Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Lady, The Captain, And The Thief

Some links before getting started today. Norma had some recommendations. Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday. Krisztina had tips on terrariums. And Mark had some thoughts.

Today I have a movie review.

“I know I promised, Lord, never again. But I also know that you know what a weak willed person I am.” ~ Phillipe

 “And know this: if you fail, I will follow you the length of my days. And I will find you.” ~ Navarre

“Are you flesh, or are you spirit?” ~ Phillipe 
“I am sorrow.” Isabeau

 “Great storms announce themselves with a single breeze, and a single random spark can ignite the fires of rebellion.” ~ Bishop of Aquila

“I’ve met the Bishop, you blasphemous lot. And you look nothing like him." ~ Imperius

“It’s me they’re after.” ~ Isabeau 
“Don’t flatter yourself.” ~ Phillipe

“Each generation is called upon to follow its own quest.” ~ Navarre 
“And what is your quest?” ~ Phillipe 
“I must kill a man.”  ~ Navarre 
“Tell me, does this walking corpse have a name?” ~ Phillipe

In 1985, director Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon) brought a fantasy tale to the big screen, an adventure movie with a fairy tale romantic streak called Ladyhawke. The film stars Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer as tragic lovers, and Matthew Broderick as the young thief who crosses their paths in a Europe of the 12th century. Filmed in Italy, it has gained a loyal following in the years since, and happens to be a film I enjoy each time I see it.

We first meet Phillipe “The Mouse” Gaston (Broderick) as he’s breaking his way out of the dungeons of the fortified city of Aquila. The thief is escaping a death sentence, and is given to long conversations with God during and after his escape. The Bishop of Aquila (John Wood), a cruel, corrupt, and evil man, angry at the fact that someone has done the impossible and escaped his dungeons, sends his captain of the guard, Marquet (Ken Hutchison) in pursuit of the thief.

Phillipe has gotten away into the countryside, pursued by Marquet and his men, and a chance encounter leads to salvation by a mystery man with ties to Aquila, Etienne Navarre (Hauer). Upon learning that Phillipe has successfully escaped from Aquila, Navarre seeks his help- he has a grudge against the Bishop, and wants to settle scores. Phillipe is drawn into Navarre’s quest, which brings him into contact with a woman named Isabeau d’Anjou (Pfeiffer). Phillipe quickly learns that both of them share secrets, as well as a curse brought upon them.

The story was written by Edward Khmara, who shares credits for the screenplay with Tom Mankiewicz, Michael Thomas, and David Peoples. The screenplay moves things along briskly- though at times the dialogue feels too contemporary, lacking perhaps the formality one might expect of the era. Donner had been attached for years as director before the go ahead for filming was made, and at one point, Kurt Russell had been cast as Navarre, while the role of the thief had been offered to Sean Penn and Dustin Hoffmann (both final cast choices were much the better). 

Donner made good use of the Italian countryside for filming locations, including fortress ruins, castles, and a village that stood in nicely for the medieval town of the Bishop. The effect over all does feel like a story playing out in the past- albeit a fantasy story. Sets and costuming have that same sensibility to it- much of what we see as the film goes along looks appropriate to the era, from clothing to weapons. Special effects are minimal, and where they’re used, in terms of transformation, so to speak, the method is to glimpse and suggest, which works well. Donner, whose work as a director crosses many genres, handled all of these details well, presenting an appealing fantasy that really does have the feel of a fairy tale.

Alfred Molina, the character actor whose career really took off in later years, has a brief role as Cezar, a hunter employed by the Bishop, but like his brief turn some years earlier in Raiders of the Lost Ark as the treacherous Satipo, it’s a memorable one. The character comes across as brutal and thoroughly dangerous, really more savage than anything else, and not very talkative. 

It’s an interesting counterpart to Hutchison’s take as Marquet. The character is relentless and vicious by nature, at times like an angry dog chafing at the leash, at others more disciplined. There’s a pettiness and vindictiveness in the man- he’s aware that his men, who were once commanded by Navarre, hold their former captain with more respect than they do him. And he acts out on that, on occasion more like a child throwing a tantrum. If Marquet is more civilized than Cezar, the two characters are nonetheless both formidable antagonists.

