Saturday, April 08, 2006

Sexual Double Standards

Playboy magazine is one of the few magazines I can read practically cover to cover every month. People who call it pornography have no idea what they're talking about and have probably never even looked inside an issue. Yes, there's a centerfold, and usually at least one other nude pictorial, but there are also fascinating articles, social and political commentary, and what is still the most insightful interview process in print. One of the regular features I always read is The Playboy Advisor, which promises to answer any reasonable question. But sometimes, they drop the ball.

In January, a reader from Miami wrote in with the following question:
I have always had a hairy butt. None of my sexual partners has ever said anything about it, but even if one had said it didn’t bother her, I would have just thought she was being nice. Is a hairy ass a turnoff for women? Is it necessary to shave your butt, and if so, how do you go about it?

Now, you don't have to be a genius to figure out that, for the most part, a hairy butt is a turnoff for women. I mean, it seems pretty obvious. But here's how Playboy responded:
We are far too lazy to shave our butt. Women just have to take it or leave it. They should be busy on the other side anyway.

See, ladies? You should be sucking our dicks, not worrying about aesthetics! This kind of cute, flippant (read: asinine) reponse never goes by without an outraged comment or two. So, in the new issue, we come across this response from (I assume) a female reader in Escondido, California:
In January a male reader asked for tips on shaving his butt, and you told him to forget it, that women should “take it or leave it.” This coming from a magazine in which the only hair on a Playmate is on her head! A hairy butt is a turnoff, guys. Wax it.

Well, she has a point, doesn't she? Of course women are worried about the aesthetic value of their naked sexual partner. We all are!

Here's another response from a woman in Princeton, NJ:
Not only should that reader wax his ass, but I’d bet his back and shoulders need shaving. We skip dessert, do our hair, apply makeup, wear bras and pantyhose and wax our bikini line and butt for men. The least you could do is give us something smooth to grab.

Again, an excellent point. Many women go to a lot of trouble to conform to what magazines like Playboy described, half a century ago, as the ideal sexual partner. And what do we do, men? We assume, in our typically arrogant stupidity, that women are just supposed to, by nature, have sex with us no matter who we are or what we look like. I do not envy what women have to go through in this world. Men assume that just because a woman gives them a stiffy, she's obligated to fuck us...and if she doesn't want to, she's going to be forced. Do you see how a cute, flippant answer from Playboy is just so indicative of how women are treated by men? Their own comfort, their own feelings, their own desires--none of those matter, because we have pricks that must be consoled and balls that must be relieved. What a bunch of fucking assholes men tend to be.

Here's Playboy's response to the two above comments:
While we appreciate your passion on the topic, this is the one area where we feel the sexual double standard is a good idea.

Smug fucks. So, women should always be prepared for sex with anyone, anywhere, on any surface, but men can just gain the weight, not wash their groins for days at a time, dismiss women's needs, and fart under the shared covers, and just expect to be sexually serviced?

How do any of us ever get laid?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Troy: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Part 5

Achilles offers Priam the respect of 12 days to honor Hector with games, promising that there will be no warring before that time is up. He also frees Briseis to go back with Priam.

Aaron: Annnnnnnnnnnnd, meaning gone. Now we’re back to the obtuse love story that seems to be arbitrarily thrown in there for the straights so they won’t get scared by the gay movie.

Harlan: Well, maybe you’re right, there. The love story between Achilles and Briseis--containing, as it does, neither love nor story--is the weakest aspect of this film.

At a campfire one night, Odysseus arbitrarily gets the idea for the wooden Horse from some whittling soldier. The Horse is built while Achilles apologizes to Eudorus for his gruff behavior and orders him to take the Myrmidons home.

Aaron: So, the mighty siege of Troy took a mere fortnight? Because I count, actually, 17 days from the start of the film. Do I even need to point out that Achilles was dead by the time the Horse even entered into it?

Harlan: And what about Neoptolemus? That’s how long these men were away from home; Achilles’s son completed the conquest of Troy after his father’s death. You figure that Neoptolemus must have been about five or six when his father left home. Of course, that’s if you count the year or two it took to muster the armies and get them out of Aulis before the fighting even started as part of the ten years...

Aaron: You know, some people believe that the Trojan Horse is actually an earthquake. Troy was rebuilt about seven or eight times, and around 1275 BC there’s evidence of an earthquake. And since the horse was an animal sacred to Poseidon, and one of his titles was "Earthbreaker," some archaeologists think that the story of the gigantic Horse is a reference to a great earthquake that caused waves and destroyed the city.

Harlan: That’s actually fascinating. Greece and Turkey have always had a lot of earthquakes.

Aaron: The city was destroyed by an attack, though, around 1200 BC, so I think the mythmakers have compressed events, as they tend to. Maybe Asimov was right, and history seemed shorter in the ancient world because such little progress was made and the world didn’t visibly change with the pace of our own time.

The High Priest of Troy believes the Greeks have left because of a plague and that the Horse is an offering to the god, so they stupidly wheel the Horse into the city despite both Paris and Glaucus warning Priam to burn it.

Aaron: Is this more religious indictment? Because everything that high priest has told Priam to do has turned out to be a mistake.

Harlan: Could this movie be more heavy-handed and obvious?

Aaron: Wait.

The men hidden inside the Horse open the gates and let the Greek army in. Much destruction and slaughter ensue. Achilles runs off with purpose.

Aaron: What more does Achilles want? I mean, Neoptolemus avenging his father makes sense, but what does Achilles really want anymore?

Achilles searches for Briseis.

Aaron: Why did he take himself out of the war for her, only to let her go, and now to want her back? This movie sucks...

Harlan: I know. Just decide what story you’re telling, already... I mean, do they really expect us to believe that Achilles doesn't want the glory anymore, but instead wants Briseis back?

Andromache gets Astyanax, Paris, and Helen, and leads them to the secret escape passage.

