08 May 2011

Hornets and Eagles

I spent the past weekend in Rennes, an old (settled by Romans) city in the middle of Brittany. I was there with my mom and sisters so my baby sister could take her SAT (on which I hope and pray that she did well). It's a beautiful, interesting, profoundly unusual kind of city, its heart a jumble of architectural styles that career wildly from Medieval half-timbered fa├žades to 18th-century bourgeois to mid-20th-century brutality -- usually on the same block. The food was cheap but the clothes were expensive; the graffiti and the books were plentiful but it was a fifteen minute walk from the hotel to the nearest grocery store. Weird place -- a made-up-seeming city.

But, more importantly (ha!) I saw two movies yesterday:  The Eagle and The Green Hornet.

Now, I have to admit that I've been kind of OD'ing on action comedy lately (mostly thanks to Burn Notice) and have been craving something more serious, more thoughtful. The Eagle provided me with that. I blogged about the book on which it's based, discussing the ambiguity of its position as a children's book, and some of its more interesting salient characteristics, including the status of its main character as a crippled action hero and the utter strangeness of the northern tribes.

I have to say, the film preserved the latter of these beautifully, using techniques both standard (seriously, does everyone who lives on a farm in Scotland squint suspiciously at all newcomers? Have they always done that?) and unusual (the Romans speak English with American accents; the northerners usually speak either old Gaelic of some variety, or English or Scots-accented English). The costuming was a lot of fun, especially on the few occasions when women were seen, and the landscape was beautifully rendered -- though most of the film was shot in Hungary, not Scotland/England as one might have hoped. Donald Sutherland put in an entertaining performance, but Jamie Bell and Channing Tatum both did fine work. Tatum's performance was a surprise to me -- since I knew him mostly from She's the Man, I was worried that he wouldn't be able to pull a character like Marcus off effectively. However, he did a very good job with both the script and the problems of acting in, y'know, short skirts and stuff.

The former salient quality -- Marcus' injury and its affect on his abilities -- was also well-handled. The film also emphasized his general helplessness north of the wall in a convincing manner. Not only was Marcus often in pain, sometimes outright limping and, towards the end, nearly unable to stand, but he was also completely at the mercy of his British slave, Esca, who may or may not be helping him. (Esca's moral position is actually more interesting than in the book in the film version -- we just don't know if he's trying to help Marcus or prevent him from doing what he's trying to do, and the confusion is much stronger than it ever was in the book.) Often, Marcus is seen to shout, "What is going on?" to Esca, who often just doesn't tell him. By the end of the film, of course, they're buddies -- fighting off blue-painted street punks-er, Seal People kind of does that -- but for the better part, Esca may or may not actively desire Marcus' death.

In many ways, The Eagle was an improvement on Sutcliff's novel. The plot was a great deal more satisfying in its conclusion, and the distinctly uncomfortable romantic element between Marcus and a thirteen-year-old girl(!) was dropped entirely. However, the film was remarkably close to the spirit of the book, in part through the filmmakers' use of a very paranoid, '70s style of filming and in part through the fact that, seriously, the northerners are wearing fur coats and no pants.

And then I came home, and saw The Green Hornet. All I can say is, the title could easily have been changed to Mystery Men 2:  Attack of the Idiot Playboy. However, like Mystery Men, The Green Hornet had some very sharp writing and ridiculously cool (emphasis on the "ridiculous," there) action sequences, as well as good performances all around. James Franco's uncredited cameo at the start of the film was very amusing, and Christoph Waltz stole pretty much every scene he was in.

However, I had singular difficulties with Seth Rogen's Britt Reid (a.k.a. the Green Hornet). The character was so thoroughly unpleasant and thoughtless that I really, really, really wanted Cato (or is it Kato -- anyway, Jay Chou's character) to punch him out for a week, and maybe kneecap him into the bargain. I just did not care about him at all. The performance was great -- but I'm not sure that that helped.

Anyway, long weekend. My shoulder is bruised; I have a bunch of stories in the submissions pipeline; I have maths homework to finish.

Coming soon:  Hopefully, a review of On the Governing of Empires by Alasdair Paterson in The Fortnightly Review.

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