and Mordred are part of some “race” called Mages that Uther and his brother Vortigern (even though in history and legend they don’t have this relationship) at war with at the start of the film… Merlin is absent from the film and Modred is not Arthur’s progeny as it is stated in the legend… all liberties taken because, well, why not…

Once again – it’s ****ing King Arthur.

Guy Ritchie has made some really good English gangster/street wise criminal movies. As the i09 article points out, that’s when this movie really works (not really, but we’ll let that go). The snappy dialogue and intercut scenes within scenes that both show and tell to accent the snappy dialogue is something he’s done before in films such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and RocknRolla. It’s his use of language and slang in those movies that makes them great, that really endears the characters to you and puts you on the streets with them.

It doesn’t really fly in a medieval setting. Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, looks the part… and when he’s not trying to play the whip-smart English street punk – he actually cuts a heroic figure as the ‘born king’.

But did I believe for a second that he was as witty, scheme-oriented, sharp as a tack criminal gang boss? Not for a second. If the film had been primarily about that … it might have made for an interesting period film… In fact, I’d actually really want to see that… but trying to mash in the street-wise stuff in among the quasi-magic, medieval swords and sorcery stuff, just muddied it. The movie doesn’t really know where or when it is… And again, its a D&D game brought to life on the screen.

All of the characters talk as though they are living in the here and now. I can just see a bunch of D&D players sitting around a table and speaking the lines – it’s how we all did when we would play through an adventure or a campaign… snappy, witty off the cuff but not really investing fully into the characters… all of our 21st century knowledge and mannerisms and inside jokes found their way into the mouths of the characters. And the dialogue in this film has that feel and sound. I’m not saying the film needed to be in iambic pentameter, but it gets tiresome to see ‘period’ films tainted with modern speech.

I found myself in a a row with two gentlemen who felt it necessary to whisper and joke throughout the movie. They probably thought the movie was the shit. they laughed at all the right lines, ooooh-ed and ahhh-ed at all the fights, and munched and slurped their popcorn and drinks during the other parts. I wanted to lean over at some point and tell them to keep it down, but as I wasn’t having a good time during the film, I figured, why ruin theirs? They were the target audience for the film – the guys that just wanted to see some dude with a sword fuck shit up.

They could care less about the legend or how it was being portrayed on the screen – and good for them. I wish I could’ve been that entertained. (They were still rude and idiots for jabbering through the movie – and hopefully karma will smack both of them in the head for that at some point down the road.)

The world of the film – as a said – looked very good. The color palette is your standard fantasy/action tint (that orange-blue tint you see all the time) the shot composition, the special effects – really nice… but the “world” they created was unclear and kinda all over the place. They never really nailed for me the ‘how and why’ of the magic elements. The ‘dark lands’ section was such a muddle of quick cuts and transitions that it wasn’t until it was over did the film make it plain that Arthur hadn’t journeyed there except in his head.

The biggest sin for though was the fact that they used the words “myth” and “legend” when referring to Arthur. This meta-fiction type of stuff in films like this irks me a lot because it doesn’t ring true. Arthur only has mythic and legendary status because of the hundreds of years we’ve been telling those stories. The Arthur in this film has not earned that status. 20-25 years of being in hiding is not mythic or legendary.

Daniel Pemberton’s score is, aside from the look and effects, by far the best thing about the film. It crosses several genres, and has a sort of alt-rock meets new age medieval raga flavor. The mouth harp/rough violin/heavy breathing sections are effective in the quick cut frenetic montages of Arthur’s rough childhood and the run through the streets sections. Its percussive, a-tonal kind of exotic and sometimes works and other times it doesn’t. It sounds exactly like the kind of stuff one would want to underscore your D&D game: quasi-modern and trying to sound medieval and kinda succeeding at both… again, just highlighting how muddy the attempt is at retelling this story we’ve all heard or seen before.

I’ve said this before… making films is an amazingly rough, time consuming and soul-crushing business. The people that work on these types of projects deserve all kinds of praise and kudos for creating these wonderful pieces of art and entertainment that get savaged by critics and others. The film is an achievement in the power of cinematic storytelling in that it made it through the system, was written, shot, edited and released into the wild. I give the filmmakers, the actors the producers, the set builders, the costumers, the artists, the extras and everyone involved in it a round of applause – you got work and you did the best with it hat you could.