Aaron: Hey, someone finally said Andromache’s name!

Harlan: Of course, Andromache was killed, so was Astyanax, and Helen was taken home...

Aaron: It’s all just quibbling at this point. Obviously in their arrogance the filmmakers decided that Homer's work, which had endured for 2500 years, just wasn't good enough on its own.

Paris refuses to go with Helen and Andromache if there’s still a chance to save his father. He gives the "Sword of Troy" to a kid who is supposed to be Aeneas.

Aaron: Alright, this is just too far now. Some kid is holding an old man and escaping, and I’m supposed to buy that this kid, who looks even younger and wimpier than Orlando Bloom, is Aeneas? And the old man is thrown in to be Anchises, just for people who know anything about the Aeneid. Why didn’t they just have him in the story? He’s married to Creusa, one of the many daughters of Priam, like Polyxena and Cassandra, not seen in the film. And what of his son, Ascanius? AND WHERE THE HELL IS HECUBA?

Harlan: There’s that "Sword of Troy" again, too. This whole appearance of Aeneas is rather insulting. I can’t decide if the screenwriter is showing us how smart he is, or if it’s supposed to placate the people who are going to talk about all of the inaccuracies going on here.

Aaron: This music is a ripoff of Horner’s own The Mask of Zorro. Shameless hackery...

Glaucus gives a speech to encourage his Trojan soldiers to resist.

Harlan: "Sons of Scotland!" Oh, sorry.

Aaron: "Riders of Rohan!" There, I can do it, too.

Agamemnon kills Priam, then attempts to rape Briseis at another statue of Apollo.

Aaron: Of course, this should be lesser Ajax and Cassandra...

Briseis kills Agamemnon with a knife to the throat.

Aaron: Boy, Clytemnestra’s going to be pissed. All her planning, and she doesn’t even get to kill him. You know, does Agamemnon’s family even exist here? Where was Iphigenia?

Harlan: This movie passed the point of actually telling the story of Troy a long time ago, it’s just hard to figure out when... I can actually feel myself becoming retarded.

Achilles and Briseis are reunited, but Paris shows up and shoots Achilles in his famous Achilles Heel. And then four more times in the chest.

Aaron: There’s some vengeance for you.

Harlan: Why is Briseis crying for Paris to stop? This movie has yet to make me understand why there’s love between them. Frankly, I want someone to slap Briseis across the face and clear her head so she understands there’s more going on here than her torrid love affair with Achilles.

Aaron: So, all this time, the heroes of the movie are really supposed to be Helen and Paris? Because this movie isn’t about either one of them, and yet, improbably, their love is allowed to survive as they escape with Andromache, Astyanax, and Briseis. And, apparently, Aeneas.

Harlan: Hey, do you think Paris fights Aeneas for the Sword of Troy, or what?

Aaron: Good point. They can’t really reconcile their brand new ending with the Aeneid, can they? Does Aeneas run off to found Rome, or does Paris found a new city? Jesus, this sucks.

Harlan: Heh, maybe he went west and founded Paris. You know, Paris, France?

Aaron: I’m ignoring you now.

Odysseus, the only major Greek character who hasn’t been killed, ceremoniously burns Achilles.

Aaron: Oh, how sweet; he’s putting coins on Achilles’s eyes despite the fact that they haven’t been invented yet.

Harlan: You know, it’s amazing that Troy was lost to us. Even in the seventh century BC, there were still people living there, and the citadel walls were still there. They knew it was the site of the siege and the battle. Xerxes visited Troy to see the birthplace of Hector; Alexander went there to see the grave of Achilles. Roman emperors made pilgrimages there because they traced their lineage there through Aeneas. All that majesty--the movie touches on it not at all.

The end credits--or should we say blame--begins to roll at this point.

Aaron: Look at the talent involved, too. David Benioff wrote the excellent 25th Hour. And Roger Pratt is a great cinematographer; he did Brazil and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Harlan: There: James Horner. Happy?

Aaron: God, listen to that horrible Josh Groban song. Man, they really thought this was going to be last year’s Titanic, didn’t they? You know why it wasn’t? Not gay enough. Man, if they had played to the gay audience more, they would’ve had a runaway hit. Josh Groban is a step in the right direction, though; maybe the queers will rediscover it on DVD.

Harlan: Will you stop that?

Aaron: Hey, buddy, alls I’m saying is that the subtext is there, you can either play it, or not. Besides, I need something to amuse me while sitting through nearly three hours of this boring garbage.

And now, the final summation on the merits of Troy.

Harlan: Well, it’s really a shame, because it’s the kind of movie I want to like, but it’s so ineptly made that I ultimately can’t. This movie exists on its own plane of stupidity, telling no story, and creating no intellectual or emotional hold. And if that weren’t enough, they take one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written, and they crap all over it to make it more marketable to a summer, male, American audience. Homer’s profound narrative on all of the aspects of humanity brought out by suffering and hate is turned into a simplistic boy-meets-girl love story, and to absolutely no effect. This is probably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.

Aaron: It’s not even that good. The real problem here is that, despite one truly great sequence and some good performances, it’s totally forgettable. Boring, tiresome, and not even remotely interesting, this is one of those films that you see and can barely comment on because it’s not even stupid enough to make fun of. It just is what it is, and there’s nothing special about it. Like all Wolfgang Petersen films, it feels unfinished and unrealized, and it doesn’t work as a story, or as a movie; frankly Clash of the Titans is a better realization of not only mythology, but Ancient Greece as well. I’ll stick to reading the Iliad, thank you.

And that’s the end of that chapter; another terrible film running around pretending to be the much-needed film version of a literary milestone. People who don’t know the Iliad won’t know how wrong it is, and people who do know it will find nothing added to it. Stick with the original. Or read Eric Shanower’s excellent Age of Bronze comic book series instead.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Troy: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Part 4

Day 3: Achilles decides that now is the time to go home. Odysseus attempts to talk him into remaining.

