Old School Reviews: The Magnificent Seven (1960)

I’ve had a little trouble opening this review because it comes with a troubling (for me at least) admission. I’d never watched this movie until a few days ago. I mean, sure, I’d caught a couple of scenes over the years – a snippet here, a moment there – but I’d never actually sat through longer than a few minutes of The Magnificent Seven, and never on its own merits. I couldn’t even make my usual claim, that I’d watched “beginning, middle and end, but not in that order and not in one sitting” like I can with so many other movies. Why does that trouble me?

Well, for one, I have a soft spot for Westerns. I find it to be one of the most adaptable genres in fiction (fuck I love a good space western, from Firefly to the Borderlands games), and even love the works that thoroughly tear apart the mythology built around it (Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West still stands as one my favourite books ever and I was probably way too young to read it when I did). The second reason is that The Magnificent Seven is such an excellent movie and I cannot believe it’s taken me this long to find that out for myself.

Based on classic 1954 Japanese film Seven Samurai (which I also really need to watch, given how many films it’s influenced over the years) and released in 1960, The Magnificent Seven tells the story of unemployed gunslinger, hired by a small Mexican village to help defend themselves from bandits. He finds six others willing to help, and are paid a pittance of 20 dollars (“That won’t even pay for my bullets!”), food and board for six weeks of bloody work. In time, the seven fall for the village, coming back to defend it in a climactic battle even after (spoiler alert for a fifty-fucking-six year old movie) some of the villagers betray them to the bandit leader, Calvera.

There’s such a huge cast that going through everyone would take longer than I’m willing to put the effort into, so let’s just mention the ones that stood out. Yul Brynner as the Seven’s leader Chris, who brings gravitas, kindness and practical authority to the role. A character with a firm grasp of the benefits of “teaching a man to fish.” Steve McQueen as Vin Tanner. Fuck, do I need to say anything else? Just, those eyes mate. Those eyes. Jorge Martinez de Hoyos as one of the leading villagers, Hilario, a brave man desperate to create a better life for his children and people, incredibly loyal, intelligent and overall one of the most well-rounded characters in the film. He also shares one of the most endearing scenes in the film with Steve McQueen, while they’re hunting a trio of Calvera’s snipers. Eli Wallach as Calvera is something great as well, swagger and smalltalk unable to hide his willingness to commit violence at a moment’s notice, and utterly unable to comprehend why such talented killers are defending a pisspoor village with nothing to offer but three squares and gratitude, who then don’t even show a great deal of gratitude for most of the film.

The direction and fight choreography is about as good as you’d expect from 1960, and in more than a few ways even better. The deaths are over-dramatic and ridiculous, clutching and staggering and swooning in grand, sprawling heaps. But let’s not discount the absolute talent that was required to be shot off a horse without breaking your neck. Seriously, stuntmen were fucking amazing people, and still bloody are. The final battle is big and chaotic and as gritty as they could be before stuff like squibs were seeing wide use, and the fights before that are just as dramatic. There’s one moment in the first big fight between the Seven and Calvera that just made my jaw drop. Calvera and one of his henchmen are racing their horses through the village, perfectly synchronised as they hurdle over stone walls and whatever else is in their way, the camera following them as they go, and it’s both an amazing example of horsemanship and camerawork.

But what I really love about this film, what I really love, is the honesty of the film. I mean, the characters are all open about their motivations for the most part. Charles Bronson’s character is broke and desperate. Robert Vaughn’s Lee has lost his nerve and is on the run, and simply needs somewhere to hold up. Brad Dexter as Harry Luck thinks there’s more value to the village than what Chris is telling him (a gold mine, precious jewels, something) and that he’ll get a piece for defending it from Calvera. James Coburn as the lanky, laconic Britt is looking for a fight. As for Chris and Vin? Well, they’re never quite clear on why. This is just the work they do, and this cause is good as any other excuse to do it. Better, in Chris’ mind. The only one who seems to be there in some quest for heroism and glory is Chico, played by Horst Buchholz, something that is heavily discouraged by the others.