It just didn’t work for me.

I’m pretty sure that some ten or eleven year old will see it and think its the best thing they’ve ever seen. They will grow up thinking that King Arthur is a superhero and that Excalibur has the power to slow time (yeah, that happens) so that the ten or eleven year old can swing it to cut down his enemies and stand triumphant once all the carnage is done with.

I’m pretty sure at ten or eleven, I would’ve been wowed by that.

But it’s not ****ing King Arthur.

It’s not.

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I am a Murderer

[…] went back and forth on actually killing him in this story, saying “I think that it was a tough decision. I really like […] as a character, I’ve had a lot of fun writing him. He’s been big part of my run and I didn’t know that I was going to do that when the run started. It was heartbreaking to do that to […].”

The above quote was taken from an interview about a certain comic that has just been released, one that is courting a lot of controversy and backlash.

I’m not going to go into great detail about that particular comic, one because I disagree with the arc and two because this isn’t really about whether or not a cultural icon is or really isn’t a Nazi. (that should give it away… if it doesn’t, well good. Stay ignorant. You’ll be happier believe me.)

What this is really about is what a writer is and what he/she is capable of.

Writers are heinous criminals. We lie, cheat, steal; we commit adultery, we blow up buildings, send cars careening off cliffs and yes… we kill.

What prompted me to write this… (and what I’m writing about isn’t new, other authors have addressed the subject of the ‘amorality’ of writers) is the sort of nonchalance that the quote giver expresses his ‘heartbreak’ over killing off a character. Now, the author who is quoted may very well have been sincere and choked up when making that statement, I can’t really say for sure. I’m guessing it was just said in a matter-of-fact tone. It was just one of those ‘no big thing’ type statements, one that every writer makes when discussing death in their work. And for all I know, the writer did think long and hard and went back and forth about it, but in the end — went ahead and did it anyway. What troubles me about the this particular “killing” is that, it’s not really their character. The character in question belongs to a comic publishing company and other writers (including the one who invented the character for said comic book company) have spent time, energy and creative talent to bring the character to life.

In one sense, you might ask… ‘what right do you have to kill off another writer’s character?’ And on the heels of that, you might ask – hold up, ‘why are you killing them at all?’

Writer’s kill for one reason. To illicit a response from the reader. That response can vary of course, dependent on the character, their importance, the reader’s emotional connection or indifference to said character and so on and so forth.

But the goal is to get the reader to feel.

Admittedly, Death is the easiest button to push in order to get a response from a reader. A lot of that has to do with how we view death in real life… how much of our lives is spent trying to avoid it, how many of our fellows are scared of it, how much of it takes place around us… and how many times how unexpected it is.

A writer kills because it serves the story.

Of course I had to have Sean Bean die in this post – ’cause reasons

Sometimes this is done with great skill and attention to detail, the writer has skillfully drawn the character so that the reader is affected long after the story is over and done with. The impact resonates.

Other times its ham-handed and ineffective, the reader can see it coming or isn’t invested enough in the character to care one way or the other about the event. It’s treated with a sigh and a shrug and quickly forgotten.

Writers kill because we are human. Death and killing is a part of who we are as a species. Every great story has death in it. A death. Or more than one death. It’s necessary, to be honest, in order to make the stories come to life, to be real. Which is kind of ironic in a way.

There’s that armchair-philosopher maxim that states: Given an infinite universe and infinite time, all things will happen. You could extrapolate that to creative mediums and say that every character in every book or comic or TV show or movie exists in some alt-universe out there, somewhere in the vast unknowable vastness of existence.

Which begs the question… am I pretending to kill a character off? Or am I causing the death of someone, somewhere… out there?

And that for me is a very interesting rabbit hole to jump down into and explore. It brings up question about morality and existence – the should I or shouldn’t I? aspect of just about every decision you make in your life.

In all of literature, how many “lives” have been extinguished in the name of entertaining those of us in the real world? How many have been snuffed out to enrich the life experience of us here in this one who consume the pages their brief time is opened to us?

Writing a death shouldn’t be just some small thing. It’s something that should be given thought too… even the small, nameless and faceless ones that happen to bystanders and those “people” that get caught in a building fire, that are no way involved in the main thread of your story or narrative.

Everyone of those ‘characters’ has a life don’t they?

And that’s something that, in these politically volatile and fractious times, we all forget in heated moments. Everyone has a story, everyone is the lead in their own narrative.