Harlan: So, the point of all this is that men need symbols? Not that we know, of course, because only the leaders matter in this, not the ordinary people...

Aaron: Listen to Patroclus whine. Are we supposed to respect Achilles’s sanguine summation that "Someone has to lose" as some kind of wisdom? WILL SOMETHING PLEASE HAPPEN ALREADY?

Hector urges Priam not to attack the Greek ships, but Priam decides to do just that. That night, Achilles and Briseis make love some more.

Harlan: I don’t know why she’s in love with him or why he’s in love with her or why I’m supposed to care. This isn’t exactly one of the great couples, no matter what they’re trying to impose on us.

Hector’s men make a daring night attack on the Greek ships, trying to burn the camp before the Greek armies can muster a response.

Aaron: What are those giant fireballs supposed to be? Greek fire, centuries too early?

Harlan: And where are the explosions coming from?

Morning on the fourth day: the Trojans use the cover of smoke to march on the Greeks.

Aaron: Apparently, the Trojan reinforcements have arrived.

Harlan: Well, Gandalf said to look to the east on the morning of... oh, wrong movie. This one’s just ripping off that one.

Aaron: I wonder if those are Dardanians or Lycians. They certainly aren’t Amazons, which leaves out Penthisilea. Now, cut out Briseis and replace her with Jennifer Garner as Penthisilea, and you have a movie.

Achilles leads his Myrmidons into the battle, re-energizing the Greeks and pressing an attack, until Hector kills him and reveals that it is, in fact, Patroclus in Achilles’s armor. Every single person in both armies stops for the scene of Patroclus’s death to go off.

Aaron: And Willow, James Horner is totally ripping off his own score to Willow.

Harlan: Apparently, this is some kind of lesson on the horror of war. But the direction is so ham-fisted that it doesn’t sink in.

Aaron: Is it just me, or does this movie feel like it’s taking place in real time?

Harlan: And then the armies just give up for the day because of the death of one man? Does that seem a little over the top to you, or is it just me?

Aaron: It’s not just you, friend. You’re talking about 50,000 Greeks and an undetermined--but very high--number of Trojans stopping battle to mourn for one insignificant boy, just because he wasn’t Achilles? This is total bullshit. Besides, we've already seen 5 dozen other soldiers die, so why is this one so important?

Harlan: How bad is Hector supposed to feel? "Alright, everyone, just knock off for the rest of the day, I need to go brood on the worries of war."

Eudorus tells Achilles of Patroclus’s death, and Achilles overreacts.

Harlan: Look at that; now Achilles wants to kill everyone because his cousin, whom we haven’t seen more than three times in the last 107 minutes, is dead.

Aaron: Do you think Achilles and Patroclus were lovers?

Harlan: From the point of view of Homer, from the point of view of mythology, or working off your theory of this movie being a big homoerotic epic?

Aaron: Actually, it does support my theory about that, doesn’t it? All of those sweaty men in skirts with perfect hair running around and slapping each other with swords while the women stay in the background intoning. How can you not see this?

Harlan: Let’s just move on, shall we? We’ll leave the Patroclus question undecided, especially since he’s in this movie so few times that it doesn’t seem to really warrant any speculation. It also makes Achilles’s reaction silly, though, since there wasn’t any character development to explain how close they were. Of course, no American movie is going to let its big, manly hero be a bisexual.

Aaron: They crossed swords earlier, though. I think we both know what their intimacy is... (Aaron winks)

Harlan: You are such an idiot.

Hector shows Andromache, whose name has still not been spoken by any character, how to escape with their baby, Astyanax (whose name has also not been spoken).

Harlan: He talks about babies being thrown from the city walls, which is the actual fate of Astyanax, but the movie takes the liberty of the baby escaping later...

Aaron: Hector killed a young boy today? Patroclus looked the same age as Paris. Speaking of Paris, where is he? They just lost him completely.

Harlan: Even Homer doesn’t care about him after the battle with Menelaus. And the only thing he does before dying is to kill Achilles with the arrow shot guided by Apollo. Then he was just killed by Philoctetes, refused healing by Oenone, and his body was mutilated by Menelaus. Who is dead, apparently...

Patroclus’s body is ritually burned. Hector looks at his baby meaningfully. Paris is suddenly seen practicing with a bow. In the morning (the fifth day of the war), Achilles puts on his armor, rides to the city walls, and challenges Hector to single combat.

Aaron: Achilles almost seems sorry to have to kill Hector. How did wars ever get fought in Ancient Greece? Everyone’s too busy feeling tired at having to carry all of this symbolism...

Harlan: I know; it’s like Achilles is sorry he has to kill Hector for the sake of making a point about the futility of war. Hector even refuses to allow an archer to shoot Achilles, even though it would be a major advantage for Troy...

Hector says goodbye to his family before going down to meet Achilles.

Aaron: Oh, now Priam suddenly loves Hector as a father.

Harlan: This is the only emotionally-charged scene in the movie. It’s too bad it took 115 minutes to get to something that’s remotely powerful.

Aaron: If I have a tiny problem with this scene, it’s that Hector’s death seems to be a foregone conclusion. Hector’s saying goodbye for the last time, and so are Paris and Priam. There’s no air of suspense at all; it’s like Hector really feels he’s just walking out to meet some kind of just death for having mistakenly killed Patroclus. What if it had been Achilles in that armor? Would Hector still feel the need to pay for this death? People die in war, that’s about all that they do.

In the only truly great scene in the entire film, Hector and Achilles have an amazing fight. The scene is charged with energy. Hector is killed, and Achilles shamefully drags the body behind his chariot back to his camp.

Aaron: Not to take away from this scene, but the editing is a lot more obvious on DVD than it was in the theater. You can see where they’ve actually taken out frames to make this scene look faster. I wonder if Brad Pitt and Eric Bana were fighting slowly and then sped up.