John Wood is another character actor who had been in a multitude of roles on stage and screen throughout his career- including a sympathetic turn opposite Matthew Broderick in the sci-fi thriller War Games two years before Ladyhawke. My favourite role for the actor was as the chauffeur and father in the 1995 remake Sabrina, a kind and decent fellow who is the opposite of the man he plays here. The Bishop might present himself as a righteous man, but right beneath the surface is a hedonistic, cruel, evil monster. Wood plays to that, and the character’s sinister obsessiveness boils within his performance. The Bishop is a compelling villain, full of darkness, and Wood makes him that way.

The character actor Leo McKern plays the old priest Imperius. When we first meet him, the character’s a coarse drunk in a ruined old monastery, drinking himself to death and not even sure if it’s Lent. He’s connected to Navarre and Isabeau, having had been their confessor in the past, and he blames himself for the curse that has befallen them- an innocent mistake led to that point. So it’s understandable that the guilt would plague him and drive him to drink- and yet when he enters the story, it’s also the route to his salvation- he comes to understand a way to set things right. Imperius is a flawed man, but a good man, the opposite of the Bishop. McKern plays to all of these elements in his performance, and even while he’s a guilt ridden character, Imperius still gets a measure of humour, particularly in his bantering interaction with the young thief.

This was one of Matthew Broderick’s earlier roles, though he’d been on stage, television, and the big screen starting in the early eighties. The following year would see him play the lead in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so it’s interesting seeing him at this point in his career, right before things took off. His role as Phillipe gives the audience its point of view character. Phillipe is a wisecracking thief, resourceful in his own way, irreverent and incorrigible, and much of the humour of the film comes from him. He’s given to talk to God regularly- albeit in that same irreverent manner, and is reluctantly drawn into coming to the aid of others, stepping beyond his usual being out for himself mindset. Broderick brings a brisk energy to the role, and we get to like Phillipe pretty quickly, even when he’s breaking the law.

This was an early role for Michelle Pfeiffer, who brings such a presence into the role. Isabeau is ethereal as a character, an enchanting and enigmatic woman when we first meet her. There’s sorrow too- the curse she’s been put under leaves her that way, regretting all that she’s lost, doubting it can ever be lifted. And yet she’s not all sorrow- her memories sustain her and give her a measure of happiness, and as the film moves along her resolve builds to bring things to an end. As ethereal as Isabeau is, there’s strength and conviction in her as well. Though she doesn’t share a lot of screentime with Hauer (at least not directly), we completely accept their relationship, that these characters have got a lot of history and love- it’s obvious in the way they speak of each other.

Rutger Hauer was an ideal choice as Navarre- I find myself wondering what it would have been like had Russell decided to stay with the project, and Hauer had initially in fact been meant to play Marquet. The character’s a dangerous man, capable of handling himself in a fight, even with numerous opponents, when he first appears in the story. He conveys strength and resolve throughout the film, as well as tightly contained anger at times. Much of that is directed where it should be- at the Bishop who brought down the curse upon himself and Isabeau- but some of that is for Imperius, and part of the character’s growth involves letting go of his anger towards the old priest. Navarre is a man who is quick to judgment at times, but able to apologize for mistakes. And Hauer brings the gravity to the role that it needs- we can see why, even after years in exile, the men he once commanded still respect him in a way they don’t respect his replacement. His performance as Navarre is done in just the right way; the character is compelling to watch.

Ladyhawke is a film that never gets old for me; I can watch it time and again and get caught up in the adventure and the romance of the story, while laughing at the irreverence of a young thief. Its three leading actors are well cast in their roles, and the story moves along at a brisk pace. If you haven’t seen it before, you really should.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Blowing Everything Up With Mikey

Some links before getting started. Norma wrote about delivery issues. Krisztina had a pic of the week. Maria had a book recommendation. And Lynn wrote about new pets in the family.

Now then, to today's mischief....