Comb through any thread or topic on your favorite book or comic or film and inevitably you will find statements that causally comment on or dissect the death of a character, and no doubt you will find ones that discuss them in terms that range from dismissive to derision. We treat literary deaths as though they rank on a scale – probably because they do.

What is meaningful in a story is only rated in terms of how it affects the main characters. All others are chaff on the wind. And how does that apply to our real lives?

Do you feel the same about the death of Robin Williams as you do about the death of a relative, or Umberto Eco?

As a writer, I’ve killed a great many characters. And to tell you the truth, some I didn’t even think about. They were side-line entities, there only necessary as a minor moment in a greater scene.

I think that speaks volumes about how we look at life. ‘If it isn’t happening to me, then how important is it really?’

I can’t really say if that’s healthy or not. Life is complicated and filled with so much information and a constant stream of events that we can’t give equal weight to them all. And it’s the same with death I think. Some times its too much to deal with. The weight of it is too much to take. And other times its a simple as turning a page or closing a door.

The Trouble with Giant Monsters

Let them fight.”

Probably the one line in a giant monster movie that sums up what they are all about. And at the same time, it highlights the gigantic flaw with them as a genre.

And even though I’m going to do my best to refrain from revealing anything pertinent about the plot or specific moments about the film Kong: Skull Island, just in case: *SPOILERS* if you have not seen it yet.

Don’t get me wrong. I love giant monsters. I sat wide-eyed with wonder in my formative years, devouring each and every one that was shown on Saturday afternoon TV or on Sci-Fi extravaganzas or Chiller Thriller Theater shows on late late night TV. I begged and pleaded for as many issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland as I could. I’d gleefully stare at the images of King Ghidorah or Rhodan or Gamera or the King of All Monsters – Godzilla.

I sat through the latest giant monster movie to grace U.S. screens today: – Kong: Skull Island.

I saw the original King Kong (1933) some long ago Saturday afternoon in the early 70’s. I sat in the living room in front of our TV and watched the black & white stop motion classic with a mix of horror and fascination. Looking at the film now, you may ask, what on earth did you find about it that evoked horror? It’s a tame film compared to the spectacles we have today. But something about that log rolling scene (when my child-like mind didn’t see stiff dolls falling to their doom but real people) stuck with me. I actually got a sick feeling in my stomach seeing those “bodies” strike the earth. Kong was a force of nature, a killer beast and men were insects he would crush underfoot.

And I’m sure that’s the reaction the filmmakers were hoping for when audiences saw it 40 years earlier. Its the same reaction that modern films aim for as well – the thrilling, voyeuristic depiction of death by monster.

There are a number of similar sequences in Kong: Skull Island, but they didn’t impact me as profoundly as did that log scene from the original. Of course it can’t – I’m much older and much more jaded than when I was nine.

Skull Island takes the premise of the original Kong movie and takes it out of the 30’s and puts it right smack dab in the 70’s. The synchronicity of my exposure to the giant gorilla and the setting for this latest incarnation is not lost on me, but its simply an interesting coincidence. Placing it in the Vietnam era and using the burgeoning reliance on satellites to uncover a ‘mythic’ island in the South Pacific is a twist that isn’t quite new, but the presentation of it is handled well.

The music used to hammer the time period home just seemed cliche and almost cringe-worthy to hear. Its like the producers needed to hammer everyone over the head with ‘its not 2017! It’s 1973! Can’t you tell? That’s Airplane’s “White Rabbit” for crying out loud!’ Give me subtle rather than in my face anytime.

Skull Island suffers not from a lack of amazing looking set pieces – but rather from a tired plot of ‘humans treading into spaces that should best left alone’. Much like the ’33 Kong, the film is about trekking through lethal jungle terrain to reach a point of safety and rescue. Along the way – the filmmakers showcase a number of giant monsters and deadly threats… which are really nothing more than filler to eat up time getting to the showdown between Kong and Man and the other reptilian threat that inhabits the island.

The one plot device I did find very intriguing was the whole “Hollow Earth” angle that the Monarch Organization was hoping to prove or exploit or whatever it is that their end goal is – it’s left vague or unanswered – that contrived end title scene notwithstanding. And by contrived I mean it felt forced and tacked on.