It goes further than simple character motivations though, greed or a lust for violence. Calvera’s men are starving, they need the villager’s corn or they wouldn’t survive the winter. We meet Chris and Vin driving a hearse to a graveyard, simply because they’re the only ones willing to risk getting shot by a bunch of angry bigots who don’t want an Indian buried on a ‘white’ hill. Charles Bronson’s character, Bernardo O’Reilly, berates a group of boys who call their fathers cowards for doing their very best trying to protect their sons, that being willing to back down for the right reasons requires its own kind of bravery that O’Reilly certainly doesn’t possess. When Chico discovers one of the village women, and learns that they’d been sent to hide in the hills because the village men said that the Seven would rape them he’s outraged by the lack of trust. Chris just goes, “well, yeah, we might” (paraphrasing here). He’s not saying they’re going to rape the villages women, but he acknowledges it as a valid fear that a bunch of well-armed, underpaid strangers might feel entitled towards taking additional payment from the village women. Shit, can you remember the last time a movie acknowledged this? That male heroes are often depicted being entitled to sex? I can’t. And here’s this guy not angry, just going, “I completely understand and you made the right decision given the information available to you.”

This film rips the shit out of toxic masculinity. And it’s a fucking western from 1960, the genre and tail-end of a decade that is responsible for so many of the most harmful tropes. I mean, yeah, there aren’t a whole lot of female characters, but still. This is definitely going in the pool room. Somewhere besides Mad Max: Fury Road.

Seriously, why have I not watched this film before now? This is my jam.

Heading home

I’m flying home soon. Sort of. Y’see I’m leaving Vancouver on the 20th of October, leaving the life I’ve led for the last nineteen months (it will be twenty by that point), and heading to Toronto. After Toronto comes a return to New Orleans, then down Cancun way in Mexico (though I don’t plan on spending much time in Cancun itself), back up into the good ol’ U-S-of-A to finally check out San Francisco.

You jealous? Yeah, you’re jealous.

The part I’m real excited about, however, is my final destination at the end of it all. Just over three weeks after leaving Vancouver I’ll be climbing on a plane. Fourteen hours of travel that are also two days later – because timezones – I’ll be climbing off a plane in Charles Kingsford-Smith. Sydney. Home.

I’m so fuckin’ excited. Counting down the weeks, the days, the hours. It’s been so long and I miss it all so much. Friends and family I haven’t seen in well over a year and a half, a brother and a sister whose birthday’s I’ve missed, my dog, Aussie beer, lamb, Thai food and Donner kebabs, the bars and pubs I learnt how to drink in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna miss Vancouver. No, that’s not true. I’m not going to miss Vancouver. I’ve not been able to form any real attachment to this city despite what it’s given me and I’ve grown tired of its many flaws and pretensions. I can’t look past them like I can with other cities I’ve visited, other cities I’ve loved, other cities I haven’t lived in long enough to become uncomfortable. But I’m gonna miss the people I’ve met here. The good folk who shared a drink, a meal, a board game or a movie with me. That taught me how to bartend or at least encouraged it, allowed me the chance to realise that yes, this is a job I love and want to keep doing. Will keep doing. I might not miss this city, but I will miss them.

They better fuckin’ follow through with promises to come visit.

But I’m not missing them yet. I’m not really thinking about missing them either. I just wanna get home and see my family, see my mates and be able to talk normally to both without needing to repeat myself (Fuck, I can’t fuckin’ wait to be able to talk – and swear – normally). I wanna pat my dog, see cricket and rugby and AFL on the TV instead of baseball and NFL and ice hockey.

What I really wanna do, what I really wanna do, is sit somewhere on the harbour with a schooner, and get very, happily drunk while watching the sun set over Bridge and the Opera house.

I can’t Goddamn wait.

Old School Reviews: Titan A.E. (2000)

It’s funny, there’s a lot of bad things I can say about Titan A.E. Part of that can be blamed on the time it was made and who it was meant to appeal to. Part of it is a feeling of shoddiness that the film never seems to get past.