Overblown Director Announces Unlikely Sequel; Reporters Wonder What His Point Is

Los Angeles (AP). Reporters were summoned once again to the offices of Digital Domain for a press conference. This included a mix of real reporters, such as this reporter, and entertainment reporters, who are by and large the dumbest human beings on the planet, and even more obnoxious than cranky editors who have no sense of humour (editor: I swear to God, I will see you suffer for the rest of your professional life, you insufferable prat! Nobody laughs at my mother-in-law’s funeral and gets away with it!)

Well, in the opinion of this reporter, who really can’t stand his editor or the editor’s family, why is this reporter always expected to show up for such pointless things? It’s not as if this reporter was personally buddy-buddy with the old battleaxe, right? (editor: my wife is going to have you drawn and quartered the next time she sees you) This reporter sighed, condemned to the purgatory of assignments like this instead of actual news for who was to know how long.

The assembled real reporters and the airheaded entertainment reporters all assembled in the usual auditorium where a podium and a full length mirror were set up on stage. The latter were all buzzing about the latest project to be announced by the man we were here to see- some of us by force of editorial edict (editor: rot in hell, you snarky bastard...). A staffer came out on staging, calling for the attention of the press, announcing the presence of her boss. 

Michael Bay came out on stage, waving to the crowd, smiling in that usual dazed way, looking the same as always: the three days of stubble, the dishevelled hair, the jeans and denim shirt. He waved, pointed at someone, laughing to himself as if at a private joke, and walked up to the podium. Bay looked at himself in the mirror, smiled again, delighted, and then turned to the press, waving. “Hello!” he called out in that gratingly annoying tone of his. “How wonderful to see you all here today!”

This reporter started a tally of how many times this reporter would roll his eyes today. Bay carried on with speaking. “You know, I’m a very busy man. I’ve got so many projects on the go or on the to-do list that I barely have time to admire myself in the mirror my usual forty nine times a day.” With that, he looked at himself in the mirror once again and grinned. “Well, enough of that, you came to see what I’m up to next, didn’t you? Because everyone wants to know what I’m up to and what films I have in mind to do. Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve got a sequel in mind.”

A collective groan rose up from the real reporters, one that Bay seemed oblivious to. This reporter could just see it now: Transformers: Rampage of the Clanging Metal Idiots With Ear Splitting Noise And Explosions. Not that Michael Bay would ever title such a sequel that way, but those films could be summed up in those words.

Bay was still speaking. “You know, one of my favourite films thus far of every film I’ve made got a lot of notice at the box office back in the day. People really responded to it. They loved the action, the stakes of the story, the soundtrack, the explosions, more explosions, and even more explosions. Did I mention the explosions? It was the film Armageddon. And I’m making a sequel to the film. Isn’t that great?”

The real reporters collectively sighed again. The entertainment reporters gushed with glee. This reporter shook his head in dismay. What need was there for a sequel to Armageddon, after all? The first film, which made a whole lot of money at the box office, sent Bruce Willis and a team of misfit oil drillers to a threatening asteroid with the fate of the whole world at risk back in 1998. This reporter mused on the idea of sending a cranky editor on a one way trip to an asteroid... (editor: I hate you with every bit of my being, and when you bite the dust, I’ll laugh at your funeral)

In which case, death would be preferable to covering Michael Bay press conferences. “What the hell are you talking about?” a Reuters correspondent objected. “There’s absolutely no need for a sequel to that movie!”

Bay laughed. “I don’t know if they teach this in journalism school, but hey, there are a lot of asteroids out there, and any one of them could be coming to kill every single one of us right now. Because that’s the way asteroids are. Big and bad and threatening and not having so much as any manners. And just because one’s blown up one asteroid doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story. So what if there’s an even bigger asteroid coming our way, years after the first one? How do people respond to that?”

This reporter spoke up. “You do realize your interpretation of facts is skewed towards making films with lots of explosions and very little to do with reality?”

Bay shrugged. “Explosions are reality. Anyone who says different should never be trusted.”

