Hector in High Noon

So Hector is often seen as the true hero of the Iliad. Achilles is impressive but also a childish glory-seeker. Odysseus is clever but yet to come into his own as he does in the Odyssey. In fact it was often the way of Ancient Greek lore to portray their heroes and champions with flaws intact. Not for them the perfect figment of the imagination. They knew even Heracles/Hercules wasn’t pure of heart. Everyone was merely human. Even the gods.

But Hector is a very noble character. He lives for family and homeland. He is a great warrior, second only to Achilles, and leads Troy’s defence. He is proud to do so. He gives everything he can to defend his people. There are other strong fighters on both sides. I always liked Diomedes, daring enough to stab Aphrodite in the wrist when she tries to interfere with his fight with Aeneas. The two Ajaxes are fearsome. Aeneas himself, later claimed to found Rome, is also a brave and powerful fighter. Hector, though, is a cut above. But perhaps the reason his courage and honesty wins out is that he is the one who has to face his nemesis. In this regard, the Iliad is a lot like High Noon.

Now in High Noon, we have Marshal Will Kane, who has just resigned, heading out of town when an old foe is said to be coming back. He picks up his badge again to defend the town, but no one will help him. Miller, the criminal he put away, has three men waiting for him. Everyone decides Will is a dead man walking. But Will refuses to run. He fights. He wins. Huzzah!

Hector has the same kind of problem. After he kills Achilles’s cousin, Patroclus, and provokes the greatest fighter in the war to rejoin it, he knows he will lose to him. Hector is called out, so to speak. Their clash is now inevitable. Hector could try to keep away from Achilles, but he knows Achilles will come for him every time, and he’ll kill a lot of Trojans to get to him. Hector values honour, courage and loyalty. He won’t be a coward, even when facing Achilles. He knows he is going to face a far superior opponent, although I’m sure some part of him is set to win. He was a warrior, after all. But he seems his doo coming in the person of the Greek warrior. Before he goes out to lead the Trojan counter attack, as he says farewell to his family, there is something final for him, even then.

But just as Will Kane had to face superior odds, so does Hector. For Will, it is four against one. For Hector, it is one versus one but that one is a worth a lot more than four average fighters. They both know and believe in doing their duty. They both set out to protect those they care about. Yet the outcomes are very different.

Hector is famous for falling to Achilles. This, I suspect, is why he was defined as a noble and inspiring figure to knights, being touted as one of the Nine Worthies, one of the heathen three to be exact, along with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. This is the doomed hero who refuses to be cowed by his fate. This is the tragic but noble warrior who meets his killer with a straight gaze and a strong heart. He is set to die, anyone who knows their Greek history knows this as they read the Iliad, but he faces the consequences of his earlier actions, as he knows he must. Brave to the last, caring and loyal to his end, and fighting with the last of his will. Hector typifies to many what a true warrior should be. Not the lustful glory of Achilles. Not the folly of Priam, the rashness of Paris, the strong-arming of Agamemnon. Hector is the one.

The Iliad is an epic, containing many themes and sub-plots. But to break it down to its essence and by claiming Hector as the main character, you see the Ancient Greek version of High Noon. More complex, true, but the same driving force. Of course, the good guy loses this time, if such Hector could be called. He was still a killer, after all. Achilles isn’t all bad, either, and we know he is equally doomed. The war for Troy was tragic on all sides, much like the tale of the Levite’s concubine from the Bible. It is about loss on all sides. A doom for almost all involved. It is about love and lust and pride and greed, but honour and comradeship and loyalty remain. War is depicted as brutal and glorious. An honest account. Therefore Hector was set to die. A movie set in modern(ish) times could not end that way, although I’d love to see it. In the midst of so much tragedy, Hector’s death is not alone, nor the worst – just look at Greater Ajax’s miserable suicide. He can die, so he does, but the manner of his death is what seems to define him the most.

Facing your doom yet overcoming it is brave. Facing your doom and meeting it seems that bit more braver and noble. It is a fantastic story telling device and I hope both continue to be used and used well.

Don’t Get Mad, Get Even

I was watching Rollerball this afternoon. Great movie. A dystopian classic from the 70s starring James Caan. Violent but thoughtful. A social commentary but also an ode to the individual human spirit and its irrepressible nature.

But there was a really interesting and dark moment which made me go back and watch it again after the film was concluded. It involved the death of a friend, reaction and revenge.

James Caan plays Jonathan E. He is the most famous player in Rollerball and also the longest survivor. Rollerball is ultra-violent. People get killed often enough that it is considered part of the game. It is done to keep the people entertained while also teaching them that the individual can never rise above the collective. It is a team sport, and yet Jonathan E. has become a superstar.