The tone is caught in a strange space between child-friendly animation and that gritty, grimy place we usually call “young adult” in a rather obvious attempt at pandering to adolescents with disposable income and a desire to be treated like a grown-up. There’s no swearing and the sexual innuendo is no worse than Monsters Inc. but the violence is surprising. We see one alien get comically blasted into goo, eyes and teeth, a number of sentient bat-bird things blown out of the sky, a few bloody wounds, and, at the end someone getting his fucking neck snapped. At the same time the sense of humour, when it occasionally appears, is as childish as a straight-to-DVD Disney movie. Throw in a high-concept sci-fi plot and moral that’ll fly over the heads of most “young adults” and you end up with a tone that, while not messy as such, is too far one way and not far enough another to have the kind of emotional weight that the movie seems to want. Add in the music, safe post-grunge rock that I’m honest to god surprised didn’t include Pearl Jam, and you end up with some late-nineties/early-aughts executive committee’s definition of cool.

The animation is a similar hodgepodge of traditional (and probably budget friendly) 2D and what was not-even-really-cutting-edge-anymore 3D computer generations. It’s a mix that swings wildly between tolerable and jarring. A few of the 3D models, the individual Drej drones for example, fit into the environments and move about smoothly enough, but more often than not it’s that ugly, undetailed rendering typical of much low budget fare. This get’s even worse when you consider some of the films that were coming out at the same time (the above mentioned Monsters Inc.Shrek, even Fox’s own Ice Age). Meanwhile Titan A.E. can’t even seem to render a pretty cliff. What makes it worse is that the 2D animation, which still makes up a majority of the film’s visuals, is similarly lacking in quality. Movement and outlines are often choppy, sloppy and overall just lacking in a layer of polish. All in all, not as pretty as a film with a 75 million dollar budget should have been. You can’t help but wonder if they had used 2D animation for the whole thing it would have been a much better looking film, and more fondly remembered as a result. But 3D rendering had become the fashion by that point, and so this is what we got.

So yeah, there are problems with this film. But there’s also a lot of good things to say as well. The character designs are excellent, both human and alien, with little details and consistencies that add to each. The alien character Preed for example is voiced by the charming, extravagant and educated Nathan Lane, but his character is ugly badly dressed and battle-worn (one of his ears is missing, replaced by cybernetics in his scalp), showing him to merely a thug pretending at being a gentleman. The alien designs are familiar enough (Stith looks like a kangaroo, Gune looks like turtle) for us to identify them and identify with them while still looking sufficiently unreal, and their voice actors commit to the roles and personalities beautifully. Would have been nice if the asian character Akima had been voiced by an asian actress, but this is the world we live and at least the crew allowed for some multiculturalism. The character development feels as natural and unforced as is possible in 94 minutes, the plot develops quickly enough. The use of lighting and colour is excellent and the script and dialogue is snappy and a pleasure to listen to.

But it is that high-concept sci-fi that I really love about this film. The message about humanity that it is trying to push. Y’see the film starts with the alien antagonists, the Drej, deciding that the human race has become to much of a threat to be allowed to continue to exist, so they come over and blow up Earth. Now, a thousand books, movies and video games that have come before usually fall within the grim’n’gritty themes of humanity probably deserving it a little bit, claiming that our propensity for violence and destruction would shake up any galactic order. But the Titan that the Drej fear so much is not a tool of destruction, it is in fact a tool of unparalleled creation damn near close to magic. To the contrary, it is the Drej who are only capable of destroying, who are incapable of creating, and terrified at what those creators are capable of.

And it is so fucking refreshing for a science fiction plot that’s not “human beings could have such potential if they just stopped killing each other and everything they meet”, and is instead “human beings reached their potential ages ago, it was fucking amazing and now we need to protect it.”

There’s something very hopeful about that. Something very encouraging. And a great lesson to be remembered as science moves forward. It is not the destroyers who wield true power, but the creators. And those that build will ultimately triumph over those that tear down.

Life in the Avenger’s Barracks (18.5)

The rain was pouring down hard and fast, an uneven and constant beat filling her ears like radio static, streaming off the sharp lines of Li Ming Cheng’s armour like a dozen tiny waterfalls. Down her neck. Plastering her hair against the shaved sides of her scalp. Dripping from her nose, chin, ears, cheeks. A poor substitution for real tears, but Cheng couldn’t make herself cry.

She sat in the mud, legs sprawled straight in front of her and back against a fencepost that had managed to stay upright during the firefight, near where Michelle lay. The Australian woman was pale and unmoving, staring up into the clouds with glassy, unblinking eyes and a calm expression that was in complete odds with the brutality of her death, her stomach ripped open and her guts torn out to make room for a monster.

