One of those good news/bad news things.

The good news: there's a project afoot to film Beowulf. And they want to cast Sean Connery as Hrothgar.

The bad news that will render the good news irrelevant: they have no fucking idea what they're doing.
Beowulf prefers to see himself as an ordinary man, but for his particular skill in slaying monsters.
Are you fucking kidding me?
The monster in this case is not a creature of mythic powers, but one of flesh and blood - immense flesh and raging blood, driven by a vengeance from being wronged. Beowulf wants to do the right thing, but what the right thing is, becomes increasingly unclear.
I just love it when filmmakers decide it's a good idea to force a modernist mindset on an ancient property. Apparently the Northmen are supposed to ask themselves why Grendel hates them. Maybe at the end they'll all hug and beat their swords into plowshares. Pass.

Post script: I should also point out that removing the mythological underpinnings makes the struggle just another pointless pissing contest. How can you have a guy who has a "particular skill in slaying monsters" and then make the monster not a monster? I mean, seriously, what the hell?


If you love Looney Tunes, buy this.


Movie roundup.

I saw The Passion of the Christ the Saturday after it opened, but I haven't been able to post about it for a couple of reasons. First, because I don't really have anything distinctive to add to the Babel of voices raised for and against it already, and second, because my reaction to it was intensely personal and I've been struggling to find the words to express my amazement with the film. I cannot describe how far it exceeded, even transcended my expectations.

To be honest, I was initially interested primarily in hearing the dead languages being spoken; I'm a language freak and studied Latin in high school, and that was the offbeat note that caught my interest when I first heard Gibson was interested in making the film. Like most people, I thought he was probably going to lose his shirt, making a film with such a tiny niche market--who in their right mind thought John Q. Public would sit still for two hours of Jesus movie in languages no one speaks anymore?--and I admired him for being determined enough to go ahead and do the project because it obviously meant a great deal to him. This was a novel experience, as I had never previously had cause to admire Mel Gibson for much of anything; I've never been a fan of his acting or his direction.*

It was therefore an enormous surprise to find that he is capable of coaxing incredible performances from more talented actors than himself (Jim Caviezel is wonderful, but Maia Morgenstern absolutely broke my heart.) It was further a surprise to find that he was able to put together a movie about grotesque human brutality, and to focus unflinchingly on that brutality, but to put the visual sequences together in such a way that the camera turns away just as it all becomes too much to bear. I know many people found the violence bordering on the pornographic; I can only say I didn't find it so. Sam Peckinpah, The Matrix, Bonnie and Clyde--that's the pornography of violence. To me the difference is that the violence here is not glorified--it's simply presented as a fact. I've seen reviews that question the authenticity of the gore--I can only wonder if any of them have done any research at all into Roman culture. They didn't own most of the known world because they shrank from violence.

Speaking to the other concerns I think are legitimate, the questions of anti-semitism and the quasi-absolution of Pilate--well, those are to a certain extent, within the eye of the beholder. I was never taught and have never felt that the Jews were to blame for the death of Christ; I watched with what I hope was a critical eye and never felt that the movie was trying to say otherwise. I recognize that Gibson's father has said some woefully ignorant and hurtful things, but I wouldn't tar Mel Gibson with his father's brush, and think it's shameful of others to do so. He's a grown man, he has his own mind and has made his own statement. Judge him on that. The characterization of Pilate is sympathetic, but as his actions don't deviate far from the Gospel, I see that as an interpretive call, and I'm not prepared to argue either way.

Because none of that is the point of the story. The sacrifice was inevitable; no one could have stopped it had they wanted to, apart from Christ himself. Complaints that the movie didn't show enough of His teachings fall on deaf ears here; King of Kings is for rent any time you want to see it. Complaints that the resurrection wasn't emphasized enough also seem to me to miss the point of the scope of the movie. This is an illustration, limited by human imperfection, of the suffering and sacrifice upon which the Christian faith is founded. And many people want to be moved by that message. The fact that there is apparently a great spiritual thirst for this movie, at this time and in this place, gives me greater hope for the future than I have had in a long time. It's certainly not a perfect film, none of them are. But for the here and now, it's good enough.

*Braveheart's an interesting movie, if wildly inaccurate, but the performance in it that catches my eye is not Mel's grandstanding martyr, but Patrick McGoohan's fascinating, imperious, dominant turn as Edward Longshanks. He made me believe he was a Plantagenet.

On a much less serious note, I saw Hidalgo this past Saturday. I have a confession: I just don't much like Viggo Mortensen. I didn't really like him as Aragorn, even; I find him pretentious and earnestly dull on screen, and his inability to use his eyes expressively leaves me utterly cold. The good points of his performance: his Western drawl wasn't excessively painful (I've heard much, much worse) and the one thing I must concede: the man sits a horse beautifully. In a horse movie this is, naturally, of primary importance. He also fights well, in sudden bursts of energy, and has a few moments of levity that threaten to bring the character to life before he sinks back into Hamlet's brooding melancholy yet again. That inky cloak must have been the first thing he threw into the saddle bags when he left.

The bad: well. He mumbles. His voice seems to be trying to come out through his nostrils. He's supposed to be half-Lakota; letting the question of blue eyes and recessive genes go for the moment, why does he have to have blond hair? I know it's a nitpick, but it was distracting.

But it would be unfair of me to say that Mortensen actually spoils the film; that's accomplished more by sloppy writing and editing that has the energy of the film dissipated long before the supposed climax of the action has been reached. I didn't and don't object to the fact that it's not really based on a true story ("This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."*), but the modernist agenda of the script (written by the hack who wrote "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron", yet another anthropomorphic horsey whitey-is-evil piece of animated tripe from Disney) makes the dialog painful to hear, and clumsy side plots involving nascent feminism among the Arabs (Shyeah. Right.) and the purchase of a slave boy (apparently only included in the film for the sake of ethnic diversity, as he's left at loose ends at the conclusion) weaken the narrative frame, and made me yearn for the days of John Ford. My advice: you'd be better off buying a copy of The Searchers or Cheyenne Autumn. If you're going to let yourself be manipulated, at least let a master do it and not some hamfisted amateur.

*The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Update: Ian Hamet informs me, correctly, that I attributed "Spirit" to the wrong company. Dreamworks, not Disney, was responsible for that particular fiasco.

I scored a mere 25 (out of a possible 160, apparently) on the Libertarian Purity Test. This pleases me. If I'd scored much higher I'd worry about my conservative bona fides.
Up yours, George.

Word from IMDB about Clooney's next project after "Ocean's 12":
Syrina is based on See No Evil, the memoirs of former CIA operative Robert Bauer and claims that meddling by "White House and Pentagon pen-pushers" sealed the fate of the thousands that died in the tragic 9/11 terrorist heist in September 2001.
Rot in hell, you stupid lefty fuck.