Harlan: The fight choreography here is amazing, though. It’s like a ballet.

Aaron: It is great. If only they’d gotten someone really talented to direct this film, the whole movie might be so impressive. Imagine what Ang Lee could’ve done with this.

Harlan: Well, Ang Lee’s method would’ve been more holistic, and might not have tried so hard to cram so much in. Where’s the characterization? Where’s the story development? I mean, stuff happens, and that’s it--you don’t care either way. Just plot, no story.

Aaron: So, Achilles still has no honor? I mean, mutilating the body is understandable--he’s really mad--but he’s being unrealistic to hold Hector to the expectation that he should’ve seen it was Patroclus and let the boy live. It’s like George C. Scott says in Patton: people win wars by making as many of the other people die for their country as possible.

At night, Priam sneaks into the Greek camp to beg Achilles to return Hector’s body to him.

Aaron: This is one of my favorite scenes in all of literature. Peter O’ Toole knows the power of the words here, and plays it without overacting.

Harlan: Brad Pitt’s weaknesses come out here; O’ Toole is acting him right off the screen.

Aaron: "But even enemies can show respect." At last, there’s some real meaning infused to all of this. Of course, it’s the second they start quoting actual lines from Homer. It’s like the writer wanted to adapt the battle of Hector and Achilles, and this powerful scene, and needed the previous two hours to set it all up.

Harlan: So, there’s a redeeming factor here, despite what a waste of time everything else is...

One more to come.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

CHICKEN LITTLE (2005)
Well, it's better than Home on the Range, but I still don't see what's so special about this story that CG makes it so much better than cel animation would have. It's pretty obvious stuff about searching for daddy's approval and all that; it's kind of... well, it isn't forgettable, it's just rather ordinary. Zach Braff actually does a pretty decent job as the voice of Chicken Little, but Joan Cusack? Okay, I'm fucking sick of her "I'm in my 40s and I can't speak English without an affected lisp!" shtick. Cute, but nothing important. **1/2 stars.

JUST FRIENDS (2005)
I like Anna Faris; I think she's sexy and funny. Too bad the movie's so lame. ** stars.

YOURS, MINE & OURS (2005)
Dennis Quaid was in it. I also like Danielle Panabaker and Miranda Cosgrove. Fucking hate Drake Bell, though, fucking smug asshole. Silly, but harmless. **1/2 stars.

COW BELLES (2006)
Dear Alyson Michalka,
I've been a fan of yours since the first season of Phil of the Future. Since then, your talents have just kept sharpening; I find you to be a very funny actress and a damn good singer. I have your album, and I enjoy it. We played "Rush" at my sister's funeral; the song meant a lot to her. So, you and your sister have my attention as a fan. But, do you think we could agree that, as long as I'm going to just keep mindlessly showing up for anything you guys are in, you two could promise not to do a movie so bad that even the Olsen Twins wouldn't have starred in it? Because this vehicle was seriously bad. Not doing anything for you. I'll be you two had fun making it, but the plot was threadbare and predictable, and it didn't give you the chance to work out your talent and be as good as you can be. It's a *1/2 star mess.
Until next time,
SamuraiFrog

EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977)
Even for what it is--a seventies B-movie with a sexy star (Joan Collins), no plot, and a lot of faux-hipsters getting killed--it fucking sucks. * star.

Troy: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Part 3

Achilles returns to his tent to find that the men have kidnapped Briseis for him.

Harlan: And there’s Brad Pitt naked again...

Aaron: The pronunciations are bothering me... "MeneLOUSE, "BrisAYUS," "PREEam." They just seem wrong to me.

Harlan: Speaking of names, we’ve only seen Andromache once, and she wasn’t even called by name. Apparently, her character isn’t important enough to have one...

Aaron: And now we’re supposed to believe that Briseis is instantly falling in love with Achilles? Why?

Harlan: Because the script told her to, I guess.

Aaron: Achilles is just so thoroughly unlikeable that I just want to fast forward past all of his scenes...

There is a long-winded scene where Agamemnon reminds Achilles who’s boss.

Harlan: The Trojan War seems an inappropriate venue to look at the age-old question of who fights the wars, soldiers or kings. Greek kings fought in their own battles; it was a point of pride. Priam doesn’t because the Trojans were Asian, not Greek. Their customs were different, even though their gods were the same.

Aaron: Okay, Agamemnon takes Briseis for himself to establish his authority over Achilles, I understand that. But why does Achilles try to defend her? In Homer, Achilles felt slighted, and his pride was hurt, so he took himself out of the fighting. But here, it’s like he wants to protect the girl for reasons we don’t even understand. Nothing has established that Achilles has a protective instinct, and he and the girl have known each other for less than a half-hour. What’s the point? The one time that, Homerically speaking, the feelings of a woman character aren’t meant to be important, they want to push it on us.

King Priam and his court meet to discuss war. Even though they have lost the beach and the temple to the Greeks in an afternoon, they seem enthusiastic about their chances and greet the arrival of war with pre-emptive victory cheers.

Aaron: This is annoying, too. I know they’re trying to make a point about the American government and it’s foreign policy, but it’s heavy-handed.

Glaucus says, "Our walls have never been breached!"

Aaron: Except by Heracles and Telamon...

Harlan: It’s appropriate that the High Priest here is played by Nigel Terry. This movie is easily the crappiest pseudo-historical telling of a legend since Excalibur.

Aaron: Since Jerry Bruckheimer’s King Arthur came out AFTER Troy, I have to agree.

Harlan: Okay, is this film pro-worship or anti-worship? Achilles desecrates the statue of Apollo, and Hector gets the idea that the gods won’t interfere and men must defend themselves. And yet, Hector is killed and so is Achilles. So, what’s the deal?

Paris offers to meet Menelaus in single combat. Priam gives him the "Sword of Troy."

Aaron: What the hell is the Sword of Troy?