Alongside him is Moonpie, played by John Beck. Moonpie is a young star for the Houston team, idolising Jonathan while also being a good friend. He enjoys life and talks big. He seems to be the team hatchetman, as we Brits would call it. A player who goes out there to hurt the opposition. He is big and strong and brash and brutal. We see him smash down other humans and cheer about it, and yet he seems a likeable person. It is all part of the game.

That’s why we feel bad when he gets taken out in a match later on in the movie. While playing Tokyo, in a even more violent than usual game, Moonpie is targeted by three players and punched in the back of the head. He is in a coma for the rest of the movie.

Lets be honest, he deserved it. They all do. They play a barbaric sport and live by the code – you dish it out, you take it, just try to dish it out worse than you take it. But you feel bad for this young man who could have lived a rich life.

Jonathan sees Moonpie attacked, and we see him take this the same way we do. His young, brazen friend is hurt bad. This could be it. He has paid the price for playing Rollerball.

And yet Jonathan doesn’t let out a mighty Noooooooo!!! He doesn’t drop to his knees and weep. He doesn’t run out there and pull Moonpie to safety, where he is sat in the ring’s centre.

He watches as Moonpie is pulled in. He ties his bootlaces. He glances over occasionally. He gets ready to go back out there. He seems unconcerned. It is almost as if he has just accepted it and moved on. Perhaps playing this game for so long has left him cold inside. As he gets up and leaves, his foot hits one of Moonpie’s limp legs. He is almost stepping over his fallen comrade.

But then he goes out there, picks out one of the attackers (I made sure of this, it’s definitely one of the three) and plans with a team-mate. They corner this man. He knows what is happening but can’t escape. Jonathan attacks him, swipes his helmet off and smashes him over the back of the head. Even though it isn’t clear, I think we can safely assume the Tokyo player is dead.

Jonathan pauses. The team-mate looks at him with a measure of shock.

You see, this was different. That wasn’t brutality as part of the game. That was murder. Jonathan picked the man out, trapped him and coldly executed him. He knows it too. He wanted revenge.

The whole thing is an insight into Jonathan and into the story as a whole. He is a quiet and controlled man, but inside he is a striver for more and an independent spirit. When he sees a friend taken out in a game where this happens a lot, he chooses to get his revenge. He seems matter-of-fact. He is likely hardened by the violence and losses inside, just as he carries numerous scars on the outside. He appears to shut down any emotion. But he hasn’t, and so when it comes out, it is an act of murder. We see this again at the end when he breaks a man in front of the executives trying to force him to retire.

This is where I have to pay tribute to James Caan. I’m a big fan of his anyway but he is great in this role. He has that kind of handsome but rugged look to suit a superstar in the bloodsport of the future. He looks tough enough to be Jonathan E. But he is also able to carry quiet power and inner strength. He’s as mean as they come. He loves the game. He lives for it. He carries resentment inside due to things in his past. Caan is able to convey all of this. He is a brooding menace.

When first told of the decision for him to retire, he asks why. That’s all. No tantrums. No threats. He just wants to know why. This might not seem much, but people aren’t meant to ask why. The society of this film is about acceptance. Jonathan is used to taking orders, having choices made for him. He is used to fighting and to winning. But he questions in his quiet manner. Throughout the film he keeps questioning. He starts to resist. More and more, he sees control around him. He refuses to do as he is told. When his lost love tries to get him to comply, it is the final straw. He won’t quit but he has nothing to fight for any more.

He goes out and fights anyway. That’s what he is. He is a champion the corporations made and now he is out of their control. The people love him too much.

So earlier, when he sees Moonpie go down, taken out by the opposition, it is fascinating to watch him. He is too used to complying. He goes through the motions. But inside he is already out for blood. He can’t be stopped. He won’t be. He goes out and does what he does.

PS: Funnily enough, just seen that James Caan gave the movie 6 out of 10, saying he couldn’t do much with the character. Hmmm, maybe I read too much into his performance. Maybe I just see more in it than he does. I still think he plays it really well and trying too hard would have been a lost worse.

The Baddest Bunny of All

I loved the film Watership Down as a kid. For many reasons, but I think because it was likely one of the first animated, aimed-at-children stories that had some serious life and death aspects to it. Characters got killed off. The scene where rabbits are trapped underground, struggling to breathe, remains fixed in my mind as a haunting scene. It was a big step up from Transformers and Thundercats and whatnot.

But I really loved the characters. Bigwig especially. He was this no-nonsense fighter, following the rest while standing between them and danger whenever needed. When he chokes to death I was distraught and it still gets me, although not as much as the elation when he is revealed to still be breathing. His first thought: payback.