Just within sight, despite the thick curtains of rain, Dori was sprawled flat on her face. The back of her armour and the body beneath had been burned away, though thankfully the weather hid the far too familiar scent of overcooked pork. Her Gremlin – Titan or Titus or something similar – buzzed around her corpse in a lazy, worried figure eight, chirping and twitching and waiting for orders that were never going to come. Some small part of Cheng felt sorry for the little robot, and she had to remind herself that it was just a machine, a tool, a toy.

James lay just out of sight, but Cheng had already seen his body. Mangled and twisted, his stomach a ragged mess of holes and his limbs a broken, twisted mess of unnatural angles and joints. Half his face had been blackened by the plasma grenade that had ended him, one eye and one mutton chop gone, jaw partially unhinged but his nose completely intact. Maybe that would allow for an open casket when they returned him and his sister to their family.

Fuck, did Dori have a family? Would she want to be returned to that family? Did it fucking matter what the dead fucking wanted? Fuck, just leave them in the mud. Let the Earth fucking reclaim them that had died fighting in its name.

More friends dead in the fucking mud.

“Cheng?” a soft voice seemed to whisper from far away to her right, then louder and closer said, “Li? The skyranger will land soon and Vargas is helping the survivors pick through the wreckage for supplies. Let me take a look at your leg.”

Cheng looked up, away from Michelle’s slack face, to see Leroy standing over her with a concerned frown beneath his shaggy beard and eyes twitching between her face and her leg. Right, she’d taken a glancing plasma round to her right calf in the last seconds of the firefight. It had hurt when it happened, scorching a trail through grieve and flesh, but now it was just numb. Another scar on a body covered in them. She waved her consent and Leroy immediately bent over and began to carefully remove the armour around the wound.

“Are you alright?” he asked after a moment, eyes briefly flicking to her face again before focusing entirely on his work.

“This is nothing.”

“I know, I’ve seen you walk off wounds like this before. I am not asking about your leg.”

Cheng chewed on her bottom lip, an old habit from her childhood long since broken that only came back when she wanted to say something but was struggling to find the words. When she didn’t say anything Leroy just nodded.

“Have you ever asked Vargas why he fights?”

“What?” The question took Cheng by surprise.

“Have you ever asked Vargas why he fights?” Leroy asked again.

“I- No?”

“Perhaps you should. I find it helps create perspective when we struggle with the answer ourselves.”

“Have… Have you ever asked him?”

“Oui. It is revenge,” Leroy smiled softly as he said it, positioning his body so that her wound was protected from the rain, “if you want the details you should ask him yourself,” they’d tried to find somewhere with a roof to hole up in while waiting for the skyranger but the aliens hadn’t left much standing in the camp, “but let’s just say that he lost someone to the aliens once upon a time and now he wants to end them. The answer is usually revenge.”

Cheng thought of her mother snatched away in the early days of the first war and said, “I guess that’s my answer as well.”

“Only because, like everyone else, you don’t understand the question. It is not a question of why you chose to fight in the first place, but why you continue to fight that you want to ask yourself right now.” He looked up from her wound for a second and stared straight into her eyes as he growled out, “I expect it stopped being revenge a long time ago.”

Cheng opened her mouth to say something, decided against it. She looked towards Michelle’s corpse and tried to find better words to describe what she was feeling. It was funny, English felt like her first language these days. It was what she spoke most often, being the most common language on the Avenger. But she still thought in Mandarin. Perhaps that was why she was having such a hard time articulating herself right now.

“I don’t know how many more friends I can lose.”

“It is hard to bear the weight of so many dead.” Leroy said sympathetically, winding a bandage around her calf.

“I don’t know how many more friends I can lose before I don’t feel a fucking thing!” Cheng snarled, “My fucking friend is dead over there! I should feel fucking sad or angry or something… but… I don’t know. I just… I just feel…” She was leaning forward on the heels of her hands, growling at the short black hair on top of Leroy’s lowered head. Fuck.

“Numb?” Leroy asked, still not looking at her.

“Maybe. No. I still feel, but not enough. Do you understand?”