Harlan: I guess a masculine symbol of war makes more sense to American audiences than the Palladium. Which is more important, a symbol of feminine strength in the form of an icon of Athena, or a weapon? It kind of sickens me.

Aaron: You know, if they really wanted to, they could make this about the slight of the Dardanians against the House of Atreus. I mean, Ilus founds Troy, and then drives Tantalus from the hills and into Athens. Tantalus begets Pelops, King of Athens, but his line is cursed. Pelops begets Atreus, and Atreus begets Agamemnon and Menalaus. Meanwhile, Ilus begets Laomedon begets Priam begets Paris. So, there’s a kind of lineal connection to the Trojan War from an earlier grudge generations past.

Harlan: So, you’re saying that this conflict could be played like the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians?

Aaron: Sure, if the filmmakers had any guts. Instead of portraying the characters as Western Europeans, like they always do, why not make the Trojans Middle Eastern? I mean, they are Phrygian after all, and not Greek. But they’re connected to the places, and nursing the same defeats.

Harlan: So, they way the current conflict between Israel and Palestine plays out...

Aaron: Can be traced back to the way the Romans deported the Israelites from Jerusalem, then plowed over their Temple and let the Arabs take control of the place. It’s a conflict from two thousand years ago still playing out. Look at the Phoenicians: they had land in Spain, Sicily, and North Africa. Then they were pushed out of Spain and Sicily by Rome, who called them Carthaginians. But then, when those same people were known by the West as the Moors, they reconquered Spain and Sicily. And even now, there are Muslims terrorists from North Africa in Spain. The world never really changes...

Meanwhile, Hector catches Helen as she tries to sneak out of the palace, but he won’t let her leave now.

Harlan: This scene seems particularly cruel. It’s like, Helen finally realizes what she’s done, but no one will let her try and make it right because the men won’t listen to her. There’s no point to this scene; once again, there’s no focus.

Aaron: I wonder if Wolfgang Petersen realizes that he could tell the story of Troy through one focus, while commenting on the way other people see it. You have to pick an interpretation and then allow others to be commented on. There’s no coherence to any of this.

Trojan War, Day 2: Achilles refuses to allow his Myrmidon army into the battle until Agamemnon apologizes and gives Briseis back to him.

Aaron: So unlikeable. "Oh, my feelings are hurt, someone doesn’t like me as much as I like myself." Grow up, cry baby. They don’t play it as a slight, but as Achilles blowing politics out of proportion.

The Greek army marches to the walls of Troy. For some reason, it takes several unimpressive minutes. Priam bids Helen sit with him.

Aaron: Helen and Priam must have the same stylist. Seriously, this movie is so very, very gay. Priam looks so elegant, like Queen Elizabeth I.

Harlan: So, are you saying it’s bad because it’s gay? Does it make you uncomfortable?

Aaron: Not at all. I’m just pointing it out, because America is so uncomfortable with intimacy and flamboyance. I’m sure it’s all accidental, too; epic stories just have a way of gaying themselves up sometimes. No, if this movie were gay on purpose, it would have much more of a sense of itself. This movie is all pompous pondering and no spark whatsoever.

Paris offers to fight Menelaus in single combat. Agamemnon demands that Troy submit to Athens. Agamemnon asserts that, "Every son of Troy shall die."

Aaron: He’s easily as over the top and silly as Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.

Menelaus and Paris fight.

Harlan: Paris is so outmatched here it isn’t even funny. Why do they let that little Orlando Bloom play roles where he’s supposed to be manly and fight?

Aaron: He’s built like a stick figure.

Harlan: You really have to feel sorry for Hector here. None of this was his doing.

Aaron: Need every main character have his own flamboyant personal helmet style?

At the last moment, Hector interferes, killing Menelaus himself as Paris cowers in the dirt.

Aaron: Just like in Homer. Oh, wait, no it isn’t. I guess if they had decided to make The Odyssey after this they would’ve had to cut out that whole scene with Menelaus and Telemachus...

Harlan: Yeah, Menelaus made it home, with Helen in tow. I don’t know what the point of that scene was. They reward the cowardice of Paris with life--in the myth it was Apollo, I think, who took him off the field--and kill Menelaus for his bravery. Not very honorable.

Aaron: It was Aphrodite, actually, but point taken.

The Greek armies attack, and much blood and destruction ensue.

Aaron: I guess this is meant to be impressive, or something. Still, there’s all that computer action making it look so preposterous. All of the artistry is being sucked out of battle scenes.

Harlan: And, of course, there’s all that shaky camera that’s, I guess, supposed to be thrilling and visceral. Yeah, I like Saving Private Ryan, too, but sometimes clarity is key to telling a story.

In the course of battle, Hector kills mighty Ajax.

Harlan: Again, whither Sophoclean Ajax? Killed on the battlefield, my arse.

The Trojans regroup under the command of Glaucus and Hector, while Odysseus convinces Agamemnon to pull back the suddenly disorganized Greek armies.

Aaron: So, what, they’re fighting badly because Achilles is sulking? In Homer, this is because the Greeks have been cursed to lose until Achilles returns to battle. But since the gods and their prophecies are absent here, there’s no point to the tide of battle.

Harlan: I hate this music, too--why the Israeli singers every time they have a movie that takes place in the past now?

Aaron: What’s odd to me is how we’re apparently supposed to like Achilles, and yet all of the Greeks are portrayed as the bad guys, even the real heroes like Ajax and, to some extent, Odysseus. And we’re meant to sympathize with the Trojans--easy to do, because Hector is such a great character. But, the beauty of the Iliad is that all of the characters are understandable and sympathetic on some level. And Homer was Greek! He had respect for the Trojan enemies, because Hector was a great man.

At night, Agamemnon meets with his company leaders; Nestor says that the Trojans cannot be victorious, because others might see Greece as weak and "the Hittites might invade."