However, if we’re going to talk about who stood out the most, it has to be the General. Woundwort. I never imagined a rabbit could be so intimidating. His ruthless belligerence was exciting to a kid who was used to cartoon villains set to be more of a joke than a threat. He ran a warren with terror and strength. I loved his declaration of revenge against Bigwig. “I’ll blind him!” Not to kill him, not to end him, but blind him. A vicious vengeance.

I loved other cartoon villains. Megatron and Stascream were fantastic. Often over the top, I admit, but they were still entertaining schemers. The problem with a lot of the cartoons back then, though, was that villains were set up to fail. Despite being a powerful warrior, Megatron would often retreat when the Autobots turned up. Mumm-Ra would flee back to his crypt. Venom in the Mask shows, Cobra in Action Force (GI Joe in the US), Tex Hex in Brave Star and Skeletor and his gang in He-Man. I always found the bad guys more interesting, entertaining and appealing. But they were designed to lose. Whatever they did, whatever they tried, it went wrong and they ran away.

So Woundwort was a revelation. “Dogs aren’t dangerous!” In the tv shows I watched, this would be played for comedy. Woundwort would shout this, turn and see the dog, then flee like the scared little bunny he really was.

But no. Not Woundwort. Not the General. He sees the dog, blood foaming at its mouth, the limp body of one of Woundwort’s followers held between its teeth. He sees it. He stands and glares. The dog drops the rabbit and goes for him. Woundwort lunges for it. Both leap at each other, ready to kill, and then the movie cuts away.

I loved that. I had never seen a cartoon villain stand and fight against the stronger foe. I also loved how we can’t say for sure if he died then. His body was never found. His life became a legend, a tale to tell young rabbits.

I have the book as well as the film on dvd. The book is just as good. Perhaps better. I liked delving into the warren of Woundwort more. Learning about Campion, the loyal captain who followed his beast of a general. It is a fine work. But a movie like that, seen when young, has an impact that can’t be matched. I admire the book as well as enjoy it. But that film is something I love.

General Woundwort is a great villain. A tyrant but driven to be one. Rabbits are preyed upon so he has forged a strong group, led by his own brute strength. His fighters revere him while his people fear him. He is a complicated individual yet still a baddie, with his ferociously unforgiving attitude and willingness to rend those who anger him. But most of all, he doesn’t back down. His fight with Bigwig is one of will as well as muscle. Two individuals fighting tooth and claw, refusing to concede, giving no quarter. Woundwort would have won. He forces Bigwig to back, although he would never have surrendered to the General. Bigwig was ready to lay down his life for the rest, at some cost if he could, and that’s why I love him. But the General was ready to take care of business himself, even when faced by Bigwig. Even when faced by the dog. That’s why he’s a badass bunny rabbit.

Daily Mail readers’ vile, racist attacks on Malala for winning the Nobel Peace Prize

uppitymonkey:

This kind of bile needs to be shown more. Disgusting views shared openly in the comments section of a disgusting paper.

Originally posted on Pride's Purge:

(not satire – it’s the Daily Mail!)

Sometimes Daily Mail readers show their true faces – and they’re as ugly and vile as you would expect them to be.

Here are just a few of the nasty and downright racist comments in the Daily Mail today after it was announced that Malala had won the Nobel Peace Prize:

“Send her back home.”

“How come she’s still here?”

“The UK taxpayer has been stumping up the bill for her to fly around the world.”

“Sick of hearing about her.”

“A joke. She has been awarded a Noble Prize for stopping a bullet?”

“I just find her annoying.”

“Why is she still here?”

“Living off the taxpayer.”

“Praise some British kids for a change.”

.

Remember, these comments are about a little girl who was shot at point blank range by the Taliban for wanting to go to school and – despite still being a target for…

View original 54 more words

The Elves at Helm’s Deep

So here’s a question. What happened to the elves that fought at Helm’s Deep?

Did they go home? Did they all die? Did they do a runner?

When I first saw this, I loved seeing the elves join the humans. It was something I wanted to see as a kid. More elves, more dwarves, fighting alongside the human race.

But here’s the thing. That was entirely against what Tolkien was writing. When I was older, I got that. Seeing the elves at Helm’s Deep cemented my understanding.

The simple truth is that Tolkien’s trilogy isn’t a simple tale of good versus evil. Not in the sense as we’ve come to understand it in fantasy literature. By the time I read the Lord of the Rings, I had read many stories of elves and they were entirely good guys. Same for dwarves and other creatures really. Fantasy stories were often clear in their make-up. Good was GOOD and evil was EVIL.

