Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Year 5, Day 331 - 11/27/13 - Movie #1,592

BEFORE:  It's raining today in NYC, which would only be a problem if it were a big travel day or something.  I'm fortunate that I still live within driving distance of my parents, relatively speaking, so we don't have to drive anywhere until tomorrow morning.  I spent about a decade meeting up with my parents on Thanksgiving at my aunt and uncle's house in Rockland County, and I feel that all those years of holiday travel have given me something of a pass - now for Thanksgiving I can choose where I want to go, or to choose nowhere if I want.  But after another three years of driving out to Long Island to spend the day with my wife's brother's in-laws, this time we're going to drive up to New Haven, which had the foresight to position itself roughly halfway between NYC and Boston, and meet up with my parents for lunch tomorrow.  One of New Haven's finer restaurants (I hope) will be providing the food, my mother and I can always cook a turkey together for Christmas.

I had the foresight about 6 months ago to buy two pairs of sneakers instead of one, which came in quite handy when the weather forced me to admit that I've worn some considerable holes in the first pair.  It's like I bought myself a gift on layaway.  Speaking of gifts, I've got to get moving on Christmas stuff.  This Friday simply MUST be the day where I pick the tracks for my Christmas mix CD, and then comes the dubbing and the labelling and the mailing of cards and CDs.  Then I've got to make lists (I love lists...) of gifts and where to look for them, and then there will be a flurry of internet ordering - you won't catch me at the mall on Black Friday, I assure you.  But after one more film I've got to put movies on hold to catch up on holiday preparations.

Linking from "The New World", two actors carry over - Christian Bale and Irene Bedard, which is kind of amazing considering that both movies cover almost exactly the same material.

THE PLOT:  An English soldier and the daughter of an Algonquin chief share a romance when English colonists invade seventeenth-century Virginia.

AFTER: Once again, DisneyCorp. has seen fit to whitewash history.  Of course, with any life portrayed on screen, there are decisions to be made about what to leave in and what to take out, so no biopic can ever be considered complete, unless the running time matches the person's natural lifetime.  But with the story of Pocahontas it's pretty telling what was depicted, and what wasn't.

First off, even though it was the first Disney animated feature to be based on a real person, being the chief's daughter made her technically a princess, so you just know that's why DisneyCorp. was eager to tell her story.  Nothing like holding up another princess for little girls to aspire becoming someday...  OK, so she's not Caucasian, which makes it seem like a step forward, but is it really?  She is depicted as a woman who is unable to define herself other than through her future husband, so to me that's a big red flag, and a sign that we haven't really progressed as fast and as far as one might think.  Some stories maintained that she had a husband in the tribe before she fell in with John Smith, but of course they're going to just sweep that under the rug for a kid's story.  Additionally, history estimates her age as 12 or 13, not as an older teen as depicted here - we can't show cradle-robbing, now can we?  (also, she probably would have walked around topless, but I understand some concessions must be made for a kiddie film...)

Similarly, this story only covers the period that includes Pocahontas meeting Smith, their romance and tours through the animated Virginia countryside, and then their parting after Smith is injured and forced to return to England.  Man, that's a hell of a long ambulance ride.  At least in this version Smith doesn't feed her the "I couldn't call you, I was dead" line.  But there's no mention of the love triangle that includes John Rolfe - because god forbid that a kid's film suggest that relationships are at all complicated.  Nope, you meet your true love, and if you screw it up, you don't get another shot.  That ship has sailed - literally, it's leaving with the tide.

The relationship between Pocahontas and Rolfe constitutes the first interracial marriage in American history.  Doesn't it seem like that might be the more powerful story?  Shouldn't that be celebrated and depicted, instead of her dalliance with John Smith?  Although it was the first interracial romance seen in a Disney film, I guess that's something.  (Ah, I'm being told that Disney did produce a sequel, in which Pocahontas meets Rolfe and subsequently travels to London.  Never mind.  Carry on.)

Honestly, though, no one really knows the true nature of the relationship between Pocahontas and Smith.  Smith wrote his journals in the third person, so we don't get a lot of insight into where his head was at.  Seems like he was kind of ambivalent about it, if you ask me.  You'd think if he was tapping that, he'd at least brag about it.  But it was a different time, when some men were gentlemen, I guess.  The first account of their romance didn't appear until 1803, and that's quite a distance to be speculating from. 

As for Smith, "The New World" made allusions to his mutinous behavior on the way to the New World, but this film depicts him jumping overboard to save a comrade.  That's quite a discrepancy - but everything's conjecture, really.  However, it's just so blatant that everything was made to fit a particular formula, one where heroes are good and villains are bad and there are no gray areas in-between.