“Oui, I do.” Leroy finished bandaging her leg and leaned back on his haunches, water dripping from his heavy brow, “You should give yourself some credit. You are most likely in shock.”

“Everytime, everytime I feel less and less. What happens if I do become completely numb?”

“Then we hope that there is someone left to help you through it.”

“Like you?”

“Oui. Like me. Someone has to be here to help.”

Thoughts at work: Mr Bean

So about a week back a friend comes into the bar I work at – the girl who taught me how to sling drinks properly in fact – for a sneaky bellini (in Vancouver that means an alcoholic peach slushy) and a quick chat. We hadn’t been able to talk much since she’d had to leave the restaurant (hospitality industry leads to some fucked up hours) so it was nice to catch up. Anyway, she told me a story a few stories about her recent adventures cat-sitting. Nothing crazy, mostly “I told my [family member] not to pay me so she filled the fridge with gourmet food that I have to eat before it goes bad” and the like, but one thing made me laugh.

My friend had been shopping (groceries) and had some other things that she needed to bring up to her [family member’s] apartment. Not wanting to make more than one trip (because no one ever wants to make more than one trip) she’d managed to sling all the bags and such over her shoulders until she resembled a hippopotamus waddling around on its hind legs, only to realise that she’d parked like an asshole (I’m using the North American spelling since she’s Canadian). Still within the lines but close enough to the person on her passenger side would have trouble opening their door. Like an asshole.

Now my mate, who actually tries not to be an asshole when she can, decides to move her car little to the side. Good on her. What she doesn’t want to do is put all the stuff she’s carrying down though. It took ages to load herself up and she doesn’t want to go through packing her shoulders and arms up all over again. So my friend does the only thing that makes sense at the same time. She swings the door open as wide as she can and stands half outside the car while she moves it. One hand, one foot inside the vehicle, the other foot on the street and the other hand sticking up into the air to keep a mess of shopping bags slipping off. And she got the bastard moved.

At this point in the telling of the story I’m watching her demonstrate the manoeuvre in the bar (it’s late and the place is basically empty) and I give her the best possible compliment I can think of.

“That is some Mr Bean shit right there.”

And it was, specifically reminding me of that time he bought a new chair. If you don’t know the one I’m talking about don’t worry. I got you covered.

Excuse me for four and a half minutes while I laugh my arse off (notice the proper spelling there).

Alright, I’m back.

One of the all time great role models, amiright? No, seriously. Mr Bean is great role model. I mean, I’m not gonna start suggesting you tie a sofa chair to the top of a mini and ride it home. Or blow up a paint can in order to rapidly redecorate. Or one of the many other ridiculous things that Rowan Atkinson’s incredible character has done. Seriously, don’t blow up paint cans when you want to redecorate. But if you’re looking for an example of ingenuity, determination, being able to both plan ahead and deal with crises on the fly, and – most importantly to an Aussie like me – practicality, then you can find no better.

So if I ever compare you to Mr Bean, there is a very good chance that it’s unironically one of the nicest things I could think of.

Old school reviews: Young Frankenstein (1974)

Not long before I left Australia the family gathered around and slid our copy of Mel Brook’s 1974 monster movie satire, Young Frankenstein, into the player. Early in the film, Frederick Frankenstein, is giving a lecture to a group of medical students only to have one of them stand up and begin asking questions about the work of his late grandfather, the famous Victor Frankenstein. The scene goes on, poor Mr Hilltop gets kneed in the balls (“give him an extra dollar”) and irritating medical student becomes even more irritating. And then, at some point as he brings up Dr Frunk-en-shteen‘s heritage, my dad points out that “He looks like Kevin Rudd!”

We all watch the scene, and the actor a little closer. “Oh my god,” I think it was my mum then said, “he even talks like Kevin Rudd!” The whole family cracked up laughing. Then cracked up again when Gene Wilder stabbed himself with a scalpel.

There’s no point to this anecdote really, beyond saying that loving this film has always been a family affair. Y’see, this is my dad’s favourite film. It’s not all that hard to make my dad laugh, but when he really loves a bit of comedy, when he’s really enjoying himself, well, let’s just say it’s fucking infectious. As a result Young Frankenstein became something of a family meme. I’ve talked about how my best mates and I are able to talk almost entirely in movie and Simpsons quotes, but amongst my family the go-to was always something from this movie.