The geek in me likes the shared universe aspect of this. It sets up the inevitable showdown between Kong and Godzilla (a re-match of the 1962 version we all know and love). I would love a found footage type docu-film about Monarch, showing how they tie-in all the monster myths in this cinematic universe. The tag scene at the end implies they got a butt load of info and that the real villain of King Kong vs. Godzilla won’t be either of our two favorite giant monsters… which I look forward too 🙂

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is fairly simple – secret Organization piggybacks on a government funded expedition to an uncharted island to uh… find stuff before the Russians do.

All of the characters are pretty stock and it falls into the same safe pitfalls as any monster movie that deals with a ‘hidden land’ or ‘undiscovered island’.

Right from the start, we are told by one character (Tom Hiddleston as an ex-SAS tracker) that they are all going to die in horrible nasty ways. And then the film proceeds to march to that tune right up until the climax.

None of the characters are either likable (except for maybe John C. Reilly – he’s always a joy to watch) or despicable. John Goodman’s character is just obsessed and Sam L. Jackson isn’t so much a villain as a man who doesn’t know anything other than fighting and has a over-developed American self-righteous ego. He’s not a villain, just an angry military man who can’t believe that an indigenous life-form would dare kill those who intruded on its territory.

There are natives in this film – there always are – and like so many films of this type – they are reduced to mute savages – a wasted plot device there to simply give the main characters a place to discuss exposition before continuing the inevitable death-at-the-hands-of-giant-things mission they are on.

I think there was some confusion on the writing/casting part of the film – the “hero” is split for the most part between the Hiddleston character and another American soldier played with understated ‘aw-shucks’ Alabama goodness by Toby Kebbell. Personally I think they missed the boat and should’ve put Kebbell’s character more at the forefront and ditched the SAS tracker character altogether – but as Hiddleston has more star power, Kebbell’s Sgt. Chapman doesn’t fair well. I will note that the audience gasped at his fate – because the set up for him was handled in a way that made you root for him once things go sideways… but its a cliche cheesy tug at the heart strings kind of character to begin with.

As far as the Monsters… Kong is awesome, if a little bit cardboard. He suffers the same presentation as the human actors in the film – he’s one note and cliche. Now, don’t angry because I’m dissing on the big ape. It’s more about presentation than a comment on the King.

As an American, and growing up in the US watching the kaiju films and identifying them with certain geographic locations – Kong has always been presented as (and is in my mind) an “American” monster. He is associated with the US the same way that baseball and apple pie are… I remember having debates in grade school about who was cooler – Kong or Godzilla, and inevitably someone would always blurt out that “…Kong’s an American that’s why!” Kong is warm-blooded savagery. Godzilla is dragon-like and foreign. But if you want my true feeling – Godzilla is the better kaiju. he is the king in my book, and Kong is simply an over-sized rendition of the Beast from the fairytale – heck they even quote it in the original.

For most of Skull Island they didn’t touch on the human female / giant ape quasi-romance issue – but yet it got shoe-horned into it anyway. And it wasn’t handled in a way that made any real sense – it was just in there because the studios insisted upon it because otherwise audiences would’ve freaked out. Which isn’t true, but try telling that to them.

I liked this Kong better than Peter Jackson’s take. I remember watching it thinking I should be having more fun – and I simply wasn’t. It seemed to over the top and the actress (played by Naomi Watts) just wasn’t likable at all. Her sense of self importance was pretty off putting. And don’t get me started on that ridiculous bug valley scene… sheesh.

I guess I was sitting there watching Kong: Skull Island and wondering – what’s the point of all this? Maybe there doesn’t need to be – I mean, looking back at the first line of this post… its simply that: “Let them fight.”

I mean – what else do you really expect from a giant monster movie? Its an extrapolation of us in the sandbox with our monster toys – there are no deep and meaningful plots. Its simply an excuse to see monsters/animals battle for our amusement.

But as anyone who knows me or who has read other entries I’ve posted on this blog – fighting just to fight is boring to me. I found the reptilian beasts that were Kong’s enemies on the island to be unbelievable. Everything about them screamed “illogical” and I’m sure they were created with a “cool factor” in mind and also because audiences have had their fill of dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts – so Kong has to fight something giant and terrifying and new! They just seemed like some dumb creature form a D&D Monster Manual. Two legged lizard things with a outer protective skull. Why? Simply to show Kong as a protector, not a savage. It just seemed convenient and forced.