The other obvious complaint is that there are too many sidekicks - about three too many - but that's pretty standard for a modern Disney film.  Really, everything they do is a distraction, which means that DisneyCo. considers kids to be about as intelligent as a housepet.  "Hey, look over here!" is the overall effect, because we don't believe in the ability of youngsters to pay proper attention to the main storyline.  And they wonder why so many kids have HDAD these days - can anyone tie the growth of this condition to the increase in animated sidekicks?   There was even supposed to be a fourth sidekick, a turkey named Redfeather, voiced by John Candy, but when he passed away the role was not recast, and in fact all of the animals lost the ability to speak English at that point.

Yes, the original plan was to have the cutesy raccoon, pug dog AND the hummingbird speak English, which would have made "Pocahontas" just as non-sensical as "Madagascar" or "The Little Mermaid" or any of the others - I suppose it's a step forward that they merely make animal noises here, but I think it would have been a bigger step if their roles were reduced or even eliminated entirely. 

On top of that, the name "Pocahontas" is spoken way too many times.  After a character is introduced, there's not usually much reason for stating their name over and over - it almost seems like time-filler here, or an admission that most characters don't have anything else constructive to say.  Pocahontas herself even starts sentences with it, which seemed quite odd because why would she address herself before speaking to another person? 

Also starring the voices of Mel Gibson (last seen in "The Bounty"), David Ogden Stiers (last heard in "Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil"), Russell Means, Linda Hunt (last seen in "She-Devil"), Billy Connolly (last seen in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"), Gordon Tootoosis (last seen in "Legends of the Fall").

RATING:  4 out of 10 shovels

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The New World

Year 5, Day 329 - 11/25/13 - Movie #1,591

BEFORE: My on-and-off feud with the cable company is back ON (I won't say their name, but their initials are Time Warner Cable).  Every single time that my cable box switches off and reboots at 4 am (yeah, I'm awake, I notice...) it means they're downloading a software "upgrade" to my DVR, and every single time, that makes my system worse.  Forget the fact that the guide to recorded shows looks like ass now, and live TV is reduced to a small postage-stamp sized corner of the screen while I'm searching for shows - every time this occurs, I lose some feature.

I used to be able to type an actor's name and find all movies and shows he's in, but I lost that feature about two years ago.  Now I seem to have lost the ability to watch one recorded show while recording two others - but that's how I usually spend my entire weekend.  What's the deal, Time Warner?  Why does my service keep getting worse and worse while the bill keeps going up?  Why can't you test the software before uploading it to my DVR (and by extension, to millions of others, although mine is really the only one that matters...)

To make things worse, on Sunday my DVR went from being 11% full to 91% full, after recording two hours of a non-HD football game, which is mathematically impossible.  The last time this happened, I called the cable company and their suggestion was to unplug the cable box and do a hard reboot, after which I lost ALL of my recorded shows.  This time I called and was given the same advice, so I said "no dice".  I then located which recorded show was taking up 1100 hours of space (again, shouldn't be possible), and deleted it, and my service improved.  Why does the technician's advice always represent a "scorched earth" mentality?  Why can't they be trained to try to save the shows I've recorded and want to watch? 

Linking from "Immortals", John Hurt was also in "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" (a war film I have no desire to watch) with Christian Bale (last seen in "The Fighter")

THE PLOT:  The story of the English exploration of Virginia, and of the changing world and loves of Pocahontas.

AFTER: Speaking of first-world problems, I've got to find a way to link the last few films, which were all about armies invading foreign lands, and somehow tie that in with the European settlers coming to America.  Where's the link there?  JK.

I didn't feel comfortable commenting on the work of Terrence Malick after seeing just one film ("The Thin Red Line"), but noting the similarities between that film and this one, I can start to see some common themes - like a ton of internal monologues, and these random beauty shots of nature.  I know it's only two films, but if I were to watch "The Tree of Life" now, I think I'd know a bit more about what to expect.

But tonight it's a look inside Pocahontas' head as she meets Capt. John Smith, intervenes and spares his life (every schoolchild in America is taught this story) and they learn to speak each other's language - so together they represent what the relationship between the Native Americans and the European settlers could have been, but ultimately was not.  When Smith is recalled to England to lead a new expedition, he pulls the old "tell her I died" routine, and after a prolonged depression, she eventually forms a new relationship with John Rolfe.  See, love triangles are nothing new, they've been a part of our country's heritage from the beginning.

Rolfe is offered an opportunity to visit London (though I suspect the King wanted to meet Pocahontas more than him...) and Pocahontas gets to meet Smith again while in England.  Will she once again choose the man who rejected her, or remain with the faithful father of her child? 