Goddamn, especially that scene where he’s dreaming in bed. “DESTINY! DESTINY! NO ESCAPING THAT FOR ME!”

I think that a great film, a really great film, always has this communal aspect. That ability to fit the jokes into other situations, or simply cause a chuckle by invoking memories. Group reverence rather than individual reverence.

This is also the mark of a great actor. It’s an amazing thing that even, what, twenty years after he was last in a cinema, Gene Wilder’s death has marked so many people so deeply. He had and still has such a profound influence on the popular consciousness. I mean shit, every actor that plays the role of Willy Wonka from now until forever will be compared to the Gene Wilder version, a role that has become subject to some of the longest running memes I’ve seen on the constantly evolving internet.

A true entertainer and clown, and I say that in the best way possible. Watching him be hilarious seemed like the best tribute I could think of. Watching with my family will be one of the first things I do when I get home.

Old School Movie Reviews: The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

I don’t normally do sequels, do I? I mean, I can’t think of any I’ve done so far. Definitely none in the next review after the original. So this is a first.

Released five years after The Three Musketeers, 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask is more spiritual rather than direct sequel. Different actors, slightly different relationships, some similar treason.

In this case we have Gerard Depardieu as Porthos, John Malkovich as Athos and Jeremy Irons as Aramis pitting themselves against Gabriel Byrne as D’Artagnan in a plot to replace King Louis the IV, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, with his twin brother Philippe (the titular Man in the Iron Mask), also played by Leonardo DiCaprio. We also have Anne Parillaud as the Queen Mother and Judith Godreche as the lovely Christine, who becomes Louis’ mistress after he murders her fiance (Athos’ son Raoul, played briefly by Peter Skarsgard). Great actors at the worst of times, some of them obviously having an absolute ball with the characters (Jeremy Irons and Gerard Depardieu in particular). The best has got to be a young but still talented Leonardo DiCaprio, going from the petulant and arrogant Louis to the gentle, kind and generally overwhelmed Philippe. He plays two genuinely different characters and showed his skill early on. Great actor.

The action is, if I’m to be perfectly honest, a little disappointing. There are fewer fights than you’d expect, and most of them are honestly a little disappointing, except for the final desperate fight against the King’s Musketeers in the bowels of the Bastille. It’s meant to be more of a heist film, more character driven rather than a straight up action film and it more or less works. But you still expect a little more swashbuckling from any movie that involves the famous musketeers (something that even Porthos complains about at one point).

I don’t know. This film is a weird one. It’s not as good as I remember it being but I can’t exactly put my finger on why. Probably lot’s of little things. Like, it’s got a good sense of humour but a few of the jokes fall a little flat. It does a good job of setting up Louis as a monster who believes his crown (ordained by god) makes him immune to consequences both in this world and the next, but a couple of his decisions are just stupid for the plot’s sake. At one point some rotten fruit is thrown as D’Artagnan and he skewers it with his sword. This is used as a moment to remind both the audience and a mob of rioters what a fucking badass D’Artagnan is supposed to be, but the fruit spends so much time flying through the air (while shocked rioters look on and D’Artagnan decides which piece of fruit he’s going to skewer) that it becomes less impressive than it should have been. Little shit like this, it adds up.

But, as good as I remember or not, I still like this film. Helps that I’m a big fan of Jeremy Irons though. I’ll push through some pretty awful fucking movies if it means I get to enjoy a bit of Jeremy Irons, and this is far from awful.

Old school movie reviews: The Three Musketeers (1993)

Way back in the tail end of the nineties and beginning of the aughts there was a bunch of movies that would be played (it seemed) every few months during the ‘family’ slots on the commercial free-to-air stations, basically 7:30 on a saturday evening. For a good few years one of these films was the 1993 version of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbuckling epic, The Three Musketeers.

I can’t in good conscious call this film epic. It’s not big enough, not grand enough. Too localised, too personal. But it is swashbuckling good fun, and that is all it needs to be.