This reporter glanced at other reporters, each of us silently wondering if Bay was drunk, and this reporter spoke again. “You do realize many people called many things about the first film into question for accuracy.”

“Jealous! All of them!” Bay exclaimed. “Look, I’m a filmmaker, so I tell stories. With a bit of creative glossing over the truth.  And lots of explosions and hot girls waxing cars and explosions. Now here’s my idea. Like I said, second asteroid, bigger than the first, on a collision course with the world. Maybe it’s there because it’s out for revenge after its little brother got blown sky high...”

“Do you understand asteroids don’t have feelings?” the Reuters correspondent asked.

“How do you know?” Bay said in a petulant way. “Where was I? Oh, yes, big threat, world at risk, and the only thing that can save the day will be sending up a crew of oil drillers to drop a nuke in the asteroid, all of whom are slightly nuts and eccentric and off the wall.”

“In other words you’re just remaking the film,” this reporter pointed out.

“No!” Bay insisted. “I mean, I’ve got some of the cast from the first one. Well, not Michael Clarke Duncan, because hey, he’s dead, but I’ve got Steve Buscemi and Will Patton and Peter Stormare back. I’ve also got Billy Bob Thornton back as the big NASA chief Truman, though I’m going to have to figure out a way to explain why he looks so different. I don’t know about you, but if you haven’t noticed, Billy’s had a lot of plastic surgery done over the last few years. I’ve been trying to get Bruce Willis to come back...”

“His character died at the end of that film,” this reporter informed the narcissistic fool.

“Yes, and that doesn’t mean he can’t come back as a ghost. A ghost in space,” Bay reasoned. “Anyway, let me bring out the first member of the cast. One of my favourite actors, the go-to guy, playing Harry Stamper’s roughneck oil drilling brother Barry Stamper... Nicolas Cage!”

Cage came out on stage, waving and lighting up a cigar with a hundred dollar bill. “Hey there!” he called out, and stumbled over to join Bay by the podium.

The Reuters correspondent spoke up. “You’re expecting anyone to buy them as brothers? Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis don’t look anything alike!”

“Details!” Cage said with a laugh. "He shaves his head and I've got a glorious head of hair!"

Bay carried on. “Now I wanted to bring back A.J. and Grace from the original film, but Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler both told me to go to hell. Liv even said I should douse myself in barbecue sauce and jump into a pit full of fire ants. She must have been kidding. Anyway, I decided I’d bring in all new characters. Namely A.J. Frost’s kid brother R.J. and Barry’s daughter Hope Stamper.” This reporter sighed. Despite what he’d already said, Bay was essentially just remaking the first film.  “Let’s bring out our two young stars right now! Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox!”

LaBeouf and Fox came out on stage, waving. “Hello!” Megan called, as always in an outfit that looked too tight.

“Shia thinks it’s wonderful that all of you have come to see Shia!” LaBeouf added, his expression as dim as always. “Shia knows the world revolves around Shia!” This reporter sighed in dismay; wishing Shia would drop into the deepest darkest hole on the planet.

“Are you certifiably insane?” another reporter asked as LaBeouf and Fox joined Bay and Cage.

Bay laughed. “Why do people keep saying that about me?” He shrugged. “You must be joking. Because I’m the most emotionally stable explosion loving director around. Now then, when we get around to making this film- because I’ve got a lot of other projects going- it’s going to be huge. It’s going to break every single box office record. It’s going to get us all Oscars. Ladies and gentlemen, Armageddon 2: Extinction is going to exceed all expectations. With plenty of explosions! Yeah!!!!”

With that, Bay left the stage with his cast. The entertainment reporters, being the dimwitted buffoons that they are, were gushing endlessly about how much they adored Michael Bay. Real reporters were rolling their eyes and sighing with exasperation. This reporter found himself wishing Michael Bay could be dropped on an asteroid, without the benefit of a space suit, because surely he deser... (editor: hey! I’m a fan of Michael Bay! He’s really a good director, so stop insulting him.)

Among other things, the editor’s an idiot. Not that it’s really that much of a surprise. (editor: you’re dead to me, you hear me? Dead!)