Harlan: The Hittites? When do they think this takes place? The Hittites were in Turkey, like Troy, but that was second millennium BC--biblical times, if you must. This is way too early for Hittites. These are Mycenaean Greeks, for crying out loud.

Aaron: Well, you’re thinking of the Hittite empire. Actually, there were Hittites there. Some evidence suggests that Troy might have been the centerpiece in a struggle for control of the commercial trade through the Dardanelles between the Hittites and the Achaeans. It’s a pretty strategic point, after all--even the Battle of Gallipoli was fought over it.

Harlan: Well, that assumes that there was a lot of commercial traffic from the Black Sea to the Aegean at the time, which hasn’t been shown yet.

Aaron: Tying into earlier, the Hittites were actually the people who created the war chariot. They used it conquer Egypt about 600 years before this is taking place.

Odysseus tells Agamemnon that the army is failing because of his feud with Achilles.

Aaron: What? After one day?

Achilles rescues Briseis from a group of men who are attempting to torture her, and takes her back to his tent.

Aaron: Wait, wasn’t Agamemnon supposed to apologize?

Briseis and Achilles have an unstructured conversation on the meaning of courage and the nature of war.

Harlan: Ooh, romantic. Is there any point to any of this? Achilles says he was born, and this is what he is. And yet, we’ve seen him quietly lusting for glory this whole time. There’s no thought to him at all, no wisdom. He simply fights to be remembered, but then seems offended when people treat him differently.

Aaron: "The gods envy us." Nice. Why does he care all of a sudden? You know, it’s not that Brad Pitt is such a bad actor--he isn’t, really--but that there’s no character for him to play. The screenplay has a big hole in it in the shape of Achilles, and Brad Pitt doesn’t have the personality to fill it.

Briseis attempts to cut Achilles’s throat in the night. He awakes to catch her, challenges her to do it, and then makes love to her.

Harlan: That’s not misogynist at all. And there’s Brad Pitt’s ass again.

Aaron: This is stupid; one conversation over the nature of the gods and she suddenly wants to make love to him? This is like Rhett raping Scarlett into liking him. This is sixty years later, man!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Troy: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Part 2

Menelaus goes to see his brother Agamemnon at court and whines about Helen’s abduction. Agamemnon does not want to bring Achilles into the battle, but Nestor counsels him to unleash the warrior on the field.

Harlan: Is that really supposed to be Agamemnon’s hair? He looks like one of those powdered courtiers from Amadeus.

Aaron: Yep, you’re seeing it now. Lots of hugging, too.

Harlan: Well, it’s nice that people can be so familiar, since the modern ideas of homosexuality don’t really apply for that time period.

Cut to somewhere or other, with Achilles teaching his cousin Patroclus to fence (?). Odysseus (Sean Bean) shows up and tries to talk the Myrmidon leader into joining the war against Troy.

Aaron: Finally, a real actor.

Harlan: I like the way they play to Odysseus’s slyness, trying to appeal to Achilles’s vanity. I’m not sure that Odysseus can really promise a thousand ships. Was that number meant to be literal in the legends?

Aaron: It’s hard to say, really. But Achilles is such a vain prig, once again, that I don’t really know who the hero is here.

Harlan: Well, the Trojan War doesn’t really have one side of heroes against one side of villains. It’s the great thing about Greek myths; they didn’t judge other cultures, they judged people. So there are good men on both side.

Aaron: True, but in American film, it’s a little different. There isn’t any real focus here, except for Brad Pitt, and he’s too unlikeable. Maybe they should have cast an actor instead of a movie star.

Achilles is counseled by his mother, Thetis (Julie Christie).

Aaron: Julie Christie is still so beautiful.

Harlan: So, she’s just some kind of prophetess, and not a Nereid? It's potentially interesting, the way they don't personify the gods.

Aaron: Again, this is all an appeal to Achilles’s vanity. There’s no other motivation for him in this story except for that.

A thousand ships sail on Troy in what is meant to be an impressive shot.

Harlan: Good special effects...

Aaron: No they aren’t. There’s so much computerized action going on that I can see the pixels. Many, many pixels.

Harlan: Well, you couldn’t gather a thousand ships for real...

Aaron: Remember model shots? Models at least exist in the physical world, and they have depth and weight. Photograph a thousand model ships at the right angle and it would have been much more impressive; hell, photograph 50 models and just clone them on a computer and replicate them to look like a thousand ships. That’s the real brilliance of The Lord of the Rings: puppets and models. Physical existence and verisimilitude over video game graphics. And boy, does this music suck; who is this, James Horner?

Hector and Paris return home to Troy and parade through the city before being greeted by King Priam (Peter O’ Toole) and his court, including the mighty Glaucus (James Cosmo) and Hector’s wife, Andromache (Saffron Burrows).

Aaron: The computer-assisted shots of the city look better, but since they don’t have to physically move, like people and boats, there’s some leeway.

Harlan: The city walls are far too high. They didn’t have catapults, or crossbows, or siege towers in the Late Bronze Age. What would be the point of building walls so high? The Late Bronze Age people weren’t into monumental architecture on the scale of this film; the citadel walls were only 27 feet, not 50.

Aaron: There was a ditch, too, about 1200 feet out that made approach by chariot impossible.

Harlan: The setting is like a mash-up of ancient cultures. The jewelry those women are wearing is from a millennium earlier. And those horrible statues are almost from the Stone Age. Really, those kinds of kouros statues wouldn’t have stood in the squares of Troy at this point. There’s no unity of design at all.

Aaron: Maybe the filmmakers think Troy is in Egypt. Big walls.

Harlan: Priam seems to favor Paris over Hector, doesn’t he? And yet, so far Paris has yet to display anything but bad taste in women and terrible judgment.

Aaron: Priam has that same pretty, girly hair. Maybe if it looked a little more loose and tangled, instead of meticulously styled.

We also meet Paris’s cousin, Briseis (Rose Byrne).