The acting, while nothing I would call Oscar worthy, is cheerful and entertaining. Kiefer Sutherland broods appropriately as Athos and Charlie Sheen plays the relaxed, smooth-talking Aramis fantastically straight. A much younger Chris O’Donnell plays a rosy cheeked and curly-haired D’Artagnan that is endearing instead of annoying (which often seems a challenge for the generally much younger, less experienced actors required to play a brash, naive and often foolish character). Rebecca De Mornay hits the correct notes as Milady De Winter and Gabrielle Anwar does a decent job with Queen Anne, both of whom are badly underused characters. The three that I really enjoyed, however, were Tim Curry, Michael Wincott and Oliver Platt as, respectively, Cardinal Richelieu, Captain Rochefort and Porthos. Lotta commas in that last sentence. I am not rewriting it though. Anyway, Tim Curry as always brings his wonderful voice, sense of timing, flair for the dramatic and smug smile to the maniacal villain. He’s always a joy to watch and he looks fantastic in red. Michael Wincott is fantastically menacing, an appropriate foil for the fast-talking musketeers and has such an excellent voice for villainous roles as well. And Oliver Platt gets Porthos so right. I don’t know if I should be surprised that the talented character actor is able to bring such a larger-than-life persona to, well, life, but he does. Someone who revels in battle and destruction, the one who laughs in the face of danger and jokes around death, so that you never actually believe them to be in danger in the first place.

The plot is a little nonsensical but it hits the right notes (D’Artagnan pissing off and planning to duel the musketeers, Cardinal bad, possible war with England and the Duke of Buckingham, Queen Anne may or may not want to fuck someone other than the king, D’Artagnan finally becomes musketeer), but a film like this doesn’t need to be perfectly accurate to either history or its source material. You don’t expect it to, and at least it doesn’t have any fucking moronic flying warships. The fights are entertaining. Generally on a smaller scale than what we tend to expect in out swashbucklers these days, but that makes them more intimate, allowing us to see more of the characters in each fight.

It’s definitely not perfect, of course. My biggest gripe is that Milady De Winter, Queen Anne and Constance, three excellent female characters, are largely delegated to the sidelines. We’re told that Milady is dangerous, but we don’t actually see her being particularly dangerous. Queen Anne spends most of her time being threatened and terrified by Cardinal Richelieu or complaining about how long it’s been since she last got some. Constance appears, I dunno four times? Once to tell D’Artagnan her name, once to tell the queen how bad she wants in her bloomers, once to pass D’Artagnan a sword and then at the very end for him to kiss her. Not exactly a compelling character, aye?

But yeah, I enjoyed watching this movie. It’s a little dated but not horribly so, and the characters are, for the most part, wonderful fun to watch hamming about on screen.

The torch and the trainwreck.

Not gonna lie, I’m pretty bloody excited about the Olympics starting soon.

Now, going by all the people I’ve spoken to about the imminent start of one of the world’s largest competitive events, a few of you might read that and immediately think “Me too! Me too!” Some of you might even say it out loud, perhaps expecting a verbal reply from whatever screen you’re reading this on, a reply that will never come. A lot more of you would probably respond with a resounding “meh.”

The lead up to the Rio Olympics has been even more miserable than the lead-up to the Brazil World Cup and the Sochi Winter Olympics were. At least the Brazilians enjoy football and Russia only hates you if you’re gay, have skin a shade darker than fresh snow or a woman who doesn’t know her place is in the kitchen making Vladimir Putin some borscht. The Zika virus, an unfinished village, security concerns (including but not limited to kidnapped tourists, athletes and Bernie Eccleston’s fuckin’ mother-in-law), more than a little political upheaval (including but not limited to protests by the Brazilian people against spending all that money on fancy stadiums instead of schools, hospitals and probes into public sector corruption), and whatever the fuck’s going on with the Russian team (so the track-and-field team are unbanned but the weightlifting team are completely banned? Is that it? I’ve lost track). The London Olympic games opening ceremony was a celebration of British institutions (the monarchy, the NHS) and culture (James Bond, Dizzee Rascal and the Arctic Monkeys), while all that we’ve heard about the Rio opening ceremony is that they’re gonna fill the stadium with nearly naked samba dancers – in the hopes that a bunch of swinging tits will distract from the fact that half the lights don’t work and the toilets are broken. When Australia’s chef de mission, Kitty Chiller, got angry about the atrocious state of the athlete’s accommodation the mayor of Rio offered to put a kangaroo in front of their rooms to make them feel at home, a statement that I’ve since seen carried on international news and social media (as was the mayor blinking first and sending in repairmen until Miss Chiller was satisfied. Apparently you don’t fuck around with the Green and Gold’s chef de mission).

