Gods and myths

Greek gods and goddesses do have an unfortunate modern-day application as people start to assume titles that belong to these ancient deities, however false, even when said in jest. Besides, the Greeks didn’t know if there were gods. But Greek myths and stories may be easier to apply, just like we would a story of modern-day language. The “gods” are dramatized the more by British stalwarts Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith and well-known actors play other gods and goddesses in their midst, in the original Clash of the Titans (1981). The formidable Zeus seemed to me to be unusual for Olivier, the fine theatrical actor of the mid-century last seemed too theatrical as a fiery god, perhaps a little too pretty, as well. The gods’ inflamed passions and schemes, in the god’s home on Mount Olympus, appears all a bit of a farce, anyhow. But the mythological Greek story Clash of the Titans has something thematically challenging even if its for kids it still can apply to adults. The story gets going when god Zeus (Laurence Olivier) gives his human son Perseus (Harry Hamlin) gifts worthy of a knight on a journey. Zeus then tells Perseus that the gifts are there to help him on a journey of executing his destiny. In that vein, Perseus attempts to save Andromeda (Judi Bowker) from various foes, including the sea beast the Kraken and a vengeful, spurned lover. If you strip down the elements of the mythology, there’s a theme of taking up one’s courage; the Greeks did know how to tell a story that has universal application. “Taking up one’s courage” even has a biblical echo, in that Joshua is told by God to be bold and courageous as he and the Israelite’s are about to cross the Jordan River. Though this 1981 original Rated PG (Contains fantasy action and brief nudity) feels a little complicated in the telling, but there is still a sense of wonder to proceedings that the remakes lacked. It holds interest and a steady pace, is wondrous, and there is excitement, such as in Medusa’s lair. Nice scoring.

Published 2020, http://www.peteswritingnotes.com

Musical fantasy

The Band Wagon (1953) is about a washed-up movie actor and dancer (played by former dancing extraordinaire Fred Astaire) who is seeking a comeback (aren’t they all?) in a new show about Faust. A musical about selling your soul to the devil isn’t a box office draw card. This he indeed knows and swiftly enters his disapproval. But the director slowly and surely convinces him to reconsider and this he does. Wrong or right move? As the show flops, the director comes up with another angle on the downbeat Faust classic: make it with upbeat musical routines (but that seem to have little to do with Faust). It works. Quite rightly for a musical, The Band Wagon relegates Faust—which is about temptation and damnation—to the too hard basket. Rather, this is a film about the merit of escapist entertainment. “The world is a stage of entertainment.” But entertainment this is not. About a minute of “Girl Hunt”—by far the best segment—stands out. Saying that the world is a stage of entertainment is the pinnacle of escapist fantasy, all done tastefully, of course, but with no sense of its falsehood. Reality is not a stage, is not an illusion, but is very, very real. This is nostalgic viewing, and one better left there.

Published 2020, http://www.peteswritingnotes.com

Artistic vision

The dilemma this one posed was not the treatment of Vincent Van Gogh’s outlook on life, but his outlook on Jesus in history, which, however, I can sort-of forgive as his Dutch liberal viewpoint. It makes a small part of the film, but a noticeable one. In At Eternity’s Gate (2018), post-impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh wants to follow his artistic instincts and ‘follow the light’. It’s a noble quest that seeks beauty in the world. So, mild mannered Van Gogh goes to Arles, in the South of France (a lovely place!), on the suggestion of fellow artist Gaugin (played intense by Oscar Isaac). It was Van Gogh’s description of his faith that caused me to question how he saw the history of Jesus, rather than question his artistic vision. In this film, Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) says Christ was only really known in the late first century, and earlier than that he was obscure. But to say Christ was obscure earlier is false. The records in the Acts of the Apostles show the beginnings and rapid growth of the Church and Christ’s message in the early and middle first century. But the film’s better points are what makes it rise above this historical flaw.

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Paradise falls

In Up (2009), explorer slash adventurer Charles Muntz went to South America, Paradise Falls to be exact, in his Spirit of Adventure flying machine, and brings back the skeletal remains of a rare, tall, two-legged bird. Scientists smell a phony and Muntz is stripped of his awards and heads back to Paradise Falls to withdraw from the world. Years later, Carl (Ed Asner), an elderly man, finds his family home is scheduled for the property developers, but he concocts a plan to escape, and lifts off the ground, heading for Paradise Falls, the place that he and the love of his life promised to one day see. Carl is going for his wife Ellie, who died, and Boy Scott Russell comes along for the ride…The humanity of the characters shine through. In fact, this is a really good film. The action hits the spot. The themes are wonderful–let the elderly live out their retirement in peace, the value of friendship and concern for others, loyalty and faithfulness. Ed Asner and Jordan Nagai, as the voice of Carl and Russell respectively, as well as their animated altar-egos, are completely believable. The weird mechanized dogs at Paradise Falls may be someone’s idea of fun, however parents may be warned that there are light scenes of peril, and Charles Muntz the once respected explorer is a little strange, but Up is well formed, beautifully so. The music is genuinely charming and beautiful. Up seems aware of its own fantasy—quite resigned to it, but not happily so. The message, of never up-heaving the elderly from their homes, may in real life, somewhere, be something of a fantasy. Up never lays the sadness of this on thick. A thoughtful touch with a tinge of sadness.

Published 2020, http://www.peteswritingnotes.com