Harlan: Okay, that’s just wrong. Briseis was from Lyrnesses, not Troy, and she wasn’t related to the royal family. And Achilles took her before he even made it to Troy. What the hell?

Aaron: You gotta love compressed events.

Harlan: The adaptation is just so far off...

Aaron: Well, more importantly, it’s just such a boring, stupid, ridiculous movie.

Harlan: Where is Cassandra? Polyxena? Hecuba, for crying out loud!

Aaron: Women aren’t really coming out of this too well, are they? They play such important, key roles in the myth, too. Listen to that--that music’s got to be James Horner, it’s got that thing where he arbitrarily rings every bell for no reason, and those simplistic flourishes.

Harlan: So, Priam calls her "Helen of Sparta," and then Paris corrects him by saying, "Helen of Troy." Jeez, for the last person in the audience who doesn’t get that this is about Helen of Troy, they spell it out for you. I love the way filmmakers assume everyone is an idiot...

Priam and Hector argue over what Paris has done, but Priam refuses to send Helen away. Priam says, "It is the will of the gods."

Harlan: Way to play off having to make a decision...

Aaron: Maybe he wants all the latest hair and fashion styles from Sparta... Hector is the only one with any reason in Troy. He can see the danger coming, and he’s noble enough to say that he refuses to let suffering come to his country just so his brother can get the girl.

Paris offers to take Helen away to hide from Menelaus.

Harlan: Well, at least he makes the offer.

Aaron: Suddenly he’s noble? Even though he’s stolen another man’s wife?

Harlan: And notice how they play it like she has no free will of her own? Like, Paris likes her so she just goes off with him, and she’s not to blame even though she made the decision. God, listen to her whine about herself, she’s so insipid.

Aaron: Couple that with Priam’s surety that Apollo will protect Troy, and you have a perfect trio of idiots defending this town.

Harlan: More of the film’s casual misogyny; they’ve only mentioned two gods, Apollo and Poseidon. Wasn’t Athena the patroness of Troy as well?

Aaron: She had a temple there, of course, but Apollo is the main patron, I think. The film is casually misogynistic, though, like most American films.

Morning, and the arrival of the Greek ships. Achilles and his Myrmidons attack Troy on their own without approval from Agamemnon.

Aaron: I’m just saying, all James Horner does is cannibalize himself, and that flourish is straight out of Star Trek II. And Krull. And Braveheart. And there's a lot of Willow in there. And Aliens, always Aliens.

Harlan: All right, I get it. What I’m more concerned about is the fact that all of the armor and weapons are steel, not bronze. This is the Bronze Age, damn it.

Hector makes a speech to his troops as they ride into lines, prepared to defend the beach.

Harlan: They always have to make a speech. Seriously, did they have spear riders back then? Hey, horse boy, check your notes.

Aaron: Um, individual mounted soldiers don’t appear in the historical record until 1000 BC. So, probably this is too early to have cavalry.

Harlan: I knew it.

Aaron: I like the way they try to make this look like D-Day, but it’s a little too pompous here. The filmmakers aren’t presenting something as much as they seem daring you not to be amazed by their artistry.

Achilles and his Myrmidons advance on the beach through the use of the phalanx formation. Ajax is the second Greek to land at Troy.

Aaron: I believe the phalanx was actually invented by Epimanondas some seven centuries after the Trojan War, and then modified by Philip of Macedon.

Harlan: Look at the terrible portrayal of Ajax. He’s all huffy and violent, obviously jealous of Achilles and trying to live up to him. It’s pathetic. Oh, for the noble Sophoclean Ajax...

Aaron: Cool war hammer, though.

Harlan: Well, yeah.

Achilles advances as far as the Temple of Apollo, then lets his men loot the temple and cuts off the head of the wooden icon of the god.

Aaron: This film is just tailored to America’s marketability, isn’t it? They eschew religion completely for the last 45 minutes, and now we’re supposed to believe that all will come to ruin because Achilles angered Apollo? At least that horrible, idiotic statue is gone...

Harlan: How did Achilles take all of this ground with just 35 guys?

Aaron: Where do you get 35?

Harlan: Well, Agamemnon just said he had 50 men, and I counted at least 15 who died by arrow fire as soon as they hit the beach. And yet, it seems like his Myrmidon supply is self-replenishing.

Achilles refuses to fight Hector without an audience.

Aaron: WHO CARES?! Why doesn’t Hector just kill him now and avoid all of the destruction Achilles will cause? Instead, he lets Achilles talk him out of fighting. This sense of old-fashioned nobility they keep trying to infuse here comes from 1950s America, not Ancient Greece.

Harlan: This movie does really seem designed to push an American neo-conservative agenda.

Aaron: He’s the victor, and still Achilles just broods and mopes. Even holding his sword up to hear the soldiers call his name, it seems so unimportant to him. Does he love the glory, or not? Just pick one motivation, please.

Harlan: I know, it’s like Achilles feels the weight of having to be a character that loves war, but is meant to teach the audience that war is wrong.

To be continued.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Troy: The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Part One

I write for an amateur press zine, and something I've done a couple of times is to sit down with a friend and some beer, watch a terrible genre movie, and tape us critiquing it. So, since I have nothing to talk about today, here's the most recent one we did.

Troy opens with one of those word crawls that try to set the stage.

Aaron: The problem is, there’s so much stage to set that this comes across as ham-fisted. People who are into mythology will laugh at all that’s missing, and people who don’t know the Iliad will find it confusing anyway.

Harlan: At least it isn’t read to us by a narrator. I hate that; I can read, okay? Either tell me or let me read it, but both is insulting.

Aaron: I think the idea of a Greek nation is a little off. Was Agamemnon trying to found a nation? I always looked at it as having power over the other poleis, not nation-building. Otherwise, why leave so many kings in power?

Harlan: Well, on the one hand Helen can be seen as an excuse for a war over economic power, but on the other hand, I suppose the notion of empire...