I don’t know what I was expecting from Skull Island. Maybe more of a back story on Kong. Why is he so big? Why does he exist?

Instead what I saw was just groundwork for the films that will supposedly follow up on the Monarch theory that these creatures owned the Earth before us and are going to attempt to take it back.

Skull Island wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. It was just a prequel.

Let’s hope what follows has more to it – but I’m sure what we’ll get is just more fighting.

Chasing Alexander

Everyone knows of or has heard of Alexander. Or Iskandar as he is called in the East.

A bust of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, (356 - 323 BC), son of Philip II of Macedon and Queen Olympias, circa 330 BC. The sculpture was found in the Roman Capitol. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A bust of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, (356 – 323 BC), son of Philip II of Macedon and Queen Olympias, circa 330 BC. The sculpture was found in the Roman Capitol. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Alexander was the Macedonian King whose military exploits were the shining example of what human arrogance and achievement can accomplish. Exploits that were emulated for thousands of years after, proof that one man can do wonders. That one man can conquer the world.

Although, conquer is a strong word. Alexander sought to unify the world. To bring it under one ruler and therefore banish the ills that plagued it… which is an over simplification I know. In order to do that, the was a lot of war, blood, death and carnage, and the attempt ended in defeat. Defeat is a strong word to, and may not be entirely accurate. But this post isn’t concerned with an in-depth historically accurate portrait of Alexander.

No, what I really want to write about, to put out there in the blog-o-sphere, are my thoughts on the the 2004 film, Alexander by director Oliver Stone, starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto and Rosario Dawson.alex2004

 

A retrospective/reappraisal of Stone’s original theatrical release was writing by for rogerebert.com in 2014, which you can read here: A REAPPRAISAL OF OLIVER STONE’S “ALEXANDER: THE ULTIMATE CUT”

The film was panned when it was first released and since then it has had a number of re-edits and versions – talked about in the article above and so is now seen as a much better film than when first released. Though it still has flaws.

It’s long and flips back and forth in time, and the battle and action scenes while grand and epic, can be hard to follow at times. Its hard to encompass the idea of Alexander, as Anthony Hopkins explains in the beginning. How do you tell the story of a man who is more legend than reality?

I recently re-watched the film – which is currently streaming on Netflix) and was struck by the words Alexander uses during one of the arguments that Alexander has with he ‘companions’. The debate and discussion comes as they push further and further East, away from their homeland of Greece (Macedonia). The men are weary and trying to understand Alexander’s bid to reach the ‘outer sea’. He wants to sail back round to Africa, travel up the Nile and to Egypt, thus encircling/conquering the known world.

The argument I’m talking about in the film is, essentially, very pertinent to what we are dealing with today, here in the US and around the world. And which seems to be the only thing that matters to our society/culture/species – this never-ending conflict between East and West.

Alexander’s companions are tired, war-weary and beginning to question his motives and leadership. To them, he seems much more enamored of their enemies and to be forgetting who he is. He’s taking on their mode of dress, participating in their customs – he even takes a “barbarian” wife.

The men are naturally upset – because it goes against everything they’ve been raised and taught to believe. The tribes and people to the East are beneath them. They are decadent, overly emotional, savages. As Aristotle (played by Christopher Plummer in the film) tells them: “…the Oriental races are known for their barbarity and slavish devotion to their senses. Excess in all things is the undoing of men. That is why we Greeks are superior, we practice control of our senses. Moderation.”

The movie was released three years after 9/11 and the start of the War on Terror. In one sense, it can be seen as a pro-democracy film. Greece was the birthplace of Democracy after all. So, this film and others, like Zack Snyder’s 300 in 2006 do very much play as a reminder and assertion that the West is, as Aristotle states, superior.

The end of the argument between Alexander and his men ends with the young king furious with his men –

Parmenion: He never lusted for war, Alexander, or enjoyed it so. He consulted his peers in council, among equals! The Macedonian way. He didn’t make decisions based on his personal desires.

Alexander: I’ve taken us further than my father ever dreamed! Old man, we’re in knew worlds.

Cassander: Alexander, be reasonable! Were they ever meant to be our equal? Share our rewards? You remember what Aristotle said. An Asian? What would a wedding vow ever mean to a race that has never kept their word to a Greek?

Alexander: [throws Cassander against the wall] Aristotle be damned!