It's obvious why I chose to watch this film this week, two days before Thanksgiving.  It's not only a celebration of the harvest, it's a reminder that the European settlers were really crappy farmers.  There's a bit here where the settlers are saved by food and clothing from the Native Americans (called "naturals" by the Jamestown residents) - and look how that led to such a long, healthy relationship.  The new world also represents a fresh start, as seen in Smith's pardon for his mutinous ways (we don't know what happened on the trip over, but there must have been trouble).

And we've got the contrast between the two societies - Smith regards his time spent among the naturals as a "dream", then later regards it as "the only truth", and it's with great regret that he looks back on his rejection of Pocahontas.  I'm still not sure what the overall lesson is, because the film seemed to go out of its way to be oblique, unless the contrast is the whole message.

Also starring Colin Farrell (last seen in "Fright Night"), Christopher Plummer (last seen in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"), Q'orianka Kilcher, David Thewlis (last seen in "War Horse"), Eddie Marsan (ditto), Wes Studi, Ben Chaplin (last seen in "The Thin Red Line"), Noah Taylor (last seen in "The Proposition"), Brian O'Byrne (last seen in "Season of the Witch"), Irene Bedard, August Schellenberg, with a cameo from Jonathan Pryce (last seen in "Tomorrow Never Dies").

RATING:  3 out of 10 tobacco plants

Monday, November 25, 2013


Year 5, Day 328 - 11/24/13 - Movie #1,590

BEFORE:  I've had my eye out for this film, due to its similar mythological theme, but no pay TV channel has run it yet, it must be under their radar for some reason.  But I kept a slot open for it, so my next option was to watch it on iTunes, or better yet Amazon, which turned out to be a buck cheaper, or else I'd had to find another film to take its place.  This is also the first time I've watched a film on my iPad, which I'm starting to get more and more use out of to play games and check my e-mail, since the screen is larger than the one on my phone.  Better for the old eyesight. 

Linking from "Wrath of the Titans", once again I fall back on the Harry Potter films, which starred just about every British actor at one point or another.  Ralph Fiennes was also in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" with John Hurt (last seen in "Heaven's Gate").

THE PLOT:  Theseus is a mortal man chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against the ruthless King Hyperion, who is on a rampage across Greece to obtain a weapon that can destroy humanity.

AFTER: It's another "Greek salad" tonight, by that I mean a lot of the elements from the last two films are re-surfacing here.  The plot tonight combines some of the elements of "Troy" (large army trying to break down an enormous wall) and some of the elements of "Wrath of the Titans" (releasing the titans from Tartarus, Gods aiding humans, plus there's a minotaur).  The central plot is SO similar to that of last night's film that it leads one to wonder who copied who.  Sure, this film was released first, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the rip-off - it could have sped through production to hit the market first.

They just replaced Perseus with Theseus - and changed his story quite a bit.  Theseus was the man who, according to the myth, traveled through the Cretan labyrinth with the aid of a ball of string, and successfully slew the Minotaur within.  He had other adventures, too, possibly as one of the Argonauts, and eventually became the king that united Athens.  But none of that is here in this film, which concentrates only on his struggles against the invading King Hyperion.  Ironically, in mythology, Hyperion was the name of one of the Titans, but here he's just a human king, leading an army of soldiers who like wearing fetish-style leather masks.

And once again everyone is looking for a fantastic weapon, in this case it's the Epirus Bow, which shoots these magic arrows that just appear as needed, so an archer would never run out.  And these arrows can apparently kill Titans, and the bow never misses.  Let's hope the bow doesn't fall into the wrong hands...whoops, too late.

NITPICK POINT: Let's talk about these "Titans", who by the definition of their name, are supposed to be giants.  Literally "titanic", so that's one thing that "Wrath of the Titans" did better.  But here "Titans" just seems to mean "regular-sized evil guys who lost to the Greek Gods eons ago".  For this all 16 of them (they all look alike, so forget about naming them...) were imprisoned in a small cell in Tartarus, standing up with big bars through their mouths, making them collectively look like a giant foosball team, but standing still for all eternity.  Or at least until some idiot fires a magic arrow at their cell.

NITPICK POINT #2: This then puts them into a battle with the Greek Gods.  But again we wonder, can the Gods be killed?  Apparently so - because if not, what's the point in fighting with them?  But if they can be killed, then how the heck are they God-like?  And if the Titans get killed, do they go to hell?  (They were JUST there!)  Apparently not, because the battle is shown to continue, in heaven, for all eternity.  So the good guys AND the bad guys go to heaven?  And if they live on in heaven forever, then what's the point of continuing to fight?  I'm going around and around on this and it's just not making any sense. 