Aaron: This is just to criticize the American war policy. It’s a policy that needs criticizing, but does it have to rape Homer to do it?

The film goes into a voice-over anyway, courtesy of Sean Bean, about great deeds and how they are remembered. Then we see Agamemnon’s army marching into Thessaly, only to be met by another army.

Aaron: This all looks so fake. Remember films like Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus? Part of the reason they were so breathtaking is because you knew that there was no other way to get those vast armies on screen then by hiring enough people to replicate them. Now they do it with computers, and you know it’s fake, so it fails to impress.

Harlan: Did Greek soldiers ride horses like that? What year is this?

Aaron: Traditionally 1200 to 1100 BC.

Harlan: Well, then, chariots, sure, but horseback riding?

Aaron: I actually looked this stuff up, because I knew you were going to ask me about it. According to a couple of websites I ran down, the Bronze Age horse was only about 14 hands high, which is 56 inches and the size of a small pony. So, riders were probably unlikely. The horse was domesticated around 3000 BC, and it took about 2000 years to figure out how to ride them, because nothing about riding horses is obvious.

Harlan: So, this is too early for mounts?

Aaron: There’s no real consensus, actually. But Persia wasn’t using mounted couriers like this boy until the fifth century BC, and Xenophon didn’t write his Art of Horsemanship until about 430 BC.

Agamemnon (Brian Cox) offers to settle this dispute in single combat: the best Thessalian warrior (a hulking wrestler-type) against Achilles.

Harlan: Already, I have a problem with this. Achilles wasn’t in Agamemnon’s army until Odysseus found him on Scyrus.

Aaron: Well, they were hardly going to have Brad Pitt dressed up as a girl, I guess.

Harlan: And another point: Brad Pitt is about twenty years too old to play Achilles. He was being trained as a boy by Cheiron when Helen’s suitors were swearing their oath to Tyndareus. The Greeks didn’t worship seasoned command, they worshiped youth and glory, and Achilles is the epitome of that.

In the first of many scenes of casual nudity, Achilles (Brad Pitt) is found asleep in his tent when a messenger boy rides to call him to battle.

Harlan: Honestly, even Heracles never rode the horses, and this is only a generation after him. I mean, why would Hector Hippodamia even ride a chariot if he’s, as his title suggests, the "breaker of horses"?

Aaron: I love the shot where the camera pulls back to reveal that Achilles was sleeping with two girls. Is that supposed to be extreme, or something?

Harlan: He’s so surly, too. How are we supposed to like this guy, or even respect him?

Aaron: I know, he’s so obnoxious. He sure has a high opinion of what he deserves, doesn’t he?

Harlan: I hate this portrayal. Achilles mopes around as a puppet of destiny. He says he wants people to remember his name, but then he seems so unhappy to even have to do anything on the battlefield.

Achilles rides surlily to the battlefield and grouses with Agamemnon, saying "Imagine a king who fights his own battles."

Aaron: Jason, Orpheus, Odysseus, Perseus, Theseus...

Achilles kills the Thessalian with one fluid sword stroke.

Aaron: Well, at least it looked good.

Harlan: Hmm... and the armor is decent.

The king of Thessaly promises to "remember Achilles’s name."

Aaron: Ten minutes in and it’s already heavy-handed and obvious.

We now cut to Sparta, where Hector (Eric Bana) and Paris (Orlando Bloom) are being hosted by Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson) and Helen (Diane Kruger).

Aaron: So, never mind all of the stuff about the Golden Apple, Oenone, Cassandra’s vision, and Paris’s childhood.

Harlan: Eric Bana cuts a nice figure. No matter what I see him in, he’s believable.

Aaron: It’s fitting that Brendan Gleeson plays Brian Cox’s brother; they’re both overacting like crazy here.

Harlan: Sparta looks more like Minoan Crete. This is all wrong here. Based on what we know of Late Bronze Age architecture, this should look much more realistic than it does. All of this looks like the set of a Muppet movie or some kind of Cannon fantasy.

Aaron: Hey, hey--Jim Henson would’ve gotten the look right. Ever see The Storyteller: Greek Myths? I’d rather be watching that right now.

Paris steals away to see Helen upstairs, alone, and she tells him, "Last night was a mistake."

Aaron: Dig that crazy contemporary dialogue. What a pantload.

Harlan: I hate the idea that a grown woman could get all hot and bothered over a pretty boy like Orlando Bloom. Seriously, he-- AAGH! I’M BLIND!

Aaron: Huh, what are-- AGH!

Harlan: Dude, Orlando’s pubes! That is so wrong! God, poke my eyes out!

Aaron: I didn’t get the full Bloom, I was too busy staring at Diane Kruger’s ass.

Harlan: Jesus, please let me never see that again! Oh, God, he’s all greasy, too! Who is this movie made for?

Aaron: She’s not really very stunning. I mean, she could launch a dozen ships, easy, but a thousand?

The next morning, on the boat home, Paris tells Hector that Helen is aboard.

Aaron: I like the color; the blue of the sea, even though it’s in Mexico and not the Mediterranean.

Harlan: Yeah, it’s nice. There’s a nice sense of Troy as a sea culture, which it probably was. The blue on Hector’s costume is nice, too. Of course, the ships are way off... they’re from totally the wrong period. Studying art history just makes this stuff so much more obvious.

Aaron: Boy, we have beefcake Hector with pretty boy Paris, and now Menelaus screaming like a queen--this movie is made for gay people, isn’t it?

Harlan: Huh?

Aaron: Sure, look at those costumes. Look at the intense, burning looks everyone gives everyone else. And the color pallette? And even the name, Troy. That's a gay dude's name. This is the most fabulous story ever told. This is actually as homoerotic as Moulin Rouge. Or Daredevil.

Harlan: Okay, I'll buy it. But you have to admit, Eric Bana is overplaying it a little.

Aaron: A little.

To be continued.