This isn’t Tolkien’s world. Here, it is made very clear that good is easily tempted, and so very corruptible. Most of the baddies in this world are actually from the ‘good’ races originally.

But then there are no ‘good’ races. Men, elves and dwarves are just like humans in real life. They can be afraid, greedy, ignorant and prejudiced. They are even more so in the time we are reading about. They were more noble in the past. Now old alliances have crumbled. This is not meant to be about races uniting to defeat a common enemy. They did that before. No, this is about the end of an era, whoever triumphs. It is about dwarves hiding in their underground kingdoms, elves sailing away into the west, and the human race divided into those resisting Sauron and those serving him. Even the Ents are unbothered by the world’s events until it effects them. The eagles have no interest too. There is no common good. Even the hobbits, our true heroes, do what they do for each other and for the Shire. They have no understanding of a world which they had never even seen until recently. This is not to diminish any status as heroes or good guys, just to explain that most are compelled from much more understandable and relatable drives.

So when you think about it, the elves showing up at Helm’s Deep is all cool and whatnot, but goes against everything Tolkien’s world is about. It makes no sense. Again, they don’t go with the Riders of Rohan to Minas Tirith, so whatever became of them, their assistance in the war is at an end. That would be like the USA helping Great Britain out in the Battle of Britain, then sodding off and never getting involved again. Fortunately, that was never the case.

Mind you, originally Arwen was going to be there too. I suspect that was the main reason the elves were brought back into it. But that subplot was discarded (rightly so I suspect) so we’re left with elves who show up, fight well, die well and then vanish. Kind of cool, but now I just feel bad for the dwarves. Bunch of no-shows.

Hanzo the Razor

So I’ve been watching my box set of Hanzo the Razor. I got it back in 2007 I think. Somehow won a competition on an anime forum. It was weird and surprising; I think I was entered automatically by joining it. Either way, I was given this, watched it, and have only just watched it all again.

There are three movies. Sword of Justice. The Snare. Who’s Got the Gold?

They follow back to back, with the events of the earlier ones showing up later on. For example, Hanzo gets a scar on his face in the second and still has it in the third. The movies all deal with him, as a police officer in Tokyo under the Tokugawa Shogunate, fighting corruption in the highest levels. Rather than watching him fight the scum and downtrodden, he uncovers plots by people in power. He openly detests rank. Each film is an individual thing, with only Hanzo, his chief and his two sidekicks reoccurring, but they do fit together very easily. Same themes, same concepts.

You might be thinking: wow, he sounds like a non-nonsense cop, taking risks and doing what’s right. He sounds like one rough, tough mother. Bit like Shaft!

Well that’s pretty much what Hanzo is. The Japanese Shaft. The samurai version. Complete with funky 70s music. Yeah, that’s not a joke. It has a soundtrack a blaxploitation film would enjoy.

That’s what I want to talk about, rather than the movies themselves. The plots are okay, the acting fine. I particularly enjoyed the police chief’s comedic antics. But I just have to mention what an odd experience it is watching these movies. It feels so wrong at first but you kind of get into it. It seems such an odd blend, forced together just so Japanese cinema can latch onto what was currently cool. But, to be fair, Hanzo is still a samurai movie at heart. He feels just like so many others I have seen – strong and stern, but giving a damn about those less fortunate than him. This isn’t a carbon copy of Shaft.

Of course, when talking about Hanzo we have to mention one thing in particular. One big thing. Our hero has a rather large appendage, which others talk about and we catch odd, distorted glimpses of. We also see him honing it. He beats it with a stick and then thrusts it into a straw container of rice. You see, he uses it in interrogations of women to get the truth from them, so he needs to work it over. He is not only a renowned swordsman but famous for his effective member.

So that’s where the most uncomfortable aspect lies. Obviously the film doesn’t depict it as such, and the women involved are criminals or at least helping them, and he knows this. He also tortures men, at least this is stated in the films but never seen. He does, however, go through torture himself to understand what it does. This is the underlying premise. He knows the pain and its effect so finds sexual interrogation of women to be the better path. In one film he does torture a priestess who was selling girls to rich men, but then changes course. To paraphrase Hanzo’s words to her, she experienced hell, then she saw heaven.

But dress it up all you like, our hero essentially rapes women. Yes, they love it. They beg him not to stop and so confess all, and he treats them well and protects them afterward. But it is that typical, tired concept of the damsel falling for the rogue, despite – or because – of his rough treatment. I don’t outright condemn it because it was made in a time when this was a common idea and because it portrays it in a way that explains, almost justifies, what is done. Hanzo is certainly not a bad man and repeatedly protects the weak against the strong. But it is really uncomfortable watching him ‘have sex’ with them. Not least because they are often tied up, due to having been arrested.