The editor needs some therapy. Maybe yoga. Or a big bag of weed.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Day In The Life Of A Cat

And now it is time for the cat's point of view. Your Imperial Grace, the floor is yours.

7:25 AM. Waking up to the sound of footsteps upstairs. The staff is up and about. Who gave her permission to wake me up before I was ready?

7:31 AM. The staff comes downstairs and bids me good morning. It’ll be all the better with a proper breakfast. Bacon and milk would be quite welcome, perhaps with a side dish of lightly sautéed diced lamb...

7:35 AM. The staff disappoints me yet again by giving me field rations. 

7:48 AM. Out on the deck to soak in some sun. Off in the distance I can hear the barking of that annoying mutt from down the road. Obviously he’s never heard of having a morning lie-in.

7:53 AM. Out in the yard sniffing at the grass. The staff heads out the door and waves as she goes to her car.... wait a minute. Is this a workday? Hey! You can’t leave me outside while you’re at work all day!

Come back here!

7:54 AM. And there she goes. I grumble, growl, and use a few choice curse words to express my annoyance with my staff at the present moment in time.

7:56 AM. ....I mean, honestly, she sees me right there, and she knows I don’t like being stranded outside all day. Is it that hard for her to just leave the door wide open so I can come in and go out at my leisure? What if it rains?

8:23 AM. Sitting on one of the deck chairs, stewing, plotting revenge. It may involve the shredding of cashmere.

11:32 AM. Waking up from long nap. Unfortunately the staff will still be gone for hours on end. 

12:15 PM. Staring up at the clouds. I think that one there looks like a big ball of yarn.

12:21 PM. Well, since the staff won’t be home anytime soon, I think a good walk through the woods and fields would be in order right about now. Some country air, exercise, and perhaps the chance to catch some flying lunch would be ideal.

1:39 PM. Walking through a farm. Not that far off from the barn. Hey, wait a minute... this is what I get for not really paying attention to where I was. This is where that dog lives.

1:41 PM. And sure enough, there he is out by the barn with his human. And lo and behold.... the stupid mutt has noticed me.

1:42 PM. I hiss at the dog to warn him to leave me alone.

1:43 PM. The dog’s human has come over and is giving me a pat and scratch behind the ears. I like that... but on the other hand, lady, you’ve got yourself a foul hound living with you, which is a mark against you. Please do us all a favour and don’t ever bring a cat into your household. That would be far too cruel to the cat.

1:44 PM. I take my leave, turning and giving the annoying mutt a stern glare.

2:08 PM. Back home. Still no sign of the staff. How long does it take to do this work thing anyway?

2:17 PM. Well, if she’s going to be gone awhile longer, I might as well take a nap. Just as long as it doesn’t start raining while I’m asleep. One can never quite tell this time of year...

5:25 PM. Waking up suddenly to the sound of a car engine and wheels on the driveway. I hear the engine stop and a door open. Staff? Is that you?

5:26 PM. Coming around the house. Sure enough, there she is. Well, it’s about time! I’ve been out here all day, staff, and that has left me quite annoyed with you. I am expecting something in compensation for this, you know. A proper dinner, for instance.

6:03 PM. Supervising the staff while she makes dinner. She’s busy cutting up some beef. That has promise. I like the taste of beef, after all. 

6:47 PM. Having dinner. The staff has given me a plate of beef with a side of milk. She insists on eating cauliflower with her meat for some reason. I really don’t understand why she’d eat that, though she does smother it with a white sauce.

7:17 PM. Supervising the staff while she does dishes. Being a human, the staff does require careful supervision.

7:26 PM. The staff is done with the dishes. Okay, staff, cuddle time. I'm demanding at least a half hour.

8:40 PM. Dozing while the staff reads. For some reason her reading choice tonight is a Stephen King novel. Well, it’s her fault then if she has nightmares tonight. Well, her, and Stephen King.

11:35 PM. The staff is off to bed. Very well, staff, have a good night. Again, if you have nightmares, don’t be running around looking to me for comfort. I told you not to read that book.