Hephaistion: Alexander!

Alexander: By Zeus and all the gods, what makes you so much better than them, Cassander? Better than you really are! In you and those like you is this!

Hephaistion: [pleading] Alexander…

Alexander: What disturbs me most is not your lack of respect for my judgment, but your contempt for a world far older than ours!

Of course this is dialogue written for a film. Its not the actual words that passed between Alexander and his men. Its thinking that is modern, said in a modern way. But it captures an aspect of what Alexander was trying to achieve.

And that argument, I think, is what we are still facing and fighting today. We’ve been entrenched in this conflict for thousands of years – West vs. East.

The East in Alexander and in 300 is painted as an alien culture and landscape, they are dark and ugly and cruel. They are ruled by despots and tyrants, made rich on the backs of slaves. They pay men to fight to enrich themselves.

The West on the other hand is light and good and fighting for freedom – the same rhetoric we hear today. Which of these is true? It all depends on where you stand.

Many won’t understand Alexander’s last line in the film scene quoted above. They think and believe as Alexander’s men do, as Aristotle did: that they are superior.

When you listen to the speeches of our leaders listen to the words that are used. Its not so much the people of Ancient Persia we are fighting against now, but ideologies and beliefs which did not exist in Alexander’s time

We not battling not the barbarian hordes, its Radical Islam.

I always am bothered by arguments on the subject that treat it as though this is something new and that can be stamped out. the truth of it – in my own mind – is that the ugly things happening out there right now: immigration bans, terror attacks, the rise of populist leaders, the Left vs. Right bigotry and hatred – stretch much further back than just a very horrible and terrible day in September 16 years ago.

And I think people forget that. I think people only see what is front of them.

Like Alexander’s men… they don’t understand the dream he was trying to achieve. The thing that drove him, the thing he was chasing and what many after him chased as well. What some still chase today.

A unified world.

Many don’t want that in this day and age. The current political climate in America is very much not about unity.

What many see, and what many want is separation and division. Them above the other. They are in the Right and we are in the Wrong.

Its an argument that stretches back millennia… and one that will not have an end in my lifetime.

At the close of the film Anthony Hopkins has the following speech:

Old Ptolemy: The truth is never simple and yet it is. The truth is we did kill him. By silence we consented… because we couldn’t go on. But by Ares, what did we have to look forward to but to be discarded in the end like Cleitus? After all this time, to give away our wealth to Asian sycophants we despised? Mixing the races? Harmony? Oh, he talked of these things. I never believe in his dream. None of us did. That’s the truth of his life. The dreamers exhaust us. They must die before they kill us with their blasted dreams.

Those who dream exhaust those who want things to stay as they are.

And they fight against a dream of unity because they fear they will be lost in it. If we are all the same, how can I be me? How can I be just one?

We the Devouring and Insatiable

So, as a creator (not that I’m great at it, but I try) I keep up with those things that influence my writing and storytelling. I read, watch films and a few non-network TV shows and I spend far too much time reading articles on the web.

There’s been a lot of ink and time spent picking apart/discussing/analyzing various popular shows or entertainment properties, especially since the ascension of geek and nerd culture as the top source for those items that a great many people obsess over – from comics to video games, to superheroes and shows about sentient robots (Westworld), a fantasy world with dragons (GoT) and humans doing despicable things to one another during a world ending event (TWD).

To be honest, there’s so much content being produced its really kind of overwhelming. But I guess that’s the result of years of advertisers and media moguls chasing after the next billion-dollar profit maker – because in the end, profit is all that matters.

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But, maybe that’s not the whole issue.

We’ve reached a point in our civilization where we have a great deal of free time due to industrialization and automation and surplus, we are – a lot of the time – bored with life.

I happen to think that the vast majority of us are insatiable when it comes to content and entertainment. We demand it at an insane rate, and devour it so quickly that we feel unsatisfied and letdown or immediately hungry as soon as we finish a book or a show.

Ask yourself how many times you been on your computer, surfing Netflix or clicking through the media guide on your TV or browsing a book shelf or scanning the comic book wall and seeing nothing that interests you… Maybe its not that way for you – maybe you easily hop from one thing to the next and aren’t bored… but have you ever felt overwhelm by the choices presented to you?

Either way, boredom or the feeling that there’s just too much, leads to a sort whining childishness – a pouting demanding sense of privilege entitlement.