I love a good bloody trainwreck. And there’s no doubt that this Olympics has so far been a trainwreck. More spectacle than the games themselves are likely to be.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the games as well. Watching my fellow Aussies compete and/or win on the world stage is always something special, and I’m a competitive bastard. But it’s been tough to get excited really excited about them over here in Vancouver. Canadians just don’t care about the summer games all that much, not like we do back home. Honestly, they don’t get excited about many sports except ice hockey. As any experienced spectator will tell you the energy of the crowd you’re in is everything.

I’ll still watch the games and cheer on the Green and Gold. ‘Cause I’m an Aussie, and it’s in the blood. But what I’m real excited for is watching the spectacle of the Olympics themselves.

Now, we might be worrying (or hoping) over nothing. The games could be a flawless affair filled with completely intentional spectacles without a single athlete getting mugged. But that’s what I’m excited for.

Does that make me a horrible person? Absolutely. No doubt. I am fucking terrible. But it comes from a sense of morbid curiosity. If something is a disaster, I like to know why. I like to see it for myself, so I can form my opinions wherever possible. Not trying to excuse it, just explain.

So good luck Rio. We’ll be watching.

Reviewing the Old School: Braveheart (1995)

I’m not sure if I like this film or not. I used to. Loved this film actually, but I’m not sure I do anymore.

This was another one of those films that my mates and I would just casually quote in conversation. Seriously, we can have complex discussions on current affairs in Simpsons, Family Guy and movie quotes. One mate could pull off a pretty solid Scottish accent and another rocked an impressive Edwards Longshanks. “You dropped your rock,” was a common response to queries and commentary, as was “Bring me Wallace. Alive, if possible. Dead, just as good.” Amazing how easy it is to fit that into casual conversation.

Rewatching it, Braveheart is still really bloody quotable. Especially Stephen, played wonderfully by David O’Hara with some of the best lines in the film. “The Almighty says don’t change the subject, just answer the fucking question!” I fucking love Stephen, still get’s me laughing.

But the biggest problems I have with this film are also with the script, which was very obviously written by a Yank. Obviously being because Mel Gibson won’t shut up about freedom. It’s all “they cannae take our freedom” this and “lead us to freedom” that. I mean, yeah, I get that most of the Scots we see in this film are supposed to be illiterate and uneducated, but William is supposed to speak four different languages (I assume he speaks some version of Gaelic, even if we never hear him say anything Gaelic), surely he has a wider vocabulary than that? In all honesty though the rhetoric we see in this film takes a heavily American slant, focusing on that single word, painting broad strokes with that single brush.

It’s funny, when you study nationalistic movements even the groups that have “Freedom” in their name don’t just blanket the word around. They talk about independence, self-governance, civil liberties, rule of law, places within the law, ethnic superiority, tribal loyalty and protecting tradition. The slogan of the French Revolution was ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ not ‘Freedom, Freedom and Freedom.’ Basically what I’m trying to say is that I’m old enough to now know how stupid most of the ‘inspiring’ dialogue is, and rewatching the film was, well, disappointing.

There’s more to be said about this film, but I don’t want to say it because it’s not going to affect my opinion of the film. The historical inaccuracies (the Scots would have been wearing trousers not kilts, and the Battle of Stirling was actually the Battle of Stirling Bridge) and the tacked on romances (I wonder if they’d still get an Oscar for fridging Wallace’s sort-of wife in this day and age – also, Wallace fucking a French princess) are more than a little jarring, but these things don’t matter nearly as much to me as the fact that the speech in front of the gathered army at Stirling is not nearly as epic as I remember it to be.

But it’s still really, really fucking quotable. Or at least Stephen and Edward Longshanks still are. I don’t know what to tell you mate. I just can’t decide on this one.

Gonna throw it out there as well: this film is pretty homophobic.

Let’s call this one a “make up your own mind” and leave it at that, yeah?