NITPICK POINT #3: I'm not even going to get into how Theseus knew where to find the bow.  They didn't bother to explain this one at ALL.

Also starring Henry Cavill (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Mickey Rourke (last seen in "The Expendables"), Stephen Dorff, Freida Pinto (last seen in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), Luke Evans (last seen in "The Raven", but he was also in "Clash of the Titans", hmmm...), Kellan Lutz, Isabel Lucas, Steve Byers, Joseph Morgan, Mark Margolis (last seen in "Hardball").

RATING: 4 out of 10 oiled-up ab shots

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Wrath of the Titans

Year 5, Day 327 - 11/23/13 - Movie #1,589

BEFORE:  More Greek stuff tonight, and tomorrow night too, then I can kick off the Thanksgiving films.  After this, four more films before I take a break.  Linking from "Troy", Brendan Gleeson was also in "In Bruges" with Ralph Fiennes.

THE PLOT:  Perseus braves the treacherous underworld to rescue his father, Zeus, captured by his son, Ares, and brother Hades who unleash the ancient Titans upon the world.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Clash of the Titans" (Movie #923)
AFTER: Now, this is more of what I think of when I think about Greek mythology.  Unfortunately, it's also patently ridiculous, especially when compared with "Troy".  To be fair, no one really knows what happened in the Trojan War, so anyone complaining that Hollywood wasn't "faithful" to the Homeric epic is really wasting their time - Homer wasn't even telling the exact story, unless the Greek Gods did look down from Mount Olympus and influence the events below.

Now, as for this sequel to a remake (yes, I remember the early 1980's original...) I have to wonder if it was at all influenced by the "Percy Jackson" films - here Perseus, the son of Zeus, has to team up with the son of Poseidon (man, these Gods got around...) and defeat Hades and Ares (Perseus' uncle and half-brother, it's complicated...) who's trying to restore Kronos, Zeus's father (and therefore his own grandfather, though there's not really any resemblance).

To do this, Hades siphons off power from Zeus, which means that Gods are like batteries.  Also we learn that Gods can die, which seems a little odd, especially since they can go to Hell and still be alive somehow.  I thought Zeus killed his father, but I guess he just imprisoned him in Hell, which is not really the same thing.  So how come Gods like Poseidon can die, but the Titans can't?  And if Kronos leaves Hell and attacks Earth, can he be defeated - and if he's killed, does he just go back to Hell, where he just came from?

Come to think of it, why is Kronos a giant, and his children like Zeus and Hades are regular-sized gods, who just look like old men?  What's the rate of mutation among Titans, or did his power get divided among his kids?  But the children of Zeus were also gods, unless he slept with a human woman, which made demi-gods.  

There's some reference to the Gods losing their power because people are not showing devotion to them.  Maybe if the Gods would stop resurrecting old flaming giants to come step on their village, people might be a little more inclined to come worship at the temple once in a while, but what the heck do I know?  Maybe people are trying hard not to believe in the Gods so they can have a peaceful rest-of-their-lives and not incur the wrath spoken of in the title.  (And why don't the religious nuts condemn this film for showing Gods other than the Christian one?)

In the same way that "Clash of the Titans" threw a lot of mythological elements together (the Kraken isn't even Greek, it's from, like, Norse mythology or something) this one throws a similar bunch of characters and things together.  Hephaestus, the Minotaur, Cyclopses, chimerae, they're all tossed into the blender.  It's kind of like putting a salad together, you gotta start with a lettuce base, but then you can put in just about anything - I've been partial to beets lately, but once you put beets in a salad they kind of limit your dressing options because they'll turn any dressing purple.  And then I can put turkey in the salad, but not tuna.  What I'm saying is, you put in too many weird elements and they're going to start conflicting with each other.

Anyway, Perseus finally figures out that they've got to get Poseidon's trident, Zeus thunder-thingy, Hades's umm, staff? and a few of the Horcruxes together to defeat the evil power before he rises up and slowly tramples everybody.  I'd say they set themselves up for another sequel, but they're probably running out of mythological beasties to defeat.

Also starring Sam Worthington (last seen in "Clash of the Titans"), Liam Neeson (last seen in "The Dark Knight Rises"), Danny Huston (last seen in "Marie Antoinette"), Edgar Ramirez (last seen in "Zero Dark Thirty"), Rosamund Pike (last seen in "Die Another Day"), Bill Nighy (last seen in "Shaun of the Dead"), John Bell, Alejandro Naranjo.

RATING: 5 out of 10 British accents (dear God, why?)