Entertainment must and should be provided to us whenever and however we want. One of my favorite comics, Dana Gould, had a great bit where he stops in the middle of his act and kind of deconstructs it – he turns a chair around and with his back to the audience rants and vents about what they (we the audience) EXPECT from a show.

Do a dance, sing a song, smash some fruit! ENTERTAIN ME!”

We are constantly faulting films and shows and comics or *insert product here* for being either bad or unfulfilling. Because our expectations are not met. Advertisers and film studios and publishers tease and promote these products to an absurd degree — to the point where by the time they are released, we expect them to be the NEXT BIG THING – only to walk away from them let down or bummed out.

People will find fault with anything. Its not just the teasing and the ads and the promos that are the problem… If I had to put a finger on it, I’d say that its just simply our demand that we have more that’s the problem.

In this day of instant gratification, content streaming, on-demand programming and one-click purchasing options… we’ve become monsters that consume and devour at a frightening pace.

I just read an article [Comics Should Be Published Weekly]that “demands” the comics industry immediately switch its distribution model from once a month to weekly – simply because asking a reader to follow a story parceled out in increments every month isn’t reasonable. The author cites the example that comics should be created the way TV shows are created, and gives examples of how this has worked in the comics industry… And perhaps he/she has a point.

But what galls me about this is the assertion that entertainment should be shoveled into our hands at an accelerated rate… because WE WANT IT NOW.

Information and content is fed to us, thrown at us, pushed at us at such a speed that we don’t take to digest or appreciate it. We gobble it up, toss it aside and are immediately looking for the next thing.

We don’t appreciate waiting periods of any kind. Ignoring the benefits of pause, of taking time to relish what we have just seen or heard or tasted.

It’s already soured in our mouths and we need something else to wash it away.

More, More, More!

The long, prolonged derangement of the senses that Morrison spoke of , the thirteen channels of shit on the TV to chose from that Floyd sang about — they have become an avalanche – a tidal wave of consumerism that mires us in a swamp of content overload.

I don’t think comics need to be provided to us on a weekly basis.

Rather than demanding that outside forces need to change and alter to fit our will, it’s our expectations that should change.

We need to re-discover our sense of wonder and fun – instead of expecting it to be spoon-fed to us every second of every hour of every day.

Sacred Childhood… uh, not really

First, I just want to say, this isn’t about taking anything away from anybody. This is just my opinion – and you can feel free to reject it, piss on it or flip me the finger… That’s your right.

Just as it’s my right (as this is my blog, my soapbox) to say what I’m about to say.

No matter what you may think – your childhood memories aren’t sacred.

They are simply, your memories… just as the memories of your grandfather as his memories, or your grandmother her memories. Yeah, the ones you thought were sooo lame and out of touch.

Welcome to that point in your life when your idea of what’s what runs headlong into a new generation’s newer, shinier, better and cooler what’s what.

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So… that’s my two cents.

 

 

 

50 Years Difference

The Magnificent Seven is 56 years old. 3 years older than me.

It’s very interesting to see the changes and difference between two films telling the same story, fifty years apart.

The original 1960’s version is a timecapsule of sorts… made at the height of Hollywood’s love affair of the Western, before more realistic depictions of the genre would focus on the blood and violence of the American Frontier. The violence and action in it is of the sterile, stylized Hollywood kind: all of it staged and non-threatening. It’s a romantic film really, one that glorifies the hallmarks of the shoot ’em genre: blood that looks more like paint, perfectly round bullet holes, shooting guns out of hands, etc.

The 1960 version (based on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) stars  Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, and Horst BuchholzCharles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Brad Dexter.

Fifty years ago, the gun was seen as something pure. It was the weapon that won the West, what established America as the land of the Free, home of the Brave.

It didn’t quite carry the stigma it does today, or maybe that’s just me looking back at it through the lens of nostalgia. Guns and violence still happened in 1960’s America… it just didn’t seem to happen as often as it does today.

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From the moment the film starts and Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score fills the speakers, you know you are in for a “feel good” kind of movie. It’s a straightforward good guys vs. bad guys situation and the music lets you know its going to be fun, exciting… something to cheer for.

It’s a throwback to watch it, having just sat through the Antoine Fuqua 2016 re-make with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, and Peter Sarsgaard.

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What strikes you about the original is its bravado – it’s almost naive chivalry and lighthearted tone.