So these films are very much products of their time. Our hero is a real macho type, who can love women physically and also care for them, and yet doesn’t become bound to any of them. He can defeat those who do wrong, either by killing them or exposing them to justice. He is meant to be an anti-hero, and yet that sexual edge is something I could really do without. Watching a woman bounce up and down on his lap while bound in a net does not create a romantic scene, no matter how much light music you play over it. It is a 70s exploitation movie and then some.

One thing I will add in defence of Hanzo. When he arrests the priestess, she is overseeing a girl in the hands of a man who has paid for her. This girl is drugged and the man has her bound while standing, then beats her bloody. Hanzo bursts in and takes over. He then forces the man to grab a pillar and beats him with the same stick. In another movie, he surrenders to a group of killers to save a lowly maid, who is held hostage by them. He values women and hates seeing them mistreated. There is a reason he does what he does, to how he does it. Still, that doesn’t change what he does. It is non-consensual sex, justified by the women’s enjoyment.

So, if you want to know what a more kinky, Japanese version of Shaft would be, check out Hanzo. I won’t pretend that the movies are that great. I find the action a bit slow and clunky. Some obvious edits. I’m pretty sure there is a sense of awareness about how over the top it is at times, but it is hard to tell. Hanzo being buried in a graveyard so he can sneak into a temple is fine. The fact he is dressed up in funeral robes is either very funny or bizarre. Either way, Hanzo the Razor’s trilogy is a decent set of samurai movies, mixing in some funky tunes and outdated eroticism. I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch them again. They’re not in the same class as Lone Wolf and Cub, despite being made by the same company. But they are the type of movies that, having watched again, I felt the need to talk about them.

Mixing Genres

So I’ve been thinking about the movie Predator a bit recently. This is mainly due to having watched it the other night. I have seen it lots of times and have it on DVD (with an excellent director commentary) but this was the first time for some while that I’ve sat down and watched it all from start to finish.

I love this movie. It has great atmosphere and music, as well as engaging characters and intense action. But the thing I had forgotten a bit was how much of a horror movie this is.

First, let’s be clear. Predator is a scifi action movie. But it is also part horror. Possibly it is more horror than action, as the action itself is restricted to a few sections. Most of the film is this group of soldiers prowling through the jungle, going deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, growing more uneasy as things develop, before they find themselves being outright hunted. There is a lot of talk of the jungle, of the jungle coming alive to claim Hawkins, of how dense and tough to get through the jungle is. The environment is a threat to them.

Predator follows the classic horror steps. A group of characters enter into a situation, often not that unnatural to them, but exciting nonetheless. These characters soon see warnings that things are not as they seem. Soon the threats and warnings escalate. There is often a moment when they realise that they’ve been deceived or lured. Then things get really bad as the monster/killer/threat comes for them. Often the characters are offed, one by one.

This is a broad sweep of horror steps, I admit. Still, Predator follows them along when you look at it. We also have that horror classic of one character losing his mind a bit, even predicting their deaths.

Another good point to make about Predator is that we don’t see the alien itself much at all. It remains a shimmer against the jungle, stalking them, waiting to strike. Because of this, it is always malevolent. This creature could be a demon or something. It is also fun to note how quick and lithe the alien is while this way. Once the disguise is removed and we see this big hulking thing, it becomes slow and clunky, especially in later movies. Put simply, a big man in a big costume can’t leap around the trees.

That brings to me one criticism I have, or perhaps just a wish that would have improved the film for me. If they hadn’t started with the ship in Earth’s orbit, possibly toned down a couple of other scifi things, this film could have been much more ambiguous about what is after them. The characters themselves have no idea and often talk in supernatural terms. The audience could have been sat there wondering if a demon hunted them or a ghost or … ahem … an alien. I just think that would have made the plot more intriguing and the revelation more important.

So yes, I would consider Predator a horror. It is still scifi and action, though. It is all three. It has gory scenes, characters breaking under the stress, and doesn’t really go into the science of the Predator. It could easily have been a demon using magic to disguise itself while casting fireballs. We don’t get an analysis of the alien or the science behind it. Dutch’s team stand little chance against it too. It might as well be a monster hunting normal people for all they can do to stop it.

Alien is a great horror scifi. So is the Thing, one of my favourite movies of all time and currently on tv right now. Cool, huh? I don’t see the need to separate them into one thing or the other. Aliens is more action scifi. But again, it has the horror elements. It is a great thing to watch different genres be combined by talented directors, giving us a cohesive story to enjoy.