Both films open with the villains first, showing us the rough and ugly side of the West – only, the 2016 version is set in an unnamed territory (somewhere, apparently, a week’s ride from Sacramento) whereas the original is about the hired guns protecting a Mexican village over the border and outside the USA.

The tone is strikingly different in each – the 1960’s version is almost upbeat, the Mexican bandits not all that threatening, except for Eli Wallach who slaps a guy around and then shoots a man dead. The 2016 version is right from the start more dramatic and dangerous, with Sarsgaard’s greedy, land-obsessed Bogue threatening a child, burning the town’s church to the ground and then shooting a man dead.

In the 60’s version you kind of get the impression that (because of the music and the staging) that the stakes and consequences are not really that high. The men that join the Seven are noble knights on a quest – they expect to die in battle, for honor and glory.

The 2016 version however, never really gives you that impression. It can’t. Because those kind of ideals don’t really hold water these days. The men who sign up for the Seven in the modern take are more mercenary, more brutish in a way… they walk into it knowing that they will probably die – but they also will be taking a lot of “bad” guys with them.

Its interesting to note that the subtle, subconscious politics of the 1960 version – that the poor Mexican farmers need to cross the border into America to buy guns and hire more able-bodied fighters to defend their land and homes. The USA was still seen as the savior of the world then, before Vietnam, before Watergate and Irangate, before Iraq and 9/11.

And it’s another (almost embarrassing) re-iteration that only the White Man is capable of taking care of business. All of the hired hands in the 1960 version are White men – except for Horst Buchholz who plays kind of a half Mexican hothead (its not stated outright only implied) whose name is Chico.

The 2016 version of the Seven is more diverse, with the leader being black, and including not only a Texican (“There’s no such thing as a Texican” I think is the line from the script) but a Korean knife-thrower and a Comanche to boot.

Not that it matters in the slightest really – race and nationality don’t really matter when you are putting together a team of gunslingers. What matters is are they good and are they willing to kill.

When we first meet the leader of the gunslingers in the 1960’s version, he’s taking on the job of escorting the body of a dead Indian to a graveyard – its a statement against racism in a kind of backhanded way – seeing as how the white dudes are helping out a dead guy.

The issue of race never really arises in the 2016 version, at least it didn’t seem to for me – the confrontation at the end between Denzel Washington and Peter Sarsgaard didn’t really seem to be a racist one so much as just a bad guy getting his for being a outright sonofbitch and doing nasty things to innocent people back in Kansas. The racism in that exchange isn’t blatant or outright, but it’s there… and I found it very interesting to see how the good guy is black (dressed in black – an homage to Yul Brynner’s character in the original) and the bad guy is white (but also dressed in black) and how it speaks (intentionally or not) to the tensions that are taking place in our streets as I type this.

The reviews for the 2016 remake praise the acting but also point out that it really doesn’t change or innovate much from the original – other than they are fighting to protect a bunch of white farmers from greedy white men, rather than protecting Mexican farmers from a gang of Mexican bandits.

The gun fights and killing in the 2016 version is a bit more brutal than that of the 60’s version (with more explosions of course) but no where near as gory and gut-wrenching as say The Wild Bunch or Rambo.

But the one thing that struck me about the film was the ending.

In the 1960’s version, at the end, the aftermath of the violence and the impact that it has on the villagers is pretty much the same as the townsfolk in the 2016 version. But whereas the 60’s version is more somber and quiet, the 2016 version is a kind of weird celebration with lots of dead guys and townspeople congratulating themselves and the three surviving gunslingers. It just struck me as odd.

And like the 60’s version, there’s still a speech about how the ones who died will be remembered as heroes – but when the music swells and the survivors are riding off in the original, the music sounds out of place. It’s overly heroic, but it doesn’t have the rousing thematic quality of Bernstein’s score – which comes rushing onto the screen when the credits start to roll, which is almost jarring and a blatant reminder that this is a re-make: look, were using the same music here! Clever, huh!?

It was a decent re-make, a more modern take, a more realistic one. But I can’t say its better. I think original did a better job of making the Seven likable and identifiable – more human in a way.

But that’s the trouble with re-makes, I guess. Comparisons are inevitable and its rare when a remake improves on something. Finding the right ingredients is always tricky.

But, go see it for yourself, make your own judgment. It’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.